The Gift of New Friends at Christmas

Get out there with others — 'I was happy to be with somebody,' said one millennial of his student days

For whatever reason, you may be looking at the fast approach of Dec. 25 without any plans in place. Whether it’s unexpected or something you’re used to it,  you don’t have to feel lonely at this time of year — and shouldn’t.

You may be saying, “Well, I just prefer it this way,” or, Now I can spend the holidays any way I want.” But by keeping ourselves in quiet isolation and holding new friendships at bay, our spirits may be lower than they need to be, keeping us in a Charlie Brown woe-is-me mode.

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In an ideal world, new friendships come our way in a snap, invitations for the most exciting parties flood our inboxes, and Christmas cookies are waiting for us at our doorsteps. But that’s not reality. To see new friendships develop, we need to step out of our cozy comfort zones and put in some effort. This may seem difficult during Christmas — but it’s essential.

“People want to invite you — they really do — but they might not reach out because they’re busy, or because they assume you already have family around,” said Anastasia Jones, originally from Derry, New Hampshire. She now lives in Lakeland, Florida, ever since her graduation from college. While beginning her career, she’s had to navigate a few years of holidays seasons alone — and figure out how not to spend any more of them solo.

If you never show you’re interested, others may assume you prefer it that way.

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If you aren’t spending Christmas surrounded by family and friends this year, how do you go about finding other people to spend time with?

Here are a few ways to grow your circle of friends — and give you a memorable Christmas:

1.) Accept the invitations — just say yes.
Don’t question it, don’t overthink things, and don’t reason yourself out of an opportunity that comes your way. Every get-together, company dinner, and small group party is an opportunity to meet new people and branch out.

2.) Don’t be afraid to ask.
“It’s always awkward when you realize you can’t see your family, and so you have to decide, ‘OK, who should I spend Christmas with?” said Jones, who noted she’s learned to speak up — and that most people are more than happy to accommodate requests or invites.

If you never show you’re interested, others may assume you prefer it that way. People are less likely to suspect you’re lonely and more likely to assume loners prefer things the way they are.

3.) Learn to go with the flow.
Singles or empty-nesters, or really anyone on their own, usually prefers to navigate things themselves. Yet it’s good for them to let go of the reins every now and then.

Related: The Joy of Christmas in the City

While attending college in Central Florida, James An — a South Korea native — quickly welcomed each opportunity to meet new people. Set up with a Korean host family, he learned to go along for every holiday. Today he’s in his 30s and working full time in the area. “I was happy to be somewhere with somebody,” he said of his student days.

4.) Observe how other families handle Christmas.
“I could’ve had a singles get-together,” said Anastasia Jones, “but knowing I want a family one day, I wanted to be an onlooker of someone else’s family dynamic. So last year I spent Thanksgiving with a family I know. It’s always cool to observe other people’s families.”

Be interested and ask questions about traditions. Most people enjoy sharing those backgrounds and ideas.

5.) Show up regardless of how you feel.
For those who are introverts, or simply shy or hesitant, spending time with other people is an investment not just in yourself but in others — and that can pay off in the long-term. “I love balance and I kind of view social interaction as a wave,” said Jones. “So before I jump in that wave, I spend some time by myself. I want to be in the wave — but I brace myself for it.”

This Christmas, though it may be a little awkward initially, build some new relationships and get together with others. You will thank yourself later.

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