After Dawson and Joey first reveal their feelings for each other and kiss on Dawson's Creek (lol), they're both feeling exposed and desperately trying to figure out if the other really feels the same way. To the audience, they clearly like each other and are about to start a relationship. But they are both in the middle of massive vulnerability hangovers in their relationship, feeling self-conscious and considering never talking to the other again. These same feelings often happen at the start of friendships too.
Have you ever connected with someone 1:1 once and then never spoke to them again even though you wanted to continue the friendship?
After meeting for the first time and feeling a spark, you may feel weird and vulnerable even though to outside observers, you clearly like each other.
If you're a community builder helping others connect, there is a huge opportunity to help budding friendships develop by helping people meet in the first place, and then overcome this awkward period and deepen their relationships.
Below are some ideas and examples for community builders to try.
Paint the picture
What does a new successful 1:1 relationship look like for your community? Is it meeting in person? Is it following each other on Instagram? Is it becoming co-founders? Name it so that they can visualize what's possible.
When I ran in person events at Techfest Club, a community for women in tech in NY, at the start of every event we made a point to say something like:
"We have 2 goals for you today, first we hope you learn something you can immediately apply in your work and secondly, we hope you make a new friend."
Because these were in-person events, as soon as we'd say make a new friend it was easy to notice the mood in the room change. People would visibly relax and look around at others differently. We'd then give them some examples on how to connect:
"You can exchange emails, follow each other on Twitter or Instagram or plan to meet for coffee."
There's so much in community building and connecting that we take for granted and assume is implied. But it's not! If you want people to connect 1:1, tell them and make explicit suggestions about the how. They'll be more likely to see the opportunities and feel more comfortable reaching out.
Build a structure
After the first meeting what does the road to becoming friends look like? It often takes many meetings and events before people start feeling familiar to each other and consider each other friends.
What community builders can do to make sure people don't fall off the wagon before the friendship has solidified is to introduce structures so that people have a reason to get together. For example, if you're running an online course, accountability buddies or groups are a breeding ground for new friendships.
On Deck Course Creators, Andrew Barry's recent course I was part of, encouraged students to pair up and hold each other accountable through the 9-week curriculum. Several of us who chose a buddy and met regularly have really gotten to know each other and eventually formed close friendships through the process of holding each other accountable through the course.
For your own community, think about what 1:1 structure will help your members solve their own problems. Then, put in as much structure as necessary to make it easy. You can suggest a specific cadence (once a week, once a month, etc) or offer to schedule regular meetings for them. You can also have suggested prompts for conversations so that there's clarity for when they meet.
As part of the process you put in place, be sure to name the awkwardness of meeting new people. They will recognize it when it happens and it'll be less likely to be a reason to give up on the relationship.
Give it a name
When you are encouraging 1:1 meetings, give the partners a name related to the goal of your community. Calling them accountability pals, virtual co-workers or something silly that fits with your community, takes the pressure off of those first few meetings. It's a placeholder name until they're able to say, 'that's my friend'.
In Ness Labs, a community for people interested in mindful productivity, this is called a Thinking Buddy. There's a space in the community where you can post your info and time zone and the kind of Thinking Buddy you're looking for. Others who are interested can comment and plan to connect over DMs.
Instead of naming the partnership you can also name the meeting itself. NAWSP's Thrive, a community for women in sales, calls 1:1 meetings between members Virtual Lattes. The name is a fun way to normalize the behavior and encourage people to meet.
Let them opt out
Like in romantic relationships, chemistry is important in friendships. If you're facilitating connection, provide a way for your members to not have to ghost each other if they're not interested in continuing the relationship.
I love how Ness Labs addresses this in the instructions for Thinking Buddies:
"It's recommended to first schedule a 30-minute call to see if it's a good fit. If not, no hard feelings! And if you feel like you want to keep on thinking and growing together, you can schedule more sessions."
You have to build any accountability programs and 1:1 matching with the messiness of humanity in mind. Some people just won't get along, others will be too busy and never meet, others just won't feel a spark. That's okay! If that happens, the goal is to not have them give up and feel too rejected to try again with someone else.
One-on-one relationships are crucial to building a community where people feel deep connection and belonging. Nurturing and encouraging them in your community is one of the best gifts you can give your members.
I hope these tips help you embrace the awkwardness and get started.