If you’re like me, you have many friends that you have met over the years, located in many places. You became friends because of common interests, such as church, books, or just spending a weekend together at a conference. You’re comfortable sticking with the same circles, and continue to make more friends in these places.
And before you ask, I’m talking about REAL friends, not just people that you “friend” on Facebook. Of course, you can have actual friends on your FB friend list, but you know which ones you really know and which ones are just mere acquaintances. I know you can make real friends online, via social networking sites or your blog, since I’ve done it. But these are the ones that you can argue about politics with, and in the end, they don’t hate you, because they keep talking to you about your favorite books and whether you like to play in the snow or not. Real friendships rise above the disagreements, they don’t just disappear with a click of the “un-friend” option.
This post is more about rambling about some thoughts I’ve been having than actually getting an answer to this question, but you can still feel free to share your thoughts. It also isn’t a slam against my dear family or my one friend in town. It’s not a complaint about “I’m so lonely” and “Where do I go to meet people?”. Just pondering some things.
What if you’re somewhere outside of your normal comfort zone, and you can’t get to your normal “circles” as often as you’d like? For most of my life, I’ve been content to have most of my friends live in different states, and I’m proud of the fact that these are not fair-weather friends, but people that would have my back, in a heartbeat, if I needed them. Usually, when I’m longing for some serious time with some of them, I hit the road and drive to Pennsylvania. Or Maryland. Or just to Charleston, South Carolina. When I’m not heading to GWH or Seabrook, for a conference.
But what if you’re unable to spend money on gasoline, for the time being? You’re stuck where you are, and constraints of work and money keep you and your good friends apart? Where do you get some social interaction, aside from online? Remember, I don’t want to turn into a hermit, so I continue to leave my house regularly.
This question has come to mind, because at my job, I talk to hundreds of students, every day. Most of them are friendly, and I have short chats with quite a few of them. Especially the regulars. The real regulars tend to include graduate students and professors. So, you can ask the teachers if they’ve strangled any students yet, or if they spent Christmas vacation watching nothing but football. You can inquire after the grad students’ projects, and hope they aren’t working 24/7 (some of them do).
If you’ve ever talked to a cashier, regularly, you know that even if you stop to chat for five minutes, your talk time and subject matter is still limited. The only person I talk to regularly at a business location is Miss Patricia, a local bank teller. I’ve known her since I was a teenager, as we’ve always used the same bank. She was avidly interested in my trip to Australia and my time in PA, and always asked about me when my parents visited the bank. Now that I’m back, she likes to know how the job searching goes.
But when and how does that person go from being an acquaintance to becoming a friend? If you’re like me, you’re not brash enough to think someone you chat with every day is going to want to talk to you on the phone (I rarely talk to people on the phone, so that isn’t going to happen). Not every person you speak with, day in and day out is going to want to be your FB friend or read your Twitter feed.
I know, you’re going to tell me that I need to get out of the house and join a club or team, find people with similar interests. I’m working on it! Actually, I explore that option now and then, but many of these local activities are Clemson University oriented, and only for students. So, you can go join a frisbee game on Bowman Field, but you won’t find those same people on the field the following weekend, at the exact same time. You can go to the coffee shops, but how often do we ignore the people at the next table?
One of my new activities is to go to the local gym, Fike, but before you ask, I didn’t join because of any New Year’s resolutions. I don’t make those, because I’m unable to keep them. I have some goals for the year, but they don’t involve losing a certain set of pounds. Rather, I’m more interested in making exercise a habit, or in short, getting addicted to going to the gym. And for someone as introverted as I can be (yes, some of my good friends find this hard to believe, because I’m a chatterbox with them), you’ll understand that I’m not a social butterfly.
So, I’m out in the public eye, which gets you used to being around people more often, and shakes off any hermit tendencies. Everyone’s wearing headphones, though, so we’re still able to shut each other out. There are no guarantees of developing friendships, even at a gym. But if someone talks to me, I will probably talk to them. I’m friendly like that, even if I am completely intimidated by all the testosterone that comes from the weight lifting machine area of the gym (if there are too many guys down there, I stay clear). And no, I never go anywhere NEAR the free weights. Don’t they call that the “sweat pit”? Sweat and testosterone go together, right?
I think the answer to my question lies in (or near) finding a common interest with those that you do talk to, and a willingness to keep trying to converse, even when you’re embarrassed. And despite knowing half of the names of the local students (seeing their IDs is a wonderful cheat sheet), that still doesn’t exempt me from bashfulness with some of them. There are a few that I still can’t get the nerve to ask them what they go by, even when their name is either Robert or William. Yes, I am that bad.
In the meantime, I’m not against the idea of joining a book club or playing on a local frisbee team, but I have to find them first. I’ll let you know when I do. And if I ever figure out what the Eureka! moment is that causes an acquaintance to become a friend, I’ll tell you about it. Maybe if I just gave them all a card with my blog address on it…