Find­ing your kin­dred spir­its

Re­build­ing a cadre of friends in a new city might take some strate­giz­ing

Baltimore Sun Sunday - - LIFE - By Mark Stein

When we’re very young, a best friend can be some­one you met two hours ago in the sand­box.

As we get older, we tend to get more dis­cern­ing about the com­pany we keep, and op­por­tu­ni­ties to meet new peo­ple be­come more com­plex and less fre­quent.

This change is thrown into sharp re­lief when you move to a new state or dis­tant city as an adult and leave be­hind tight-knit friend­ships. How do you find kin­dred souls in a new lo­ca­tion?

Par­ents of small chil­dren of­ten find it eas­ier to build a new net­work of friends be­cause play­grounds, Lit­tle League games and Scouts trips are nat­u­ral places for adults to make ac­quain­tances who can blos­som into friends. For the rest of us, re­build­ing a cadre of friends might need a lit­tle more strate­giz­ing.

And there are so many rea­sons to move these days that it’d be a shame to let fear of be­ing friend­less stop you.

First of all, as soon as you learn you may move, ask your fam­ily and friends if they know some­one — any­one — who al­ready lives in what will soon be your new home. Dis­re­gard their age, mar­i­tal sta­tus, pol­i­tics, fa­vorite TV pro­gram or any­thing else that might not suit your taste.

You want to ask this per­son to give you the lay of the land, rec­om­mend neigh­bor­hoods to live in and those to avoid, lo­cal events you should at­tend and things you should avoid, and ide­ally they will of­fer to in­tro­duce you to oth­ers, jump-start­ing the re­con­struc­tion of your so­cial life.

Reach out to your new “friend guide” a day or two af­ter you ar­rive in the new city. Ask to meet for cof­fee on a date con­ve­nient to them, be sure to ar­rive early and — don’t for­get — pick up the check. You might get lucky and ef­fort­lessly fall into a new so­cial cir­cle.

“Adults have this myth that other adults al­ready have all the friends they want,” says the psy­chol­o­gist Irene S. Levine, who wrote the book “Best Friends For­ever” and blogs at the­friend­ship­blog.com.

But if not, turn to the world of apps. Some are specif­i­cally aimed at kin­dling friend­ships.

Peanut is a so­cial net­work­ing app that says it’s “where ma­mas meet;” some users de­scribe it as a pla­tonic “Tin­der for Moms.” Bum­ble, a dat­ing app, is rolling out Bum­ble BFF, an app for ar­rang­ing dates with your new best friend for­ever.

Meetup.com is a well­known site that of­fers users count­less op­tions to meet new peo­ple, from hik­ing to book groups to med­i­ta­tion. If you don’t find an ac­tiv­ity you’re in­ter­ested in, you can start your own group.

Busi­ness net­work­ing apps such as Shapr and LinkedIn are be­ing asked to work over­time to help their users lo­cate po­ten­tial friends. The apps har­vest their users’ age, lo­ca­tion, ti­tle and in­dus­try and run that in­for­ma­tion through an al­go­rithm to find pro­fes­sion­als with match­ing in­ter­ests and sim­i­lar pro­fes­sional goals.

LinkedIn’s Peo­ple You May Know ser­vice looks at the num­ber of peo­ple users have in com­mon, if they work at the same com­pany or in the same in­dus­try, or if they at­tended the same univer­sity. Shapr’s al­go­rithm goes a step fur­ther and cu­rates a daily batch of 10 to 20 pro­files of ac­tive users who share sim­i­lar in­ter­ests and goals.

Clubs, con­certs and other cul­tural events have long been promis­ing places to meet new friends, and they re­main so to­day. Apps such as Eventbrite, Near­ify and Ra­di­ate make it eas­ier to get a com­pre­hen­sive list of which artists are in town, where they will per­form and some­times which peo­ple from your small-but (hope­fully) grow­ing so­cial cir­cle plan to go.

While apps can save time in your search for friends in an un­fa­mil­iar place, they are not the only tools to con­sider.

Con­ven­tional net­work­ing — ca­sual meet­ings with your new co­work­ers, friends of friends and former class­mates — can still aid in ex­pand­ing your ros­ter of friends. But Columbia Univer­sity pro­fes­sors in 2007 pub­lished re­search con­clud­ing that busi­ness “mix­ers” — un­struc­tured so­cial events meant to en­cour­age net­work­ing — were in­ef­fec­tive. At­ten­dees tended to so­cial­ize with peo­ple they knew be­fore­hand or peo­ple of the same age, race, gen­der, etc.

Vol­un­teer­ing can be a way to meet peo­ple with sim­i­lar in­ter­ests, whether that in­volves car­pen­try at Habi­tat for Hu­man­ity, find­ing homes for res­cue dogs or work­ing at a food bank. And even if you don’t make a new friend, you’ve done some good.

Book clubs are a good way to meet friends, es­pe­cially if you can find one spe­cial­iz­ing in a par­tic­u­lar genre, au­thor, topic or time pe­riod you like. Some­times lo­cal book­stores or li­braries run book clubs, so it’s worth start­ing there.

Even bet­ter: adopt a dog. Over the years, at least four sci­en­tific stud­ies in the United States and abroad have demon­strated that peo­ple are much more likely to ap­proach a stranger walk­ing or play­ing with a dog than a stranger alone.

In a sur­vey com­mis­sioned by the Amer­i­can Ken­nel Club, the data showed 58% of men said bring­ing a puppy to a park is a very ef­fec­tive means to meet women. And 46% of women sur­veyed said they’d stop and talk to any­one with a cute puppy.

“Dogs act as so­cial ‘ice break­ers’ and help peo­ple strike up friendly con­ver­sa­tion with oth­ers,” Dr. June McNi­cholas from the Univer­sity of War­wick in the United King­dom told Pol­icy Ge­nius magazine.

“It is dif­fi­cult for us to strike up a con­ver­sa­tion with a com­plete stranger — all sorts of ul­te­rior mo­tives may be sus­pected. But be­ing with a dog (or other pet) gives a safe, non­threat­en­ing, neu­tral topic to start a con­ver­sa­tion.”

ROBERT HILLS/DREAMSTIME

New ar­rivals should try to spend time on shared ac­tiv­i­ties, many of which are of­fered at lit­tle or no cost by city park and recre­ation de­part­ments.

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