Dear Steff Metal
I have moved to a new city to study, and left my friends behind. I love the university and all my classes and lecturers, but I feel very lonely and isolated here – it seems as if everyone in my hostel is already friends, and I don’t know anyone. I would love to make some new friends – especially with metalheads – but I’m shy, and I don’t really know how to do this. Help!
You have no idea how uncannily similar your situation is to my first year experience of university. I had spent so much time being excited about leaving my small town for the big smoke, that I hadn’t prepared myself for the grueling task that is attempting to make friends. When you’re shy, (and when you have a visible eye problem) attempting to turn strangers into mates can seem like some kind of arcane and un-natural torture. It’s even more difficult when you’re trying to insert yourself into an established “scene” where everyone already has friends and seem wary of “try-hard” newcomers.
Making friends ain’t easy. Making friends with metalheads can be an even bigger challenge. You set yourself up for all kinds of new and unknown humiliations, awkward silences and psychotic stalkers. But, when you finally make that personal connection with someone, you realize it’s all been worth it.
Put Yourself in Likely Places to Meet Interesting People
University is an absolutely hive of interesting people. This is because – in New Zealand anyway – when high school fnishes, a lot of kids stay on the farm wrking for their parents, or go to the local meatworks, or work at Caltex to fund their OE. The kids who go to uni from the small towns tend to be there for similiar reasons to you.
How do you find them? In my first year, I joined and subsequently dropped a lot of different clubs – this is cool – it’s totally OK. You don’t have to stick with a club – most of the new recruits drop out once their first essay deadline rolls around. But if you’ve ever wanted to try rock climbing or you think the role playing society looks like a hoot, find their booth and sign up, and then go to their first meeting and talk to some of the regulars. You’ll quickly suss out if they’re you kind of folks.
Choose subjects that genuinely interest you, show up to all the classes and tutorials, and strike up discussions with other students. Chances are, if you’re taking “Ancient Sumarian Texts 101”. they probably have at least a passing interest in Ancient Sumarian texts – hey look, you’ve already got something in common!
Go to gigs and clubs and shows and movies, even if you have to go by yourself. I ALWAYS strike up conversations with people next to me in the mosh pit. Sometimes you have an hour to wait between bands, so you might as well spend it talking to someone. I met my last boyfriend in a mosh pit (I’m not telling you which band, because it’s rather embarrassing and not very metal).
Also, find the local metal forums and keep up-to-date with the local “scene”. You don’t have to participate (some of the online forums can be quite intimidating), but – if nothing else – you’ll learn a few of the main players and which bands everyone thinks are worth supporting.
This First and Second points tend to flow from each other. Basically, if you met some totally bodacious metal chick at your hostel, and she seemed interested in talking to you, and you said “Oh, well, you know, I’m not really into muh. Just metal and beer, really.” That’s not very interesting. I don’t know if I’d hang out with you if I thought you didn’t have a thought in your head apart from “how many JD’s can I skull tonight?”
You’re at university! In a giant, bustling city full of interesting things! You have no job, no responsibilty! You are free! Don’t waste all your time holed up in your room. Take the train to a random place and go exploring. Join clubs, see shows, explore! Come back with a story to tell.
Write yourself a list of 100 personal challenges for the year, everything from “Get an A on a paper” to “Save $1000 for OE” to “See an erotic french film” to “learn archery.” Try to accomplish one per day.
The gym at my uni ran a series of inexpensive ($40 a term) beginners classes in various subjects. I took acting, massage, brazilian jiujitzu, salsa, yoga, and Goju Rhu karate – then I studied karate for another three years. The bookshop on Queen Street ran regular writers meetings and I used to go down and read work and talk to other creative people. I helped a friend found the JRR Tolkien Society, and I met an incredible group of amazing literary friends. I joined the archaeological soceity, and got the first glimpse of my future husband (the then Iron-Maiden shirt and hot English Accent President of said society.)
Be Prepared to Shoot and Fail
You will walk up to people and introduce yourself and they will shrug and walk away. You will embarrass yourself utterly on the first day. You will run out of things to say and nervously stare at your feet. You are not alone.
It’s hard not to beat yourself up about these failures. Go home, shut yourself in your room, listen to “Courage” by Manowar and remember that you’re awesome and it’s only a matter of time till you find someone who thinks so, too. And write me a letter – I can totally empathize.
Don’t Assume Just Coz Everyone is a Drunken Idiot, that They are, In Fact, a Drunken Idiot
I am so guilty of this. I lived in a hostel my first year at uni and I hardly socialised with anyone at all. I would arrive home from uni and find half my floor drunk in the common room and I just thought it was dumb, so I didn’t bother.
At the end of the year, I read through the yearbook, and realized “hey, some of these people seem really cool. I wish I’d tried a little harder to get to know them.” I hate having regrets, even small regrets like that. Don’t waste opportunities. Go to the hostel events – you can always make an excuse and leave if you’re uncomfortable, but go. Remember, they’re probably judging your Cynic t-shirt just as much as you’re judging their Abercrombie and Fitch jeans and stupid pink “alcopop” drink.
If you see an Interesting-Looking Person, Say Something to Them
Yesterday, a girl sat down next to me on the bus, and she was carrying a HUGE bunch of white calla lillies. My sister had Calla lillies in her wedding bouquet. I asked her about them and we had a really interesting conversation about lillies and Victorian mourning practises (the flowers were a birthday present from her boy). Now, we didn’t exchange numbers, but we could have. You just never know.
I make a habit of throwing the goat to anyone I see wearing the shirt of a band I like. I tell people I like their shoes, or if someone’s standing in line at my café not sure what to order, I give them a recommendation. 99% of these little interactions result in absolutly nothing except helping someone our or making their day a little brighter, but sometimes, they turn into real, genuine connections.
I met one of my closest male friends because he came up to me before an archaeological dig and boldly introduced himself, mentioned he’d seen me in class and understood I was a metalhead. I was so struck by his openly forward but friendly nature we hung out pretty much non-stop for a week. He’s awesome and still a close friend (Hi Ryan!)
Talk the Talk
So, you’ve followed all the advice above and you’re actually talking to a real, live metalhead! Now what do you do?
Make eye-contact. I struggle with this, because of the wobbly eye, and also because most metal boys are hot and if I think someone is hot I get embarrassed and my ears go red :) But eye contact + smiles = body language for “I think you’re cool. Let’s be friends.”
Ask questions. Ask them what they think of the band, how often they come to this club, what they do when they’re not at the club / in the juice bar / making sandwiches at Subway.
Remember, us subcultural types have very set and specific opinions about music, art, movies, fashion and culture. It’s hard, but try not to alienate people by telling them their favorite band is crap. Instead, engage them in a discussion – say “I’ve never been a fan of HIM, because I think all the songs sound the same. But Vile Valo sure can sing. I also find it weird that they’re classed as metal. Do you consider them metal?” Now you can have a discussion instead of offending the cute girl with the heartogram tattoo. (I tend to stare well clear of heartogram tattoos myself, just a friendly warning.)
I probably don’t need to say this, but don’t make shit up to sound cool, because it always bites you in the ass. Instead of trying to be cool, just go and be cool. Go and do all the stuff you wish you’d done. Cultivate a lasting friendship with yourself, because you have to spend a lot of time hanging out with your own mind, so make it fun.
There’s no point pretenting to be someone else, because any friends you make will be attracted to THAT person, not you. Find people who like you for who you are. By all means, use people you admire as inspiration – I would sometimes “pretend” to myself I was confident when I talked to people. I had a very confident friend and I would say to myself “I am her right now”, and that can help, but don’t try and BE someone else. I’ve been on the receiving end of that and I tell you – not fun.
Your Momma was right – be yourself. That’s all you can do. All the rest will come with time and practice.
If all else fails,. I can always do with new friends. If you read this blog, I already know I like you :)
Basically, making friends with metalheads is exactly the same as making friends with anyone else – you put yourself in a place where metalheads are likely to hang out, you try to look approachable and happy. You smile and make eye contact and ask questions and get people talking, and you watch and listen and feel for that “click” of a connection that makes you think “Yeah, this person has SO got to be in my life.” And tell them that – maybe they’ll be flattered.
Any other advice from readers on making friends with metalheads or other alternative types?