I have certain conversations that come up often with my clients. One of these conversations is about support. I think I have this conversation with someone at least once a week.
Building a support network takes time and work. But it's worth the effort.
In the support conversation, clients usually talk to me about how alone they feel. Some can identify friends or family members they are in close contact with, but also talk about how their friends and family can’t or won’t talk to them about their HIV and what they are dealing with every day. But just as often, if not more, I talk about support with clients who don’t really have anyone in their life they would call a friend.
Either way, clients who don’t have enough emotional support are in need of making new friends. And either way, this is a conversation that always leaves me feeling sad and kind of helpless. Sad because it’s hard to see someone who is genuinely friendly and caring, but who feels so uncared for. And helpless because meeting people to become friends with is not easy, and I don’t have a magic formula for creating your own support system, as much as I wish I did.
Potential New Friends Are All Around You. You Just Have To Make Yourself Available
But I have picked up a few good ideas over the years that actually work. So, if you’re looking for ways to get connected with people with whom they might develop friendships, here are some ideas:
First, proclaim yourself worth of friendship. It has been my experience that one of the biggest barriers to making friends is your own self-image. If you don’t feel likable, then that is the image you will project to others. So start by giving your self-talk a boost. Remind yourself each and every day that you are a friendly and interesting person with a lot to share with others. Don’t give in to critical thinking, it just keeps you stuck. And keep in mind that there are a whole lot of people around you who also want to connect with new friends!
Then, do an inventory. Think about how you have made friends in the past. Any themes emerge in terms of where or how you tend to meet people you can be friends with? In person? Online? At work? Through organizations? And based on anything you learned from your inventory, does that suggest a direction you might go in to meet new people?
And here’s another inventory to do: Are there any people hovering around the edge of your life that you might reach out to and try to get to know better? Acquaintances? Co-workers? Neighbors? You may have opportunities around you that you have been overlooking. As the saying goes, the best way to have a friend is to be a friend. Is there someone you know who could use a friend right now?
But also be willing to step outside of the box. Meeting new people will take some effort on your part. That will most likely require moving outside of your comfort zone to place yourself in situations where you can meet new people. So as you consider your options, try not to automatically turn down an option because it sounds scary. Keep an open mind and consider all options. Be willing to take small steps into new territory.
Seek out people with similar interests. You will automatically have something to talk about with people with whom you share an interest. Examples would include reading books, hiking, playing board games, politics… the list is endless. You can do some Googling on groups like hiking or book clubs in your community. You might also check out meetup.com, which I call the therapist’s friend. Meetup.com lists all kinds of groups around the country, most likely in your community as well.
Get involved in volunteering. This is an excellent way to meet people. Fellow volunteers will share your commitment. And it’s easier to start up a conversation when you are involved completing tasks together. Often, people who get involved in volunteering have two goals in mind: They want to make a contribution to their community and they also want to meet other committed people. Non-profit organizations are always looking for volunteers. It’s worth a try.
Join a spiritual community. This might mean getting involved in a church or synagogue in your area. It might also mean a meditation group, or a group of people exploring an alternative spiritual practice. People involved in spiritual communities are often especially welcoming to newcomers, so you might find this a comfortable environment to make new friends.
Sign up for a class. Here’s where being willing to step outside of your comfort zone will be needed. Take a look at what your local Y might be offering. Or the adult education department at your local school district or community college. Or a local restaurant or health club. Anything you have thought about, like knitting or local history or cooking, that you might be interested in learning more about? Many communities have adult education resources that are relatively low cost. This is a great way to learn something new and meet a few new people in the process.
Check out social networks. The Internet offers a lot of resources for meeting new people. For example, some of the dating sites offer the option of meeting people for friendship, not necessarily for dating. You might join some kind of online community organized around an interest you have. Do some searching and see what comes up.
Consider support groups. This is another great way to meet people. Local hospitals or treatment centers might offer support groups organized around HIV. Check out local LGBT resources, too. It’s worth looking around to see what might be available in your community.
Go to local events. Yes, this can be scary. That’s why I saved it for last. You might check out events in your community. A new exhibit at your local museum. A community arts and crafts fair. A championship game of a local team. Sure, it may not be fun to go and sit alone. But you might check to see if sponsoring organizations need volunteers for the event. Or you might go and just take it all in, and enjoy some people-watching. When you’re feeling lonely, just being around people can pick up your mood.
Be patient. Making new friends takes whatever time it takes. And it takes patience. So keep yourself out there in the world. If one option doesn’t pan out at first, keep at it. And try another direction, too. Make this a fun adventure.
You and your support network. It’s hard to meet new people. But with some creativity and some effort, you can bring new people into your life. Support is power!
Gary McClain, PhD, is a therapist, patient advocate, and author in New York City, who specializes in working with individuals diagnosed with chronic and catastrophic medical conditions, their caregivers, and professionals. He maintains a website.