Don’t worry, I won’t expose you.
For some of you reading this article, I know that the intent beneath the friendship, is a desire for romance. But without a friendship, you won’t even get the relationship.
Relax. I’ve been there.
What it feels like
You feel a quiet stab of pain as you walk through the crowded shopping mall, seeing people hanging out with their friends, and you’re just alone.
You see couples holding hands, and you’re tired of being single.
You open WhatsApp, and realise there’s no one asking you to go out. Amongst your friend groups, everyone seems to have quietly moved on.
You may have just moved to Singapore, and find it hard to understand why Singaporeans seem cold, direct and aloof. Every task, even friendships can seem transactional.
Making new friends in a city like Singapore, can be difficult.
Over the past few months, we’ve been actively thinking about how best to make new friends in Singapore.
First understand why it’s tough
To understand how to make friends, you need to first understand why its tough.
A caveat. These are based on impressions, experiences, and not hard data. If you want that, this article is not the place for you.
Singapore’s cultural confusion
You need to first understand the cultural context of Singapore. Whilst Singapore appears culturally more similar to the West, the psychology of its people is more akin to its Chinese, conservative heritage.
This means that asks for 1 to 1 meetings between opposite genders are often seen as an ask to date, rather than just a platonic relationship.
Again, different people might take it differently, but those who’ve grown up mostly in Singapore tend to see a 1-1 as an expression of romantic interest.
And as you know, that’s a lot of commitment to be asking for. See it from the girl or boy’s point of view. If they are not interested, they wouldn’t want to give you the wrong idea. But you may ask,
But it’s just friends!
Why are they so sensitive?
Again, people in Singapore generally don’t like to ‘lead people on’.
The transactional approach towards friendships
One of the biggest problems you will face in trying to make friends in Singapore is that people will assume you are:
- Trying to sell them something like insurance
- Trying to date them
We all know that this is not your intent.
But with this kind of a transactional, goal-focused approach towards friendships, it can be something hard to allow room for the friendship to grow and mature, giving it time and space to take its course.
Instead, we remember how in our most treasured friendships in school, things were simpler because there was nothing you could sell. You could spend time with each other, with no agenda.
The lack of organic group meetups outside of school
When you move to work, you will realise that it can almost feel impossible to meet friends. You will have to coordinate timings, where to eat, schedules, and that can feel like an impossible ask.
Over time, it can be difficult.
You might also find it easier to meet someone 1-1, but when you do things 1 on 1, the opportunity for fun can be limited to things such as:
Whilst women are generally okay with the face to face, 1 to 1 conversations, guys can find that challenging after a while.
The passivity of most guys
Another thing you might slowly realise is that guys are generally more passive. They are perfectly okay with not meeting for a few months and not initiating any meetups, until someone else does it.
That initiator might be you.
And that can often feel difficult, as you struggle with thoughts such as,
if my friend really cared about me, he would ask me out.
Why does it seem like I’m giving more to this friendship than others?
Be clear about your intent internally, and externally
I will be the first to confess.
Time and time again, I’ve been ghosted.
When I first moved back to Singapore, it was hard for me to understand why friendships here seemed so rude and cold.
Whenever I tried to continue a conversation over WhatsApp with someone I had just met, I would meet with one of three responses.
- They would just ghost me
- Some kinder ones would tell me they were uncomfortable with continuing the conversation
- Over time, the conversation would die a slow death
Then someone recently said to me,
Clear is kind.
Now, I’ve found it helpful to just tell someone,
please don’t worry. I’m not trying to date you.
For me, that has helped them to be a little more open towards the idea that we can simply be together as friends. Not friends with benefits, not potential dates, but just as friends.
Even if you are interested in someone, clarify the intent for friendship
At a recent talk, I heard a couple share a framework on how to start a family.
- Intentional friendship
- Romantic Relationship
One of the hardest thing about a relationship in modern Singapore is that the opportunity for friendship can be extremely limited.
Still, clarifying your intent can help.
I’ve found the above three principles the best in terms of finding groups that work.
Firstly, research does show that it takes about 200 hours to know someone. Therefore, if you do want to make friends, you might want to find an activity that allows you to meet quite regularly.
Groups such as church, with their weekly cell groups can often be a good way.
But beyond that, it often helps that the activity has a natural variety that’s inbuilt within the activity. Team sports are thus easier, because there are a million different ways to play the game, and the structure of the rules makes it more fun.
But lastly, a self-sustaining group is really, really hard to make. Having people come week in, week out for the same activity will be tough, but seeing the same people regularly can help deepen your friendship.
That’s where you need to understand the two broad types of friendship-making activities.
There are the regular, ‘upkeep’ type activities which most people have to do somewhere, somehow. Think of it as activities that contribute to your health. Like brushing your teeth and bathing, except that you don’t usually do these with people.
But those that you do do with people include:
- Lunch clubs
These tend to be easier to do because everyone has to do it, and you can’t really avoid it.
You initiate and ask for the post-event activity
With event-based activities, you have to take an effort to initiate the post-event meetup. Ask things like,
Does anyone want to go for lunch after this?
Personally though, I don’t recommend it because I’ve had some bad experiences sustaining them. It is hard.
And if you’ve heard of Friendzone, I don’t recommend them. They used to be good, but their standards seem to have dropped massively in recent months.
When I went for their most recent activity in September, their two cofounders were sitting on the couch chatting (about work, I hope), whilst the groups were unevenly balanced. We had four guys in our groups, with a bunch of conversation cards thrown on the table, conversing about friendships.
It was a really bad conversation.
Because guys just don’t talk about friendships.
It did feel like a lady would have added a different perspective, but again, they didn’t adjust the groups.
It didn’t make sense for me to pay $25 to chat with 4 more strangers, and to facilitate my own conversation.
Join interest groups around team sports
Even if you hate sports, you have to try it.
Team sports are one of the best ways to meet new friends, because there is a combined goal, and a combined enemy (your opponent). Games like netball can be a great way to meet friends of the opposite gender.
One of the best groups I’ve found is the Ministry of Netball on Meetup, though you do see below that they also do say that it’s not a place to pick up ladies.
Join interest groups that encourage deeper conversations
Of course church and its focus on God can be a good way, but another great way are book clubs.
This is where I recommend The Saturday Book Club. With its healthy mix of young and older people, you will get a diversity of perspective and a way to deeper conversations, around the things that really do matter.
Don’t forget those old friends
Making new friends often seems more sexy, but forgetting your friends of old may be a wasted opportunity. Especially those that have grown up with you from school.
It’s best that you do give them a chance too.
Of late, making new friends did seem a better option, especially when it felt as though my friends weren’t that interested in nurturing our friendships.
But I realised it wasn’t their fault. I couldn’t blame them.
And when we met again, we did have fun.
Realise that some friends are good for different seasons of your life, but also that some friends do last through the seasons.
Don’t lose those type of friends.
They are the real gems.