How to win friends

It’s a curious thing, at age 42, blessed with partner and children and family and friends, to be wondering how to go about making friends, how to go about meeting people of like mind. This is what engages me at present – just how do I find my way as a stranger in this strange land? The day to day routines of living in Australia are largely like those of living in New Zealand, breakfast, school, chores, free time, school, evening rush, bed, with small variations between the days; if today is Friday (which it is not, I know), I must be heading down to the Central Markets, and then to the supermarket. The simple routines of everyday life, more-or-less the same all over the developed world.

It’s the connections with other people that I find difficult. My e-friends, of course, have come with me to Adelaide, just as I have stayed with them in the old country, and met up with them all over the world. Other real life friends who live in Australia, friends who I would actually recognise down the street, have come to stay, and just spent time here, talking, cooking, drinking, passing the day away in a pleasant haze of conversation and company. But as yet, I know no one like that who lives here in Adelaide. Of course, it can take time for such friendships to develop, but how to meet such people in the first place?

I am an introvert. I enjoy people, but I find it hard to approach them, hard to connect with them, hard to simply find what to say. Once the connection is established, then it’s just not an issue, but until then, it takes an effort. And even then, after the connection, the time together, I need some down time, to process, to think, to restore my centre after the effort of being out there. Jonathan Rauch said it best, in his iconic piece about introverts – I urge you to read it.

There is one obvious place for me to meet new people – at my daughters’ school. Parents gather there everyday, to drop their children off and collect them. Mostly women, and a few dads. Each day, groups of women gather, greeting each other, chattering, gossiping and passing on news. A fertile source of people, surely? My beloved aunty is full of admiration for her daughter-in-law, my cousin’s wife, who on moving to Melbourne where she knew no-one, promptly got involved in the local school, setting up a craft group, and working on fundraising committees, and connecting, connecting, connecting. But the thought fills me with horror. I see the clattering claques of after-school mums, and am minded of nothing so much as a yard full of hens, scratching and pecking and clucking together, with very little space for newcomers, and certainly not for strange-feathered chooks who would rather speculate on the evolutionary pressures that led to the particular markings on a tasty beetle’s back, or gaze at the pattern that twigs make against the sky, or make an obscure reference to the fate of corn fed chickens in the Roman Republic. Of course, for the most part the women I speak to are very pleasant, and welcoming, but not being a sociable bird anyway, I’m not sure that I actually want to join the flock.

I have however, taken steps to entertain myself, and perhaps, in the longer term, even join something. I have long hoped that I might be able to sing – I can sing in tune, reasonably strongly, and my speaking voice is well trained, so there seems to be no reason for me not to be able to sing well too. Good voices run in my family; one of my cousins has an operatic quality voice, though for reasons, she was not able to train it, and another plays and sings with the epitome of hip, the Wellington International Ukulele Orchestra. There’s hope for my voice yet. So I have been going to a singing class at the WEA, and it might lead to something more. You won’t next hear of me coming from the Sydney Opera House, but with a bit more training, I might be able to audition successfully for a choir. It seems to me, aside from enjoying singing in any case, that I am more likely to meet kindred spirits in a choir that I am in the school playground.

This all sounds maudlin, I know. A young man approached me at the bus stop today, to ask about the Adelaide free bus service. He had been in the country for ten days, a migrant from mainland China. His spoken English was superb, but it was obvious that he was living in translation, a true stranger making his way in a new country. What a courageous venture on his part, and how much more difficult the barriers for him. I think I am, however, entitled to at least say out loud I find this whole process of uprooting myself and starting again, difficult in its own way.

As for influencing people – I am doing a tiny bit of lecturing at one of the universities here. Twice a week I have a captive audience of students, who come to hear my words of wisdom. They sit and listen, take notes, ask questions and even debate with each other, and generally treat me with something approaching respect. Now that’s influence!

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15 responses to “How to win friends

  1. I’ve never made any close friends via school. I always found the mothers very cliquey. I’m anti-social and hate small talk about clothes and shoes etc – I’m no good at it – so I don’t have a lot of friends. But that’s ok.

  2. A friend of mine moved to Adelaide a little while ago from Melbourne, for a post-doc position, and it’s hard settling in a new city.

    Even my Mum’s best mate – a woman who cheerfully makes friends with pretty much everyone – took a good year to settle in to life in Sydney. Both times she moved there (in the 70s for a few years, and again in the 90s). It’s hard work not having any old mates, or family, near by, for those easy conversations and traditions.

    I’m glad to hear you’ve found some occasional work, you’re much more likely to meet People Like Us amongst colleagues.

  3. I hear you on this. I’ve always had a hard time finding people I feel like I’ve really got something in common with when I move somewhere new. I’ve been in Auckland five years this month and while I’ve got some great people to hang out with, I still miss my older friends who I don’t get to see as often as I’d like to. That’s older in both senses of the word – the people I’ve met in Auckland are nearly all much younger than me which can be tiring. I’m not that into parties and the bar scene in the city is pretty hideous. Still, I’m really going to have to take myself in hand and try a bit harder. Five years is a bit ridiculous!

  4. I find this stuff hard too. I don’t feel like I’ve made many new friends since Uni days, and certainly I’ve lost a few. What happened to all those passionate platonic connections we used to make with others in the kitchen at parties (even without the aid of inebriation)?

    Good luck Deborah, I hope your e-friends can keep your spirits up until you are able to fill the real life gap.

  5. Julie, you were probably the only one who thought they were platonic. Don’t you know about young men?

  6. As soon as you get used to being alone, friends come.

  7. Interesting thought Merc, and it’s certainly one I’ve heard before. I’m not sure about it though. The people I know who have the easiest time making new friends are all extroverts, who all seem to travel or move to new places in groups and never start over from scratch. Maybe the people who are really good at making friends are the ones who never have to get used to being alone? No one likes a loner, so if you are one by nature, it’s already more difficult for people to feel comfortable with you.

    And Julie – yeah – I miss my uni friends and none of us are keeping in touch anymore. One of the reasons I’m blogging is because I miss those kinds of passionate conversations too. I agree they probably weren’t entirely platonic, but as I age I get tired of the more conservative gender roles everyone around me seems to be assuming and which I guess I am as well. It’s very good to be able to talk about things you actually care about – and that goes back to the issue of making friends as well. It can be hard to find people you really feel you have things in common with. I guess I’m picky!

  8. One of the things I like about blogging is that I put my stuff out there, and people come by to read it, and the ones who like it hang around to read some more, and I go and hang around their blogs, and read their stuff. All low pressure – I can just be, and they can just be, and over posts and comments a tangle of e-friendships develops. Nice.

  9. Some poet once said that we none are loners, we simply get used to being alone…and when that is done…we are ready for friendship.
    Deborah, I’m your cyber-friend ;-), we have just been very focused on an unexpected intrusion in our lives, but I read you daily.

  10. Well yes I was a little dense about when someone was flirting with me Malcolm, but surely not everyone of those “yes, I totally know what you mean!!11!!” conversations was about sex??

    I’ve managed to keep in touch with many of my uni friends, but it has often taken a lot of effort. I’ve gradually come to accept that with many of them it doesn’t actually matter if we aren’t in contact constantly, because the connection is still there when we meet up, be that once a week or once a year. But sometimes it does get lonely in between.

  11. Thank you, merc. It’s a friendship I enjoy very much. My husband commented that you hadn’t been around for a while, and I said, “No. He’s there. He’s been reading.” To which my husband replied, “How do you know?” And I said, “I just know!”

    I stop by your blog every day too. I’ve been enjoying the poems you’ve been putting up recently.

  12. Oh those old things, hehe, I’ve been unable to work on new stuff, so I’ve been hauling through the back catalog, as it were.

  13. well Deborah, I know it doesn’t solve the issue of people who appreciate you in Adelaide, but your blog is one I visit most days because I really look forward to your posts. I visit several blogs because I feel I ought to (to keep up to date on political happenings) but yours and stef’s (and a certain other female blogger who left us but seems to be back in a different capacity!) are blogs I go to because I love your style of writing and the topics you cover. It is like a conversation in that it isn’t solely about politics or feminism or your children but covers all of these things and also literature, recipes and weather. The stuff of life!

  14. LOL I could introduce you to some of the people I know in Adelaide but you might regret it (actually, I don’t know that many). I hate to say it but I think the best way to meet people is just to ‘put yourself out there’. That’s what I’ve done/did since moving to Melbourne and admittedly some of the ventures have been more successful than others…. but even when I joined Toastmasters 6 months ago I thought I wouldn’t last 6 weeks but now I quite enjoy it and have met some quite nice/sane people there…. I also joined a bookclub when I got here that I wanted to run and hide from to start off with (ha cause it reminded me of Basil Poffs Crusades tutorials) but ditto now I’ve made some really good friends. The way that I’ve met most of my good friends in Melbourne though is through cycling- cyclists are such nice people.

    I guess the thing is you have to be a little bit prepared to meet lots of people you’re not that keen on and in return you might meet one or two that you really like. But it can be a bit tedious.

    We’ve got sort of ‘on the cards’ about moving ‘back to Queensland one day’ (the back to applying to Ray obviously not me) a prospect which doesn’t exactly fill me with joy because I’d be in the same boat all over again of having to find a whole lot of new friends – but potentially might also have a child by then and so not able to meet people through work etc etc…. oh dear that makes me feel a bit depressed now.

  15. Maybe I’m one of those extroverts, but when moved to Sydney it only took me a couple of months to start meeting interesting people. Admittedly I was single so there was both more incentive and fewer restraints. At the same time, I’ve also got interests and hobbies that involve meeting people so that tends to force me out into the community where I live. Plus I say hello to people when I’m cycling (but that’s politics as much as inclination). My experience of Adelaide (I went there once) was amusing… in the first hour there I met both the people I know in Adelaide :)

    Surely there have to be radical anarchist, no, I mean *atheist* mothers in Adelaide? Or cross-stitching bunmakers? I’m sure you’ll work it out.

    I’m about to move to Melbun and I suspect that will be quite different – I know a lot more people in Melbun.