Making Friends: Understanding Rejection

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I was sitting at a table at a family carnival with my daughter and a woman and her two sons. I was happy to see that I had been assigned to the same table as this woman, whom I will call Josephine. I knew who she was before I got to the table, and I was excited for the opportunity to meet her. We exchanged names when we sat down, but beyond that, she was not interested in me. I felt disappointed and hurt. The experience got me thinking about friendships–how we make friends, how we choose friends, and what it means when someone is not interested in us.

How do we make friends? How do we choose friends?

We make friends with people with whom we have repeat interactions. In college, potential friends would be the ones who live in your dorm, the ones in your classes, the ones who do the same extracurricular activities that you do, and the ones who are friends with your friends. In adulthood, potential friends would be the parents of your children’s classmates, people from work, people from your place of worship, or your neighbors. In short, your pool of potential friends comes from the people you see most frequently.

In making new friends, opportunity is critical. You need to have occasion to see and talk to a person before you and that person can become friends. Chemistry is also important. You need to have enough in common with a potential new friend that you both enjoy talking to each other. You need to connect. In the case of parents with children at the same school who are friends, the fact that the children are friends could be enough of a foundation for friendship even if the initial chemistry is not there. People befriend other people with whom they share common interests. Children count as common interests.

Receptivity is necessary. For a friendship to form, both individuals must be open to a new friendship. When there is receptivity and the chemistry is strong, a new friendship can form from just one interaction. Repeat interactions can create the foundation for a friendship even when one party is not initially receptive or when the initial chemistry is low.

I think back to the time I met my best friend, whom I will call Kelly. I rejected her overtures of friendship when I first met her. Luckily for me, I had the opportunity to get to know her and change my mind. Through repeat interactions, my receptivity increased. I realized that she and I had much in common and that we had the potential for a great friendship. Kelly ended up introducing me to my husband. Some friendships form quickly, some take time.

What does in mean when someone is not interested in friendship with you?

It is most likely not personal when someone is not interested in you, especially after a single meeting. People are busy, and they are different in terms of their receptivity to new friendships. I think about my experience with Josephine and my experience with Kelly. I have been rejected, and I have rejected. What I’ve learned is that you cannot take personally a rejection by someone who doesn’t know you. Before you can truly judge if a person is not interested in you, you need to have repeat interactions. A person needs to know you before a rejection has any meaning.

You also cannot take personally a rejection by someone who does know you. You have no idea what that person is looking for in a friend or what is going on in that person’s life. An individual’s lack of interest in you could have nothing to do with you or everything to do with you. You might not be someone else’s type, but so what? There are plenty of people in the world, which means plenty of choices for friends. When people have interests in common, the opportunity to get to know each other, and receptivity to meeting others, friendships form naturally.

My advice is to be open to meeting new people. You never know how a new friendship could change your life.