It was so much easier in the playground, wasn’t it? You’d sidle up to your school friends and bond over a KitKat while discussing the rules of the latest break-time game. Before you knew it, you were presented with those five little words that made you feel on top of the world: will you be my friend?
Fast forward a few (!) years and along came Facebook… a quick request and a poke meant you could be ‘friends’ with everyone from your old boss to the Ocado delivery driver.
I recently attended a networking group for mums in my local town. Spoiler alert: I am not a mum. In fact, I’m 35, single, freelance and live alone. And while I have an incredible family, my network of wonderful friends are dotted around London and its suburbs – a good hour or two too far for a coffee and a catch up. I moved back to my hometown in Kent a few years ago and finding new friends locally has been hard. Every time someone mentioned their NCT pals, I’d find myself jealously wondering why the elusive art of adult friend-making seemed restricted to new mothers.
Baby sensory, sing and sign, MumsNet, the school gates… the list goes on. As an outsider, it seems so much easier to connect with other women as a mum, as there are so many groups and opportunities.
Yet moving to a new area, retirement, grown-up children leaving home, working from home or even losing a partner can all put us in the taboo space we call loneliness. And while I think the mummy groups are fantastic – truly – I’ve been wondering how the rest of us can join in at the playground, so to speak. So, I’ve been attempting to immerse myself in the community – because nothing beats a face-to-face conversation.
A recent study by mental health charity Mind supports this theory. It showed that 82% of British adults believe a meaningful conversation with someone about their worries and concerns is beneficial to their mental wellbeing. Yet almost half of British adults keep worries and concerns to themselves.
The mum networking group welcomed me with open arms, so I attended another group. And another. And gradually met a few women (also mums!) who have started to fill my calendar with coffee and wine catch-ups. I opened up about my personal problems and they did the same. I wave to them in the street, I see them in the supermarket, and seeing the same lovely faces on a frequent basis has made me feel so at home here again.
If attending a mum group – or borrowing a baby to attend one (half joking) – isn’t an option, here are some practical tips to put yourself out there...
Be open to meeting new people
It sounds simple, but you have to be open to friendship. For a long time, I didn’t think I needed any new friends. I have my clique, they’re amazing – but there’s no limit on how many good people you can have in your life.
Look for local networking groups
Facebook is a brilliant platform for local events and groups. A quick search put me in touch with The Women’s Room, Ladies Who Latte, Mums Unltdand many more. These are local to me in Whitstable, Kent, but I guarantee there’ll be something in your area.
Attend community events
The local fete, a running group, yoga classes, even charity events at your local church – there are lots of opportunities to meet adults with fellow interests. Help out at a stall or just attend a class – there’s likely to be someone just as shy as you are looking to start up a conversation.
A friend of mine volunteers for Contact The Elderly and proved you can make friends in the most unlikely of places. “CTE organises monthly gatherings for small groups of people aged 75 and over who are dealing with loneliness and social isolation,” says Anna, 36. “Twice a year, I host a tea party for around eight elderly ladies at my home. Some of them go days at a time without speaking to a single person. But I also get to build friendships with an amazing group of people – both the guests and the volunteer drivers. When we chat, we realise how much we have in common and we laugh about the same things. We also learn from one another (I often get good gardening tips!) and realise that great friendships can be intergenerational.”