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Many of us lead rather solitary existences these days. And that’s a sad state of affairs.
Whereas in the past, communities were absolutely vital support structures for society to function, people can generally get along just fine on their own now.
After all, we don’t need to interact with the local carpenter or tailor to get items that we need: we can order them online. We tend our gardens by ourselves, raise our kids on our own (or with immediate family), etc.
Some people who are active in a faith-based group might have more interaction with others of like mind, at least spiritually speaking, but those interactions may simply revolve around polite small talk.
What about groups of people who actually “get” us? Groups full of people we can trust and count on, who share our values as well as our personal interests?
Or how can we get involved with new social groups when our own life circumstances have changed? For example, if you’re a new parent but all of your friends are single and without kids, you might feel alienated from them and in need of peers whom you can relate to.
What does it mean to have a “community”?
Various dictionary definitions of “community” describe those who live in close proximity, or a group of people who have a great deal in common. Those are rather bland descriptions, as “community” can mean multiple things to different people.
For some, their social community consists of those they chat with politely now and then, such as after religious services, or while doing some local grocery shopping.
In contrast, others might lean heavily on their friends and neighbors for things like child or elder care, mobility assistance, even meal preparation.
Most of us have a social circle that falls somewhere between those examples. We may have some incredibly close friends and several acquaintances, along with coworkers we get along with and shopkeepers we know by name.
We may help to create meal trains for bereaved neighbors when loss happens, or have received help from others such as a boost when the car wouldn’t start in the dead of winter.
To be part of a community means that we are active participants in a group that we care about. It means that we bring things of value to the table, and benefit from what others offer in turn. No person is an island, and to have a “community” means that you’re part of a web that offers support and friendship to varying degrees.
It was probably easier to find community in the past, when people relied on their neighbors a lot more. Similarly, most of us had an easier time creating social communities when we were very young. Our friends tended to be those with whom we went to school, or lived a few houses down from us. Of all the people we saw on a daily basis, there were at least a couple who shared our interests (and our toys), so that took a lot of guesswork and effort out of weaving our community webs.
Things get a bit more difficult as we get older. Sure, we might chat with our coworkers or nod politely to our next-door neighbors, but how many of us get out there and socialize on a regular basis? How many neighborhoods still hold community BBQs, fetes, or socials?
If you’re new to a place, or feel that you’ve outgrown the social group you’ve been part of up until now, you might be feeling incredibly alone.
Where does one start to build a new community? How does that even work? Let’s take a look at some tips that may help you find – or build – one.
How do I find my “tribe”?
The key here is to determine what kind of community you’re looking for. The general guideline is to spend time with those who share things in common with you.
That said, all of us are so multifaceted that it may be difficult for us to decide what kind of community to cultivate. Here are three questions you can ask to help you figure that out.
What’s most important to you?
You can start by getting relaxed with a journal and a pen and writing down all the things that are important to you. These can range from your values and spiritual leanings to hobbies you enjoy, endeavors you’d like to take part in, and even the types of entertainment that you like.
Here’s an example that might amuse you all: although I’m a crunchy hippie earth mama type now, I was part of the local goth community when I was in my teens and twenties. Those of us who appreciated that genre of music, as well as dark/horror films and books, and a rather monochromatic fashion aesthetic all gravitated towards one another.
Many of us were ostracized by our peers at school, and thus we found community with others of like mind.
And now it’s your turn to do the same.
As mentioned, write down all the things that you feel are important to you. Then place those in order of how much time you’d like to spend doing them. If several of those overlap or are of equal importance, that’s okay! Keep those all on the same line so you can see what kinds of groups to pursue.
Being specific like this can be incredibly helpful. After all, you’d likely be pleasantly surprised to discover that there are many other people out there who like the same combinations of things that you do.
What are your needs vs what can you offer?
When you’re determining what’s important to you, please also be honest about your motivations for looking for a new community. I’ll use one of the examples I mentioned early on, namely a new parent who’s looking for a social circle they can relate to.
If you’re in a situation like this, are you looking to talk to other people about your experiences? Maybe get advice from them? Or are you hoping to meet people with whom you can socialize your child and maybe get some babysitting while you’re at it? What will you be able to offer these people in turn?
Keep in mind that community is about giving as much as we receive. For instance, if you’re joining a faith-based community because you’re feeling alone and vulnerable and you’re hoping for friendship and support, it’s important to keep in mind that you’ll also need to step up and help others in turn. Assist with bake sales, charity work, and the like.
It’s great to benefit from what others have or know, but if you don’t show up for them as they show up for you, things are going to be obviously one-sided very quickly. That will likely result in you being avoided or ostracized rather than embraced with open arms.
When you’re in the process of writing down all the values and interests you’d like to weave into your social web, be sure to make another list about everything you bring to the table.
- Do you have carpentry skills?
- Are you a capable gardener?
- Have you learned some wonderful fiber art techniques over the years?
- Or are you fluent in a few languages and can help to tutor others?
Each of us has numerous skills and abilities that can benefit others. Just imagine how great a community can be when everyone draws from what they’re great at to take care of and help others!
Do you prefer to socialize online or in person?
Some people prefer to cultivate a community online, while others prefer face-to-face interaction. Others like a mix of both. All of these options are perfectly valid and will help you to figure out what kinds of communities you’d like to get involved with.
For example, if you’re a cerebral, introverted type who likes to trade information with like-minded individuals, then you might prefer to socialize primarily online. In contrast, if you’re into running or other physical training with friends, then you’ll likely veer towards in-person interactions.
The happy medium between is great for those who’d like to socialize in person occasionally, but keep in touch with their group on a daily basis. For instance, homesteading types who get together regularly to share seeds, preserves, etc., crafters who can trade patterns online most of the time but get together on occasion to knit or sew, and so on.
10 Places To Find Others Of Like Mind
There are a number of different places where you can find people who share your interests. If you’re not the type to strike up a conversation with the person who’s also buying gluten-free chocolate hummus at the grocery store, then don’t worry – there are alternative options.
If you’d like to hang out with people who share some of your favorite interests, then Meetup is one of the best sites out there.
You can try out several different groups that pique your interest, or even create events of your own if you’re looking for new friends in a super-specific niche.
For example, if you’re interested in getting together with people who share your ethnic background or language, and also want to discuss tabletop gaming, this is the place to find them.
Meetup offers both online and remote groups too, so you can take part even if you’re stuck at home for a while.
Apparently studies show that the number three is downright magical when it comes to establishing a new community. This app asks you all manner of questions, from your taste in music to whether you can identify grammatical mistakes. Then it’ll match you with several people in your area who match your answers. From there, three of you can hang out together in a group and let the conversation soar.
3. Hey! Vina
If you’re female and strictly looking to make friends with other women, then Hey! Vina might be a great app for you. It’s been compared to Tinder but for platonic girl friends, with the slogan “yes, you can sit with us.” If you’ve been having difficulty meeting other like-minded ladies, then it might be worth a try.
Think of this like a platonic version of the OKCupid dating app. You’re asked a ton of questions about your values, interests, etc. and then rank them in order of importance. After that, you’re matched with others who share said interests by percentage.
BumbleBFF is similar to Patook but has more users across several different countries. It’s ideal for expats who are looking for friends and community in their new location, or those who are looking for new social circles as life circumstances change.
This is much like BumbleBFF and such, but it is geared specifically towards teenagers. Adults may have a tough time creating new friendships and social networks, but so can teens! This is especially true if they’re surrounded by people who don’t share their interests or values.
Yubo allows younger people to connect with others of like mind around the world, widening their community options significantly. It might even inspire them to pursue higher education in another country, or relocate for work after they’ve finished school.
Are you rather athletically inclined? And are you hoping to cultivate a community with other people who like to toss heavy things around or get a sweat going? Then this might be the app for you.
Use it to connect with fellow runners, cross-trainers, pilates/yoga enthusiasts, weightlifters, etc. Then you’ll always have someone to spot you while you lift or encourage you to hold that pose for just a few seconds longer.
8. Facebook groups.
If you’re on Facebook, you’ve probably noticed that there are a bajillion groups on there. Whether you’re looking for local clothing swap groups, or you’d like to hang out with people who share your passions for both gelatin mold desserts and quantum theory, you’re likely to find a group there.
9. Community event boards and newsletters.
Your local place of worship or community center might have a board with all kinds of events and meetup groups listed. Alternatively, your weekly local newspaper (or online newsletter) might list a number of different groups that you can take part in.
These can range from generic to super-niche, depending on where you’re located. I’m quite rural now so the get-togethers offered here revolve around sheep-shearing classes and wheelbarrow swaps, but larger cities have all manner of events you could get involved with.
10. Be of service to others.
One of the best ways to get involved in a community (and thus help to expand or cultivate the one that’s right for you) is to be of service.
Pretty much every neighborhood out there has a need for some kind of volunteer work. This may entail dropping off warm meals to homebound elders, walking dogs at a shelter, pitching in with a community garden project, or sorting items for a local library sale.
If you have some time to spare, then this is a great way to get involved in a community that aligns with your values and interests.
Choose a volunteer opportunity that speaks to you, and that you think will allow you to connect with others of like mind. If you’re an animal lover, go tend to the lonely pups! Chances are you’ll make friends with some other animal-loving folks while you’re there.
As an added bonus, people tend to think highly of those who give of themselves. You might consider this approach to be an act of “selfish altruism” because you’re benefitting from the charity work, but that’s not really the case. Making new friends and widening your social sphere would be secondary to doing good things for others. That’s an additional blessing, not the underlying motivation.
Bonus advice: Dip your toe into several pools.
When it comes to connecting with others to create a community, it’s important to test several different waters, so to speak. If you’re only using one friend-finding app, for example, you might miss out on some amazing people who are using some of the other ones.
Similarly, if you’re just choosing one of your interests to pursue, you may be missing out on connecting with people who share some of your other hobbies and such.
If you divide your time between several different interest groups, you may be delighted to discover that you’re seeing some of the same faces in these different places.
For instance, one of my closest friends shares my interests in linguistics, ancient history, knitting, gardening, literature, and soup recipes. When we were first getting to know one another, we’d run into each other at yarn shops, museums, bookstores, etc.
If and when you find yourself bumping into the same people like this, that’s a surefire sign that you’ve found some great potential tribe members.
5 Tips For Getting Actively Involved In A Community
Once you’ve found some communities to try out, you’re ready to take the next step. This involves you actually showing up and taking part in what they’re offering.
Remember that showing up doesn’t necessarily mean being there face to face. Many community groups offer online meetups via Zoom or similar. As a result, you just need a webcam and working microphone to take part.
1. Read the fine print to make sure you’re on the same page.
There are few situations as uncomfortable as turning up for a group activity only to find out that you’re missing something vital. If you’ve ever shown up at school without having finished your homework, or forgotten to bring your laptop to a board meeting (when it was specifically requested in the email invite), you’ll be familiar with this feeling.
When you find a group event that you’d like to take part in, read the description very carefully. Is everyone expected to bring something to work on or share with the others? Is special equipment recommended? Or will there be a small fee to attend?
Pore through the fine print and take note of important details. Then, if you have additional questions, contact the group’s leader or administrator and ask for clarification. It’s always better to err on the side of preparedness, right?
Then make sure you have a bottle of water and a snack with you when you attend. Those are always important to keep on hand, no matter where you go.
2. If you’re shy or have social anxiety, bring a friend.
Let’s say you find a community that you’re eager to get involved with, but you’re rather shy or deal with social anxiety issues. That’s absolutely okay. Talk to a friend with whom you feel comfortable and see if they’ll go with you to your first in-person meetup.
Not only will their presence make you feel more confident interacting with others, you’ll also have someone with you for support if you end up feeling uncomfortable or unsafe.
Think of it like a double date scenario: you’re getting to know some complete strangers in a new environment, so you might as well do what you need to in order to feel empowered.
As an added bonus, your friend might end up knowing one of the other people in attendance. They can then make introductions for you and help you start weaving your new social webs.
3. Be yourself.
When you’re trying to find your “tribe,” one of the most important things to remember is to be yourself – not what you think other people want you to be. Similarly, it’s important to only get involved with groups you actually want to be part of.
If your greatest passion is historical recreation and costuming, you’re probably not going to be super-eager to join an extreme sports community. You may be inclined to do so in order to get closer to someone you’re interested in knowing better, but will you really be happy if you try to get involved there? How much time and effort will you put into a group you don’t actually care about?
Authenticity is key, here. If you want to build a community full of people you care about and trust, then it’s vital to be real. Consider how hurt and betrayed you’ve felt in the past when you’ve discovered that someone you thought was awesome was actually faking most of their personality just to get into your social group.
Don’t be that person.
4. Give your chosen community a chance.
Remember that it takes time to cultivate friendship and community. Life isn’t like a film or TV series where people meet and become instant best friends forever. Or at least, those situations are the exception rather than the rule.
Instead, people get to know one another bit by bit, like peeling off onion layers. The same goes for building community, only in reverse. When you’re creating a community, the simile is more like creating garden soil: it has to be built up layer by layer over time until it functions as a healthy, balanced ecosystem.
When you find a group of people you relate to well, allow yourself time to get to know everyone. Furthermore, try not to put anyone on a pedestal or have unrealistic expectations. Connections are woven over time, and there will undoubtedly be setbacks and disappointments along the way.
To be friends with people means accepting them and caring about them as they are, rather than for what we hope they could be. We’re all gorgeously flawed individuals who struggle with a number of different issues – not all of which we’re ready to discuss with others when we’re just starting to get to know them.
So, if you’ve made plans with a new friend and they have to bail at the last minute, try to be understanding and give them the benefit of the doubt. They may have a special needs child who’s having a meltdown. Or they’re dealing with chronic pain or illness and are having a seriously bad day.
Sow the seeds you’d like to cultivate, and let them germinate and flourish at their own rate.
5. Start your own.
This expands upon the tip about starting a meetup-type group of your own if you can’t find one that suits your own mix of values and interests. In a situation like that, the best thing you can do is to start your own community and open it up to like-minded individuals.
You can be quite certain that there are at least a few people within shouting distance who are interested in the exact same things that you are but haven’t had the opportunity to meet others who share those interest combos.
So go ahead and start a meetup group for vegan, nonbinary Klezmer musicians, or Welsh love spoon carvers with a penchant for Black Metal and meatloaf. You may not be inundated with thousands of potential new buddies, but you’ll undoubtedly find at least a few new fabulous friends to hang out with and get to know better.
And that, dearest darlings, is how a community gets started.
Still not sure how to find your community? Or is your mental well-being struggling because you lack that sense of community? Talking to someone can really help you to handle whatever life throws at you. It’s a great way to get your thoughts and your worries out of your head so you can work through them.
A therapist is often the best person you can talk to. Why? Because they are trained to help people in situations like yours. They can provide advice and help you to build those all-important relationships whilst also dealing with the loneliness or isolation you might be feeling now.
A good place to get professional help is the website BetterHelp.com – here, you’ll be able to connect with a therapist via phone, video, or instant message.
You might not think your problems are big enough to warrant professional therapy but please don’t do yourself that disservice. Nothing is insignificant if it is affecting your mental well-being.
Too many people try to muddle through and do their best to overcome issues that they never really get to grips with. If it’s at all possible in your circumstances, therapy is 100% the best way forward.
Click here if you’d like to learn more about the service BetterHelp.com provide and the process of getting started.
You’ve already taken the first step just by searching for and reading this article. The worst thing you can do right now is nothing. The best thing is to speak to a therapist. The next best thing is to implement everything you’ve learned in this article by yourself. The choice is yours.
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