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.