Big Questions is an advice column hosted by Zach Miko. Send in your questions about body image, dating, relationships and more by clicking here.
Jack: Six months ago I moved to a new city for work. I’m no stranger to new cities and new people, but this time I’m really struggling to find friends and people to connect with. In the past, I’ve had the benefit of college or church to help with these new connections, but I’m well out of school and I’m not into church anymore. I’m in my mid 30’s and my office is significantly older than me, so I’ve found few options for socializing there. The few times I’ve managed to meet new people, I’ve really struggled to connect with them. My weight has always been one of my life’s greatest challenges and it is the first thing anyone notices about me. I can’t help but feel this is adding to the challenge of forging friendships. How can I find more potential friends and what can I do to overcome my own insecurities about my size to better connect with them?
Ten years ago I moved from my town in Connecticut to New York City. I wanted to be an actor, and after years of doing musical theater, I left my small pond in order to swim in the ocean that is New York. I didn’t realize that moving would result in losing most of my friends, but I, like many, learned that only really strong friendships travel. Like you, I found myself in a brand new city, not knowing anyone, moving into an apartment I had only ever seen pictures of on the internet. I had confidence when I was on stage, which is why I felt so comfortable moving to pursue my dreams. However, when it came to social situations, I still was that scared fat kid, wishing someone would tell me I could sit at their lunch table. Making new friends took a long time. It was probably the scariest thing I have ever done, but that crazy decision lead me to a life I now love and am so grateful for.
Understanding that every person you meet has their emotional barrier up will be of enormous help when trying to make new friends.
Making friends as an adult will always be harder than it was when we were children. When we were younger anything equaled friendship. You have a green shirt, I love green, guess we are friends now! It’s because when we are so young we haven’t developed the years and years of insecurities, emotional walls, and defense mechanisms that we all have as adults. Adults have had decades of trauma, big and small, and whether we know about it or not, it’s an invisible guard we all put up when meeting new people. Understanding that every person you meet has their emotional barrier up will be of enormous help when trying to make new friends.
One of the results of being my size growing up is I developed a pretty healthy dose of social anxiety. It is super common for big people to develop some sort of social anxiety or introversion due to our fear of being judged. As you eluded to in your question, noticing someone’s size is completely unavoidable. That’s fine. It’s a physical characteristic, not a definition of who we are. When someone asks you who Jerry Seinfeld is, do you say, “oh, he’s a brunette.”? Your size does not define who you are, but it is a part of you, and it is the part people will see first. What they will notice within that same second, whether they realize it or not, is how you carry yourself.
We are always attracted, both platonically and romantically, to someone who is confident in their sense of self. Does this mean you will never make friends until you are completely secure and confident individual? Of course not, if that was the case none of us would ever have any friends. The trick is learning more about who you are, what you are interested in, what you are looking for. Making friends in college and church was easier than meeting strangers because you were surrounded by people with a common interest. Sometimes as adults we get caught up in the rat race of work and paying bills, that what we really enjoy seems to become less and less of a priority. Remember hobbies? In today’s world we try to monetize everything we do, and rarely do anything for the joy of it anymore. All of us want to do things we enjoy, and the key to finding friends in a new place is finding people who enjoy the same things.
Another reason college and church were such good friend making places, is because they are naturally social situations. No matter what city you live in I promise there are groups with your interest already meeting up. If you like animals, every city in the country has shelters and rescues you can volunteer with, not to mention local zoos and aquariums always in search of volunteers. If you like comedy, I guarantee there are endless sketch, stand up, and improv groups. If you love the outdoors, find a local hiking group or rock climbing or rafting club. Like Sports? There’s hundreds of fan groups and fantasy sports leagues. If you like Magic the Gathering or D&D, find the local game store. Seeking out your interests in key. It is too easy with all of our modern conveniences to sit at home, but we are animals, we are meant to be social. Some of us prefer huge groups of friends, some of us are content with the companionship of just one other person, but we all instinctually seek socialization. It’s our past traumas that prevent us from doing so.
As a person of size, your biggest fear is being rejected because of your weight, but if anyone does that, you don’t want them as a friend anyway.
Lastly, It’s going to be scary. Introvert or Extrovert, you need to put yourself out there into these social groups. Every instinct you have might tell you to go back home, but you have to give a new group a chance. You are not auditioning for their friendship and hoping for acceptance. You are auditioning people for the right to be your friend. As a person of size, your biggest fear is being rejected because of your weight, but if anyone does that, you don’t want them as a friend anyway. You are searching for people in your life that will compliment who you are, not push against it. We get to pick our friends as an adult. Approaching new friendships in this mindset will help you immensely.
The more I explore my own experiences in life, the more I realize all those things your parents and grandparents tell you is true. My mom always said, “When someone shows you who they are, believe them”. Don’t let people being assholes keep you from going out and exploring your interests and making new friends. Most people are like you: searching for love, friendship and acceptance. Be that welcoming person and people will welcome you. It took me at least 6 months to make a friend in NYC. You will meet people, you will make friends. Challenge yourself, step out of your box, find what you love, and the world is your oyster. If you don’t like oysters, try them with a little mignonette, it’ll blow your mind. I’m sure there’s a metaphor in there somewhere