Ask yourself this question: what percentage of time do you spend communicating with friends in person, vs. IM, Tweet, email or text? Has it shrunk considerably in the last few years? Finding yourself 'too busy' to get together? Creating and maintaining quality and lasting friendships is a challenge these days. I have a whole pile of books on my desk touting the importance of social relationships as key to our health, but how do we find the time?
How about this question: when is the last time you invited someone over to your house for dinner? According to Jeanne Martinet, author Life Is Friends - A Complete Guide to the Lost Art of Connecting in Person, reviving the dinner party is a key to putting our wheels back on track to a proper social life. She claims it is much more intimate than a restaurant, will keep you smiling for a week, and is the fastest way to deepen connections with those people you would like to know better.
Her book is funny, light, and practical - filled with reassurance that most of us have a 'virtual' social life or a 'sound byte' social life, as well as tips on getting over hosting phobia, initiating adult style 'play dates' with new friends, and embracing the ebb and flow of friendships.
I had a chance to speak with Martinet this week. A hard core New Yorker, Martinet noticing that most of her friends were "socially regressing" by spending too much time networking online, less time in person, and operating under a fear that having friends over means hosting a gourmet blow out ala Martha Stewart and Rachel Ray. She said her favorite dinner party recently included chili and Sara Lee cheesecake -simple and easy.
"Our increasing social isolation feels like we've all 'gone to our rooms' and stayed there," said Martinet. "And yet, like children, the way to make a friend is to go to each other's houses and play. In the beginning it takes some effort to focus on having friends over. It feels weird, but eventually you get addicted to it."
Here are Martinet's tips from her book on how to get over "hosting phobia": 1. Invite People 2. Buy Food 3. Clear off the dining room table/move laundry off the piano 4. Make sure there is enough booze 5. Get dressed (I often forget this last one)
I can relate to hosting phobia. I hate to clean, am comfortable with messes here and there, and do not have a lot of elegant dining room regalia. I tried some of the fancy style dinner parties and nearly worked myself into frenzy. I cannot bake - at all. I even manage to screw up rolls of pre-made chocolate chip cookies. Once I tried to make gourmet chocolate bird cage cookies for a fundraiser, and they ended up looking like delicate piles of dog poo.
It is now the running joke that Kari cannot bake, and I get around my messy habits by hosting a lot of outdoor backyard parties pot luck style. We bring pizza, lots of beer, and the laughter is easy. Then I only have to clean the bathroom.
After mastering the art of having friends over to dinner, it is time to "go steady." Serial Socializing is the next, and one of the most important steps, to developing a true sense of belonging in your community, and to ease the ache of loneliness. Some people take vacations with the same families every year, some have a monthly poker club, others have coffee every week - the key is to create a routine with the same faces that can extend into the future.
Dr. Cara Barker, a fellow Huff Po featured contributor, created her own form of serial socializing by starting "Sunday Gatherings" at her house. They went on for years and offered wonderful memories for all. There is something particularly calming, rewarding and inspiring in having a group of people who come together regularly. Everyone knows each other's histories, quirks, and inside jokes. The warm feelings after these gatherings are like a slow release anti-depressant; with memories to savor, and anticipation for the next time.
Not sure how to get started with some serial socializing? Try to find a way to socially engage in three categories: daily, weekly and monthly. Each takes a slightly different focus and each offer its own rewards.
Daily: set a goal to make a heartfelt connection to at least one person each day that you do not normally run into. 'Reach Out and Touch Someone' - via email, phone call or in person. Think of this as a chance to check in, ask how they are, and offer help if it is needed. When you extend a hand, the return is always there. Maybe someone you know just had a baby, or lost a relative, or is feeling blue.
Weekly: find a small group of people you enjoy and make a weekly commitment to get together. For the social types, try coffee once a week. For athletic types, take a walk, jog or yoga class together. For the spiritual types, try a weekly meditation group to keep everyone relaxed, centered and connected. Make it short- one to two hours, so it is easy to keep the commitment.
Monthly: join or develop a group that may be a bit larger, that shares a common interest. Maybe it is a book club with a twist, a motorcycle riding group, a social action group, a 'going green' group, poetry slam, or a poker night. Monthly gatherings are often the easiest to schedule, and to maintain long term.
Think of each of these social commitments as individual roots you are planting in the ground, and as something sacred to cherish. Our lives are marked by the connections we have, not the accomplishments of our careers. Battling loneliness requires sacrificing time that could be spent elsewhere, but the payoffs are worth it.
Martinet described the comforting routine of serial socializing to be like a security blanket in the ever-changing configurations of our lives. "Think of it as one long dinner party, broken up by your life."