Volunteering: I'm good, but I'm not that good.
October 13, 2009 8:52 PM   Subscribe

I've been cooped up and dealing with excessive work and depression for a while. I'm on the mend, and doing better than I've been in a while, and I'm looking for ways to meet more people. I hear all kinds of great things about volunteering, and while it appeals to me, I haven't had very good luck with it. (More inside.)

I've never been good at meeting people, but over the past five or eight years, I've come to appreciate that I'm much more of a people person than I've given myself credit for. Still, I need to put forth some serious effort to get myself off my butt and go out and do things--my guess is that it's down to books being the only reliable friends I had growing up, so I never got the habit of going out and seeking out human interaction.

Anyway, my question is narrower: I've tried volunteering in the past as a way of meeting people, but it's been most effective as a way of meeting people who are a) much older than I am, b) intellectually plain in a "I love Oprah, NASCAR, country music, voting Republican, and not thinking" way that puts me right off, c) somehow attached, or d) some combination of the above. Other times, I get stuck with a solitary task or something that doesn't let me interact with people, and that completely defeats the purpose of me going to volunteer in the first place. (Yes, I understand computers. No, I will not work on your organization's website. My website sucks. Do you want your website to suck?)

Ideally, I'd care enough about something that needed volunteers that I could enjoy helping for the sake of helping, but I'm not that good. I must be absolutely clear: I'm not doing this for any noble reason or charitable impulse. I am doing this to audition prospective girlfriends, preferably cute alternative types who can tolerate dating a 9-5er. I give to charity, regard myself as a compassionate person, and love helping others, but I'm afraid this is about me.

Anyway, my question: can you recommend somewhere in the Bay Area that would fit my bill? Or if you think I'm completely barking up the wrong tree, can you suggest somewhere else to look?

Demographics: 29, male, straight, lawyer, lives in San Francisco.

Throwaway email: imnotthatgood@gmail.com.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (20 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Have you tried getting involved in your alumni association (either college or law school)? It's probably more social than community service but that probably works for you.

Another option is to check volunteermatch.org and see if there are any opportunities that sound like they would actually be interesting.
posted by metahawk at 9:08 PM on October 13, 2009

If volunteering isn't working out for you, then there's no need to volunteer if what you want is to meet people. Historically, the answers to this question on MetaFilter are:

* MeFi Meetups
* Meetup.com (There are nearly 1500 groups in Boston alone.)
* Take a class in something you're interested in.
* Join Match.com, Eharmony and anything alterna-dating in Boston.
* Cruise Craigslist

I would also check Things to Do Boston which looks lame but gets great reviews from people I know in your neck of the woods - though it's fairly mainstream.
posted by DarlingBri at 9:13 PM on October 13, 2009

Bay Area? Try One Brick. I used it a lot when I first moved here, and in addition to the volunteering part, most of the people usually go for lunch/drinks afterward. It definitely skews toward 20-30-somethings.
posted by soleiluna at 9:19 PM on October 13, 2009

Volunteering can be very rewarding, but that may not be what you need right now. Have you considered taking a class in a foreign language? It really helped when I was living overseas and knew absolutely no one.

You're in a classroom environment, so you won't feel pressured at all. Most of the people in the room will be of the intellectually curious variety rather than Larry the Cable Guy. Since you're learning a new language, you'll be expected to practice speaking it. That means you'll have to speak to your classmates and in turn you'll learn all about their hobbies, interests, where they're from, whether or not they have kids/pets, etc.

Even if you don't meet the girl of your dreams, you're likely to make a few new friends. And who knows, maybe one of them has a super hot sister.
posted by ValkoSipuliSuola at 9:21 PM on October 13, 2009 [1 favorite]

AHHHHHH! Damn it, soleiluna, I was just trying to remember what organization that was, I had found its name and was coming over here to post it. Beat me by seconds!

Yeah, seconding OneBrick:
One Brick is a 501(c)3 non-profit volunteer organization that brings volunteers together to support other local non-profit organizations by adopting an innovative twist to the volunteer experience: we create a friendly and social atmosphere around volunteering, and after each volunteer event -- which typically lasts only 3 to 4 hours -- we invite volunteers to gather at a local restaurant or café where they can get to know one another in a relaxed social setting.
posted by WCityMike at 9:21 PM on October 13, 2009

Try finding volunteer opportunities in areas you're interested in. For example, every year in my city we have a music festival, play festival, and cultural festival. All of these are quite big and are always looking for volunteers. Finding a chance to volunteer for something you're actually interested in (as opposed to, say, in a standard soup kitchen) will help you connect with other people holding the same interests.

Since you're not in it strictly for good will, try looking around for free-labour-type positions. For example, helping out at a boat/home/car show or selling souvenirs or 50/50 tickets for a local sports team.

I guess the main idea is to find something you're interested in and look for a chance to volunteer within that interest. That will automatically filter people down to those who share similar interests.
posted by Kippersoft at 9:25 PM on October 13, 2009

826 Valencia? This is best if you can get time off during the day to do a couple hours, since most of it's in-school and on-site tutoring and field trips.
posted by liketitanic at 9:28 PM on October 13, 2009

Those people have hot single friends and relatives, yes? Especially the younger attached couples. Let them know you're looking and maybe they'll hook you up, invite you to parties, etc. I always endeavor to set my single friends up with other single friends...or at least introduce them to each other and see what happens.
posted by kathrineg at 9:36 PM on October 13, 2009

Good suggestion, liketitanic. 826 Valencia is pretty great. (And most of the people I know who volunteer there qualify as cute alternative types.)
posted by soleiluna at 9:55 PM on October 13, 2009

I have to tell you, as a young woman who genuinely enjoys involving myself in my community and making it better, that the way you are going about this may not be the most effective. PLease don't take offense - let me explain. You claim that you have little to no interest in the actual volunteer work itself (I'm paraphrasing here, but you know what I mean). You claim that you're "not that good," and are "not doing this for any noble reason or charitable impulse." Doesn't that kind of seem like, by continuing to volunteer, you're misrepresenting yourself? I mean, if you are in earnest about wanting to meet someone, why would you put yourself in a position where you would be meeting women whose ideals are not yours, and in a situation where you aren't really being true to yourself? I"m not at all downing you for not being a "charitable" person - volunteer work is not, by any stretch, for everyone. You seem to recognize that, so why torment yourself?
Again, I really don't mean to sound critical, but I just think you would achieve your goals far more effectively somewhere else. Unfortunately, I know nothing about San Francisco, but I can tell you that the guys I've known who've been in your position did one or more of the following:
-Go back to school! even if it's only one class! Take something that you are GENUINELY interested in, and even if there aren't any suitable women, you will have helped yourself anyway.
-Join community organizations that are not charitable. Any city, even mine, has some kind of networking organization(s) for young professionals. Google it and join.
-Be yourself! Women can see through a poser. We don't all want a saint, but we want someone who knows who they are. A truly attractive man fills his time with what HE likes, not what WE like. I sincerely hope that this helps you in some way, and I do hope that you find what makes you happy.
posted by lucky25 at 10:10 PM on October 13, 2009 [2 favorites]

I was wondering if you could clarify something. You state that volunteering leads you to meet people who (among other things) are "intellectually plain in a 'I love ... voting Republican, and not thinking' way that puts me right off."

So if I understand correctly, these people are evidently not as smart as you, and yet they are out there volunteering their time and services for the community? It seems like you have some common ground at least. What is it exactly that is "putting [you] right off?"

Not a slam, just trying to clarify what you are looking for.

- AJ
posted by Alaska Jack at 10:14 PM on October 13, 2009

826 is not a good match for someone whose sole reason for volunteering is picking up women.

Anonymous, imagine going to one of the organizations you're talking about, walking up to a woman, and saying "Hi! I really don't care about children, I'm here to audition prospective girlfriends! You look like the sort of cute alternative type who would consider dating a really successful lawyer like myself." What kind of response do you think you'd get for telling the truth? Let me give you a hint: it would be negative. Your entire plan is based on lying profusely about the kind of person you are. This is wildly unattractive to almost everybody.

I'd advise you to just find something else to do that isn't volunteering, something that you actually enjoy.
posted by lemuria at 11:08 PM on October 13, 2009 [1 favorite]

I can sympathize with you, insofar as I'm also a late-20's lawyer who is interested in meeting an intellectually curious and creative SO (I'm assuming that "alternative type" means "creative"), but is ambivalent about dating other professionals.

I think lucky and lemuria have it right. If you're spending your free time volunteering for a cause you're not passionate about in a semi-transparent attempt to find Ms. Cute Alternative, you are not presenting yourself in the best light, and you aren't allowing your best qualities to show through. Even if the volunteer organizations were full of "your type" of girl, these girls probably wouldn't warm up to you if you were clearly there for the wrong reason.

I would focus on hobbies that are rewarding in and of themselves. Are you, personally, creative, or do you have a passion for the arts? If not, I don't really see why you're focused on "alternative" girls. However, if you are, I'd suggest classes in art, creative writing, or photography, local theater classes/groups, and the like. If you prefer to study art and literature, a museum group or book club might be a better bet. Even if you don't find any dating prospects, you'll enjoy yourself more, and you'll be more likely to make friends (who might introduce you to someone down the line).

Anyhow, good luck!

P.S.: A lawyer who only works 9-5? That's crazy!
posted by jennyesq at 12:11 AM on October 14, 2009

You're a lawyer, there's probably all kinds of pro-bono work you could do. Call the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund. They're always looking for attorneys who can scan briefs, file thingies with the court...and comic girls are about as alternative as you can get. CBLDF gives you much street cred, and you'd be using your expertise for a cause that is dreadfully underfunded and woefully underrepresented. Go, now...help the artists. :)
posted by Peecabu at 6:15 AM on October 14, 2009

Just a tip: animal charities, animal shelters, etc. are full of young women volunteers.
posted by Jess the Mess at 7:52 AM on October 14, 2009

Another vote for pro bono work for organizations related to your actual personal interests, whatever they may be. You're more likely to meet people in your age group with similar interests, and even if they're not the young hottie you're seeking, they have friends and acquaintances who might be.
posted by notashroom at 7:58 AM on October 14, 2009 [1 favorite]

Given that you've been overworked and undersocialized, perhaps joining an organization that has nothing to do with work but in which you have an interest would suit you better. Relaxing and having a bit of simple fun will make you far more attractive to women. Volunteering to meet women when you're not interested will prob not pay off as you will be spotted as the odd one out.
posted by x46 at 8:44 AM on October 14, 2009

I agree with the suggestion that you'd be better off doing pro bono work with organizations that have the sort of people you'd like as friends working for them or as clients, but realize your pro bono work with those organizations will be work, not socializing. You'll have to spend two hours on the helpline, not talking to the other volunteers, and then you get to say "hey, I'm hungry, want to grab a burger?" to the other folks and then you get to socialize. Volunteering is more like meeting people in class than at a party. You sit next to a person for a month, dong the same thing, rarely having time for small talk and then get a chance to have coffee one day after class, as opposed to standing next to someone and chatting them up right away. So, either you need to adjust your expectations of how you meet people volunteering or you need to find another way to meet people.

I would suggest your bar association's young lawyers division. It's designed precisely for meeting people and for getting bored, depressed lawyers out socializing so they can be well-rounded happy human beings. You can also look at the free lecture calendars at local museums and universities. Go to those and make small talk with people. There are often cocktail receptions hosted by humanitarian groups to promote a cause or to promote membership, and event volunteers are there precisely to get people in the crowd talking to one another. Find a guerrilla arts organization and attend their events.

As for the "not that good" thing, it sounds like volunteering without caring is not helping you get past the negatives of being depressed, and for that reason alone, I'd suggest you stop doing it and start looking for other ways of getting out in the world. One thing that helped me integrate back into the world after a long dark tea-time of the soul was becoming a regular at the independent coffee roaster up the block. I went in there at least once a week, and although I never made a big attempt to engage the shop girls, I did get to recognize them and learn their names. I would make very very small attempts at conversation (like, I'd comment on the song on the radio and mention that the band was playing next week). Small positive human contact on a regular basis adds up. Eventually, I got invited to a show by a clerk at another store I go to all the time. Make yourself available and you will meet people.
posted by crush-onastick at 8:54 AM on October 14, 2009

nthing one brick. Everyone is your age, educated and progressive.
posted by bananafish at 10:36 AM on October 14, 2009

Try OkCupid. It seems to attract a younger crowd than eHarmony, in my limited experience. It's free, or at least it was three years ago when I met my now-husband there (it does work!). Meetup.com also seems promising. There are hundreds of meetup groups in the Bay Area for nearly every imaginable interest. If you go to one that isn't explicitly for singles, though, don't be that guy who is clearly only there to pick up women and isn't actually interested in the topic. And yes, go to MeFi meetups, not that I've made it to one yet...

You didn't mention any of your interests besides books, but the Laughing Squid blog covers a lot of local non-mainstream events. If you're interested in doing anything creative, take some classes at the SF Center for the Book, The Crucible in West Oakland, Kala Art Institute in Berkeley, or extension classes at one of the art schools around here. You'll meet creative people, and as a bonus, it's also a good way to stave off depression.
posted by kiripin at 4:32 PM on October 14, 2009

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