Monday, June 10, 2013

On making friends in new places

You may remember from my guest post over at Doe a Deery, that struggling to find new friends upon arrival in DC was one of the triggers to my depression. Recently, I've had a friend move to the Chicago area and she was writing on facebook the other day about how lonely she feels trying to make new friends (no, this was not Jodi (an occasional blog reader who also just moved to Chicago)). My heart ached for her, as I have a pretty good hunch as to how she feels.

So my first letter to myself will be tips on making new friends in new areas. I've seen some similarities in my move to DC and Oshkosh that I think will help me with any future moves. These tips are probably of particular use to childless women or young moms -- as those were the stages I was in at the time of my moves.

First rule, think outside the box.
Growing up in Utah I was always told that no matter where I'd go the Church of Jesus Christ of Later-day Saints would be the same. This is truth. One-hundred percent absolute truth. However, I think I took that to mean I could/would make Church friends wherever I went and as soon as I got there. This really hasn't been the case in either of my moves. Yes, Church is a great place to make friends, but it isn't the ONLY place.

Even within the social network of later-day saints (or your specific religion, dear reader), you have to think outside the box. I already acknowledge this mistake shortly after moving to Oshkosh.  In DC our ward was so huge I rarely saw the same people each week. Some of the "putting our hubbies through grad school" wives had social events I was invited to, but I just never felt quite myself there. Instead I started going to RS Book Clubs and found I actually could chat more easily with some of the young stay at home moms and 40-ish single sisters. Once winter came around I went to Church Basketball events (yes, for women) and after a few games the girls from the Young Single Adult ward invited me to start playing with them late Thursday evenings. I was always worn out by Thursday night, and they started way past my teacher bedtime, but I made it a priority to go. I needed to practice a lifelong hobby. I needed to make friends with my same values.

Be willing to say "yes."
Still, when I look back at life in DC my closest friends weren't Church friends at all. They were my coworkers -- middle aged black women who had little life history to match mine, women old enough to be my mother, young single girls who wanted me to hit the bars with them on Friday nights. And yes, my never-touched-alcohol-self hit the bars some weekends. I really was thinking outside the box. I had to, I needed friends and not just friends who shared my religious beliefs or athletic skills. I needed conversations about great literature, relationships, politics, and our crazy jobs.

I never compromised my standards, but when I was invited out for happy hours and game nights I said yes. When I was told they planned to enjoy sushi along side some sort of alcohol bomb for a birthday celebration I said yes. They were my friends, and as such they knew I would not drink. They never even asked me to. You can still eat sushi and play bingo alongside friends who are enjoying a cocktail. And the bomb thing really was pretty cool to watch. Like a mento in a coca-cola sort of thing.



Use social media tools.
When I first moved to Oshkosh I found it so bizarre that people in my ward were friending me on facebook before they friended me in real life. I was hesitant to accept those friend requests. How could I let people know my political beliefs and share my family pictures with them before they even knew if they liked me?!?! Though I don't suggest friending people on facebook before you friend them in real life, I now realize these ward members were "friending" me so that they could invite our family along to social gatherings. I've since discovered, some are serious introverts, and maybe they just find it easier to friend people "on paper" first and face to face second. That's fine.

But the social media tool I am talking about isn't even facebook. I'm referring to online groups. Meetup.com is a great site to find local events and outings in your new area. Here in Oshkosh there is a group called Oshkosh Moms and Tots. I know all the nearby cities have a similar group. There are usually four or five get togethers posted on the group site each month (touch a truck was one of them). Meetup.com has been my favorite site so far, but I know there are other groups here in Oshkosh. There is a Newcomers Club (it had a fee, so I passed), and a Moms of Preschooler's Club (I plan on joining that one next month). Google "newcomer" or "mom play group" plus your new area and I'm sure you are bound to find something.

Plan busy activities
Along the same lines as saying yes, I've found I also have to initiate some get togethers. When planning little getting to know you hang outs I always plan an activity that will keep us busy. Last week I invited a mom and her two kiddos to the local airplane museum. This was a great place for us to keep busy (chasing our boys from exhibit to exhibit) but it also gave us plenty of time to chat with each other as we walked around.

Likewise, I had a friend invite me and another mom over to her house to work on projects. It was late at night, after all the kids were in bed, and we each brought some sort of craft thing we were working on. The reason I prefer get togethers with a purpose over vague hang outs is that if the conversation turns to The Bachelor (or any other long list of TV shows I don't watch) I'm not completely left out. When my new friends started talking about a long list of pop culture media I was unfamiliar with, I just started focusing on my alphabet ice cream game. This made the 20 minutes or so where I had nothing to contribute to the conversation much more bearable than if we'd been at a restaurant, and I'd had no choice but to stuff my face with chips and salsa during that awkward moment where I sat silent.

Borrow from family members
Though I think it is important to have your own set of friends, never be afraid to borrow your spouse's friends. Ben has always found great friends, both through law school and work at the State Public Defender's office. We get together for meals and BBQs every once in a while, and though they talk a lot of law, I try not to let myself feel left out. I try (really hard) not to get jealous of the fact that Ben has comical adults to sit down and eat his lunch with, instead I try to make friends with them whenever the opportunity presents itself. Besides, his coworkers seem pretty envious of my daily lunch crowd. Reid and Nell are a hit anytime we take treats to the office.

I'm also not afraid of borrowing friends from my children. Even at just 2-and-a-half-years-old Reid seems to get along better with some kids more than others. Never hesitate to talk to moms when out at the park, library, or whatever kid play place you may be at. I've made lots of great friends this way.

Finally, be a good neighbor
When we bought our first house I envisioned neighbors bringing by plates of goodies or hollering hello as they went on evening walks. None of this happened. Noneofit. So I made a plate of goodies and took them to one of our neighbors. The importance of being a good neighbor should be obvious. I'd like to beat whoever lets off fireworks at 1:30am with my mag-light. But simply having good manners shouldn't be the end of it. I'd so prefer a babysitter that lives right down the street to one that lives across town. It can be awkward to start that "hey, I see you ever day at 7:30am but have no idea who you are" conversation. Or better yet the "I know you've told me your name five times and we talk like long lost pals ... but remind me who you are again?" conversation. But do it.

I have a friend who told me she lived next door to someone for five years before they became friends. Now, they get along so well and are a barrel of laughs. There really is no need to postpone getting to know your neighbors. If you don't end up great friends, no harm done. At least they'll know your name in case of an emergency.

3 comments:

Megan said...

I love this, Liz! I'm so glad you were okay with borrowing some of Ben's friends in D.C.!

Anonymous said...

Great advice, sis. I loved reading of your experiences. I am proud of my baby girl -- she always was social -- still is apparently!!

Pa

Scott and Claudia said...

Great post Lizzy!!! You are your father's social child! Good for you! Loved the picture of your friends. What good people you have met every where you go. Yes, it is a wonderful world!

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