I’ve heard many say that it’s hard to meet people in Vancouver. Newcomers think that locals hang out with their local friends and don’t open up their social circles. Singles go online to meet hook ups, potential dates, or future spouses. People in the same office building exchange polite hellos and smiles without knowing the barest details of each other’s lives. With these habits, how does one break through these barriers to make a new friend in person? Too often it seems people become suspicious when a complete stranger wants to know more than directions to a landmark. Approach someone you don’t know to ask him or her random questions about favourite hobbies and restaurants and you’re likely to get something ranging from a strange look to questioning from police.
People don’t socialize with strangers
Busy people are everywhere. If there is a long lineup at the coffee shop, we take out our smartphones to check our friends’ status on Facebook, text a friend about weekend plans, reach the next level on a game app, or screen work emails while we stand around. There we are, multi-tasking our social and professional lives, considering ourselves efficient in our use of time. I can’t recall when someone turned to a stranger to say something other than, wow, this lineup is long.
We connect with people at events
We open ourselves up to meeting new friends only when we attend an activity or event where socializing is part of the event. For example, at a birthday party, my friend introduces me to her friend who is finally back after six years in Europe and now she’s in the same career as me so she and I should talk. Or, I join a swimming class and one of the ladies lives a block away so we decide to carpool and perhaps have dinner after class since we’re pretty much neighbours.
People have noticed that meeting people through some haphazard coincidence is unlikely. To address this situation, lifestyle coaches and other professionals hold workshops about how to meet people in Vancouver. Yes, they teach you how to do this type of social interaction.
We learn how to connect at workshops
I think it’s ironic to sit with a table of strangers and open a conversation with, “Hello! You’re having trouble meeting people too? This problem we both have has finally connected us.”
Apparently, people are so afraid about how a stranger would react if you tried talking with them out of the blue that they’re likely to let the moment pass. So even if you think the woman at the table next to yours might be interesting to get to know as a friend, you will keep your thoughts to yourself and not say anything in case she calls you a freak.
For others, it was a lack of social skills that brought them to the workshop. The presenter taught us how to look a stranger in the eye, begin, and maintain a conversation. We had to be taught these things, because apparently it’s a skill we lack.
I spoke with a few people after the workshop finished about why they were there. They wanted to connect with others, network, and learn how they could increase their circle of friends. Most of them were single and trying to avoid meeting potential dates online. Some still believe in organically starting a relationship.
Generally, I found it easy to meet and chat with people at a How to Meet People event. I exchanged phone numbers with some ladies after a quick chat about interests and what activities we could attend together the next time we met.
Some people don’t feel the need to connect
What surprised me were the people who attended the social event and made their escape as soon as the workshop was over. I had so many questions about their purpose in attending that evening.
Did they have to run because they accidentally ate some chili peppers? Or did they simply want something to pass a couple of hours in their day? Were they learning how to connect with people so they could practice the skill on someone else? Most importantly, did they think the people from that evening were not worth connecting to? I guess I’ll never know because I didn’t speak with them.
Finding chances to connect with others
My biggest takeaway from the workshop experience was that only the brave ones are willing to ask a random person if they are enjoying the sunshine, or if they would like to join them at their table and have a chat over coffee. Trying to make friends with the person sitting next to you on the bus seems almost taboo. Perhaps our culture has to change. Perhaps people need to be friendlier. Or maybe making a new friend each day is too ambitious or unnecessary a goal for most of us. What do you think?