Wednesday, 15 January 2014

Where to find friends

One of my resolutions for 2014 is to strengthen my connections in my local community and, to put it simply, to make friends.

Online friendships are great, but they can't give you a hug through the internet.  Or hold your hand.  Or come to your birthday party, help you move a couch, or just be with you in a physical, companionable, endorphins-generating kind of way.  For that, you need people you know and get on with in real life.

Advice for making friends usually starts with joining a group or taking a class on something that interests you.  I think that advice needs a caveat before it's useful to Aspies, though.

I've taken all sorts of classes and tried out all sorts of groups in the past, and it usually hasn't worked.  That's because I'm a fairly straightforward do-the-thing type person: if I go to a knitting class, I knit.  If I join a dance group, I dance.  And then fifteen minutes into the knitting or the dancing, everyone else has paired themselves up into little chattery groups, and I'm alone.

That's because I have to make myself consciously aware that the point of the exercise, for me, is not to knit or to dance.  Those things are great, but they're not the key reason I'm there.  I'm there to meet people, or at least observe them, and figure out if these are people I want to be around and who will accept me and let me in.

The second point is that it's not so much about just finding stuff you personally enjoy, but sussing out what other people are there and whether they're the sort of people you want to hang around with.  For instance, I once went to a community choir.  That must have been all very Julie Andrews and tra-la-la-la-la, right? No, actually - during the tea break it was all snark and bitching about politics.  I didn't go back.  For all that I love singing and music, I wasn't a good fit for the interpersonal dynamic of the group, so there was no point continuing to take part.

So, before you start planning your social calendar, maybe it'd be helpful to ask yourself:

What sort of people are you looking for?  
What do your potential friends have to have in common with you?
Where are you likely to find people like that?

If you're a devout Christian, for instance, and it's important to you that your friends share your beliefs,  a church choir or a faith-based service group might net you better results than a yoga class or a drumming circle.  On the other hand, if it's important your friends share your love of thrash metal, a church group might not be the first place you'd start.

As for me, I'll be rifling through the heap of fliers and leaflets I picked up at an arts centre open day last year - not just to see which ones look like things I'd like to do, but which ones look like people I'd like to be around as well.