They say it takes a village to raise a child. Well, it also takes a village — at best a supportive community, and at the least a few very good friends — to keep a person sane and happy. All of us need companionship, which is exactly why teenagers are texting their friends in the middle of dinner (TMI, BFF, OMG …), and why people who didn’t own a personal computer last year now have profiles on Facebook, MySpace, and other social networking sites.
Maybe the first trick to finding friends is to befriend ourselves, and to become comfortable with silence, because no one has the power to make us feel okay with ourselves but us. But, lest we stay quiet for too long, here are 10 techniques to meet new friends, which I think everyone can benefit from, because, as I learned in Girl Scouts a few hundred years ago (where I didn’t make any friends…), some are silver and the others are old, I mean gold.
1. Join a book club.
Most of my friends are in book clubs, and, I have to admit, I’m a little envious of the discussions that happen in these groups. If your neighborhood doesn’t have a book club, you can usually join one as part of the local library, the recreational or community center, the community college, or online, of course.
That one seems like a no-brainer, but, seriously, have you ever considered the many charities to which you could give your time? Your local civic association is always in need of volunteers for projects like “let’s clean up the park before a hundred dogs crap on it again” and Toys-for-Tots, Christmas in April, and so on. Don’t forget about all your local politicians who need help with their campaigns. If one impresses you, offer to knock on a few doors for her or him. Host a cheese and cracker party for the community to get to know the candidate.
3. Find a support group.
There’s more to the support group universe than AA. Have you ever looked through all the local listings of meetings in your area? There’s even ACOMP (Adult Cousins of Mean People) … not really.
4. Take a night class.
That’s where you can supposedly meet men (or women) if you find yourself single in your late 30s or 40s or 50s. If you take a class in something that you are interested in, you’re very likely to find potential friends with similar hobbies.
5. Get a dog.
I’m not talking about using the dog as a companion (because we know a dog is a man’s best friend). I just mean that dogs are people magnets–and usually nice-people magnets. Here in Annapolis, we have dog cults. If you walk your mutt in certain neighborhoods, you will meet approximately five to ten friends per mile. Double that if you’re walking a Golden Retriever. Triple it if you head to the “dog park,” designed specifically for doggy play, or proper socialization for dogs.
6. Steal friends.
I realize this technique was frowned upon in the fifth grade. You would surely earn a reputation as a friend-stealer if you tried this too many times. But many (NOT ALL) people in their 30s, 40s, 50s, etc. have loosened up a bit. I have found this to be a very efficient method of making friends, because someone has already done your dirty work–the interview process–and weeded out the toxic folks. It’s like Facebook in real life.
7. Knock on doors.
Yep. That’s what I did six years ago when I was stuck home with a fussy baby and going absolutely crazy. I walked around the neighborhood knocking on every porch that held a stroller. “You in there. I know you have kids. You want to be my friend?” I might have been a tad more subtle than that, but not much.
8. Carpool to work.
Hey, it works for elementary school kids. Many 6-year-olds meet their best buddies on the bus because 1) they live in their neighborhood (what could be more convenient?), 2) they are on the same schedule, and 3) they know the same people (“Susie has cooties”).
9. Connect with your alumni association.
I used to be much better at this before kids came along, but even today, I still pay my dues. Alumni associations are gold mines for potential friends. You already have a major experience in common: you can rehash old times as a conversation starter if you need one. Plus many associations sponsor community service events, workshops, or trips abroad that you can take advantage of even if you aren’t looking for friends.
10. Talk to strangers.
I know this goes against what you were taught in elementary school. But, yes, the way to meet friends is to strike up a conversation with absolutely anyone. This means becoming the annoying lady everyone dodges on the plane: “So … what are you reading? … Oh, ‘Left Behind.’ … Have you gotten to the part where everyone except a handful of people burn in hell?… No? … I hope I didn’t ruin it for you.” If you put yourself out there, yes, you will get rejected many times, and that hurts a little (sometimes a lot). But you will also find your best friends. Everyday life is full of potential friendship moments: waiting rooms, church, trains, planes, automobiles, office meetings, support groups, or coffee shops.