Inspiration

Ask Aviva: Invisible

August 6, 2014

Dear Aviva,

I’m an introverted, reserved person who enjoys having close friendships. I moved to a new neighborhood six months ago and haven’t made any friends yet. I walk down the street and I am invisible. I go to shul and nobody even bothers to look at me. It’s not that this neighborhood is unfriendly—everybody seems to have a lot of friends. I think it is just that I am invisible. Even though I’m reserved, I never had this problem before. Throughout my life (seminary, college), I was always with people whom I had known for many years.

I do see that people seem to bond if they have kids that are similar ages, but I am newly married and don’t have that instant connection thing going for me.

-Invisible

Too-Shy

Dear Invisible,

This sounds pretty lonely. And it sounds pretty annoying too—you’re the new girl. Why should you have to go out of your way to make yourself feel welcome? Aren’t your new neighbors supposed to do that for you?

Yes, they are. But the fact is that they are not.

So now you have a choice: you can continue on the trajectory that you are going, which means that people will continue looking past you until maybe, just maybe someone will happen to see you and take an interest in you.

Or, you can make some active changes that are outside of your comfort zone.

If you choose the former, you don’t need me to keep doing what you are doing. If you choose the latter, then we have work to do.

But before that, let’s just acknowledge something big: you are newly married in a new place and that means you just had two major life changes. You will need to have some secure, familiar pieces in your life so make sure to put the staying-in-touch-with-as-many-old-friends-as-possible piece a high priority.

Now, for the work:

First, let’s see how far outside of your comfort zone you want to go. I actually don’t recommend stretching yourself too much in this case because the whole purpose is for you to make real friends. I want these potential new friends to get an accurate picture of who you are. If you turn yourself into the life of the party for a month so that you are suddenly on the map, there will be a lot of confusion when your new friends never hear that signature hoot again. Or maybe you wouldn’t drop it and try to maintain that extrovert image, but that is not what I call an authentic friendship.

So let’s see where our comfort zone ends and take a half a step past it.

Two things are coming to mind. Let’s say you are in shul and there is a woman who is there every week and looks like she is friend-able. If you were to go way past your comfort zone, you approach her and introduce yourself by telling her where you’re from, what you do and how much you enjoy Zumba.

That is a bit much for the real you, so let’s take half a baby step and cut it down. You spot a woman in shul who looks like she has potential, and go sit down next to her. Repeat every week. That’s the smallest version of this.

If you feel like you can do more, then try to do at least one of the following: make eye-contact, smile, say Good Shabbos, ask her what they are up to in davening, or compliment her cute shoes. Ok, I should mention that this should not be done in quick succession. Creepy. So space these out.

My other thought along the baby step route is not to actually push yourself to approach individual people but instead, to push yourself to become part of a smaller, regular group. When you are walking on the street, you are merely an anonymous individual pedestrian. When you are in shul alone, you are just another frum person who happens to be standing next to people who have already established their units.

However, if you were to go to a small weekly shiur, go to an exercise class religiously or volunteer on a committee, you will automatically be part of a group. Even if you do not say a word to anyone, as long as you are actively paying attention to what is going on around you and don’t pull away when someone engages you, the organic process of group dynamics will pull you in.

These small connections may be enough for you to stop feeling invisible. But if you are thirsty for more, you will have to up the ante. If you are into social media, friend the people you like. If not, try to exchange numbers or email so you can send a light text or forward an interesting email. Next comes inviting a friend to something.

If you see that you have trouble with these baby steps, take a break and then try again. And no matter what, don’t forget to turn to your new best friend: Brand New Hubby.

-Aviva