To Make a New Friend, Bond Over Your Social Anxiety

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To make a friend, it helps to have something in common, like a shared hobby or the same weird sense of humor. But if neither of those materializes, a shared sense of social anxiety will do. According to new research led by Eliane M. Boucher of Providence College, new friends become better friends over time if they have similar levels of social phobia.

Boucher’s study, published in the journal Personal Relationships, investigated the first ten weeks of budding friendships between undergrads by recruiting pairs of new friends who’d only known each other about four weeks. The friends took a questionnaire to assess their individual levels of social anxiety, plus a survey asking how close they felt to their new friend.

Six weeks later, Boucher and her team checked in with the students again, asking again how close they felt they were to each other. As the researchers suspected, the new friends with similar levels of social anxiety — whether high or low — felt closer to each other six months into the friendship than friend-pairs with mismatched levels of social anxiety. This isn’t the first time a shared sense of social anxiety has been shown to lead to closer relationships; the finding echoes previous research by Todd B. Kashdan of George Mason University, though his work focused on strangers who’d met for the first time in the lab. 

It isn’t surprising to think that people with low social anxiety might form closer bonds; if you’re not on edge about social situations, it makes sense that you’d glide through them and, as such, be rewarded with closer friendships. But it’s nice to think that people who don’t exactly handle social interactions well aren’t doomed to loneliness. Quite the opposite — it can be something you use to bond with your similarly anxious new friend.