Wednesday, January 30, 2013

New home, new friends

Hello Polite Readers!

One of the perils of living in a state with good schools but a horrible job market is that I make awesome new friends, only to have them move away in search of greener pastures. Today's questions come from one such friend who has asked to remain anonymous.
Question 1: I've just moved and am having a terrible time making friends! What do I do? I don't want to seem like I'm imposing on people but at the same time I want to make friends. It's hard  because I can't seem to find anyone who is my age.
Well, first don't worry so much about finding friends who are your age. It is nice to have someone who has similar life experiences and grew up with the same pop culture, but you can also make amazing friends outside your age group. I have a great friend who is 6 years younger than me but at a very similar place in her life, and some awesome friends in their 50s who are endless sources of good advice and fun stories of their many adventures. Place your focus more on people who have similar interests or a personality that meshes well with yours.

For me I've found that it works best to not be too worried about making close friends, but to just get out and meet people and be friendly towards them (which is admittedly a bit of a problem, I'm quiet and introverted so it's hard to start conversations sometimes!). When you're in a group setting like a bellydance class or a club meeting, look for chances to get to know people better. Is the dance class hosting a stitch-and-bitch to work on costumes? Come along and bring a tasty snack! Are a few members of the club going to an interesting event? See if you can carpool.

Social media also makes it a little easier to get to know people. If you add friends from the groups you're involved in, you can see what their interests are and discover things that you have in common that might never have come up in the course of your regular activities. If you see that someone likes the same band as you, or the same guilty-pleasure TV show or has the same obscure hobby, send them a private message or mention it the next time you see them in person. They might not become your new BFF, you might even find that you have nothing else in common, but it's good practice!

Try to attend as many parties and other group gatherings as you can, especially if they involve people from outside your usual group. You may find that your co-worker's wife or classmate's sister is a really fun person to hang out with.

Above all, I think it's important to develop as many casual acquaintances as you can and wait for them to blossom naturally into friendships. It's hard to be patient, I know, especially when you're in a new place and homesick for your friends in your previous city.
Question 2: How do I handle joining a new dance class? I've started taking classes with a certain group and I'm finding them to be very elite-ist. It's hard for me to try and fit in but at this point they seem to be the only group teaching this particular style.
Dealing with elitists is really hard, because the problem isn't with you, it's with them. You're probably doing everything right -- you show up to class on time, you pay attention when the teacher is talking, you don't get bored with the assigned exercise and start doing your own thing because the music moved you. But because you're the new person and you're upsetting the status quo, they snub you.

There's a few things to do. If there are any other newbies, make friends with them. Pay attention to the more experienced dancers and see which ones seem like they're actually pretty friendly, and seek them out. Try to break the ice with the snobbier ones with a compliment here or there... Although if they have that really mean Queen Bee personality type, they might just think you're being a suck-up.

Which brings me to my next point... you have to decide if it's worth it. How much effort do you want to put into winning over these people? Dance class should be a warm and welcoming experience, and instead you're getting the cold shoulder. It's hard to enjoy bellydance when you're not getting the expected sense of community. If they're warm and loving with each other, maybe it's worth trying to break into the clique and then to be the one who welcomes new people in the future. But on the other hand, do you want to be part of a group that has been so unwelcoming to you in the past?

It's something I've struggled with in the past, to the point that I actually gave up on the idea of dance troupes as a great sisterhood, as each one seemed to be a clique that was more interested in hanging out with their old friends than making new ones (amusingly, the next troupe I joined after that ended up being welcoming and wonderful).

If you decide that you really want to stick it out, you may need to talk to one of them about it. Maybe the teacher, or leader of the student troupe, or the one person who has been friendly to you (if there is such a person). Take them aside before or after class and say something like:
I'm really happy and excited to be dancing with you, but I feel like I haven't really been accepted yet. Do you have any advice on how I can fit in? Is there anything I can do to help the studio and the troupe? Are there any upcoming events that I can lend a hand with?
If you focus more on wanting to fit in, instead of feeling excluded, it sounds more positive. You're just a new girl trying to learn the dynamics. Being willing to do something like sweep the studio after class or help fold the chairs after a student recital can go a long way to earning you brownie points and helping the more established students warm up to you. If they see that you want to be part of the community, and you're not just there for classes and nothing else, they may finally be ready to welcome you in.

Are you struggling to find the right words for a difficult situation? E-mail me at and you could be in my next column!

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