“You drink too much. You cuss too much. You have questionable morals. You’re everything I ever wanted in a friend.” – From a greeting card by Skel Design
Sometimes it feels like there’s a wall between you and the rest of the world. Especially as you get older, it becomes harder to meet people, never mind find friends. For introverts it can be even more challenging. Much of America is lonely. But finding hang-out buddies and best friends doesn’t have to be reserved for the lucky few. Here are some tips on how to meet people and make friends.
Start with long lost buddies.
Past friends. Most of us have friends from the past, people we haven’t talked to in years. Look up that elementary school peer, college roommate, former colleague, old boss, or aunt you’ve lost contact with… think of all the people you’ve known. It’s okay to give them a call or drop them an email.
Contact them. Consider texting them out of the blue: “What up?” If it’s more formal, tell them something made you think of them the other day. Ask them to meet up for old time’s sake, especially if they live close. Even if you find you have nothing in common, that “having nothing in common” might spark a new kinship.
Familiarity breeds friendship.
Pick a place that appeals to you, and visit it often. Go there a few times a week or more. You don’t have to talk to anyone, not in the beginning, but once you’ve spent enough time at this place you’ll start to recognize the “locals,” and they’ll start recognizing you.
Are the owners of the tiny street café friendly? Do other coffee-lovers grin approvingly as you buy a super-sized triple-shot vanilla and pumpkin spice latte with skim milk? What about the museum? Is there another patron who frequents the place every Monday night like you do? Or someone who has a deep appreciation for Dali (something we all want in a friend)? What about studying in the library? Are there other students who, like you, prefer to study at 3 in the AM? If so, greet them and smile. Next time, ask about the weather or comment on how good the coffee is/good the painting is/hard the exam is.
Apart from cafes, museums, and libraries, other places to consider frequenting include:
- Gaming rooms
- Sunday school
- Churches, synagogues, or temples
- Community pools
- Pet stores or zoos
- Senior citizen centers (if you’re a senior citizen)
- Student centers (if you’re a student)
Consider visiting different places: a bookstore on Saturdays, the casino on Sundays. Remember, you don’t have to talk to anyone until you feel comfortable. Just get to know the faces and personalities. In time hi-bye conversations can turn into talks about the weather or sports (or coffee and exams), which can transform into deeper connections, if that’s what you’re after. Go at your own pace.
Join a club, any club.
Be part of a club. Pick an interest, and join a group of like-minded people. This interest can range from hobbies or sports to getting help for a challenge you’re dealing with. Check online or your community paper for information about local clubs, groups, meetings, events, and workshops. Many communities have groups that meet regularly or have guest speakers visit lecturing about different subjects. Here are examples of activities that might interest you:
- Hiking, book, knitting, art, stamp-collecting, or movie groups
- Sports groups, like rowing, sailing, or soccer clubs
- Twelve-step programs
- Depression or anxiety support groups
- Bingo at local bingo centers
- Cancer-survivor, diabetes, or chronic pain support groups
- Alzheimer caregiver support groups
- Ping pong, bowling, or card-playing leagues
- Writer’s or artist’s workshops
- Symphony or rock bands
- Lectures about politics, philosophy, reaching your dreams, or making money
- Theater or musicals
Sign up and go! The more you show up, the quicker you’ll get to know people. You don’t have to talk to anyone until you feel comfortable, but little by little you’ll make friends.
School for adults is an excellent way to ease into meeting people in a structured environment, where there’s usually no pressure to carry on a conversation unless you want to.
Local college. Ask your local college for a list of their community classes. Usually these are low-priced and available to everyone. Some colleges also offer OLLI (Osher Lifelong Learning Institute); although these classes are officially for people over 55, they do accept younger folks when there’s availability. Community college classes vary widely in subject, ranging from Armchair Visits to Africa and Getting to Know Shakespeare to Russian, Greek philosophy, yoga, algebra, GED, English as a Second Language, career management skills, woodworking, and poetry-writing classes. Some schools offer career enrichment courses like construction technology, Notary Public, or continuing education for nurses.
Community stuff. No college or university nearby? Don’t forget community resources! Look into arts and crafts, music, and other specialty stores to see what classes they’re offering. Often you’ll find gems like cooking lessons and jewelry-making instruction. Consider local specialty schools too, where you can find lessons in dancing, yoga, tai chi, karate, the instrument of your choice, and probably much more.
Attending classes is a super way to meet people and get to know them at a comfortable pace, where there’s no pressure to socialize unless you want to. Over time strangers become familiar faces, and conversation and connection emerge.
Become a volunteer.
Want to meet kind-hearted people with a cause? Do so by volunteering in something that interests you. Volunteering gives you a chance to spread compassion while reaching out to others for friendship. Places that often need volunteers include:
- Hospitals and emergency rooms
- Nursing homes
- Humane Society
- Museums and historical sites
- Soup kitchens
- Shelters for the homeless
- Red Cross
- Salvation Army
- Tutoring students at schools and university
- Local organizations with special causes, like helping illegal immigrants, victims of domestic violence, children with cancer, or people with illiteracy
- International organizations like the Peace Corp or Doctors Without Borders
Alternatively, call a business where you’d like to spend some time and offer to help out for free.
Volunteering gives you the chance to get to know people while helping others. Take your time, and you’ll see your inner circle of friends grow.
Surf the web.
The internet can be intimidating for some, but, once you get the hang of it, going online is a great way to meet people. Join a meetup, participate in a forum or support group, or look into a friendship site. You’ll find more information about each one below. Remember to use these options safely.
Meetup.com is a social networking site that helps get people together. There’s something here for everyone, from stuff for business-owners, writers, and vegetarians to support groups for Star Trek lovers, soccer enthusiasts, and people with bipolar disorder. Just plug in your location and your interest, then peruse the groups that come up. Meetups usually meet in person once a month, but members of each club can keep in touch online.
Online forums are conversation threads touching just about anything. This resource allows you to engage with others in a controlled, semi-anonymous manner, where you don’t have to worry about the “complexities of real conversation” while establishing connection with others. Forums let you answer at your own pace and consider your words carefully before submitting them to the world. They’re a good way of befriending interesting people who live far away, people you’d never meet locally.
Online support groups are a type of forum; they’re a wonderful resource for people to get extra support for a problem they’re having, without having to give away their personal information or make their problem public.
No matter the type of forum, contact is completely online and, done in a healthy way, can lead to profound friendships — even with people you’ve never actually met in person. Want to find a forum that interests you? Or a support group to help you with a problem? Type in the subject you’re curious about and the words “forums” or “online support groups,” and see what you find.
Once you’ve chosen your forum, the next step is to read the discussion threads and add your own comments. Participate constructively and add something good to the conversation. Don’t be offensive. If you’ve joined an online support group and need help, ask for it. Whichever the forum, stick with it long enough and you’ll get to know the main players — and have some nifty discussions in the play.
Friendship sites are a third option. They’re like dating sites but are used primarily to help people find friends. Interactions include chats, small social groups, and big group get-together’s. Information can be exchanged, like favorite songs, business information, exercise records, or most recent drawings.
Friendship websites vary according to desired age group, gender, sexual orientation, interests, etc. Some help couples find friends. Others are geared towards young career women. Still others are only for people trying to get in shape. Examples include Girlfriend Social, Social Jane, Active, My Social Passport, Couples List, and Cupple. Most are free.
Be smart when using these options. Share private information on the internet only after giving it much thought. Be careful with financial interactions. Even if you trust the person you’re communicating with, someone else can get ahold of your private or financial information and us it in a nefarious manner. If you decide to get together with someone you’ve only known online, meet in a safe, public place.
So you’ve figured out a way to meet thousands of potentially interesting people? The next step is to talk to them. Be open-minded. Be kind. Be interested. And make sure to keep in touch. Stay tuned for Part 2 of this blog, “Making friends out of strangers.”
Thanks for reading.
Friendship is so weird… you just pick a human you’ve met and you’re like “yep, I like this one” and you just do stuff with them. – Bill Murray