One of my cousins wrote a blog post where she admitted that she has struggled with making friends at church since she moved to Utah. I can totally relate to this. Particularly living withing walking distance of BYU, every congregation I’ve gone to has been transient because it’s full of students. Many students move every semester or every year, so it’s hard to get to know people when they’re there for four to eight months and then they are gone.
Then there’s also the issue that I tend to have trouble talking with strangers in social situations. I want to talk to them, I’d love to get to know them and have a conversation, but I’m often utterly incapable of thinking of a single thing to say to somebody in the moment. It’s not too uncommon for me to think, “Wow, if I was better at this I’d know what to say to you right now.”
But I wanted to get better at it, so I’ve done a few things to improve in the past couple of years.
The first thing for me is to do my visiting teaching. Visiting teaching is something that the LDS church does where two women in the ward are assigned a few other women. You and your companion go and visit with these women in their homes at least once a month, get to know them a little bit, and share a short message with them. I know that some people hate feeling like an assignment, but I love visiting teaching. It gives me a context to get to know people. It’s a lot easier for me to visit with somebody if I feel like I have a reason to be there. And if I run out of things to say, I can always fall back on a short prepared message or my companion to help out. The first friends I make in a new ward are almost always women that I visit teach with, the women I visit teach, or the women who visit teach me. And visiting teaching has given me opportunities to be there for people in ways that I wouldn’t have been able to if I’d only gotten to know people at church.
Once, I was at a Relief Society dinner and the only person that I knew was a woman I visit taught. So I stuck to her side and sat at the table where she ate. Evidently, she didn’t know many of the people there, either. After chatting briefly with the women she knew, she then proceeded to ask every woman’s name at the table and get to know a few details from their lives. I learned a lot by watching this interaction. But the most relevant thing to me was how to hold a conversation with someone you’ve never met before. Ask them who they are, what they’re studying, where they work, what they enjoy doing. Ask them followup questions about the things that they say. If you have similar interests, you can follow up with that. If they’re interested in things that you aren’t familiar with or interested in, ask questions about that and learn something new. It doesn’t have to be in-depth and life changing, it can be simple, but it’s a start. Those things have really helped me get to know people better.
I also try to talk to the women that I sit next to in Relief Society (I usually sit next to Kyle during Sunday School, so there’s less opportunity there). Every conversation doesn’t have to be life changing or super meaningful, but every conversation is a little bit more of a connection. I don’t become really good friends with everybody I chat with, but it makes me feel like I’m making more progress.
Oddly, since I’ve started teaching Relief Society, it’s been easier to talk to sisters. A lot of them know me, even though I don’t know them (which is opposite to what I’m used to), and it seems like people are more willing to talk to me. I’ve gotten a lot of compliments on my lessons, as well, which also makes me feel good.
It’s a lot of small, simple things. And I’m still not fantastic at it, but I figure after a few more years of practicing like this, I’ll continue to get better at connecting with people that I don’t know, and it will be easier for me to make friends.