Making new friends:
It seems to me that this depends on a large number of factors in each of our individual lives. Were we live, what we have access to, our age, our gender, our personalities and now we also have to consider social distancing and masks. For many of the people I’ve talked to and myself as well, going out alone was and is an almost insurmountable challenge that has not only social but also safety implications we may need to consider. And now, with the challenges of being in a public environment where people are gathering, another difficulty has been added that people will need to learn to navigate safely.
Something I learned in my adventures of going out alone, which didn’t happen until late in the second year and into the third year of my bereavement, evolved from a restaurant experience and then to a great realization one night in a wine bar. I didn’t begin by having any problem going to a restaurant alone. It was fairly easy for me as an older man to just go and find a table, bring a book, order dinner and read while I ate, finish and go home. I had been doing that since year one. Really never thought about doing anything different and the only interaction of the evening was talking to the server.
I was told about a local wine bar one day and I eventually convinced myself to go and check it out. So I finally went, by myself, and followed the model of the restaurant, I sat at a table, ordered wine and a cheese plate and read my book and drank my wine and made small comments to the server whenever he came to the table. It wasn’t bad, I liked the wine and the cheese plate so I decided I could come back another time.
Next time in I came in, since I had already been introduced to the bartender the first time I came in, he motioned me to come sit at the bar. I sat down there and ordered my wine and cheese but this time, since he was being conversational, I didn’t take out my book, I just sat, enjoyed the wine and food and had a conversation with a person I barely knew.
It was a revelation to me, though I know it’s isn’t that strange to many people but I realized by the end of the evening, which I enjoyed quite a lot, that when I went and sat at a table by myself and read a book, I was essentially putting up a sign that said “ I’m alone, don’t bother me”. By sitting at the bar, it appeared that not only the bartender but the other people siting there, singles and couples and groups, were sitting there because they too wanted to talk to people and from that point onward, every restaurant and bar I went to, if I could, I sat at the bar and learned to be social, to be friendly with strangers and to relax into the social situation and just enjoy the conversation and after a while, I learned enough to talk to pretty much anyone I encountered in those situations. I also learned to leave people alone if they weren’t into talking to me.
I realize this may be very obvious to many people but to me it was, as I say, a revelation and the beginning of a whole new chapter in my grief journey, the beginning of gaining the skills I needed to make friends and become a friend as well.
I also realize that for many people, this can be a very socially difficult thing to do. Especially in people of my age group, it just wasn’t something that was done or once we became part of a couple, it was always done as a couple and relearning, if we ever knew how to do it as a single, was often pretty difficult to consider. And finally, for most women of my generation, it simply wasn’t done, it sent signals of intent or situation that were either incorrect or not welcome. It is in many ways an invite to attention that could become unwanted and so was avoided. And I have to add a safety issue, for women alone, there is often a potential for meeting people who have and display unwanted and sometimes maybe unpleasant attention in their direction.
So here again it’s the unanswerable. There just isn’t a right answer or a single answer and it’s not all or nothing either. It’s another place each of us needs to think about and find our comfort zone in and then proceed slowly and carefully in what ever direction we want to explore. I also should say that even one other person going along on an outing changes the dynamics completely so if going alone is not something you are comfortable with, consider adding at least one other person and see how that changes things.
And as I wrote about earlier, there is a part of being in a Support or social group that allows you to find a (new) friend or small group of friends to explore these possibilities with and to short circuit some of the more uncertain parts of the process of beginning to socialize again.
What I know from all my investigations, from the social groups and my solo adventures to the restaurants and bars is that there was and is a real need in myself and in most of the people I’ve talked to, to be social and if we are feeling isolated in and by our grief, we need to find comfortable and safe ways to get together and establish a (new) group of people to talk and do things with to help fill the large amount of time we now have to fill and to fill our needs for interaction and connections and even eventually, with hugs and friendship.