Building a Powerful Social Network in Your Immediate Area

Lately, several readers have expressed concerns in several different ways revolving the idea of “family” – or of a very close set of friends and relatives that you can rely on. For some, it’s an issue of living a long distance from your relatives or from an intimate group of friends. For others, it’s simply a matter of never having such a circle at all.

Having such a circle is incredibly valuable. They create a support network for you in everything you do in life. They help you out when you need it, just as you help them when they need it. They provide companionship, a place to confide your thoughts and feelings, encouragement to take the next step, exposure to new thoughts and feelings and ideas, and regular physical and material support – all things you simply can’t get as a loner.

Here’s how to get started, no matter where you’re at.

Meet Your Neighbors
I’m often shocked to find that many people barely know their neighbors around them. Meet your neighbors. Invite them over for a simple dinner. Talk to them. Do something nice for them, something that takes you a bit out of your way.

Sure, there are always going to be people in life that you butt heads with, but most of the people around you are quite a bit like you. They’re seeking friends and a place to fit in socially, and they’re very happy when someone takes the time to interact with them.

Take that time. Say hello to your neighbors. Shake their hands. Do something nice for them. Invite them over for a meal. You’ll never go wrong.

Define Your Interests and Passions
Another good place to start is with introspection. What sort of activities really excite you? What drives your passions? Spend some time figuring out the things you’re really passionate about – or at least formulating some strong ideas about it.

Maybe you’re passionate about politics. I know I am – it’s a subject that I rarely mention on this site, but I’m a politics addict. I’m somewhat involved in the local level and am thinking about even running for a local political office.

Maybe you’re passionate about books. That’s another one that I share. I read a lot – I love the written word in almost all of its forms.

Maybe you’re passionate about something else entirely, like riding bicycles or gardening or cooking (actually, I thrive in the kitchen, too).

Figure out what those passions are, and let them lead you a bit.

Intersect Your Passions With What’s Nearby
Once you’ve figured out your passions, look around at the places near you – preferably ones within walking distance, but a ten mile radius or so works. What possible places might have some sort of activity available to you if you’re interested in a topic? Here are some places to look.

The library Most public libraries have a very nice schedule of social events, including book clubs, film nights, and other things you might not even imagine. These events attract a wide variety of people, too. Stop by your nearest library and see what they have.

Specialty shops If your passion is catered to by a specialty shop, stop in there and see what’s going on. For example, if you love to cook, you might want to see what’s going on at your local Williams-Sonoma, as events there will likely attract like-minded people.

Meetups/Craigslist Many areas of interest utilize the internet to find people of similar interest. Dig around on Meetup.com or Craigslist to find groups nearby, though (especially Craigslist) they require that you live in a rather populated area.

Community and volunteer events If your passions are community or politically-oriented, try attending community events. Go to a city council meeting or a school board meeting or a potluck fundraiser dinner at the fire station. Ask around and get to know what’s going on in your community.

Make Yourself Approachable – And Approach Others
Once you’ve figured out something to do socially, don’t just show up there, stand in the corner, and expect to find friends. You’ve got to put forth the effort.

Be reasonable in appearance. You don’t need to dress to the nines, but be reasonable about your appearance. Be clean and dress in clean clothes, and don’t wear anything that shows how “rebellious” you are unless it’s a specific part of the social group you’re looking for. Otherwise, you’re more likely to alienate people right off the bat.

Be outgoing. It’s easy to just fold into a quiet corner and not say much during these kinds of events. Don’t. Make it a goal to attempt a conversation with everyone there, then focus in on those that you clicked with. If someone really clicks, have them introduce you around.

Don’t just go once and call it a waste of time. Strong bonds aren’t forged in an evening. Go multiple times and build some familiarity with people. Get involved in more activities if you’re getting interested. Eventually, the people who “click” with you will emerge, but give it time.

Pay it Forward, Always
By this, I mean when you see an opportunity to help someone out, do it and don’t worry about reciprocation. Do it often enough and you’ll start building something real. Keep doing it and eventually you’ll find a network of people around you that have your back.

Do favors for others and don’t expect anything in return. The more you do that, the more value you build, and the more you’ll be repaid in ways you don’t even see yet. The key is to truly not expect anything in return, because if you do, you’ll get disappointed quickly and frustrated and lose sight of what’s really important – making the world a better place for the people around you.

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  1. Frugal Dad says:

    I am notoriously bad about “meeting my neighbors.” I’ve become a bit of an introvert and need to make some effort to get out there and know the people around me. We were new to the neighborhood and no one took the time to greet us, so I got kind of bitter. I should have taken the initiative to go meet them! Thanks for reminding me of this.

  2. Vered says:

    For us, our kids’ school provides a great community. We have met some wonderful people there that have become friends.

    @ Frugal dad: “We were new to the neighborhood and no one took the time to greet us, so I got kind of bitter. I should have taken the initiative to go meet them!” – absolutely. I don’t think many people these days go out of their way to greet new neighbors – it’s the new neighbors’ job to introduce themselves.

  3. Rebecca says:

    I have to agree and I have been thinking about this often lately. We moved into a new condo a month and half ago and I have yet to meet the people that live directly below me. At the same time I have lived far away from my immediate family before and have many people that I still consider “family” even more so than my blood relatives. Guess I need to go bake some cookies and introduce myself to the neighbors. People like you more when you have food.

  4. Lisa says:

    My neighbor secretly sneaks over and shovels for me when I’m not there. I sneak over and mow his lawn when he’s not there. When we see each other, we never mention it. It’s nice, two people just being neighborly, watching out for each other.

    Lisa

  5. Its difficult to build a network where I live now, because no one else is my age and actually working.

    When I travel to “the big city” though there’s a lot going on and I’m building up my network already.

    Its one of many reasons (main being my job) that I’m moving to the big city this year.

  6. clevelis says:

    Twice I’ve moved to new cities without knowing anyone, so I’m very familiar with this. Two big things for me are church and volunteering. A plethora of both can be found online, newspapers or posted signs. I seek these two things out and therein I usually find some good people to get to know and such. Unfortunately, this latest move has placed me in a setting where people typically will not even return my greetings. Anywho! I’ve still managed to meet great people and do what I enjoy.

  7. Jesse says:

    Great article today Trent: my girlfriends neighbors who we didn’t make an effort to get to know at first are now two of our best friends. Its well worth the effort!

  8. Jesse says:

    @Lisa: kind of reminds me, when I was younger I had an elderly neighbor who every time it snowed, I would sneak over and shovel his walks/driveway/patio. Im hoping that when I am old, there will be some kid that does the same for me :)

  9. Tana says:

    Ah, such a timely post. We are moving to Ames, IA (once our house sells). One of the things that really disappoints me as I think about leaving our current area is that I have friends to say good-bye to, but none that I would say that I am “close” to, that I’ll miss terribly. We’ll be in a new place with a new routine and leaving people behind just doesn’t seem to be a big deal to me. That’s one thing I want to make a point to do differently after our move – to make more and better friends. I’m marking this article and will be coming back to it for inspiration. Thank you so much for posting it!

  10. ‘Networking’ used to be a dirty word for me. It bought to mind sleazy salesmen/women with gold pinky rings and greasy hair.

    Now, though, I’ve changed my attitude. Networking can simply mean socializing with people who have similar interests. Joining a running group = networking. Going out to lunch with colleagues = networking. Joining a hiking group = networking. Talking to my neighbors about how we can watch out for one another = networking. None of these things involve selling anything or gaining anything monetary.

    I’m glad I’ve started to ‘network’ more effectively; it makes me a happier person, with more opportunities to socialize and help others. And of coursre, blogging can also be considered a form of networking. . . .

  11. Todd says:

    Great post, Trent. Let’s just say I wasn’t blessed with a wonderful family, and sometimes I resent when people assume that everyone is. But what you advise here is something that everyone can and should do. You can create a “family” wherever you go.

  12. LC says:

    I am also surprised you didn’t mention church. Even living in the town where I grew up, I didn’t know a lot of people my age. I visited a couple churches and now have a network of about a dozen close friends. Keep looking if you don’t find one right away, since some churches have a certain demographic, and go back more than once so you get to meet people. Most large churches have a group for almost everyone to get involved with.

  13. I don’t know what changed over the last decade or two, but it seems like none of my friends have an interest in meeting their neighbors. That’s just silly to me. It doesn’t take much to toss out a hello or ask about someone’s day when you bump into them at the mailbox. It seems as though many people are content just using their home as a closed box to live in between going to work.

    I’m glad I made a little effort to meet some of my neighbors. It’s nice to shovel someone’s walk or brush off their car even when I don’t expect it in return. And if someone is watching out for my house when I’m on vacation and storing my packages, all the better.

  14. With so much attention given to social networks such as facebook, I think it is very important to focus on neighborhood.

    Trent – I like the ideas you put out there. One thing I have found very rewarding is a language lesson swap.

    I live in San Francisco, so for me it was easy to do. I put an ad in Craigslist to trade English lessons for another language lesson. You don’t need to be a teacher – often times people are just looking for someone to converse with and ask questions.

    I learned a decent amount of Japanese that way, and for free. The truly rewarding part of the entire process was taking someone out for a meal who had never been to a restaurant before. Turns out, they did not know how to order from the menu.

    At the time I found that odd, but when I travelled to Japan and went to a restaurant by myself, I knew exactly what my conversation partner was talking about.

  15. Anonymous says:

    Meeting your neighbors sounds nice in theory, but I live in an apt building in the city. No one trusts anyone, and even when you say hello, most of them just ignore you. Beleive me, I’ve tried. Invite them over for dinner? Yea right.
    I’ve also done the whole “join a group” thing. I’m really sorry to say this, but most of the people who go to groups like that are weirdos. I never met anyone I would actually want to be around in regular life. I know that sounds really harsh, and I’m sorry. But if you want the truth, that is it.

  16. Saving Freak says:

    We have had problems meeting our neighbors. We purchased a house that is larger than what most people our age can afford so our neighborhood has people that are at least 10 years older than us. That being said we do not have a lot in common. We have gotten involved in our local church and there are many couples nearby our age and that has given us that sense of community that we need. It is a great asset to my wife especially. Apparently I am not a very sympathetic ear sometimes.

  17. Tori says:

    @Anon: I hear you on the first complaint. It’s a rare occasion when the fellow residents of our building respond to my boyfriend or I greeting them.

    Regarding your second complaint – what kind of groups or meetups have you joined/attended?

  18. If you’re starting a new job a book club is a great way to go too.

  19. I’m ashamed to admit that I have never met my neigbors and they have lived next door for almost two years now :(.

    Perhaps, I’ll bring them over some of Trents homemade bread sometime soon!

  20. LC says:

    @Saving Freak
    That’s my situation exactly. We live in one of the nicer neighborhoods in our area but are only in our 20′s and have no children. All our neighbors have kids in college. Hopefully in a few years there will be more young families around.

  21. Saagar says:

    Well, what about people who don’t have passionate interest in anything. I like programming, playing xbox, watching movies etc, but I am not really passionate about any one of them in particular. I do these on an impulse at times, but then I am not really interested in any…. So what kind of people should I meet…

  22. Great post, and it’s at least encouraging to know others want this, too. We have a relationship with one of our neighbors (we have kids just about the same age). And a couple neighbors always wave and say hi. But we had one couple over for dinner, and they said they’d reciprocate … six months ago, and now sometimes they don’t wave hello. Our neighbors directly across from us and next door on one side often just stare into space when we wave or call hello. It’s weird, because our block even had a block party in September to build connections — and I don’t *think* we’re weirdos, but maybe we are. My impression is that most people would rather come home and hibernate in their private shell than spend a couple minutes gabbing with a neighbor — at least in my (urban-ish) neighborhood. (My sister’s suburban neighborhood, on the other hand, is socializing-central.)

  23. NP says:

    I started teaching at a different school last year across town. I am in my 2nd year. Just a month ago, to both of our surprise, one of my co-workers and I discovered that we are next-door neighbors! We’ve BEEN neighbors for 11 years! I have met him over the years briefly, but never socialized. We’re both busy worker bees doncha know. His house occupies 1/6 of our block behind my house which also occupies 1/6 of the block, so it’s not like we’re side by side. We seem to be warmer towards each other since we discovered we are fellow inner city people (a pretty small city, but like everywhere else most of our contemporaries prefer McMansions and suburban-style neighborhoods). Need to make an effort to get to know the neighbors in my own back yard!

  24. jimmy b says:

    @Cheap Like Me:
    Interesting point about people wanting to just hibernate. As has been discussed so many times on here, some people work themselves to the bone and would rather go home and crash.

    I live in Jersey City, directly across the river from Manhattan and sometimes I’ll walk my dogs around 6-7pm where I always see the Wall Street types getting off the ferry. One would think that these men and women take the ferry all the time together so I’m always surprised to see very few of them disembarking together, walking together to their cars. They make beelines to their cars solo and drive out of the lot as fast as they can to reach their homes and families in other parts of Jersey. I guess that comes with living in a such a big city.

    On the other hand though, I just recently moved into a new high-rise building about 2 months ago and someone started a yahoo group for all of the unit owners. We’ve been “chatting” for almost a year now but finally a woman thought up the idea of all of us meeting in the lobby/waiting area last night to meet each other. I’d say about 15 people showed up and it was very nice. I thought it’d last for about an hour then everyone would go their separate ways.

    Needless to say, I’m still recovering this morning from last night lol. We did split up to eat dinner but then about 8 of us regrouped later and walked to a local bar for some drinks. It was a really great experience and then on the way home, since less than a third of the building has moved in, we gave tours of each other’s units and even spied into units that are still under construction or haven’t been moved into yet (like the penthouses!). Great bonding and now I seem to have made some potentially good friends.

    Networking can’t get any better than that.

  25. Colleen Costello says:

    Jimmy B, I love that story. I have a weakness for ANY Jersey story, having grown up in Bayonne, close to the Jersey City line.

    I have lived in Indiana for 20 years now, and easily the best thing about it is the people. Folks here seem willing to go out of their way for you, and I appreciate that. While I do not belong to a church, I volunteer all the time in my kids’ schools and I have made DEAR friends. This has been a blessing when all my relatives were still back east. I feel that all my efforts at the schools are “paid back” tenfold… Volunteering is a GREAT way to build a network!

  26. Nancy Juniper Wands says:

    After being out of circulation for a LONG time, eight months ago I joined a new “ladies” group and attended their monthly dinner meetings. I really did not like any of them, had little if anything in common with any of them (and was told by one there was something wrong with me because I didn’t participate in the activities she did) but didn’t want to just give up.

    Two months ago, I called the group leader to tell her I could not attend that meeting due to work commitments, however, my way home passed the meeting restaurant and I would stop in to say hello.

    I was told by her in no uncertain terms that I was NOT “permitted” to come into the restaurant or join the group that night – - – I might want a cup of coffee or to sit down and, after all, I had not paid. This would cause all the other members great distress. I assured her I would not want a coffee nor would I sit down and that I believed being “distressed” over my visit was very petty.

    Was I wrong not to return to the group, even tho I gave it time?

    By the way, I am going back to volunteering.

  27. Rob in Madrid says:

    Nancy unfortunately that happens, brush it off and join a new group. Also it used to bother me alot when we’d meet someone new that we really liked and they didn’t reciprocate and I used to think, oh my is there something wrong with me. That was till we did it to several people. Than I learned not to take it personal if a friendship doesn’t pan out.

    And from personal experience, when a good friend moves on make the point of sending a few cute emails (or even a post card) after they’ve moved letting them know your thinking of them, even if you don’t keep it up, it will make their day. There is nothing worse than moving away and feeling like all your friends have dropped you like a hot potato. I don’t expect to be able to keep up but a few friendly emails after your gone make all the difference in the world.

  28. Rob in Madrid says:

    Also thanks for the tips Trent, there is a real possibility we will be in the States for longer period of time and this time it will be the opposite problem as everyone speaks English so we wont’ be able to hunt up the local expat group.

  29. Tim says:

    I would love to have a network of friends, unfortunately I haven’t had the best luck with people. Some of them were malevolent, some were completely benevolent but for some reason, I just didn’t feel comfortable around them. Even when I met people, usually through work and we got on really well, they never bothered to stay in touch after I moved on, despite promises to the contrary. Its so sad, but I really do enjoy my own company.

  30. Beth says:

    I think that it’s really easy to just shut ourselves up in our little worlds, but it makes our lives a lot richer to reach out to people. I’ve been fortunate in the people I’ve met, and I still feel like I could do more. Trouble is, I really enjoy just being home alone!

    Still, a yahoo group for my apartment building is an interesting idea. I’ve met several of my neighbors in passing (the laundry room is the best for that!) yet I’ve been in the building almost two years and don’t know any of their names.. and some I’ve never met at all.

    I have recently made a new friend through a local biking club, and I think I’m going to try out a version of meetup. Volunteering also sounds good.. I just have to get off the couch!

  31. Scott says:

    I’m trying to bridge the communication gap between neighbors and local friends with http://www.neighborpal.com.

    I welcome your feedback if you find this valuable.

    Thanks.

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