The internet is wonderful and terrible at the same time.
I could spend hours listing the ways our world has benefitted from it, but I could also have done without the ability to google anything I am paranoid about…followed by a panic that I might actually be dying because I have a red blotch on my leg.
Twenty or maybe even ten years ago, if someone had told you many of their good friends were people they met through the internet, and they had never actually met them in person, you would have been seriously concerned for them, (Catfish anyone?). You might have given them a lecture on how dangerous that was, and that there is no way those could be genuine friends of yours.
Online communities consisted of forums where people took to venting about various things hiding behind code names, many of those forums are still alive today, and are often where we end up with those late night google searches about symptoms we are having. Not helping us, and certainly not making us any new friends.
However, those forums developed into communities, familiar faces…or actual names that you would see over and over again, and learn to trust. Maybe you would become Facebook friends, and find out they are in fact a real person, and be relived to find that out.
Now we have developed one step further, to a time where there are hundreds of thousands of communities online, and you can find a group for just about every topic.
New mom? There are hundreds of groups for that. Learning to podcast? There are plenty of groups for that. Love knitting? There are groups for that.
There are multiple groups for just about anything nowadays, and it means we can truly embrace and enjoy the things that make us unique, that we love, but our family and friends might think are boring as heck or weird.
Rather than them pretending to listen to you passionately give your thoughts on the alternate ending to Friends, you can find others who are just as (if not more) passionate about why Joey should have ended up with Rachel instead of Ross.
As if it would come as any surprise, the community I have created is a running one, and ironically, I created this community AFTER I stopped professional running and took three months off.
I created the Running for Real Community, naming the group the Running for Real Superstars, as I feel that every person in there is a superstar, a truly unique, wonderful person.
I wanted to create a place where runners could go to be supportive, be genuine, be real. I have always prided myself on that, but I knew that many of the running groups out there, especially those where people meet in person, can present more of a frenemies situation than friends who genuinely want you to succeed.
Not because people are bad, but often it is because we project our own fears and insecurities onto others, and when you put a group of highly driven, success seeking, competitive people all in one place, well, it’s not their passive nature that fought hard to run a PR last month.
Now, this is not the case with every group, nor will it be the case with every runner, but especially when it comes to females, there can be a lot of celebrations on the outside, when really, we are struggling to understand how they did that when we work so much harder, but can’t even get close to where they are.
This is just always going to be a problem with having competitive people in a group together, everyone wants to be the best, but there can only be one best. In this world where comparison is all too easy, a group of runners who have had hours for negative thoughts to grow and gain strength, it becomes the perfect place to for an environment that can be more harm than good.
As I said, this is NOT the case with every group, but in most situations, this arises at some point, and I am thankful I had the college experience of living day in day out with girls I ran against, to learn how to handle that.
However, you are later in life, and have 100 million other things you are trying to juggle, you don’t have the time for an environment like that.
Or maybe you don’t have a group like than even available to you. Maybe you live in a place where there are no clubs or groups for other people with those same passions as you, and you are left feeling very alone.
Feeling alone, like no one understands you is one of the most common feelings we experience nowadays, especially as we are so connected to one another through our phones, we have lost a lot of our ability to connect on a face to face level with other people.
Social media can be great, but it can also be dangerous for our belief in ourselves.
So back to Running for Real.
I wanted to create a place where people could get to know one another regardless of how old they are, where they live, what they are training for. All they needed in common was that they enjoyed running and they were a good person. I wanted it to be somewhere where runners can be genuinely happy for one another when they run a great race, so happy that they might tell their spouse or a friend about the obstacle this runner overcame to get there, how inspiring their story was. I wanted it to be a place for runners to give advice and suggestions to others based on their own experiences and learnings. Not in a nasty or negative way, but a positive way; here is what I learned, I hope it can help you with your running.
And it has become that wonderful place. Approaching 3000 members, and many of the community getting to know one another pretty darn well, meet ups occurring almost every weekend, and the humor starting to show through as members tease one another.
Running for Real superstars has become the community I hoped it would be, and I am excited to see where it will go as it continues to grow. With being real and honest at the heart of the group, I don’t see how we can go wrong.
So, I would love if you were to join running for real, but what about finding a community if you were not a runner? How can you apply these same principles to finding other groups with people you want to connect with?
Finding a group in a city near you
I have to admit, this one I have less experience with, as I have not really met that many people through groups in Lexington, BUT one thing I will start with, which we all understand is that making new friends is HARD! Really hard!
Unless you live in the town you grew up in, you will know that meeting new people who are not already in a solid group is more difficult than it would seem. When you are in school and university, you have natural situations that allow for meeting new people; classes, extra curricular activities, transportation, clubs. It seems hard at the time, but when you compare it to post collegiate life, that was a piece of cake.
Sure, you can show up on your own to a club or group one day in your city, hoping that there will be another equally awkward person who did the same as you, and you can gravitate together, and commiserate over the fact everyone else seems to already know one another, but that is really scary! You need a lot of confidence to even get yourself there, let alone talk to someone when there is little time before and after.
Unfortunately though, that is the best way to do it. Just like anything else in life, the best way to meet people who do have similar interests to you is to go where they are, and show up, consistently. They may all be friends now, but chances are, within a few visits, people will start to recognize that you are not just one of those people who shows up for two weeks, then disappears forever.
I am one of those people when it comes to yoga. I always have this vision of having my yoga friends, but despite how many times I have tried, I never manage to stay consistent with going, so never crack into any group.
One day I will find my yoga friends 😉
If you show up at the same time every week, for just a month, you will start to see the same faces over and over again, and they will first begin to smile at you to show they recognize you, then maybe you say hi, a few weeks later, it becomes a conversation, and so on…It just takes time.
However, you are not even all set at this point, you have to then go through the next stage, which in my opinion is even more uncomfortable than the last.
Getting to know new people in your area is like dating. You might see someone who you think has the potential to be a friend, maybe you are on small talk terms, and it is time to pick up the courage to say something, so you do, and you are really excited when they say yes to a lunch date!
That is when the dating begins.
With new friends, just as it is with new potential partners, we have to see if our personalities match, if both people feel as excited about he relationship as one another, if it is worth the effort required for a friendship to really grow.
Sometimes you might feel like yes, that is the case, and they do not, and other times, you might be the one pulling back.
Either way, your best bet is always just to be yourself. If you are not compatible enough to make a lasting friendship work, it is better to find out early rather than your confidence constantly being knocked because they keep making excuses. The same goes for you, if that person doesn’t make you feel good about who you are, make you laugh and appreciate the time, then maybe you need to reconsider.
It does take some thought and can take some time, but once you figure out who you click with, it will be worthwhile.
Remember, when it comes to finding friends, it is not about how many you have, but how deep the relationships are. It is better to have a few close friends, than lots of acquaintances, those lasting relationships are really what bring us the true joy.
So test this out at the group, club, or class you are attending, and continue to go, even if a friendship with the first person you met didn’t quite work as you expected, things don’t have to be tooooo awkward, you can still be pleasant to them. You might find a friend you really do get along with just happened to be on vacation, and is back a few weeks later, and had you not continued going, you would never have met them.
Besides, you are at this group because you enjoy the activity itself, so focus on that for a while if you need to!
You can also meet new people through places you go throughout daily life. The first friend I met here in Lexington was the office manager for my chiropractor, and after going in there and making small talk with her a few times as I waited for my appointment, I plucked up the courage to ask Erin if she would go to lunch with me as I was new in town and didn’t really know anyone. It was a scary moment, but as soon as we met up, I knew she was someone who I clicked with, and even though she has since moved to Richmond, Virginia, we are still very close, talking a few times a week, and I can’t wait till she comes back for my baby shower!
Oh, and the chiropractor I mentioned? Also a good friend, who I slowly got to know through my appointments, and now Steve and I meet up with him and his wife (who is in my girls group here) on a regular basis.
So you can find friends in many different ways, just pay attention to interactions you see in daily life, and see if there could be a potential for a new friend.
It’s not always easy, but just remember, a lot of the time, people are just as nervous as you, and no one ever says they have too many friends, sure you might not meet up as often as you would like if they do have a lot of groups, but you can still get those interactions and maybe even bring a group together through your random friends you have met at various places.
Making friends online: Finding a group or community that suits you
I talked about this a little at the beginning, how Running for Real was created, and that I hope it is the kinda place if you are interested in running, you will want to be a part of.
What if you don’t even like running, yet you stumbled onto this page, and you are wondering how to find a community if you have absolutely no interest in running.
Well, here are a few ideas for you on how to find a community online that makes you feel welcome.
Firstly, look at the people you follow on social media. No, not the celebrities, unless you are VERY lucky, most of us will never end up making friends with our famous idols….yes, even when you are convinced if they would just give you a chance, you could be BFF’s (hello, Leo DiCaprio….actually, if I met Leo, we would never be friends, I would just marry him on the spot :p).
However, there are probably a lot of people you are inspired by, or who make you laugh, or feel good about yourself who you follow online.
Check out where they hang out. Are they part of an online community or group? You could get to know them there, or at least meet other people who are similar to them, who could be potential friends for you.
The biggest key when it comes to finding a community is that it has to make you feel GOOD about who you are. If you join a group, and find yourself feeling frustrated and self-conscious, this is not the group for you. You want to find a group who you can be yourself through your posts, and who will help you when you need it.
At the same time, when you join a group or community, you need to be prepared to kind of “do the time”, don’t just go in there and start rambling about yourself all day long. Help others, join in other conversations, and get to know some of the more vocal members of the group.
That has been my favorite part of Running for Real, is seeing new people join in with conversations about various topics, especially the silly ones that come up.
You have to show people you have something to contribute to the community, and you are not just there to take.
Maybe you will “lurk” for a little while, as you suss out whether this is the kind of place you want to be, but to be really a part of things, to make friends, you have to join in.
Once you do that, you will notice that if you are in a good place, that other community members will appreciate you taking the time to connect with them, and you will start to learn who one another really is. The opportunity may arise for you to meet in person, especially if it is a local group, and then you might be well on your way.
Obviously when it comes to meeting people from the Internet, make sure you take the time to really get to know them first before meeting up, or have someone come with you the first time to make sure it is safe. Suggest a double date or a girls lunch in a public place, and then you can meet one on one in the future.
Whats the bottom line?
Making new friends is scary, but the online communities actually make it a lot easier for us as we can hide behind our keyboards until we are ready, and many people find that gives them the confidence to be more honest, more themselves, than they would be in a big group meet up. I know myself personally, when I am in a huge group, I am not the girl who will be the center of the conversation, I will lurk in the background, waiting for someone to speak to me. Not the ideal way to be, but even I get shy sometimes.
I hope this was helpful for you, the Running for Real Superstars suggested this as a post idea, and I have to admit I loved it, and had never seen anyone else write about it. If you have any other suggestions to add, feel free to add them in the comments, would be great to add to down the road.
We have heard over and over that you are a combination of the five people you spend the most time with, how did you meet your five?