As most of you know, connection is a big deal to me. Partially because I have realized I am wired to need it more than others do, and partially because I moved around a lot as a young stay at home mom and was always in search of people who would walk with me through motherhood. For this reason, I sometimes find myself wishing for days gone by.
For hundreds of years and all around the world, women used to gather together to perform daily tasks like gathering water, cooking, washing, and cleaning, and while I am incredibly grateful for modern conveniences and opportunities, I think that time with women, sharing our struggles and triumphs would have felt a bit like heaven, and I wish we had more of it.
When the world became digital, I noticed more and more women who were insanely virtually connected, yet still lonely. They put on a pretty face but were wanting for more love, understanding and real life people and experiences. The same went for normal women who had plenty of online friends and podcasts to keep them company but were missing something crucial. It was obvious that I was not alone in my longing for added connection in my daily life.
Many of you have read my experiences about sitting alone HERE or watched the online I Am Mom Summit where I discussed this very topic HERE. Some of you were around when I wrote the article It’s Time to Stop Being Friendly and Start Being a Friend HERE or discussed the same topic on the 3 in 30 Podcast HERE. The idea of creating and finding connection has been central to my motherhood journey and I feel passionately that we all need more of it.
Not only that, but I believe we are responsible for one an other, that we are our sister’s keeper, and that one small act has the power to change the course of a life or the trajectory of the world. We need to start doing more of what matters, in real life!
Because I believe it is EVERYONE’S responsibility to look out and reach out, I thought I would give some suggestions on how to do that no matter who you are or what you feel comfortable with! I broke the ideas down into three categories, building upon each other and adding a little extra bravery and effort at each level. But please, start small, and remember that the little things matter!
EASY WAYS TO REACH OUT, CONNECT, AND SHOW LOVE IF YOU ARE SHY OR AN INTROVERT
These easy suggestions are perfect if you are just dipping your toes into connection and friendship but have a desire to be more or better for yourself and those around you. Pick one or two to try!
- Send a heartfelt text, thank you note or letter to someone. This is perfect for my introverted friends! Shoot someone a nice text telling them how much they mean to you. Write a kind thank you note to someone who has served you or maybe even a letter to someone who has really impacted your life. It can be the start of a closer connection.
- Drop a birthday present by. Who doesn’t love to be remembered on their birthday? Grab some lotion or hand soap when it goes on sale, add a little piece of chocolate and your favorite quote to a cellophane bag and drop it by when a friend or someone you have just been thinking about has a birthday. A little birthday gesture means so much and is a great way to break the ice!
- Look for someone on the fringe. In every situation, there always seems to be someone who is on the fringe…sit next to them, say hello to them, get to know them; they might be looking for someone like you and relieved to connect with a fellow introvert.
- Say Yes! I know saying, “no” and protecting your time is all the rage, but some of my closest, most wonderful relationships have started because I chose to say yes to something. So, if you are feeling lonely or need an excuse to put yourself out there, sign up for something, volunteer, or just simply say yes to the next invitation that comes your way, even if you think you would rather not or it interrupts your schedule. Take a chance and see where it takes you.
- Drop something by. If you know someone is going through a difficult time, grab them a cookie, drink, treat, flowers or lunch when you are on your way home one day. If you are really shy, leave it on their porch with a note or text to let them know you were thinking of them, or take a minute to have a conversation with them at the door. They will never forget it!
- Show support. Is someone you know performing in a local play? Are they putting on an event? Is their son on the football team? Does their daughter have a recital? Make a plan and go support them. Nothing shows you care like showing up!
- Recommend a favorite. This can happen online or even through a group text, but try recommending something you love to others. This introduces them to a new restaurant/book/podcast/ etc. and gives you something to chat about the next time you are together. It can be as easy as tagging them in a facebook or Instagram post with a, “I thought you might like this” comment!
- Comment on social media. If you are going to spend a good amount of time online, use it to connect! Share a kind word about their new home or their kid’s soccer game. You will find they are grateful that someone cares!
- Practice some good questions for getting conversation going. For those who aren’t natural talkers, starting a conversation with someone new can feel so painful, so it’s nice to have some great conversation starters in your back pocket. Try these:
- Where did you grow up? Did you like it there? Do you miss it? Do you have family close by?
- What do you do for work? How do you like your job? Do you plan on staying there for a long time or do you wish you could do something different?
- How has motherhood been? Is it what you expected? What is the hardest/best part of it? How many kids do you have? What are they in to?
- What do you or your family like to do for fun? What are your favorite places to eat or play around here?
- Have you read/watched/listened to anything good lately?
- If you follow them on social media, talk about something that has happened to them lately…Your trip looked so fun! What was your favorite part? I am so sorry your daughter broke her leg. How is it going?
- Compliment them or their child, NOTHING breaks down a barrier like a sincere kind word!
And remember to ALWAYS reciprocate questions! If someone asks you something, answer, and then ask the same question back. For example, “I have 4 kids; how many do you have?”
SIMPLE WAYS TO MAKE FRIENDS THAT DON’T FEEL OVERWHELMING, TOO DIFFICULT OR TAKE A LOT OF TIME
These ideas don’t take much prep or planning, but they do take a little bravery and initiative.
- Plan a meet up. This is a perfect option for moms who have lots of littles or a few crazy kids that make conversation a little tough. Instead of hosting something at your home, decide on a place you were going to go anyway and open it up to everyone! Think the park, museum, chick-fil-a…put it on a facebook group or send it out in a text. This is a great way to make new friends or include those you aren’t super close to who might need an extra friend in their lives. I also love this because it gives everyone flexibility to come and go as they please with very low expectations. If your kids are melting down, it is fine for you to head out without feeling like you let anyone down.
- Exercise together. I LOVE to take walks with friends…being outside, in nature, with friends, and connecting is one of my all time favorite things to do. Look for another mom who likes the type of exercise you do and make plans to do it together or invite everyone! I am pretty sure many of my friends have solved the world’s problems during running group!
- Introduce yourself. We are all guilty of slipping into a class, break room, school or sporting event and seeing the same people over and over again without every really acknowledging them, but it doesn’t have to be that way! Introduce yourself, even if it has been 10 years of you looking at each other and half-smiling! I did this in a gym class and it has made my experience something I look forward to every week! Every Monday morning, I don’t just go to workout, I go to see my friends and catch up with them. I am so grateful I decided to say hello 5 years ago as they are some of my favorite people today. It is NEVER too late to be a friend.
- Sit by someone. It is so easy to attend a sporting event or a dance concert and sit on the very end with your phone out, but you miss some really amazing opportunities to connect with those around you who have a shared interest. So, sit in the middle or on the bleachers, talk about the sport and about life. I promise, it makes all the kid stuff so much more fulfilling!
- Leave your phone in the car. When you attend an event, try leaving your phone in the car; this step forces you to be fully engaged in the present. Sometimes, if I am feeling a little taken over by technology, I will leave my phone in the car while I shop. I will look people in the eye, I will listen to moms talking to their kids, I will have conversations with the checkers and it reminds me that we are all part of something real, together.
- Share a sincere compliment. I LOVE giving compliments to people I know and to complete strangers. There is nothing like sharing a sincere, kind observation with someone who isn’t expecting it. It will change the course of their day and of yours too and just might be the start of a friendship!
- Ask someone to teach you something. It can be so easy to feel inadequate in a world full of such competent people, which can put many of us into a tailspin of self-doubt and exclusion, but the next time you find someone who is great at something you need work on, don’t be jealous, instead ask them to teach you! So many of my closest relationships started because I asked someone to teach me…I have learned how to decorate, organize, garden, parent, and all kinds of other things, because wonderful, generous women were willing to teach me, and I love them for it!
- Be real. Yes, your life is crazy and messy, but that is what makes you so wonderful! Don’t be afraid to share the not so pretty parts of your life. Tell someone when you are frustrated, worried, or alone. Show your weakness and let someone help you through it. We only really bond with one another when we are honest and real, so see your weaknesses as a way to connect and come closer to those in your life, not a reason to push them away.
- Call instead of text. It is so easy to send a text to figure out details, but every now and then, call instead! This gives you a chance to make a real world connection and maybe get a little deeper than, “Can you drive at 4?” When I call a friend it gives us a quick minute to catch up with one another before we get down to business and I love it!
- Ask for advice. Is there anything that stops friendship faster than a person who thinks they know everything? It is impossible to get close to someone who has all the answers, so open up and show that you need some ideas and help too. Don’t act like you have this life all figured out…there is so much we can learn from each other and those shared experiences create a bond!
- Follow up. Rachel, an awesome mother and the creator of 3 in 30 podcast gave me this idea and it is great for the good and the bad moments. When she knows someone has gone through something difficult she does her best to follow up with them. She does this by sending a CD of comforting songs that help her find peace, but you could do this by simply asking about their tough moment. For example, “How is you job search going? Do you have any leads? Have you figured anything out with your son’s health? Did you get any results back? You could also drop a little congrats treat off when their child makes a high school team or gets engaged. Just something to let people know you understand how exciting/hard/frustrating life can be and you want to be there for them through it!
BIGGER WAYS TO CONNECT THAT TAKE A LITTLE MORE EFFORT BUT YIELD HEFTY REWARDS
These options are for the man or woman who has a little extra time and energy to help create connection for themselves and others and doesn’t mind the extra effort!
- Start a group. I have always loved being part of a book club and have started or joined one in almost every neighborhood we have lived in. What I love about them is that it gets people talking and discussing on a deeper level which brings added insight and closeness. If you aren’t a reader or don’t have time for books, think about doing an article or podcast club. You can host them in your home, or you can meet at a fast-casual restaurant and chat or even try it at a park. Some of my favorite memories are sharing books and deep thoughts with the women in my life!
- Feed people. There is something magical about feeding people in your home. It can be something simple like pizza and bagged salad or you can make it as fancy as time and talent allow. You can have a whole family for dinner or women over for lunch. When you get groups of people, breaking bread together, something really amazing happens…and no one ever says no to a free meal! ves! It is a great way to bring people in!
- Meet for lunch. A woman I know has a standing lunch appointment at the same fast-casual restaurant the first Tuesday of the month and invites everyone to join her. No need to wait for a birthday! Such a great idea, especially for working women or for moms with kids in school or with new babies who might be feeling a little lonely. So great to have planned girl time each month!
- Organize a kid carpool or outing. Who doesn’t love it when someone will plan things for their kids? Find a lesson, team or club and invite other moms to join you or your kids. Organize carpools and open it up to be as inclusive as possible. Sharing experiences with our kids and friends is a great way to bond with each other.
- Start a tradition. If you love something, start a neighborhood tradition around it. A woman in my neighborhood has put together a super fun Easter Egg hung for almost 20 years. It brings everyone together and even grandchildren are now coming to enjoy the fun. Maybe you could do something on a smaller scale? Is football your thing? Throw a Super Bowl party! Do you love the 4th of July? Have friends over for a water day. We love our Marshmallow Snowball Fight in December you can read more about HERE. Lots of great options on any scale!
- Find a Motherhood Mentor. I wrote a lot about this topic HERE, but remember that friendship can come in all ages and stages, so look beyond those who are just like you! Find someone who can give you help or perspective during your stage of life because they have already been there, or look to someone who does things so differently from you that she will open your mind to new thoughts and ideas.
- Be a Mentor. To pay it forward, plan on being a mentor for someone who needs you. Look at the women who are 5-10 years behind your path and make room for them in your life. Invite them to be part of something you are a part of, or take them to lunch one afternoon and get to know them, letting you know you are there for them!
- Volunteer. So many of my greatest friendships have started because I was willing to be a part of something bigger than myself. I know it often sounds like just “one more thing,” so choose wisely and take some time to give of yourself to a cause that really matters to you. You will meet like minded, passionate people who share a common interest, which is a great basis for friendship!
- Share a talent. Everyone can use a little help every now and then, so don’t be afraid to offer up a skill, just to be nice. Is a friend planning a wedding? Help decorate the tables. Does a neighbor want to plant a garden? Educate her about flowers. Is your friend’s son struggling with math? Offer to help with an assignment. Think of how you can enter someone’s life in a kind and helpful way and see if a friendship starts from there.
- Dessert night. One thing we have loved doing is planning a dessert night. We open it up to the whole neighborhood during the good weather months and everyone brings something to share. It is super low key and allows us to be really inclusive and get to know people better!
- Accept help. This suggestion might be the best and hardest one of all, but accepting help is crucial to building deep connections. Most of us would rather be on the giving end of service but allowing others into your life and heart is one of the best ways to forge a friendship. Don’t be afraid to need and let others fill that need.
Now, please remember to try and ENJOY these efforts! Friendship does not come quickly and it takes work and sometimes a lot of time before you truly feel like you have friends. It won’t be reciprocated one for one, and you might mostly do the inviting without an invitation in return and that is OKAY! It doesn’t mean that people don’t like you, they just might not be comfortable or see it as their role.
Sometimes though things can be unfairly hard. I had a reader ask what to do if things were especially cliquey and here was my answer to her:
The neighborhood I moved into is so cliquey. It doesn’t seem like anyone really wants to be friends with me at all. What can I do?
First of all, I am so sorry. It is the worst to feel unwanted where you live. I have been there and it is such a lonely feeling. Before you blame everyone else, I want you to consider how much effort you put into BEING a friend. Have you invited anyone to your home for dinner? Have you invited the ladies you think you would enjoy to lunch? Do you participate in neighborhood events? When someone invites you somewhere, do you go? Do you open up when you are with others and share things that will help people feel close to you? Have you volunteered to help them? Are you interested in their lives and their families? Have you found people you have things in common with? It is easy to feel entitled when you are new, like other people should be making the effort, and they should, but they often don’t, so most of your friendships will happen because of your own effort.
If you feel like you really have done all you can to be a friend, then maybe re-evaluate who you are trying to befriend. Maybe you have picked people who truly are too busy right now (caring for an elderly parent, new baby, full-time employment, PTA president, etc.) or maybe you want to be friends with people who truly don’t have any interest in adding you to their circle. But, I know there is someone else who could use and would love your friendship. Look a little harder. Try to be the friend you are looking for to someone else who needs a friend. Go outside your neighborhood, get involved in something that matters to you and try to build friendships there. If none of that works, hold on. Sometimes it really does just take time. The first year in every place I lived was a tough one. Things do change.
Thank you ALL for caring enough about this topic and enough about each other to be here, to learn more, and to resolve to be better. I would love you to try a couple of these ideas and see where they take you, then come back and let me know how they go!