In my late teens and 20s, meeting new people seemed easy.
Relatively unencumbered, I struck up friendships and acquaintanceships with people I met in class, at work or internships, at bars and parties, in clubs and activities or at the gym.
As I have advanced in both chronological years and wisdom (hopefully), I have found that developing a rich and vibrant social life has often taken a backseat to other important life responsibilities. People in their 30s have many draws on time and energy; we are employees, spouses, mothers or fathers, sons or daughters.
I do know one thing: getting together in real life seems hellaciously hard, so much harder than it was a decade ago. Maybe it is because the 30s are a busy and complicated time in life. Maybe it is the fact that many of my former compatriots are married and I am not. Maybe it is due to the ubiquity of social media sites like Facebook and Twitter, and the fake omniscence they engender. Why meet up? We know everything we need to know!
I have been accused of being anachronistic, but I very much value the sweetness of occasional, real, in-person connection.
I think social media sites, while not without their advantages—like keeping in touch with friends and family who live far away or for example, or staying abreast of the events and activities of favorite organizations—are changing the very nature of ‘friendship’, making others expendable unless they serve our egos.
Wall-posting, ‘poking’, and ‘liking’ do have their place, but they could never replace the occasional good-old fashioned cup of coffee, good frosty beer or an occasional walk through the park with friends, in my opinion.
Many people don’t agree with me, and that’s good. I don’t think our culture places much value in friendship or random, happenstance, meaningful encounters. Sometimes, I tell people this. Often they tell me I am being ridiculous—I am in my 30s and if I can’t procreate with somebody or get a job from them, or an apartment, or a business connection, why the heck would I be interested? I disagree.
Then I shake a stick at them and sit back down on my rocking chair and read Thoreau.
It is kind of funny; it is also a shame. We all need good people in our lives. Even the most self-sufficient, nonattached, independent soul needs some in real life (read: nonsocial media) human connection every now and then, and deserves to share his or her light with kindred spirits and vice versa.
Yet, it can sometimes be scary to put myself out there, especially in a world where are public spaces are increasingly populated by people madly poking at handheld devices in an attempt to ignore the other human beings around us, who are also madly poking at their hand-held devices. I fear shattering the silence by speaking, but know it must be done.
Does anybody else prefer to meet people in real life? And why would you want to do so?
Perhaps you’ve drifted apart from old friends. Perhaps you no longer share the same values. Maybe the friendships turned toxic. Maybe you simply drifted apart after getting married or divorced. Maybe you are planning to relocate for school or work or a change of pace and know not a soul in what will become your new place of residence.
As a fabulous single woman who will soon be moving, I must say I find the prospect of starting over again simultaneously exhilarating and terrifying.
How the heck does one make new friends—like, real, in-person, flesh-and-blood friends—as an adult in our crazybusyrunrunrun world without coming off as a creeper, a psycho or worse?
I am trying to keep the following in mind.
1.) I will know myself and be myself.
This is a tricky one. Forget the image of the nervous junior high boy going out on his first date while his mother eagerly proclaims to ‘Just be yourself!’. What she really means is ‘open your date’s door, pay for the movie ticket, and don’t talk with your mouth full of popcorn.’
This is decent advice, but, seriously, though, if I’m not being myself, how will I ever locate my people, my group, my kindred spirits?
2.) I will eschew the ‘Grown-Up’s Guide to Popularity’. Sometimes, it’s best not to ‘fit in’.
I’m sure we’re all acquainted with the ‘unofficial’ formula for adult success: Have a ‘good’ job, an attractive spouse, well-behaved children, an expensive home in a fashionable neighborhood and a circle of well-heeled friends—and post incessantly about the experience on social media so that the peons might salivate.
3.) I will trust my intuition.
Does spending time with a new person make me feel a little ‘off’? Anxious? Perhaps a pulsing in the temples or a pit in the stomach?
Congratulations! My limbic system (that reptilian part of the brain that issues early warnings) is telling me to watch out.
I will always give people chance, but do not be so eager to be liked or accepted that I allow myself to be used, depleted or otherwise taken advantage of.
4.) I will take calculated risks to get out of my comfort zone.
I ain’t gonna meet new friends huddled in front of World of Warcraft.
I will switch up my schedule a bit! Try a new coffee shop, join a new yoga studio, enroll in a cooking class, take a seminar on how to hang drywall. I will see the world around me with new eyes. I will say hi to a stranger perusing the green onions at the local supermarket. He or she won’t bite—and, if he or she does—I will not pursue matters further. At least I’ll be able to make a great green onion stir fry! And that’s not a bad thing.
5.) Sometimes, I will have to be a little pushy. I will be friendly, without being obsequious.
I will open my yapper! Most people do not possess the ability to read minds, especially if they don’t know me from Adam.
I will let people know I’m interested in joining the tae kwon do class, or have a great recipe for green onion stir fry or would like to help with the communal flower planting on Saturday—or I am wondering what the heck there is to do around here.
‘Many people would love to meet a lovely person such as yourself!’, I will tell myself. ‘Some will not speak to anybody they haven’t known since elementary school! Your job, brave warrior of friendship, is to find this out for yourself!’
6.) Don’t have a ‘friend type’.
It’s like dating. We all know that one friend who has a rather lengthy ‘checklist’ of what she is looking for in a date—like, he has to be a hipster, but not too hipstery (no peg-legged pants, for example) and has to have brown hair and be this tall and be interested in artisanal mozzarella-making.
The problem with checklists? Sometimes I nix some really great people based on superficialities before I really have to opportunity to know them. I will, therefore, strive to meet all sorts of people—married, single, the young and the young-at-heart, football fans and basketball fans and people who love Justin Bieber and people who think Justin Bieber is just plain awful.
7.)I will have at least one solitary hobby or activity to ground and inspire me.
People can be wonderful as well as wildly unpredictable. I’ll need some downtime to nourish myself so I’l have more energy to give to others, when giving is appropriate.
I’m not going to go all ‘Into the Wild’, but a little detachment isn’t always a bad thing. I will have one solitary activity to get back in touch with my essential self when I need to—yoga, meditation, hiking, birdwatching or drawing.
Remember: people are often as afraid of you as you are of them! So buck up, get out—and don’t chew with your mouth open!
Love elephant and want to go steady?
Editor: Bryonie Wise
Photo: Tom Bell