Meeting neighbours is harder than it should be
I have a friend who moved into my community last summer from Turkey. She can’t get over how tough it is to meet the neighbours. Apparently in Turkey when someone new moves on to your street, you bring over some food. This is such a given that after a move, most people don’t have to cook at all until they are completely unpacked and settled in. But here in western Canada?
Nobody even came by to say hello or drop a welcoming note in the mailbox. And when she tried to strike up a conversation with the people next door they gave her such a strong dose of the stink eye that she gave up altogether.
Ugh, that hurts my heart. If you’re thinking “it should not be this hard to meet people near me”, you are CORRECT, my friend. And there was a time that it did happen more naturally. But the game has changed.
One of my favourite books, actually, is Bowling Alone by Robert Putnam, because it explains exactly why and how everything that used to make developing social ties easy has been withering away for decades. So if you want to nerd out on that, I’d definitely recommend it.
How do you meet new people anyway though?
Meanwhile, the question is: what do we do about it, as regular folks who just don’t want to end up totally isolated?
To meet new people nowadays, what we need to do is steal the thing that made it work in the old days: repetitive light touches.
Now before you start going around literally touching people, let me explain what the heck that is.
Back to basics is the best way to meet new friends
Back in the day when connections happened more naturally, it was partly because people crossed paths regularly as they went about their business, right? Walking to work or school, picking up milk at the corner store, stopping in for an after work drink at the neighbourhood bar – that kind of thing.
That repetitive crossing of paths gradually would build up a sense of familiarity in a really low pressure safe way. So nice.
Like for example: if you see the same guy at the bus stop every day, you’re eventually going to get comfortable enough to say hi, then introduce yourselves, then chat a little about your lives. If the day comes that you’re in some sort of a jam, you might ask him to help you out. And then maybe you find out that his kid and your kid are on the same soccer team and that deepens it up a little more… you get what I’m saying.
But there’s no pressure, so you can hold it at just saying hello, or wherever feels right over the course of multiple encounters.
You know what we call multiple brief encounters with no obligations or expectations?
Yup! Repetitive light touches! Which are the best.
To meet new people, be intentional
This kind of thing still happens a bit on its own, but nowhere NEAR as much as it used to.
Which is why, when you want to make new friends, deliberately try to find ways to cross paths casually but regularly. It’s best if there is some reason for you both to be in the same place that’s NOT about building a connection with one another. That takes the pressure off, keeps things cool.
Although it’s a little tougher than it used to be, trust me, this is 100% doable. Here are just a few examples of how:
- Be a regular at a shop, like a coffee shop. If you go in to the place on the corner every day at about the same time for your hot beverage, eventually you’ll start to recognize the baristas. Then, the other regular patrons. Make an effort to smile, say hello, and build from there over time.
- Get things started in an online group. There are often, for example, Facebook groups for communities. Try to find one that’s pretty active, and start reacting and commenting on posts. Over time, you build up a rapport with the people in the group and especially the admins, who are usually delighted with anyone who’s active in positive ways. There is a bit of an art to turning that into real life interactions, but don’t get me started on that, or this post will become a novel. (if you would like to read a post on that, btw, let me know in the comments)
- Walk and wave. Try walking somewhere you’d normally drive to, or just go for a regular walk along the same route, and keep your eyes peeled for people on the way; people in their yards, people also walking. When you spot one, smile and/or wave. Eventually ask to pet their dog or comment on their rosebushes or whatever. Of course with some of those people, you’re never going to see them again. But some of them you will and in those cases, you’re laying the groundwork for friendship.
Repetitive light touches. Feeling people out, letting them feel you out. That’s the name of the game, baby!
I’ll keep you up to date on articles, podcasts, events and whatever else I’m working on in pursuit of that goal.
If you found this particular article interesting and/or useful, please share it with some friends by email or wherever you hang out online.
Signing up for my list is a light touch with me. Sharing it with a friend is a light touch with them. See? You’re doing it already!
Take care, and see you soon.
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