First, I just have to acknowledge the semi-ridiculousness of me writing this post. I am a well-known and thoroughly-documented introvert, it takes me forever to make friends, and up until last year, I could count the number of neighbors I knew well on zero fingers. But, I’m almost up to needing two hands for my hyper-local crew, so it seems I may have turned a corner! Let’s file this post under “if I can do it, anyone can do it” :)
Here, my seven best tips for making friends in your neighborhood.
Still my two best friends in my neighborhood :)
1. Make it matter to you. Like pretty much all goals, the only way something will be prioritized in your life is if it matters to you. Before June was born, it would have been nice to have friends close by, but I didn’t really NEED them. Since having her, neighborhood friends have become much more of a necessity. Emergencies are what pop to mind first, or a contact to give our babysitter, but there’s another reason that’s even more important to me.
I NEED to know who these people are if I’m going to feel comfortable letting our kids play outside unsupervised as they get older (a huge priority for me). I need to know their names, what matters to them, what kind of people they are, what the insides of their homes look like… I need to be friends with them, and I need to trust them. A childhood with freedom to roam matters to me, and so that’s why I was finally able to push past my discomfort and take action on making friends. If it really matters to you, you will, too.
2. Wave. That first tip was more existential, but this one is very concrete: wave. Wave to everyone. All the time. Whether you know them or not. If you want your neighborhood to be a friendlier place, let the community start with you. I recently watched a TED talk about public speaking and confidence, and there was one line that stuck with me: “fake it till you become it.” If you do something habitually, it will become a part of who you are. If you act friendly, even if you aren’t an extrovert, it will eventually become more comfortable. Small steps matter.
3. Send welcoming signals with your home. If you have a garage, it is possible to go about your business without ever breathing your neighborhood’s air, let alone interacting with another human. Appearances matter. A house with a closed garage door looks closed-off, with little way of knowing if anyone is home. We’ve taken to leaving our garage door open when we’re around as a signal that we’re available for socialization, quick questions, or sugar cup borrowing :)
A screen door is another way to make your house appear more welcoming to interaction, as again, it’s a symbol to neighbors that you’re home, and it also allows you to easily hear if something’s going on outside! (So then you can go join!) Screen doors were a huge marker of my New England summers growing up, and I am desperate to have one (especially as kids get older – much easier to have them playing outside by themselves if you can hear what they’re doing from inside!). With Southern summers and the prevalence of air conditioning down here, however, a screen door is not practical for much of the year… boo.
4. Go outside when other people are outside. Again: obvious, right? But I’m a bit embarrassed to say that when we first moved in, I pretty much did the opposite. Hiding in your house might help you avoid awkward conversations, but it will not help you make friends. So get your butt outside, in the proximity of other people, and let the extroverts strike up a conversation with you, as I can assure you they will :)
And if you live in a neighbhorhood where no one is outside? Be the one to change the environment! Putter around in your front yard “pruning” things, sit on your porch, go for a walk every evening – find any excuse to be where people can see you, so they start to recognize you as a generally friendly-looking person and associate you with a particular house.
5. Be the invitation. After a few months of casual interactions with some of my neighbors, I was ready to go a little deeper. Instead of waiting for someone else to invite me over, I did it on my terms! I invited all of the ladies on my street that I had even once interacted with to a Favorite Things party, and I heavily encouraged them to invite their friends. It was a huge success as a kick starter to closer relationships and a broader social circle.
6. Start a hyper-local Facebook group. I haven’t personally tried this one, but I’m considering it. It’s something John and Sherry recommended on their podcast recently, and I think it’s smart! My neighborhood has a Facebook group with about 1,000 members, and it’s great for certain things (selling patio furniture, chatting about macro issues or upcoming events). But a hyper-local group (say, just for the 15 houses on our “L” that ends in a cul-de-sac), lets you get to know people on a more intimate basis, extend BBQ invitations, and let your hair down in a way you might not in a larger, more impersonal group (John talked about sharing funny memes about neighborhood deer in his).
7. Have a kid or get a dog. Kidding. Kind of :) The truth is that even with all of these tips, we didn’t really make friends in our neighborhood until we had our daughter. Kids and dogs are just great connectors, and they will make your job of making friends a whole lot easier. But, you know, they require a few other things of you, so make sure you’re prepared before committing :)
I would LOVE to hear: have you found it difficult or easy to make friends in your neighborhood? If so, how did it happen? Is it a priority for you, or do you fill your friend need elsewhere? Tell me, tell me!
P.S. Cultivate What Matters is celebrating and teaching on friendship all this week. So much good stuff! Sign up for the series, and check out the Fruitful Friendship guide. I contributed to it, so you know it’s good :)