Last night was my family’s last night on Vermont. My dad said that it seemed like all he had done was eaten and didn’t want any dinner, so my mother and I went to dinner on our own. We walked a block or so from their hotel and found this little pizza place called Positive Pie that I had heard good things about. We both had the shrimp scampi because they don’t just serve pizza but Italian food in general. We had the cutest waiter (not the guy in the picture above), who I’m pretty sure was gay because he was very flirtatious toward me. First of all, let me say that it went nowhere because of three things: 1) my mother was there, 2) he was more than half my age, and 3) he was obviously flirting to get a good tip. I’ve always had a thing for guys in the service industry: waiters, bartenders, baristas, etc., and it is fun to get some positive attention, even if you know it won’t lead anywhere. That being said, this will not be my last visit to Positive Pie.
I was telling a friend of mine about my encounter with the waiter, and he encouraged me to try more to make friends up here and not just coworkers. It’s hard to make friends though. On gay.net’s Ask Adam (http://www.gay.net/dating/2015/10/28/ask-adam-how-can-gay-guys-find-friends), there was a question about how gay guys can find friends. “Isolated in Illinois” seems to have a similar situation to me, and I liked Adam’s answer, which you can read below. There are at least one or two gay men’s groups around here and I’ve been invited to attend a supper club that’s an our or so south of here, which would be lots of fun. I just need to find the courage to follow Adam’s advice. Read the column below, and I’d love to hear your thoughts on it.
ASK ADAM: HOW CAN GAY GUYS FIND FRIENDS?
I know how to talk to people, I’m reasonably smart and attractive, and yet I feel isolated a lot of the time. I knew how to make friends in college, but since graduating five years ago, I’ve yet to make a real friend. Is this normal?
Isolated in Illinois
Dear Isolated in Illinois,
Modern life can be a lonely place.
Most people are struggling with this, but LGBT people can feel especially isolated. It comes with the territory of being different. And you’ve always been different.
As a teenager, you never could fully join the exciting conversations and social rituals around opposite-sex attraction. You may have faked it, but you never were really a part of it.
While all your friends were crushing on the movie stars of the day, you silently longed for all the “wrong” ones. Even the nerdy, heterosexual outcasts in your school belonged in a way you didn’t. Because they were straight, they really didn’t have to question if they were a member of the human race. At an unconscious level, many LGBT people don’t feel like a member of the human race. We can feel like a different species.
And while you may have already worked hard to accept your differences, at some level, we all just want to fit in. This is wired into primates. So it isn’t surprising that we may struggle a little more with feelings of loneliness and isolation as grown ups.
Like all worthwhile experiences, creating friendships takes work. There’s a myth that it should be easy, that it should just happen. In reality, building a network of friends requires the same kind of strategic activity that goes into finding a job or the love of your life.
What follows is my best tip on building your friendship network.
There is something magic about seeing the same group of people each week for months and years. Just the consistent close proximity creates the safety that is needed to turn a stranger into a friend. This is why it is easier to make friends in college. Therefore, joining weekly groups is the number one best way to make a friend.
Do you know who has the best social network in any city? It’s people who attend 12-step groups like Alcoholics Anonymous. This makes sense: they are a group of people who meet frequently to try and be authentic, supportive, and remove a piece of the social mask.
Who else meets regularly? It’s the people in the LGBT sports league, the LGBT volunteer service organization, the LGBT spiritual or arts group, the LGBT meetup.comgroup. Google will lead you to them.
Yes, joining groups takes time and you are busy with work. But people who join groups tend to be people who can commit to people. And those are the people who make good friends.
It’s also a great way to find a committed partner. Personal disclosure moment: I found my husband, and all my previous boyfriends before him, through LGBT volunteer groups.
The Path From Acquaintance to Friend
You may know lots of people, but still feel isolated. The secret sauce that turns acquaintances into friends is personal disclosure. There’s a limit to how far you can get with a person if you aren’t willing to reveal something that feels vulnerable about yourself.
Again, this can be a little more challenging for LGBT people. We’ve been trained since we were 6 years old to hide what we feel. What we liked wasn’t good. It was disgusting. Or so we were told.
So it takes practice. Begin revealing something only a little uncomfortable and see how that goes. If your acquaintance handles that well then you can test out the next level of disclosure.
Ultimately, the most powerful way to deepen a connection with someone is to dare to admit your friendly affection for them.
If you have butterflies in your stomach when talking about yourself, then you’ll know you are doing something right. There is no personal growth without butterflies.
Don’t think friends are all that important to happiness?
According to Bronnie Ware, a palliative nurse who wrote The Top Five Regrets of the Dying, one of the top regrets of people who are dying are: “I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends”.
Too busy for friends? Another one of the top five regrets of the dying is “I wished I didn’t work so hard.”
Your relationships truly matter.
ADAM D. BLUM, MFT is a licensed psychotherapist and the founder of the Gay Therapy Center, which specializes in relationship and self-esteem issues for LGBT people. The Center offers services in their San Francisco offices, or by Skype and phone worldwide. Visit their website to subscribe to their e-newsletter and free guide on building gay relationships. Follow them on Facebook and read their blog. Email Adam your questions for possible publication. Questions may be edited.