I saw something on Instagram recently that stopped me in my tracks. It said, “Shouting ‘self-care’ at people who actually need ‘community care’ is how we fail people” (Nakita Valerio).
I love encouraging women in self-care – and I won’t stop beating that drum – but much of what we categorize as self-care is a very solitary act. It doesn’t have to be, but particularly in our western world, we end up emphasizing the individual over the community.
However, many studies have shown the value of social relationships on both our physical and mental health. Friendship positively impacts our physical health and job satisfaction. There are, in fact, multiple physical benefits to friendship, as well as supporting our mental health.
Women in general are better at maintaining their friendships than men. For many years, “fight or flight” was a well-known stress response. However, when researchers looked more closely, they realized that women often have a completely different stress response than men: tend and befriend. This ability means that women are more likely to give and receive social support that reduces both psychological and biological stress.
Given that friendships are so vital to our well-being, it stands to reason that we should prioritize nurturing those relationships. Doing so is an essential act of self-care.
But what if you don’t have a strong community around you? Perhaps you’ve moved to a new city, started a new job, or transitioned to a different phase of life, and you find yourself without the friendship you desire. What can you do? Where can you begin?
You can build the community you desire, although it won’t happen overnight, and your first friend might not be your best friend.
Build the Community You Desire
We often find ourselves without the community we need when we go through transition – starting at a new school, graduating, taking a new job, moving, getting married, having a baby, going through a divorce. Some seasons of life are filled with many of those transitions.
When we look around and realize that we are lacking in friendship, we might not know where to begin to build our community. But you can start small.
When my first child was born nearly a decade ago, I quit my job to be a stay-at-home-mom. My husband traveled often for work, and we didn’t have any family in town. Even though I had a couple of good friends who also had new babies, I still craved more connection. I decided to start a moms’ group. I invited women I knew from church and my neighborhood. Several of them invited other women. We met biweekly and took turns hosting in our home. That group petered out after a couple of years, but I still maintain friendships from that season.
About four years ago, I was craving spiritual community and depth that I was struggling to find anywhere. I invited about half a dozen women to join me for a monthly Dinner Club. Members have come and gone, but we have been going strong for the last four years. We take turns hosting and choosing a theme, and everyone signs up to bring a dish. We tell each other the truth about how we’re doing, and we pray for each other.
Where to Meet Your Next Friends
Sometimes we’re at a loss for where or how to meet these promising new friends. Here are a few ideas for different seasons of life.
If you’re at a new school:
- Join a club or student organization.
- Run for student council.
- Ask a classmate out for coffee.
If you’re new in town:
- Visit churches and join one that seems like a good fit.
- Join your local gym or YMCA.
- Invite a neighbor over for dinner.
If you’ve started a new job:
- Invite a coworker to lunch.
- Join a professional organization like Rotary.
- Ask a colleague for help with something that’s unfamiliar to you.
If you’re a newlywed:
- Visit churches and make a commitment to join one. (A spiritual community is vital to a healthy marriage.)
- Stay connected with the friends you had before you got married.
- Volunteer somewhere together.
If you’re a new mom:
- Attend MOPS (Mothers of Preschoolers), or another moms’ group.
- Sign up for story time at your local library.
- Take your kids to the playground.
If you’re newly single:
- Sign up for a course at your local community college.
- Volunteer your time and talents somewhere.
- Find a faith community or, if you’re already part of one, join a Bible study or small group.
It Won’t Happen Overnight
Even when you’re doing all the right things – like going to new places, making connections, and inviting people into your life, building a community won’t happen overnight. It takes time to meet and get to know someone new. You will also likely meet people with whom you don’t connect. That’s okay. Think of it as forming a potentially valuable social connection, even if you don’t “click.”
Your First Friend Might Not Be Your Best Friend
Sometimes (I think especially as women) we’re looking for a bestfriend. That’s not a bad thing to hope for, but depending on many factors, it may not be realistic for you right now. A better goal might be to form a variety of social connections and allow them to develop organically. A best friendship might grow from one of those relationships. However, if it doesn’t, you’ve still worked to build a community that will support you.
Often, when we find ourselves in a season of transition, we realize that we’re lacking in friendship. It’s possible to build the community you need, although it won’t happen overnight, and your first friend might not be your best friend.