Welcome back to the next installation in our series about building new friendships in our adult lives. Growing up takes us in new directions, creates new priorities, and has a tendency to have a big impact on our friendships. In my case, moving around to different states while growing a family created geographic separation between me and my long-standing friendships. Sure, in an age of technology, its easier than ever to stay in contact with people in other areas, but electronic relationships tend to leave something lacking in our every day lives. Today we are all more likely to have conversations online with people across the country than we are to even know the names of the people across the street.
One of the easiest ways to build new relationships is to start close to home. The people who live on your block or in your building may be the community you need it to be if you allow yourself to open up and take some chances. The close proximity makes it easier to hang out on a whim. It makes it easier to support each other in the day to day. Even having people around that know your name and wave hello makes you feel like part of a community, rather than floating about in a world with no real connection.
Get to know the people you live around. While it’s an easy thing to do, if you’re anything like me, it can also be pretty damn awkward. Chances are, you’re not reading this because you’re a social butterfly who engages with strangers easily. Two years ago, tired of feeling disconnected and lonely, I told myself to grow some balls and get to know the people who live right on my street. Years of living in the same house and I didn’t know the names of 90% of the people who waved at me in passing as I came and went. I made zero effort to get to know anyone living a true stone’s throw away, while complaining that I didn’t know anyone here. That seemed pretty stupid to me.
I set my anxieties aside and decided to invite my neighbors over for casual cocktails. I made little note cards and walked to my neighbors’ houses at 11:00am on a weekday to invite them over, praying that no one actually was home. The thought of verbally introducing myself and asking people to come have drinks with me at my house was enough to make me want to call the whole thing off. No one would want to come over if I stress-vomited at their doorstep the moment I opened my mouth. If you don’t have anxiety disorder, consider yourself fortunate to be able to nail this simple step. The time I picked was no accident and as expected, no one answered so I dropped the invitation in their mailboxes and scurried back to the safety of anonymity behind my closed door.
The day of the party I readied myself for small talk and prepped drinks as I became excited about the prospect of making some new friends. I daydreamed that getting the neighbors together for cocktails would catapult this normally silent cul de sac into a tight group involving block parties and impromptu driveway hang outs.
Out of 12 people invited, only 2 people showed up. Cancellations ranged from illness to previous obligations to some just not showing up. I was deflated and felt rejected, but I was focusing on the wrong part. There were 2 people there. We chatted, we laughed, and we got to know each other. This is 2 more than would have otherwise been hanging out at my house on a normal Saturday and it turned out I really liked them. That’s a freakin’ win! These days our kids hang out together. When its nice out we have random drinks in our backyards. Our families make s’mores at the fire pit. That’s a success. I’m not a socialite looking for a revolving door of buddies. I’m a busy, married, mom in her late-thirties just trying to find some chill people to be friends with. I’d trade 20 flaky acquaintances for 2 good friends any day!
Instead of focusing on the 10 people that weren’t there, I appreciated the relationships that came from putting myself out there and welcoming in those 2 people. Oftentimes we make everything about ourselves and fail to recognize that maybe other people might be mentally where we are as well. How many times have I not gone to a gathering because I felt like I wouldn’t know anyone or simply because the allure of my couch and sweatpants was too strong? Some were ill and I could be grateful they kept their cooties at home. Maybe others just weren’t interested in having drinks with us and that’s cool too. As I tell my kids, not everyone has to like you. I shrugged it off , adjusted my outlook, remained open and friendly to all of my neighbors, and saw how my change in attitude created something new for me.
Instead of closed-off and wary, I let myself project who I really am. Over time I have gotten to know more people in my neighborhood because I’ve opened up, and there have been other opportunities where we’ve gotten to hang out. It has become pretty nice around this sleepy little cul de sac as we see each other outside, share some chatter and laughs, as our kids run up and down the street. Try opening yourself up to your neighbors. You may be surprised to find that your tribe has been right there the whole time.