6 min read

A slow but reliable system for making friends

This system works because friendship is a process that happens a little bit at a time, and then all at once. Friends are, on some level, two people who have grown used to one another.
A slow but reliable system for making friends

How to be less angry at work

A couple of years ago I decided that my main problem in life was that I needed more not-super-close friends. Because I am a profound nerd, especially about social interactions, my analysis more-or-less resembled the Five Whys:

Why am I so grumpy and anxious all the time?

Because I'm lonely.

Why am I lonely?

Because I don't have many close friends, and the ones I do have are far away.

Why don't I have many close friends?

Because close friends start out as not-so-close friends and I don't have any of those.

Why don't I have many not-so-close friends?

Because I don't spend time socializing with anyone who's not already a close friend.

Why don't I socialize with anyone who's not already a close friend?

See "grumpy" and "anxious," above.

A simple but reliable system

I approached the problem like I approach pretty much all problems: I worked out a system.

Step 1: Find a place where people you can talk to hang out

Step 2: Show up at regularly and talk to people

Step 3: When people invite you to things, say yes.

It takes about two years, in my experience, to go from "I don't know anyone here" to "I have enough social activities that I can't do all of them."

Why this works

It feels silly to type this out because it seems to be obvious to most people but it wasn't to me so maybe it isn't to you, too:

This system works because friendship is a process that happens a little bit at a time, and then all at once. Friends are, on some level, two people who have grown used to one another. You get there by coming into contact with the same people, over and over, in a setting that lets you have a little bit of conversation with them at a time.

You meet someone in a shared, neutral space a few times. You have a number of small, simple conversations about ordinary things. At some point one of those ordinary conversations trips into a more serious topic, and then you have this moment.

“Friendship arises out of mere Companionship when two or more of the companions discover that they have in common some insight or interest or even taste which the others do not share and which, till that moment, each believed to be his own unique treasure (or burden). The typical expression of opening Friendship would be something like, "What? You too? I thought I was the only one." - C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves

But you can't make that moment happen. You can only create the conditions for that moment to happen, by showing up, day-after-day, and doing the small, simple work of conversation.

Some problems, and some solutions

Selecting a location

It needs to be a place that has a regular crowd, but where it's also unremarkable for new people to show up, and where you have something in common with a lot of people there. I've had success with Magic shops, dog parks, and work.

I suspect bars, coffee shops, knitting circles, the gym, and things like dance classes can work well for similar reasons, but I don't have personal experience so I can't make a clean recommendation.

Getting out of the house

Getting yourself up and out of the house regularly is also hard, especially in the early phases when you don't know anyone. It's okay to go and not talk to anyone, or only talk a little bit. I do that a lot now when I've just moved somewhere; I'll go to a place several times just to get used to the area. A camera can be handy for giving yourself a reason to be in a place or a thing to do when you're there.

Talking to people you don't know already

Small talk is a technical skill that you can get a better at. I've gotten a lot out of The Fine Art of Small Talk, and out of listening to conversational podcasts like The Comedy Button.

The best piece of advice from The Fine Art of Small Talk: People in a lot of these situations desperately want you to make conversation with them, and if you're an introvert you can talk a lot more than you think without people finding it annoying.

The best piece of advice from The Comedy Button, specifically from Brian Altano: You always have something in common with people. Look around you. Talk about what's going on in your environment. This is where "show up with the intention of not talking to people and just get the lay of the land the first few times" can really pay off, because spending some time noticing things will give you things to comment on.

One meta-skill I had to develop was, how to talk to people and pay attention to how they're reacting at the same time. Once I did that my conversations got a lot better more or less on their own, because I had a feedback loop going. It's tough, though, because if you don't come with that particular module pre-installed no one's going to tell you what's going on or what to do about it. Meditation helped me develop that meta-skill and notice that I was developing that meta-skill.

Saying "yes"

A big problem I had to get over was that I only said "yes" to invitations that I was very sure were going to be fun/interesting/whatever – where I already knew a bunch of people, usually. When I didn't know many people in an environment that meant I never said "yes" to invitations.

I eventually adopted a rule that whenever anyone invited me to anything I had to say yes. When I follow this rule I end up in a lot more situations that are uncomfortable or boring or overwhelming. I also make friends. When I don't follow this rule, I don't.

Truly, the device he carried in his pocket was incredible, but also normal

We've been re-reading Isaac Asimov's robot detective novels and dang, the way he writes about technology. I love it. If you wrote the same book today the characters would constantly be pondering the number of logical operations the chips in their pocket computers are capable of making and also how absolutely ordinary this is and how unremarkable they consider them.

I'd forgotten how bad of a detective Elijah Baley is, too. A big part of why the first book works is he is seriously Just Some Guy. But he's the only detective on earth who's willing to take a very long business trip, and that apparently counts for a lot in the future.

They're good books. Kind of silly, and you probably have to be willing to treat the post-war America 50s as a kind of science fiction setting in its own right to really enjoy it, but fun. A nice detective puzzler.

test case management??? on my website????

I was clicking around in Google Search Console and I saw something that chilled me to my core.

"pivotal tracker test case management" is truly, one of the worst google searches of all time

People are still "managing test cases?" In this Year of Our Lord Satan 2021? Thank god none of them have clicked through.

If you've never worked somewhere that "managed test cases" I can't begin to explain to you what a profound and dispiriting waste of human enthusiasm the whole activity is. There's something deep in the human spirit that desperately loves filing, I guess. People are going to find that I wrote this and they're going to get really mad and all I can say to them is: Get a real job. You're better than this! Probably!

I have the same opinion of the masturbatory speculative fiction clubs that pass for "technical leadership" at many companies, so I should probably just be run out of town at gunpoint.

Hiring... and other news

Twilio is hiring a Staff Software Engineer in San Francisco, Denver, or remote. Full stack Javascript development. Their values include the words "owl" and the word "shenanigans" though not, sadly, together. Please apply and get hired so you can rectify this oversight.

Code for America employees have announced that they're unionizing. They were already high on my generic list of recommended places to work, but this pushes them even higher.

Listings from previous issues are available on the software engineering jobs page.