Written by Billie Bhatia

Stylist’s columnist Billie Bhatia answers your questions.

Q: “How can I make new friendswhen it feels like everyone already has their groups?”

From Sara

A: Excellent, a question that actually leans into my (very) limited skill set. In fact, here’s the extensive list of things I’m good at so you’ve got it for reference: catching (mostly balls, but can also offer safe hands for a lobbed bottle of ketchup, etc), cooking pasta, collecting trainers, pretending I could have been an athlete and making friends.

Making friends hasn’t always come naturally. Believe it or not, I was a quiet, often shy, child. In some recently resurfaced footage of five-year-old me on holiday, I’m almost mute in comparison to my older sister, who performed to the camera with the ease of a young Kardashian.

My reserved character lingered at primary school where, in the first couple of years, making friends wasn’t easy. But at around the age of 10 – when my parents really amped up their dinner party scene – I had a lightbulb moment and realised, I really like people.

I like conversation and asking questions (helpful when you’re a journalist). In the same way that you would piece together a jigsaw puzzle, I discovered I really enjoyed working people out – the things that make them happy, sad, excited, nervous, passionate. And people, because there is an element of narcissism in all of us, like it when you take time to get to know them. I was curious to know as much as I could about them, and nine times out of 10, I loved what I discovered – adding that puzzle to my pocket and that person to my list of friends. I guess that’s the long-winded way of saying: I made friends easily. Not because it was always a simple process, but because it was one I enjoyed.

I moved to London when I was 24, a good two years after most of my friends had already done the same. They had formed their friendship groups based on geography, work and hobbies. I was the outsider coming in. Despite my aforementioned ability to make friends, London felt so intimidating. The rush (and chaos) of living in a big city, coupled with a demanding job, meant that carving time out to meet people seemed impossible. This wasn’t fresher’s week, where thousands of candidates were conveniently positioned in a student union up for friendship grabs – meeting people in London was much harder.

The sometimes-hostile working environment that was the fashion industry in 2014 didn’t help either. I was convinced I was never going to make friends in London. Even by the standards of someone who considers befriending others a fully fledged hobby, I struggled for the best part of a year. But I got there; I busted through the walls of established cliques by putting myself out there. How did I do that? I reminded myself that the scenario had changed, but the game was still the same: ask questions and get to know people. Don’t get me wrong, walking up to a stranger and saying, “Hi,” is one of the most uncomfortable situations for even the most sociable of people.

My first real friend in London is still one of my best friends now. Cat and I were chalk and cheese (and still are to an extent). She was the quiet, head down, impossibly sweet picture assistant at the magazine we both worked on, and in the few months we had been on the same team, we had barely scraped together 10 words. One morning, I walked into the office and decided to rip off the plaster. I was going to make her my friend. I went over to her desk and gave her a notebook I had been sent as a gift, saying I thought she might like it. I had no idea what she was in to (except for floral-printed blouses from Zara), but it gave me an excuse to start putting the puzzle of Catherine Pykett-Combes together. Six months later, she moved into my house share and I renamed her ‘Cherub’. Seven years after that, I was stood at the church lectern giving a reading on her wedding day. We had no reason to be friends, nothing that bound us together except for a shared employer, and still our friendship prevailed based on the fundamentals of having a conversation. Now, I couldn’t imagine life without her.

Not all conversations are going to end with best friendships, and not all friendships are formed in one conversation, but they are always worth having. Even if you think a group is already ‘established’, people will still engage on an individual level. Get to know their friends, introduce yourself to as many people as possible, ask more questions than you think you should, say yes to invitations even if you don’t know anyone there (Dutch courage always helped me here), be prepared to not get on with everyone – and don’t take it personally when you don’t. The trick is to show willing, and they’ll be just as interested in you as you are them. I’ve tried and tested these methods and I can tell you, one of life’s greatest gifts is that there is always room for more friends.

Ask Billie anything on Instagram, @stylistmagazine 

Photography: Sarah Brick

Hair and make-up: Patrizia Lio at S management using Kevin Murphy and Nars

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