10 Dec 2015

Expanding your social circle

It seems to me that one thing that tends to go hand in hand with being somewhat nerdy and/or geeky is that we also tend to have a bit of an awkward relationship with socialization, at least the kind that is considered 'normal' (I'm not trying to generalize or 'speak for all nerds/geeks' when I use the word 'we' by the way). For me, at least, it's either awkward small talk that I trudge through because it's the nice thing to do (also I can't stand sitting in silence with someone - I have to be extremely comfortable with a person to do that and be okay with it) or an exclamation of enthusiasm at finding someone who shares even one of my interest one little bit and I proceed to talk their ears off about that one subject - possibly even putting them off the subject for life (it's happened).

And it is nice to find that other nerdy/geeky person at chance, whether it's a colleague suddenly revealing that they too love fanfiction, or that they watch Doctor Who, or you spot someone wearing paraphernalia for your fandom of choice at your local store and you promptly start discussing the intricate details of said fandom. But it's also not something that happens a lot in regular day to day life. Regular people have a much bigger tendency to want to talk about current events, the latest bestseller, their love life, their family - and they really won't understand why it's so important that your favourite character is returning for an upcoming episode, why you're counting down the days to a new release, why you bought that exploding TARDIS carpet for your living room, or why you'd much rather have a Game of Thrones purse than some fancy designer one.

So, socializing can become an issue. At least that's what my experience and the impression I've had from talking to fellow nerds/geeks has been. We tend to get more cooped up in our own homes (nothing wrong with being solitary by choice, by the way), preferring to socialize over the internet where it's easier to find 'your people' (or finding that to be the only option). I've felt like that a lot. Sure, I do have some really good friends in my own area that I do share certain interests with, but in recent years as we've grown older, life situations have changed, work schedules have clashed, and we've generally had less face to face interaction than in earlier years. At times I've felt like my own social life primarily took place on the internet. And while I do have this really great social venue of sorts by travelling to the UK for conventions every year, it hasn't exactly solved the day-to-day loneliness that I and probably many others have faced, because as much as we enjoy each others' company we do not live close enough to actually socialize in person outside of those events.

I needed to find a social venue of sorts in my own area, both because I didn't want to rely on only finding hang-times with friends who are busier or have other social needs than I do, and also I needed a possibility of meeting and interacting with new people to prevent the 'forever alone' scenario that I believe otherwise most certainly would have occurred (still can, though - finding people to interact with sadly does not guarantee actually finding that one person to spend your life with - though it does increase the odds compared to doing nothing). And this is the single most important advice I have to other people who are feeling what I've felt; research your alternatives.

One thing I've noticed with a lot of the conversations I've had with fellow nerds/geeks/lonely people is that assumption that there are no options, no solutions. And I think that's the wrong mindset to have, at least until you've exhausted your possibilities. Sure, it might feel like there are no one around you that actually like the things you do - I've felt like that at times - but I now believe we are wrong, it just takes some looking into. Now, my advice will be primarily geared towards nerdy and geeky things, but it can also be translated to other kinds of interests for the non-geeks who might stumble upon this entry of mine.

1) Check your local stores

If you have any stores focused specifically on an interest, chances are they either have a poster wall, bulletin board or their employees might know about groups or clubs that focus on the things you love to do. Even local grocery stores might advertise activities happening in your local area, so you could get lucky there. The first thing I did when I decided to make a change in my own life was to head to the local 'geek' store in the area. I had seen some posters hanging on one of the walls on previous visits and decided to give them a closer inspection. There were, of course, many things that either was intended for a different age range or simply didn't appeal to me as an activity (I decided to focus primarily on the activity offered because it's easier to find people you enjoy spending time with if you also enjoy the specific activity), but two stood out. One was a monthly sci-fi and fantasy meet-up group, and the other was a weekly board gaming club. I wrote down their information and looked them up online to see whether they were something for me. I went for the board gaming club first as their site was still up and still relevant, and ended up going to the other meet-up later that year. The board game club has since become a regular thing for me and I've expanded my social circle immensely through it.

2) Look for local groups in Social Media

We already know that the internet is great for finding people you share interests with, and now that social media has become such a mainstay it's now easier than ever to connect with people in your local area. It used to be for me that it was really hard to find for instance fellow Norwegian Buffy fans online - sure there were some forums, but they did not last long because the low amount of people meant discussions tended to die down once the usual topics had been exhausted. It was much simpler to just go to international forums as they tended to have heaps of activity, but there you would almost never find someone from your own country, let alone your own area.

Now we have sites like facebook which has interest groups for pretty much everything under the sun right there. All you need to do is search for it. The local Doctor Who facebook group had enough members interested in meeting face to face that we took up a long table at one of the local pizza places. There's also a facebook group for general board gaming in my town (outside of the board game club's own facebook group) where people post queries on who is up for some gaming and then set up times and dates for a meet-up. I believe that if you just search around you're likely to find something of interest offered in close enough proximity that you can attend - and here you'll have the benefit of getting to know the people before even showing up in person.

3) Start your own

The main reason my town has such a successful board game club as we do is because one person decided he wanted to start one when he moved here. He reached out to other people who had the same interest, found a space they could meet at and slowly but steadily it grew to become what it is today. So even if you do not find anything in your area that catches your fancy - start it yourself. Set up a facebook group with a title that includes both the activity/interest and the name of your area, advertise for it on interest forums, local groups, make encouraging posts for it so that it looks interesting to people who stumble upon it - someone will be interested. I know some of us might have prior experience setting up forums, and we've seen many of them die down due to inactivity or people being 'talked out' - but honestly a facebook group is so much more likely to grow over time because so many of us are constantly on there, it's become a big part of our daily routine. Once your group has reached a certain amount of regular activity you can propose some face to face interaction, whether it's meeting up to see the latest movie in your franchise as it hits the local cinema, or to play board games at a café or one of your own homes, or just simply going for pizza and some friendly conversation. The possibilities are there.


Believe me, I know it's hard, that it feels impossible, but it's not. You're bound to find someone else who are in a similar situation, you just need to think a bit outside the box, and not just go with the 'normal' types of socialization (unless going out is something you enjoy). But also, do not get desperate, do not press for a friendship if the potential isn't there. Let things grow natural, enjoy the time you spend with other people doing whatever activities you love and see where that leads you. The friendships that are meant to be will develop over time.

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