Everyone says making friends in college is so easy—you just have to “join a club” or “go to events more!” And you try to, you really do, but the Hiking Club meets on Wednesdays, and between work, studying and Netflix, you’re totally booked that day. Or maybe the weather isn’t all that great, and you can’t fathom the idea of leaving the comfort of your own home. Either way, don’t sweat it—even without clubs (and the desire to leave your couch), there are plenty of ways to make friends for life.
Check out five ways you can stand apart from the rest by doing absolutely nothing.
1. Actually BE INTERESTING
Considering the title this seems contradictory but, in order to be interesting, we have to redefine our concept of the word. Being interesting is the most misunderstood concept in the world. Lots of people think that means having done something exceptional, like climbing Mt. Everest or visiting Thailand. But those things actually make it harder to appear interesting—if people can’t relate to those experiences, then it just becomes a fun fact, not a conversation starter. To make yourself more interesting, start by finding that one hobby or passion you have and building off that.
Do you find yourself reading a lot? That’s interesting. You know what else can be interesting? Netflix, music and just about anything you can form an opinion on. Being interesting is just another way of saying you are different. In other words, take what you know and use it to your advantage.
Let’s say the professor is running a couple of minutes late. That’s enough time to pull up an episode on Netflix, turn to your seatmate and say, “Okay, but did you see this last episode of [insert TV show here].” If they have, then you can talk about how it threw you both for a loop. If not, you can talk about how it threw you for a loop and therefore they should watch the show as well. Did your favorite artist drop a new album? Tell the person next to you to listen to it as soon as they’ve got spare time.
University of Washington junior David McKenzie considers himself to be an avid movie-goer. “I would definitely consider movie-going a hobby. It’s certainly one of my favorite hobbies, if not my very favorite. I go about three times a month. Not as much as I would like, of course, but I’m a poor college student,” said McKenzie.
Listening to him speak of his favorite director (Greta Gerwig of the recent Lady Bird) and emerging actress (Saoirse Ronan, the lead in Lady Bird) made it obvious that he was educated on the subject. “[Greta Gerwig] has been very close to the top of my list of favorite people ever since her 2013/2014 film Frances Ha,” McKenzie said. “I think she’s so intriguing; she has such unpredictable comedic timing that I find adorable and relatable in equal measure.”
Let’s say McKenzie says exactly this to someone in his class and immediately piques their interest. McKenzie can follow up by suggesting they exchange phone numbers so that when his classmate watches Frances Ha, they can meet up later for to discuss it over coffee.
2. BE PASSIONATE
Someone strikes up a conversation with you, and she has all the inflection and enthusiasm of a DMV clerk. Don’t you feel yourself becoming extremely awkward in this situation as you search for a new subject to transition into? Now imagine you are the one facilitating this conversation. If you don’t like the topic you’re talking about, why would someone else? Whether it be books, movies or birds, don’t minimize its importance to you. If you just want to impress someone, it’ll show—even talking about your interests will come off as more pretentious than passionate.
“Beyond being great ice breakers like, ‘Hey, did you see…?’, I think movie talk does great things for conversations because of how much you can learn about someone else from their response. You can learn if you receive ideas and messages the same as others, and if you don’t, how they receive them differently,” said McKenzie.
Turn your hobby into a conversation starter. Even if someone doesn’t have the same viewpoint, you can build a deep conversation. Someone didn’t like a book that you loved? Ask them why, and see where you overlap and differ, It might even lead to discovering a shared interest. And the more personal flare you add to it, the more likely you are to intrigue someone.
3. Be Vulnerable
No, that doesn’t mean to tell people your beta fish died on Mother’s Day (Rest in peace, Sir Aaron). Instead, be prepared to tell people what your hobby means to you. That way, you’ll be able to ensure your emotional investment in the conversation. That, and your peers with appreciate the honesty and ingenuity.
Out of pure curiosity, I asked my roommate Sierra, a junior and Computer Science major at Seattle Pacific University, what made her so outgoing. Most people are afraid to put themselves out on the line in such a way, but Sierra wasn’t. She said, “I think I kind of go into new relationships and friendships just not expecting much. I feel like if you overthink things to the point where you assume someone is going to be some type of way, you kind of count yourself out of real conversations.”
Being vulnerable about your passions doesn’t have to be an emotional connection. It can be something as little as, like Sierra said, approaching relationships without any expectations. When you have expectations, you will act in a way that ensure the outcome you want versus allowing yourself to respond naturally. This allows your personality to shine through.
We all have the fear of not being accepted, and sometimes that drives our interactions. But that’s our expectations controlling us. Rather, it’s far more beneficial to walk into every conversation without a single goal in mind. That means you also accept the possibility that the conversation may not progress into anything more than a talk about your favorite Marvel characters.
Sierra concluded by saying, “Another part is not being afraid to fail. If I think I’m too cool to look stupid, I’m never going learn anything. I’m never going to grow.”
4. Ask Questions
Chances are, if you’ve got a passion, so does the person you’re talking to. And while we all hate icebreakers—so awkward—go ahead and ask them about their own interests. Even questions as simple as “What do you like to do?” or “What do you enjoy talking about?” work well as go-to’s.
Washington Opportunity Scholarship speaking coach Karen Hirsch encourages his students to ask questions. “One of the best ways to engage a listener is to ask questions. This sounds so basic, but you would be amazed how many people get caught up in their stories and forget to check in with who they are talking to,” said Hirsch. After all, no one wants to finish telling their story only to realize the person they’ve been speaking to was just nodding along. Not only is it embarrassing, you may have even come across as inconsiderate.
So pass over the microphone and give them some airtime—just make sure you don’t ask a superficial question that you don’t care about the answer to. If you’ve hit that point, you’ve drained all the life from the conversation, just speaking for the sake of speaking. Make sure you actually want to hear the answer—your interest won’t go unnoticed, nor unreciprocated.
5. Be a Part of the Conversation
This doesn’t just mean verbal responses. It also means make physical responses. Don’t try to stifle your physical responses. For example, if you get fidgety when you feel nervous, conquer your fear by using your hands to help you deliver the conversation. You can also use facial expressions to guide the conversation along as well. The key is making your response authentic to you:
“I am not saying that everyone should perform,” said Hirsch. “I’m saying do what comes naturally. In public speaking and in conversation, we take so many cues from how people use their face and body. If you show that you are engaged in what you are saying, other people will be too.”
The energy people receive from you should be equal to the energy you put into the conversation. It should also be unique to you. That way people know exactly what to expect from you and, when they want to experience the kind of energy you give off, they now exactly who to go to.