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Finding a Bunco group, one player at a time

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QUESTION

Dear Irene,

First of all, thank you for your blog and columns; I've gained much insight from you. I am a 42-year-old mother of two boys and I have always had trouble making friends. I've read countless books on the subject of relationships and intellectually, I know what to do: Be open, smile, ask questions, stay positive, etc. But it never seems to pan out for me in my search for finding meaningful friendships.

We moved to our community five years ago and I got involved in my church and kids' school. I've met women through the church moms' groups, volunteered for PTO and homeroom mom, sat with parents at sporting events, and the same thing always happens. The other women are cordial, but no one ever makes an effort to befriend.

I've tried inviting people to lunch or throwing a party. But it seems like I am always on the outside and the very few who attend only do so if they have nothing better going on. Recently, on two separate occasions, I discovered that a group of women were getting book groups together. I approached the organizer of each group and casually mentioned that I'd heard about their groups and, as an avid reader, would like to join. In both cases, I got the cold shoulder, change of subject, no invitation. This has happened before with two different Bunco groups when we lived in a different town. So I attempted to start a Bunco group, but it petered out after only a few months because, again, people would only come if they had nothing better to do.

I feel like I am always standing outside the door, begging to be let in. I'm generally a nice person, and try to be kind and compassionate to others, so I don't understand what I am doing wrong. It is especially frustrating when I see nasty, competitive women who are awful to each other at the center of every social group. Do I need to start being a mean-spirited bitch in order to have friends?

Signed,
Michelle

ANSWER

Dear Michelle,

No, absolutely not! You don't need to be a mean-spirited bitch in order to have friends although I can understand why you might feel that way. Unfortunately, it sounds like you live in a competitive community where the existing cliques you've encountered at school and church are pretty closed to newcomers. You may also be looking for friends in the wrong places or making poor choices.

Are there other women in town or are "unaffiliated" like you? If so, where might you find them? Instead of looking for a group all at once (e.g. by throwing parties or starting Bunco groups), perhaps you could seek out individuals, one person at a time. With summer approaching, might you find a potential friend at a park or a pool and could approach with your warm smile? Someone at the nail shop or at the hairdresser whom you've seen more than once and you could start a chat with? Could you sign up for an adult education class one evening and invite one person for coffee afterwards? Are there Meetup groups in your community with other people seeking new friends? Do you have any time for a part-time job that would give you the opportunity to be with people?

One of my favorite Seinfeld episodes is called The Opposite. George Costanza (Jason Alexander) decides that because his instincts are typically wrong, he is going to do the exact opposite of what he would ordinarily be inclined to do. You don't need to take it to this comedic extreme, but could you change your tack? For example, might there be someone older or younger than you whom you haven't approached who seems friend-worthy?

If none of these suggestions resonates with you, confide in someone who knows you well (e.g. your mother, husband, sister-in-law, etc.), and who is willing to be brutally honest about why they think you're having trouble making friends. Is it situational or is it something you are doing or saying (or not doing or not saying)? Since they know you better, maybe their suggestions will be more on target than mine.

Above all, don't give up. Many women have written to me with similar problems so you aren't alone; making friends can be challenging. Despite your frustrations, try to remain confident and open. Follow your own interests so you remain an interesting person. You may need to spend more time reading, writing or gardening, before you collect enough women for your own Bunco game.

I hope this helps.

Warm regards,
Irene

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