Agony Agatha

Friday, 3 July, 2015

I’m new to Melbourne and I’m having a hard time making friends. How do I become popular?

As writer of an advice column, I’m obligated to preface my reply with the standard “don’t compromise character for popularity/popularity is a fickle witch/make genuine connections” feel-good, self-help schlock.

It’s a legal thing; all Agony Aunts take an oath to “never endorse manipulation or superficiality…”

That being said, even when you have the best of intentions, making friends is hard. I moved to Victoria at the beginning of last year knowing no one, and the first two months of my life here were soul-destroying. Boring. Lonely. It was during this period that I binge-read about half of Christie’s oeuvre. So, cup half-full… you can possibly channel the pain from this trying time into an irreverent, irrelevant monthly piece in a student magazine?

In my mind, popularity is all about utility. Take Hercule Poirot. He’s old, bossy, derisive, condescending and snobbish – in short, the last person you’d want to hang out with. His sidekick and best friend, the dunderheaded Hastings, is regularly the butt of Poirot’s jokes – ridiculed for his emotions, faith and optimism. And in Murder on the Orient Express Poirot unabashedly told a suspect, “If you will forgive me for being personal – I do not like your face”.

And yet Poirot is beloved by so many. Why? Because he has utility: namely, he can solve murders like nobody’s business. Unpleasant he may be, but at the end of the day he delivers justice. When you can offer something that important, any negative traits become of lesser importance – you become a short, balding Prom Queen.

I’m not saying you need to solve murders to gain friends. That’s what I did when I moved over, but I can see how that wouldn’t work for everyone. You just need something. You could be the nastiest person in Melbourne – which I highly doubt you are – but with the right ace up your sleeve, you’ll be the belle of the ball. Be the best study buddy ever. Cook up hearty soups – with plenty to go around. Know the ins and outs of the Unimelb portal like the back of your hand. Always carry a lighter, tissues or Panadol.

Real friendship can take weeks to happen – people are fickle, and until you’re their friend, you’re just a stranger. My advice? Be a stranger who’s generous with their chewing gum.

Trouble in paradise? Need love advice? Email Alistair <>