All the lonely people
November 22, 2009 9:41 PM   Subscribe

The world is full of lonely people. I'd like to bring some of them together... at least the ones in my general vicinity. But I need your help in finding the best ways to go about this.

I was thinking about starting a group or something for my local area catering specifically to the shy/socially anxious/avoidant demographic. I know there are lots of shy people out there but aside from the occasional support group, there's really not much bringing us all together. My hope is that a group targeting this demographic will help draw them out of the house and into an accommodating social environment.

I haven't quite settled on a particular "theme" or type of event that we'd do, but ideally the meetups would facilitate some degree of interaction between the participants without pushing anybody too far beyond their comfort zone.

So, I'm looking for games, activities or workshops a (presumed) group of 7 or 8 could do that are fun (no worksheets/self-assessments), social (no movies), and cheap (because I don't want money to be an excuse for someone to not attend). I can host in my own home if necessary. We could sit there and talk about our problems (which I'm not too keen on since I'm not a therapist) or we could play social games (Apples to Apples or Pictionary may be good for starters) but I need more ideas than that.

posted by Ziggy Zaga to Human Relations (13 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Great idea! What about a monthly dinner party, where everyone brings ingrediants and cooks together? You could set the theme and menu and people could bring all the fixin's?
posted by zia at 9:45 PM on November 22, 2009

Iwould do something where people will be busy most of the event. It's much easier on shy people if they have something to do so they don't feel the pressure to make small talk. Volunteering at a local soup kitchen or playing cards or games might work.
posted by bananafish at 10:03 PM on November 22, 2009

posted by war wrath of wraith at 10:27 PM on November 22, 2009

Board games are awesome because they provide a pre-existing structure for socially awkward people to work off of. The rules are right there in the box! Apples to Apples is the #1 game for this, Pictionary is a lot scarier because you have the social awkwardness of not being the best at drawing or the best at knowing what other people are drawing. There's a more recent game, called Rorschach, which I played at PAX this year, that is similar to Apples to Apples in the "everyone can get to know each other in an abstract, structured way" paradigm, with the added fun that it can often get weirdly raunchy if you let it.

Volunteering is also good. Ask around local shelters or libraries to see if there's something a group of people can work on elsewhere and then bring to the location. I remember making sandwiches for the homeless when I was in middle school; this ended up leading to my explaining to everyone exactly why crunchy peanut butter was so obviously superior in every way, and introduced me to raspberry jam. But I digress.

Basically, shy people are shy and antisocial because they don't know what to do or how to act around strangers. By giving them a structured activity, you give them roles to fill and the gift of feeling accomplished. You have to strike the balance of something that lets people chat in between working or playing, but not something that is too free-form, or depends on each person working together successfully with the group.
posted by Mizu at 10:53 PM on November 22, 2009 [3 favorites]

You should have an activity that is more than a throwaway excuse to get together, something that does more than just provide structure and form. Something people will actually get into in a real way and look forward to. A game could still be great for this, though. Maybe Mahjong? Imagine it in lights: the Lonelyhearts Mahjong Night. New players welcome! Only requirement, loneliness.
posted by flavor at 11:48 PM on November 22, 2009

By the way, one good thing about Mahjong is that it is typically played with exactly four people. This means when you have odd people, or new players, or maybe somebody that just doesn't feel like playing, they can team up with somebody else. Since there is a good deal of strategy involved, they will get to chat casually together. Ah... togetherness.
posted by flavor at 11:52 PM on November 22, 2009

Bowling - the perennial pastime.
posted by koeselitz at 11:53 PM on November 22, 2009

I've been attending some Meetup groups in this category over the last year. Organizing social events for people who are not naturally social is not an easy task. The meetup group I attend most faithfully happens in the same place every week at the same time. This provides a regularity that has made it possible to get to know and become comfortable with some people over time. Promoting through Meetup does bring a constant turnover in people. Although this organizer is also not a therapist the meeting is structured like group therapy, starting with relaxation/meditation, subjective units of discomfort, and then talking about problems. There's an ick factor in that for me. I find the whole concentration on shyness and social anxiety as a medical and mental health issue discomforting, mostly unhelpful for me, but I keep attending to get out of the house and to push myself to meet people (albeit safe non-threatening shy people). I had been considering asking here if anyone knew of any conversation exercises or improvisation games that would be helpful for people dealing with shyness. I thought I might bring them to that group as a way of moving it into something more proactive than sitting in a circle whining about how society doesn't understand the meek and mild.

The shyness Meetup group here that I thought had the most potential was carpetbagged by a firewalking, metal bar bending, brick breaking holistic doctor looking to sell weekend retreats. Prior to the takeover I attended a book club event for it, which I enjoyed a great deal. There was a small turnout, due to the time investment of reading a book, but having a book to discuss provided a good focus to open everyone up.

I occasionally attend another for Introverts. It has a crossover of membership with the shy people Meetups. That group goes out for dinner and movies or arranges a sit down at a coffee shop. Last week we went bowling. (I discovered that I suck at bowling.) It works out okay, there's usually a decent turnout of people who seem able to be friendly with each other.

If I lived in your city I'd come out to play boardgames. I'd look forward to that. Maybe I'll go purchase Apples to Apples this week and take it to my regular meeting, welcome anyone who doesn't feel like meditating or listening to people trade names of medications to come join me in the other room to practice trying to have fun and being social.
posted by TimTypeZed at 12:25 AM on November 23, 2009

I am this strange mix of super-extrovert and very, very shy man, standing first on one foot and then the other, not knowing what to say, do, think (other than "I suck" "I suck"). I do okay if it's a structured event, if it's a setting with rules of some kind or other, or maybe not rules but predictability I guess.

I love Western Roundup, a really fast-paced dice game, it's loud and raucous and infectious and just a lot of fun. IMO. YMMV. Probably any fast-paced game would be fine, not a lot of rules, a lot of fun to be had

I would absolutely go to a group like that if there was a structure to it -- where I come undone is in 'small talk' and that only on days that I'm not totally free and breezing, which I can sometimes be; I don't understand the ins and outs of it, why one day I can do this or that and the next I just don't have a prayer at it.

Art museums might be a good one, on the night they are open late, you could all meet there and take a tour together, guided or not. I'd like that; safety in structure.

A good idea, hope it comes off.
posted by dancestoblue at 3:19 AM on November 23, 2009

We could sit there and talk about our problems...

I would be extremely wary of doing this since it could be mortifying to the people who have those problems. Relatedly, I'd like to again recommend the previous thread that's been linked. Some of the answers in that thread (including mine) talk about the problems with trying to center the activity around talking about shyness.
posted by Jaltcoh at 6:23 AM on November 23, 2009

Thanks for the feedback so far; reading the previous thread has shown me that there're a lot more factors involved than I initially accounted for.
posted by Ziggy Zaga at 8:29 AM on November 23, 2009

I liked these ideas, which are ripped straight off of meetups I've seen, attended, or were tempted to attend: book meeting (where discussing a book was the pretext, but it only got talked about for like 5 minutes before the group just started shooting the shit in general), CD mix swap, meeting to see bands, meeting for a bar trivia night, bowling or board games.
posted by That takes balls. at 9:29 AM on November 23, 2009

i want to just underscore the power of meetup - look at other meetup groups that are well attended to get an idea of how to organize your events, keep it interesting and fun. I set one up about four years ago - it is still running strong - and i can tell you that i have a core group of friends that I consider to be like family and i met them all through my meetup group. I also know of several couples that met and married through our meetup group. We didn't use dating as a focus of the group but like all group settings, liaisons naturally do occur - which is really nice.
posted by dmbfan93 at 10:34 AM on November 23, 2009

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