In my teens and 20s, meeting new people seemed easy. I struck up friendships in class, at work, at parties and while doing volunteer work. Now in my 30s, I have found that developing a rich and vibrant social life sometimes takes a backseat to other important responsibilities.
Getting together IRL with friends has, for whatever reason, become hellaciously -- and hilariously -- hard. I do believe it would be easier to obtain a meeting with the president or a private audience with the pope than obtain a copy of everybody's Excel schedules for the next few months and carve out a sliver of time for a face-to-face meeting.
True, we 30-somethings can be a busy lot. We have careers and homes to maintain. Many of us are now married, some with children. We may also be caring for aging parents or relatives and be active in our communities.
But can we truly be THAT busy? Or is it that people are avoiding me? Have we simply grown in different directions now that many of my friends are married and I am single?
Or is it the ubiquity of social media sites like Facebook and Twitter, and the fake omniscence they engender betwixt members of one's social network? Why meet up? We know everything we need to know about each other!
In my opinion, social media sites, while not without their advantages -- like keeping in touch with friends and family who live far away or following the events of favorite organizations -- are changing the very nature of "friendship," rendering others expendable unless they serve our egos.
I realize I may be a trifle anachronistic in my communication preferences. Wall-posting, "poking," and "liking" do have their place, but they could never replace the occasional good-old fashioned cup of coffee, frosty beer or an occasional walk through the park with friends.
I don't think American culture places enough value in friendship or random, happenstance meetings with real people in the real world.
Sometimes, I tell this to others.
They tell me I am being ridiculous.
I am in my 30s, they say. If I can't procreate with somebody or get a job from them, rent an apartment from them, or make a professional connection, why the heck would I even be interested?
I disagree. It makes me want to shake my stick in the air and read Thoreau or Whitman and try, in vain, to grow a very long and very white beard.
It is kind of funny. It is also a shame.
Even the most self-sufficient, nonattached, independent soul needs some IRL (read: nonsocial media) human connection every now and then.
It can be truly scary to put yourself out there in a world where our public spaces are increasingly populated by people madly poking at handheld devices in an attempt to shield themselves from the other human beings also madly poking at their hand-held devices.
Where is the humanity in that?
As a fabulous single woman in her 30s, who will soon be relocating, I must say I find the prospect of starting over simultaneously exhilarating and terrifying.
How the heck does one make new friends -- real, in-person, flesh-and-blood friends -- as an adult in our crazybusy world without coming off as a creeper, a psycho or worse?
1.) I will know myself and be myself.
Forget the image of the nervous junior high boy going out on his first date while his mother eagerly proclaims to "just be yourself!" What she really means is "open your date's door, pay for the movie ticket, and don't talk with your mouth full of popcorn."
This is decent advice, but, seriously, though, if I'm not being myself, how will I ever locate my people, my group, my kindred spirits?
2.) I will eschew the "Grown-up's Guide to Popularity." Sometimes, it's best not to "fit in."
I'm sure we're all acquainted with the "unofficial" formula for adult success: Have a "good" job, an attractive spouse, well-behaved children, an expensive home in a fashionable neighborhood and a circle of well-heeled friends -- and post incessantly about the experience on social media so that the peons might salivate.
It's hogwash. I will not worry about "fitting in" to somebody else's expectations of "where I should be" at this point in my life.
3.) I will trust my intuition.
Does spending time with a new person make me feel a little "off"? Anxious? Perhaps a pulsing in the temples or a pit in the stomach?
Congratulations! My limbic system (that reptilian part of the brain that issues early warnings) is telling me to watch out.
I will always give people chance, but do not be so eager to be liked or accepted that I allow myself to be used, depleted or otherwise taken advantage of.
4.) I will take calculated risks to get out of my comfort zone.
I ain't gonna meet new friends huddled in front of World of Warcraft.
I will change it up a little -- try a new coffee shop, enroll in a cooking class, get active in community politics or take a seminar on how to build furniture. I will see the world around me with new eyes. I will say hi to a stranger perusing the green onions at the local supermarket.
Hopefully, he or she will not bite. And if he or she does, I will not pursue matters further.
At least I'll be able to make a great green onion stir fry or build a chair.
5.) Sometimes, I will have to be a little pushy. I will be friendly, without being obsequious.
Most people do not possess the ability to read minds. I will, therefore, open my yapper!
I will let people know I'm interested in the communal flower planting on Saturday -- or I am wondering what the heck there is to do around these here parts.
"Many people would love to meet a lovely person such as yourself!" I will tell myself. "Some will not speak to anybody they haven't known since elementary school! Your job, brave warrior of friendship, is to find this out for yourself!"
6.) Don't have a "friend type."
It's like dating. We all know that one friend who has a rather lengthy "checklist" of what she is looking for in a date -- like, he has to be a hipster, but not too hipstery (no peg-legged pants, for example) and has to have brown hair and be this tall and be interested in artisanal mozzarella-making.
The problem with checklists? Sometimes I nix some really great people based on superficialities before I really have to opportunity to really know them. I will, therefore, strive to meet all sorts of people -- married, single, the young and the young-at-heart, football fans and basketball fans and people who love Justin Bieber and people who think Justin Bieber is just plain awful.
7.) I will have at least one solitary hobby or activity to ground and inspire me.
People can be wonderful as well as wildly unpredictable. I'll need some downtime to nourish myself so I'l have more energy to give to others, when giving is appropriate.
I'm not going to go all "Into the Wild," but a little detachment isn't always a bad thing. I will have one solitary activity to get back in touch with my essential self when I need to -- yoga, meditation, hiking, birdwatching or drawing.
Remember: People are often as afraid of you as you are of them! So buck up, get out there, and don't chew with your mouth open!
Original version first appeared on Elephant Journal: