13 ways to make friends

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, My Space, and other social-networking sites.

Beyond Blue reader Rock wrote: “I am 56 years old and it’s a comfort to me to read how many of you have experienced what I have in feeling lonely and not able to make friends and connect with people.” So many others have articulated the same. Even those in happy marriages or committed relationships, even those surrounded by people who know their name. In our hearts, we all crave for the deep connection that a graced friendship can offer.

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 13 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.

Join a book club

Am I in one? Heck no. I don’t have time. And if I did, I wouldn’t read novels or a book straight through, from cover to cover. Remember, I suffer from poor concentration and was saved by CliffsNotes back in high school and college. But 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. Many papers will post book club notices, as well. Hey, and you could start one, advertising in local coffee shops, recreation centers, etc.


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.

These are not only friend-making possibilities, they are networking opportunities and a chance to give back and feel good about that. Remember that Seinfeld episode where Jerry gets a girl’s number off of an AIDS walk? Bingo. That’s what I’m talking about.


Go online

If you’re reading this, you have probably already taken this step! Good for you, because according to a 2002 study published in the American Journal of Psychiatry, Internet support groups have been shown to help those suffering from depression. The study followed a group of more than 100 individuals with severe depression who joined online support groups. Though many had received other forms of treatment, such as face-to-face therapy (86 per cent) or antidepressants (96 per cent), more than 95 per cent of users agreed that participation in the depression Internet support groups helped their symptoms.

“Yeah, but those guys are kids,” you’re thinking to yourself. WRONG. Fewer than half of Facebook’s 35 million users are college students, and by the end of this year its executives predict Fewer than 30 per cent of Facebook users will be sleeping in dorms and eating dining hall food. Several of my own most supportive friendships have been born online, and the others (that weren’t born online) have been sustained through online technology.

Find in-person support

Folks, 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) … just kidding. At one time, my goal was to attend every single kind of support group. I was thinking that would bring me good karma. Now I know that it would only lead to exhaustion.

But seriously, for depressed folks there are Recovery meetings (based on Recovery, Inc. founded by Dr. Abraham Low), DRADA (Depression and Related Affective Disorders) groups, NAMI (National Alliance for the Mentally Ill) groups, DBSA (Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance) groups. I’ve also considered assertiveness training classes at my local YWCA (and they have all sorts of programs) and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy groups at the community college.

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. For example, my one friend was sincerely interested in welding, so she took a class at the college. Naturally, she was the only chick in the class. I asked her if the movie “Flashdance” (the flick about the Pittsburgh woman who held two jobs as a welder/exotic dancer who wants to get into ballet school) had anything to do with her interest in welding. She said no, but she still loves to wear the sweatshirts off of her shoulder. If you take a class in something that you are interested in, you’re very likely to find potential friends with similar hobbies.

Get a dog

I’m not talking about using the dog as a companion, although studies do indicate that pets are natural healers of depression. 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. (These owners might be wound a little too tight in my humble opinion — the kind of parents who buy mechanically-elaborate, safety-insured high chairs for their kids.) Dog people talk dog language, so let your canine sniff you out some new friends.

Steal friends from 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.

For example, when Eric and I landed in Annapolis ten years ago, I knew no one but my husband and his mom. My sister-in-law, Julie, lived in Arlington, Virginia and came up sometimes on the weekends. I’d tag along with her to many of her social events. Julie became a very good friend of mine. We have several common interests and I respect her very much. It was no coincidence, then, that I also liked her friends. So I “adopted” them. Of course, I asked her … “Do you mind if I ask your best friend to lunch? I really liked her!” Within a year, Eric and I were hanging out with his sister’s friends and their husbands more than his sister was (and this was okay by her). We were even included in the very elite “game night group,” a cult that gathers to drink, gossip, and eat dessert.

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.

In addition to my door-knocking, I hung up signs in coffee shops, and I told EVERYONE WITH A KID AND THEIR FRIENDS AND RELATIVES that I was started a playgroup on Wednesday mornings, 9 a.m., coffee and doughnuts included when I felt generous. It lasted a year because despite my efforts to get other moms to host, we would up at my house every single Wednesday. But by then, I had found three really good mom friends to whine and laugh with, so I didn’t care about losing the other guys who had to find a new home to wreck.

Carpool to work

Hey, it works for elementary school kids. Many six-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.”)

Not only is this technique eco-friendly, it makes sense on many levels: you already know a lot about these people (and if you don’t, you can always ask someone in your office who knows them better if they are friend-worthy), and by working at the same place (or even in the same neighborhood), you already have a few things in common.

Attend a conference

I’m a tad embarrassed to admit this, but I am a conference addict. I love conventions, mostly because I get to feel like a grown-up: there’s a smaller chance of someone vomiting on my shirt (unless she has had a martini too many) than if I stay at home.

I’ve met some of my best friends at conferences that I attend on a regular basis like the Religious Bookseller Trade Exhibit, which is more of a retreat than a professional trade show. I try to get there as often as possible, because these get-togethers serve as a reunion of sorts. And I usually fly home with a stack of business cards, and several potential friends.

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.

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 and guardian angels! That’s how I met Ann, my guardian angel. I plopped down next to her on an Amtrak train, and not even five minutes outside of New York, we were talking meds, shrinks, and dysfunctional relationships. Had I kept my mouth shut, I would be without one of the most important people in my life today.

Every day life is full of potential friendship moments: waiting rooms, church, trains, planes, automobiles, office meetings, support groups, or coffee shops.

Get on out there!

Go to church

Do you know why many cities — tiny and enormous alike — have a church smack dab in the middle of town? Because the church was the center of socialization for many areas not so long ago. Every social activity of the city and suburbs grew out of the church community: A parish fish fry. A Bible study group. A group council meeting. A let’s-get-our- singles-married-off-to-each-other social. Churches today still host plenty of opportunities to meet a buddy. For example, the Catholics have started “Theology on Tap” for young adults in several cities. A year or so ago, I was part of a “six-pack of speakers” put together by parish members for one of these functions. It was wild. Theology in a bar. But I liked it, and thought to myself, “What a great way to meet friends.”

Therese J. Borchard writes the Beyond Blue blog on Beliefnet.

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