6 tips to get the social connections you *actually* want

Two youngsters showing the power of friendship
Shoutout to photographer Nathan Dumlao

There are few better experiences than coming out of a friend-date and feeling rejuvenated with fresh life.

Though if you’re like me, you’ve probably had many friend-dates that you left feeling “meh.” Maybe it got too heady, or you couldn’t find the right conversation topics, or maybe you came in with a lot of feelings and didn’t have space to express them in the conversation.

Friendships are one of the most important parts of life. And yet, it’s not always so easy to create experiences with friends that fulfill your deepest needs and desires.

I’ve noticed that the strategy that most people use when meeting with a friend is to show up, start talking to each other, and cross their fingers that the conversation goes somewhere good. This relies too much on chance.

I’ve been studying charisma, spaceholding, and connection activities for several years, and I know that it is possible to create consistently memorable and meaningful social interactions. 

Here are 6 tools that I consistently use that can help you bring more intention and agency into your social interactions, and greatly increase the likelihood that you and your friend are both getting what you want out of connecting.

1. Set an intention beforehand

Show up to the Zoom room or the cafe 10 minutes early and set an intention. Meditate and ask yourself: “what do I really want to get out of this connection? And what do I really want to bring into it?” If you write your intentions on a piece of paper it’ll give more power to them – even if it’s only a word or two.

This envelops your friend-date inside of a greater container that you set with yourself and for yourself.

2. Both state your desires upfront

Once you meet up with your friend, start to build the experience together. Ask your friend if they have any desires for your time together, and then share your desires.

You can say something like “hey, we only have 90 minutes together, is there anything you want to make sure we get out of our time together? And I’d love to share some desires I have as well.” The goal of all social interactions is to find win-wins where both parties get their desires met. You and your friend are far more likely to get both of your desires met if you both share what you want from the get-go.

3. Propose cultural norms that are important to you

Every relationship is a 2-person culture. You and your friend have a common language, cadences of speaking and listening, accepted levels of vulnerability, and types of play you rely on. Usually 2-person cultures have implicit norms that develop on their own and are rarely addressed or examined. And these norms are important – they inform how you can show up in the connection and who you can be.

Luckily, there are ways to inform the norms of your 2-person relationship. The easiest way is to simply share your desired norm. This step is especially pertinent for new relationships where the norms are developing right before your eyes. 

For example, it’s hugely important for me to feel space to be transparent in connections. So I may say: “Hi Toddie, as we’re getting to know each other, I wanted to propose a norm. For me, it’s really important to have space for both of us to share transparently. So if either of us are feeling annoyed or anxious or anything at all, I’d love to create permission for our inner feelings to be voiced at any time. How does that land with you?” 

Overtly stating permission to act how you want is the first step towards creating the relational cultures that deeply feed you. Reflect on what norms are important for you to bring into connection spaces.

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4. Pause as much as you can

Let’s say you’re on a friend date. Externally you may be walking, or talking, or sipping tea. But the entire time you are both experiencing an ongoing flux of internal emotions and energies. 

Ultimately, the internal experience of your connection with others is what matters. It doesn’t matter if you’ve found yourself in a seemingly thrilling tree-climbing competition with your pal if on the inside you feel terrible.

There are certain internal states that are more desirable than others – such as the feeling of deep connection, understanding, inspiration, or warmth. However, most conversations naturally find themselves in eddies where you feel disembodied, agitated, or bored. In other words, you will invariably find yourself in points of a conversation where one or both of you is not in your desire and you feel disconnected

Most people will subconsciously attune to the feeling of disconnection and try to organically steer the conversation back into the promiseland. But there is a more reliable route. 

First, try to track your internal world throughout the whole social experience. Notice the peaks, valleys, explosions, and numbness. 

Second, make an effort to PAUSE as often as you can in the conversation to check in with yourself. It is really hard to know exactly where you are at or what you want without a true pause. One great opportunity to pause is if you notice yourself feeling anything crunchy or unpleasant. You can just say “hey, do you mind I pause for a second and check in with where I’m at and what I want?” Then you can share that you want to. Maybe you want to move your body, or change the topic to something more personal, or share what emotion you’re feeling. 

Connected conversations – like sex and other forms of intimacy – are a space where both people’s inner world are tethered together. If you are really in tune with yourself and the other person, then if you feel anything unpleasant or disconnected, there’s a good chance that they feel something similar. And if they are having an entirely different experience than your disconnected one, that is equally valuable information and hearing where each other is at will create more connection.

5. Make proposals!

Spending time with a friend doesn’t have to be just talking – you can turn it into an adventure. If you have an impulse to try something together, be daring and make the proposal! 

Maybe you want to ask them questions for 10 minutes, play a connection game, or just stop talking and cuddle. Go with impulse! 

Remember, when they receive your proposal, they can say “yes,” “no,” or “I don’t want to cuddle, but I’d be up for holding hands.” Putting out proposals allows present desires to emerge. You’ll create new opportunities in the connection and through negotiation you can both find a mutual “yes” together. 

6. Reflect

Flect, reflect, and flect once more! After you part ways with your friend, close your solo container by asking yourself “what went well? What could’ve gone better?” Each interaction is meaningful in itself, and is also a practice ground for your connecting skills.

Be daring!

Ultimately these tools are all about helping you get what you want out of your connections. It is vulnerable to look at your desires, and even scarier to state them. 

So be courageous my friend, push your connections to their limit, and get what you want out of them!

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Video format

For the visual learners out there, here’s a video of me articulating these tools.

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