Rebuilding Foundations

An exploration of international development work in Africa

No-Fail Recipe for Making Friends

Often, I give ridiculous opinions to my 11-year-old sister with the preface, “Listen up.  Here’s some super important advice from your big sis.”

Then I’ll say something irreverent like, “When you start dating a man, never text him back right away.  Make him wait.  Make him realize that you’re not at his beck and call.”

“Uh, Be…what are you talking about?”

“Furthermore, the harder you run the harder he’ll chase.  Sometimes that backfires, but you want a man that’s willing to jump through some hoops for you, right?”

She usually rolls her eyes and has a clever comeback like, “Whatever.  When was the last time you had a boyfriend?”

Touché.

Anyway, blog readers, listen up because here’s some super important advice from your internet sister:

If you ever move to a new city and don’t know many people, do anything you can to create a community of friends.

It’s easy if you’re in in school, but much harder if you’re a professional.  As important as office friendships are, you don’t want to work and socialize with your colleagues.  It’s just too much time together.

So get out there and meet people.  Join a book club, even you don’t read the books and mostly go for the “tasty snacks” – as one of my friends here does.

Or join a sports team.

Or start a new hobby.

Anything!

Why am I emphasizing this so much?  Because a support group is seriously important.  Even if you’re generally positive and optimist, sometimes things that you don’t anticipate can really get you down.

For example, I consider myself a happy person.  Probably annoyingly so, sometimes.  But I have a nagging foot injury that got way worse after hiking the Drakensberg last month.  As a result, I’ve spent an enormous amount of time lying on my bedroom floor, watching Star Trek, and feeling sorry for myself.

This is not my usual way to deal with stuff.  Usually if I’m sad I go out with friends or go out for a run, but the problem with an injured foot is that you can’t get away from it.  I feel it all the time and it makes me grumpy.  Hence the lying on the floor, sulking.

My schedule has remained relatively busy.  A full time job, swimming, meditation classes, reading, dinners with friends – yet I definitely notice the lack of yoga, ultimate frisbee, and dancing that used to fill a significant amount of my time.

Yesterday, though, I dragged myself to ultimate practice because I’m supposed to go to Nationals with the Joburg team in a couple weeks.  I’ve been swimming almost every day and icing my foot and doing everything I can to both stay in shape and heal myself, but it’s a slow process.  Going to ulti practice makes me even more grumpy and frustrated because I still can’t play.

I decided, however, that I should go show some solidarity for my team.  Maybe learn a bit of strategy from watching.

Unfortunately I didn’t learn anything, but I cheered and clapped a lot on the sidelines.  At the end of the first game they called me over to give my opinion as an observer.  After the post-game chat, we all put our hands into the middle to do the pump-up cheer for the next game.  Someone asked, “What should we cheer on?” because we don’t have a team name yet.

“Beth!” someone else answered.

And they did.  They yelled “Beth” on three just because I had gone to watch part of practice.

I couldn’t believe it.  I think ultimate players are usually awesome people – more awesome than other sports participants – but I’m obviously a bit biased.

Nonetheless, I left practice grinning from ear to ear.  Instead of going home and lying on my floor, I sat in a chair (in a real chair!) and read my book while doing hot and cold therapy on my foot.

Which was much more productive than feeling sorry for myself.

So, expats, get out there and meet people.  One friend told me that as a Catholic ultimate player, he pretty much has a community no matter where he goes in the world.  That’s really cool (except the Catholic part.  Joking!)

Yes, sometimes it can be hard to put yourself out there.  The first time I went to an ulti practice in Joburg, someone asked me if I would be interested in playing on their National team since they needed more women. 

One woman glanced at me antagonistically and asked, “Do we?” in a slightly unfriendly tone.

I thought to myself, “That girl and I are going to be friends.”

And you know what?  Now we are.  Now we’re totally buddy buddy.

My Canadian friend who came to visit for a month got thrown into my active life as soon as he touched down in Joburg (this was before I reinjured myself).  First, he was surprised by how busy I was.  Second, he was surprised by how many people I know.

“You’ve made more friends here than I have back home,” he exclaimed, although this is a definite exaggeration.

But, you see, the busy schedule and the friends are strongly correlated.  How else would I meet so many people?

So get out there!  Are you shy?  Me too.  But here’s my no-fail recipe for making friends:  ask people about themselves – because everyone wants to talk about themselves.  And listen, really listen, to their answers.  Don’t brag about yourself or put others down (better to be understated than obnoxious).  Smile often.  Be open to new people and new experiences – don’t judge anyone.  (Yeah, some of the people in meditation class are kinda weird, but they probably think the same thing about me.)  Lastly, don’t be afraid to let others see your personality.

I love strong individuals!  That’s why I never downplay my passion: people deserve a chance to get to know me.

One more piece of very opinionated advice: don’t rely on meeting people at the bar or in clubs.  I know lots of people make awesome friends at these places, but it’s never worked for me.  Not that I’ve ever tried… but it just doesn’t seem like a good environment for meeting cool people.

The more people you meet, the better.  This might sound really stuck-up, but I sift through people quickly.  If I don’t like you, I’m not going to waste my time hanging out with you; I know there are TONS of others out there that I’m going to mesh with, we just have to find one another.

Done.  You have now read your super important piece of advice for the day.

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