Don't be shy, go up and say hello,
When you see someone you'd really like to know,
Don't be shy, it's all in your address,
Baby, this time things won't turn out such a mess ...
Village People, 'I Wanna Shake Your Hand', 1979
When I arrived at UNH one of the first things that I had wanted to change about myself was how I went about meeting people. I had gotten into the habit of waiting for others to approach me, preferring to hang back where it was safe. I could be very social with people that I already knew, but very shy with those that I didn't. I decided that I wanted to actively change that approach, and see what life was like for the overly social.
Now that I was ready to meet people the second change I wanted to make was around the kind of people I met. I had good friends in Haddonfield, but they tended to be from one particular social group: kids like me. I didn't dislike those who were different, but I also didn't go out of my way to reach out to them either. I wanted to have a more eclectic and interesting social circle, so to make that happen I knew that I would have to actively seek out interesting people.
Playing the Socialite
From my first day on campus I tried a comically outgoing approach: I would just walk up to people and say hello. The quieter or more reserved the person the more friendly I would be. This felt unnatural at first, but I made a game out of it and pushed myself to stand well outside my comfort zone whenever new people were around. Since most of the people there didn't know anyone else I actually had people thanking me for getting conversations going. I was also surprised at how easy it was to meet people. I had always thought there was some secret art to it, but it turned out to be far simpler than I expected. It was a great lesson.
I also kept my eye out for interesting people. When I saw them I resisted the urge to think "Why would they want to be friends with me?" and instead started talking to them. Even the most inaccessible people responded well, and I was surprised at how often these people were grateful to me for initiating conversation. I heard more than once that others had judged me based on the way I looked (like a dumb high school jock) and were pleasantly surprised at who I turned out to be. On many occasions I noticed the person I was talking to sizing me up, clearly not sure what to make of me. With these people I made a point of staying focused on them and listening to what they were saying and I found that any apprehension that they showed faded quickly if they sensed a sincere interest in who they were.
I arrived at UNH in late August 1983. I had signed up for 'Freshman Camp' which started a week before classes and where I got to know a few hundred incoming students. This choice combined with my new approach to meeting people turned out to be a powerful combination, because for the rest of that year I couldn't walk anywhere on campus without someone calling out my name and saying hello. People who had gone to UNH for 2 or 3 years used to regularly ask me how I knew so many people, being an out-of-state freshman. I would tell them of course, but I always felt that they didn't believe me when I said, "I just went up and talked to them". They seemed to think there was some other secret to it...