2018-05-21

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.

Volunteer

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 percent) or antidepressants (96 percent), more than 95 percent 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 percent 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.

Another Beliefnet plug: Have you joined our Depression Support Group? How about Group Beyond Blue? These might be great places for you to start.

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.

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.

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 let¹s-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."

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