My first experience of making friends after college was intense: I had moved to another country, where I was only an intermediate speaker of the local language, and I truly felt alone for many months. While I’ve heard many people talk about how helpful going to happy hour with your coworkers or any pre-existing friends can be, I have spent my twenties finding other ways to find new friends. Given the lack of Happy Hour overseas, I had to! Here are the ideas that have worked for me, and why I advocate for them as alternatives to meeting people at networking events and places like bars.
1. Neighborhood Associations and Citizen Committees
Before I started getting involved with my local neighborhood association, I honestly wouldn’t have even known to look for this kind of friendship-builder. These groups get a bad rap sometimes, either as being boring or not relevant to young professionals, but you’d be surprised by how many people you’ll meet who have a lot in common with you just because of their location.
I met one of my best friends because her family and my family were both new to a neighborhood, and we both wanted to see if we could get our neighborhood to be more involved: we started a neighborhood newsletter, held picnics, and walked the streets passing out flyers and picking up trash. These activities were less “fun” in and of themselves and more a way to figure out who the people we wanted to get to know were. In so doing, we got more of our neighbors to make friends too, but I am generally grateful that I found the one friend I wouldn’t have had without this experience.
Citizen committees can be politics-related, like a local campaign committee, but they can also be remarkably non-political: some groups are more like volunteer organizations, trying to figure out how to create better opportunities for fun events for young professionals or how to improve the maintenance of local nature trails. They give you the chance to make a difference for something that matters to you and also meet the people who share your passion.
The Advantage: I enjoy the double-duty that I pull when I meet people through getting involved locally; I learn more about my community and the people around me while also “secretly” scoping out new best friends. When I do find one, they already live nearby!
2. Volunteering for Organizations You Care About
These opportunities are often less long-term than the above organizations; even a one-time volunteering gig is a good way to make friends! Finding a non-profit with regular volunteering opportunities can be a great way to meet people who share at least one interest with you. I have always admired people who know a lot about art and music, so I try to jump on opportunities to be an usher or ticket taker for a local play or concert. The other people who also are serving as ushers tend to be fascinating to talk to, and I usually get a free evening’s entertainment out of the deal too. Volunteering together can also be a productive way to cement a budding friendship; rather than asking a new work friend to go to the bar, ask if they want to take a shift serving drinks at a local outdoor concert series or checking IDs at the entrance to the event.
The Advantage: Volunteering makes me feel like I have a reason to be somewhere, even if I feel somewhat alone at the event. I can never feel that way at networking events, since it is all about the socializing, and I find that stress-inducing at times.
3. Nature Walk/Other Outdoorsy Meet-Ups
Not everyone loves the great outdoors, but I am pretty much in a perpetual state of “wishing I spent more time outside.” Using meet-ups to go for a walk, a kayaking trip, or bike a set route helps with any exercise or nature time you want to fit in, but it also tends to be a great context for a good conversation. While I rarely end up getting to know someone well in a bar, I often have an in-depth discussion while walking for an hour or two through the woods. It’s like the trees just open people up a little!
The Advantage: A little gentle accountability for my goals to be outside and stay in shape, along with idle time to chat and not look at our phones? Yes, please.
4. Making an Effort to Ask About Getting Coffee/Tea
I include this one last because it isn’t a place, per se, it’s a strategy, and a scary one at that. However, I think that many of us, if we are honest, don’t have a problem meeting people, we have a problem becoming friends. What I’ve realized is that very few people are resistant to becoming my friend, but pretty much everyone is too busy to make the first move, or even the second or third moves. So, when I know I want to be friends with someone, I try to be the instigator by making it as easy as possible for them to say yes to a chat.
I will offer a specific day, time, and place to drink a hot beverage together, or I’ll invite them to events I’m holding at my house, or I’ll tell them about things that I’m doing and invite them along — this isn’t a constant thing, but I don’t really stop altogether even if they are too busy for the first couple of invites. Unless I am getting a real ‘please leave me alone’ vibe, I tend to keep casually offering until the potential friend takes me up on it; clearly, there is such a thing as too much (and this is just advice for friendship, not anything romantic) but I find that most people appreciate if you show you find them interesting and want to get to know them better.
The Advantage: You can meet everyone you want in a bar or in the above ways, but if you don’t see them again, they never cross the line to being “friends.”
I’ve got nothing against happy hour now that I live somewhere that has happy hour — I’m not one to talk bad about cheap drinks and chatting — but I like varying up my friend pursuits still. I’ve joined a casual summer frisbee league, I’ve joined a private library that hosts interesting readers and speakers, and I’ve signed up to volunteer at the local hospital: all of these have been valuable in themselves, but in the back of my mind, they were also all about finding a good friend and building a network organically. It’s possible to deliberately pursue friendship while pursuing the things you like too!
Laura Marie is a writer and teacher in Ohio.
Image via Unsplash