I wanna be a social animal
October 20, 2010 7:48 AM   Subscribe

I'm leaving college, and I want to know where I can find a sense of community in the 'real world.'

I will soon graduate from college, move to an unspecified Somewhere Else, and begin my adult life. Recently, I’ve been giving some serious thought to what I want out of that life, and the only thing I feel like I really have to have is a sense of community. In college, that’s easy enough to find, but in the real world I get the idea that it’s something you have to look for. I want to know where I should be looking for it.

I’m asking about this because the happiest adults I know are members of communities- I’m thinking of people who go to big churches, troupes of performers, and people involved in various social justice movements. What they all have in common is the presence of a social space where everyone knows everyone (or, at least, where everyone is a friend of a friend) and people participate in some type of constructive or meaningful activity together.

I'd never really been a part of something like this until college, where I became active in several school clubs. Being in those clubs changed my life for the better, and I worry that I won't be able to recapture that once I leave.

So, my question is- where should I look to find potential communities? Where did you (or people you know) find community? (I've read the questions about making friends after college, but I feel like this is a bit of a different problem.)
posted by showbiz_liz to Human Relations (28 answers total) 40 users marked this as a favorite
You mention some of the big ones I can think of- churches, theater groups, and social justice organizations.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 7:51 AM on October 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

You are part of a community right now. Set up a Metafilter meet up in your new city. Ta da! New social community. I've met with metafilter peeps a number of time. Everyone is wonderful!
posted by two lights above the sea at 7:53 AM on October 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

I became active in a local bicycle advocacy group which often partners with other local, grassroots environmental interest groups for events and projects and advocacy and found a large, lively and diverse community right in my local area in terms of age, background, and approach. I'd been living in the same area for 14 years, but now feel ever more "at home" being part of this community.
posted by Pineapplicious at 7:56 AM on October 20, 2010

Groups where people can contribute but not contribute if they don't feel so inclined are really good for this. I think a sense of routine helps, too -- knowing that every Monday you'll see some combination of these people, and it's comforting, and if they're not there you can ask them why not and get into an interesting conversation.

Hobby groups, like knitting or writing or local theater or choir. Theater groups ALWAYS need another person to usher, or someone to help hang lights.

If you're not Protestant-churchy, but you think you might like the sense of community, how about trying a Quaker or Unitarian meeting, if you have one nearby and think your interests align with theirs? My mom has always been emphatic about the fact that she goes to church for the community. (Which is why we've been to approximately eight different Protestant denominations.). There are plenty of things to work with and explore that aren't about Jesus, and if you find the right one they really don't care :) Unitarians accept Jews, atheists, whatever. But they're still subject to the same sorts of social group dynamics as anywhere else, so ymmv.

As mentioned in another thread, yoga classes etc. aren't the best unless you go to a place where they really do socialize. But the gym I used to go to was very much based on partner exercises, boot camps, whatever, so that's a much more social thing. They also have Brazilian jiujitsu, etc. Those things are also very social, whether you're getting whomped by someone or not.

Even if you don't think you're interested in these things, try them anyway. It might take a while before you really feel like you're a part of the group. And even then, don't feel like you have to stick with THAT ONE just because you've invested the time; even the time you've spent figuring out that you don't like something is helpful for the discernment process.
posted by Madamina at 8:09 AM on October 20, 2010 [2 favorites]

What clubs are you a member of at college? I'd guess that there will be community equivalents that you can join in your place of residence.

I don't know how for sure how you'd find those clubs, but your local library might be a good place to start. The librarians at mine are a font of information about local community groups.
posted by Ahab at 8:10 AM on October 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

Big hip city + Couchsurfing.org = win.

I was really impressed with the Denver scene with regards to this.

Also, go work for a summer in Yellowstone National Park (or any other similar situation, but personally Yellowstone is amazing in so many ways). It's dorm style housing with other cool people from all over the world and all age groups (but mostly American, college-ish, hip, adventurous types). MeMail me for more personal information on this but it's something you won't regret and the sense of community among workers (known affectionately as Savages) is the thing dreams are made of. One caveat: Nearly everyone I've kept in touch with either returns or says the same thing, once you go, you'll long for the park for the rest of your life.
posted by RolandOfEld at 8:25 AM on October 20, 2010

College is a great thing for this because everybody is basically in the same boat - actively looking to make new friends. Everyone is more or less the same age, has many shared cultural contexts, and has a decent amount of free time. Moreover, getting to hang-out spots is really easy, because everything's centered around the campus.

When you leave that environment, making friends means having people actively incorporate you into their lives. Also if you go somewhere hoping to hang out, and nobody's there, it's usually a half-hour drive or public transit ride to the next place that might have people hanging out.

So community is different after college, is my point. Collective houses are cool for having that sense of community and people to engage you during the time you're not working (or looking for work). I flailed around in New York for a couple years, until I fell in with a leftist marching band, and then I had events to attend, and found a bunch of punk houses and collectives. But I don't know if there's stuff like that for people who aren't flaming radicals.

Another alternative is maybe to move to a different college town, one with a sizable post-grad community. Small university with some grad students and some companies who've set up outside of campus.
posted by Jon_Evil at 8:38 AM on October 20, 2010

Well if a sense of community in where you live is what you are looking for then a condo development might be what you are looking for. I am in a condo development and we run ourselves. people say hi to each other .

Something like that might be what yo uare looking for.
posted by majortom1981 at 8:48 AM on October 20, 2010

You have to go find community IRL. It is harder than in college. But, it is there. Go volunteer. Join groups. Call MeFi meetups. Wherever you end up, research which neighbourhoods have a strong and active neighbourhood group. Hang out in the local anarchist coffee shop, if there is one and you lean lefty.

All of this is harder if you are an introvert. Still, it is possible for most introverts, and most of us can learn to occasionally initiate conversations.

Here in Baltimore, we have rather a lot of this kind of stuff. Back in Detroit, it existed but was nearly impossible to find. It may take some digging.
posted by QIbHom at 8:49 AM on October 20, 2010

Sports teams can be a great way to meet and bond with new people in a new city. Most sports have leagues for people of all skill levels and abilities.

I joined a crew team, met a group of great people, and am also now the fittest I've been since High School.

There are also plenty of theater-type things to get involved with, although theatre people can be a bit cliquey. I do tech work for a local theater, but enjoy it on a personal and creative level, rather than a social one. Theater people seem to love drama a bit too much for my taste. And don't get me started about how actors and directors treat their unpaid techs.
posted by schmod at 8:54 AM on October 20, 2010

Do you have any specific interests, hobbies, or anything else? I was really involved in the queer, people of color, and Asian American student organizations when I was in college. I thought I would really miss those built-in communities of people, but if you're a community-type person, I think you'll be able to find it wherever you go.

I am (was?) a really regular attendee of a German language meetup when I moved to Philadelphia. There were a lot of people from college that had also settled nearby, but I wanted to branch out after spending a few intense years with those folks. I was really happy to have a weekly routine. Thursday nights were always set aside for hanging out with my German group folks, and there was a secondary Saturday coffee hour too if I felt like it.

I've made a lot of friends through the group, sometime we hang out there but some of them may have only been once or twice but we've stayed in touch outside of the group. It's nice because it's a loosely affiliated group of people, they know who you're talking about but it's not so closely knit that everyone knows all of everyone's business.

If you're planning on staying somewhere, you could find out if there are neighborhood/civic organizations to join or help out with. If there's not, you could start one!
posted by polexa at 9:07 AM on October 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

"Real life" happens at a much slower pace than college. You'll get networked into just about where ever you find yourself, but don't expect it to happen in 2 months like at college. Probably something more like 2 years is about right.

Of the friends I knew that got jobs right away there was a pattern that has led to some pretty unhappy years: Get job, move to new town, experience having money for the first time, get a big apartment by themselves in a newly developed upper middle class neighborhood, go to work 9 to 5, and sit alone in their apartments the rest of the time.

I'm not saying the rest of my classmates slinging coffee, or un/underemployed and living at home or with 6 roommates are a whole lot happier, but I think they're generally less lonely.

I'd actually suggest (if you're lucky enough to have the choice) to stick to "working class"/poorer areas of town. There's a difference between regular working family neighborhoods, and non-safe really crappy parts of town, and obviously you want the former. In general, lower middle class neighbors are going to be more friendly to each other. Your neighborhood bars are going to be a better place to meet people, etc. Part of what you pay for in higher rent areas is that bubble of privacy/anonymity. Even if you don't become best friends with everyone there it's really nice to know the people you're around even if you just wave at them walking the dog.

Housing co-ops, flop houses, couch surfing, communes, are all other options for you but depend on your temperament, philosophies and how "adult" you want to start acting.
posted by fontophilic at 9:39 AM on October 20, 2010 [6 favorites]

Some workplaces are great for meeting people. Mr. Rabbit and I both have good friends that we met at work.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 10:09 AM on October 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

What a great question! I feel you here. I think community building is so important as we grow up, move into houses where we live alone or as couples, and have regular working lives. I struggle with this as a get older, and I have by many standards a built in community. But I really have to nurture it, or else it's easy to have your community stuff fall by the wayside.

Volunteer work has helped me feel connected a lot. It doesn't have to be a huge commitment: 1 or 2 hours a week somewhere can help you get connected to lots of people, and they'll keep you in the loop about all sorts of things. Living in a group house, or somewhere with more than one roommate or living with friends. Interning/working on farms in community gardens is a trend I've noticed. Working in summer camps, or as someone said, as place like yellowstone. Hosting big dinners/pot lucks/BBQs: just take charge and create a space in your own home for people for come to and do fun things (not waiting for other people to create the community for you). Also, just being like a really warm, friendly person-- inviting people to stop by where you live, or taking up random invitations to do things. Finding work that is engaging and working with people that like people may be very important to you, and can fulfill the roll of community.
posted by Rocket26 at 10:23 AM on October 20, 2010 [3 favorites]

Big hip city + Couchsurfing.org = win.

Seconded! Even relatively unhip cities will surprise you. Plus, you have your "general interest" crowd, and usually your sub-sets of sports people, music people, food people...
posted by whatzit at 10:58 AM on October 20, 2010

You're going to soon, I hope, be spending 40 hours a week with a group of people working toward some goal. Probably the goal of making profit for the owners. Work is going to be your biggest community almost immediately. If you're fortunate, these people will be your friends. There's a lot to be said for really liking the people you work with.
posted by oreofuchi at 11:05 AM on October 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

I nth the advice to live in a big group house. At least 4 roommates. Ideally with progressive types who are into activism/music/arts/etc. Throw regular parties where everyone invites their friends/coworkers/etc.

If you haven't picked a career, go for something that's in line with your values. I work in non-profit advocacy and have always pretty easily made good friends through work, because we have that shared commonality. Other friends bitch about their coworkers endlessly and, honestly, I just can't relate. Even in my most dysfunctional workplaces, I've always loved most of my coworkers.

If you have no idea about a career and are planning to just get a job, work someplace with lots of other young people.

Other things I've seen work well for friends: dance groups, sports (kickball, roller derby), nerdy/hipster bicycle "gangs," theater, music, local politics, hanging out at a cool bar regularly, going to yelp events.
posted by wholebroad at 11:35 AM on October 20, 2010 [2 favorites]

My community is found at church, at my gym (have made lots of friends thru spin class for example-these folks tend to be regular) and thru my husband's political activities.

If you are not churchy, figure out who you are politically and go find those folks.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 12:00 PM on October 20, 2010

Try your local college. I live next to a college and they provide plenty of great activities for all members of the community - not just students. There are even groups you can join and take part in. The nearest college has a Friends of Library group that hosts all sorts of events and book sales as well as giving out a special library card for members. The student union has plenty of arts groups or other groups open to members of the community. This is one of the reasons I chose to buy a house next to the college.
posted by JJ86 at 12:16 PM on October 20, 2010

Over the years I've learned that just getting out into the community isn't enough. What I really need is to form meaningful connections, friendships rather than simple acquaintances. For me getting those connections come from doing something or participating with a group of people in intensive work. That's when people show their real selves and you bond over a common shared experience - ups, downs and crazy insane moments.

I didn't form many deep friendships during college because most of the work was solo. But when I graduated and started working at a high tech company, I had a series of incredible teams that really gelled. Those folks are still good friends, years after. This is just to say that work can be an incredible source of community.

After i left high tech, finding that type of community-spawning intensity has been hard. But it's out there. I went back to school for a diploma in scriptwriting that had a heavy emphasis on collaboration, again some great friendships came out of that.

Anyhow good luck with this, you're right to look for what you're looking for. I wish i'd known what you know at that age.
posted by storybored at 7:31 PM on October 20, 2010 [4 favorites]

I've noticed that as you get older, people tend to get families and are less able to engage with the kind of groups that attract you. The sad result is that post-college communities tend to be disproportionately populated by weirdos, and not weird in a good way, but weird in a needs-to-get-a-life way.

Your best chance of finding post-college communities or groups not dominated by weirdos is to move to a big, cosmopolitan city with lots of single people ... NYC, SF, Austin, etc.
posted by jayder at 10:06 PM on October 20, 2010

Often you will find a community at work, but not always. Since graduating from college 13 years ago, I've found the type of community you are looking for in the following places:
Volunteering (www.one brick.org and habitat for humanity) one brick has been the most successful in this regard.
Jaycees -- a civic group for people 18-35. I made two good friends this way.
My husband's coworkers and friends.
An outdoor club for people in their twenties and thirties.
The trick I think is to keep going to various clubs until you find the right one.
posted by bananafish at 12:09 PM on October 21, 2010

Partnered social dancing!! It's structured, in that there are classes, workshops, and organized social dances. But it's also an explicitly social activity, so there's plenty of space to meet people, strike up conversation, etc. In most scenes it's perfectly acceptable to come to dances and/or classes alone, so it's easy to enter the community. There will be other new people there too, and in my experience social dancers are generally a pretty friendly bunch. Go check out the tango or swing or ballroom or salsa or whatever scene wherever you are!
posted by aka burlap at 12:52 PM on October 21, 2010 [1 favorite]

Actually, looking at your profile, I see that you're actually in my town! So if you're interested in learning more about the social dance thing before you head off for Somewhere Else, memail me! Also, what were the clubs you got involved with in college? Are there groups of people doing similar activites outside of college?
posted by aka burlap at 12:56 PM on October 21, 2010

I'm just over a year into doing this myself, so I'm not fully established yet but have made a lot of progress. A couple pieces of advice...

-nthing what everyone has said about volunteering. I'd also suggest looking for something to do that utilizes your skills, or the skills you're working on developing. I'm a writing tutor, and that gets me way more satisfaction than cleaning up a beach would.

-nthing what fontophilic said, too. Remember that while effort is necessary, all this does depend on who you meet individually, too, and that's totally random. The kickball league I paid to join, (yup), hasn't led to much, and I met my best friend here in a coffee shop. There aren't many great social structures meant specifically for making friends after college, so this process takes a while.

-but I will say, if you room with strangers, it's a crap shoot. Avoid long-term leases.
posted by world b free at 4:13 PM on October 21, 2010 [1 favorite]

I'm in Toronto and have been struggling with this issue for years because it's rather hard to get to know people here. I've also struggled because I grew up in a rural environment, and a religious environment, and the rules are very different here in my urban secular world.

Attending events never got me into a community. Joining classes never made me any friends. Everyone ignored each other at the gym. Coworkers are great but aren't a good substitute for a social life.

Last year we joined the local community association, where a bunch of busybodies get together to talk about local development and policing and politics and try to sway things and represent the community when the city decides that it would be a-okay to have a film company take up all the parking on the street for 2+ weeks. Oh, and they'll be filming at night, but you don't mind a floodlight pointing at your bedroom window, do you? Anyway, I have found that these busybodies tend to be very interesting people and are interested in introducing me to other people and suddenly I actually run into people I know in my neighbourhood! And we meet up regularly and there's gossip and mutual support and all the great stuff that you get from being part of a community. Plus they're total urban planning nerds and suddenly I have old people in my life again and I'm a very happy camper. :)
posted by heatherann at 5:21 PM on October 21, 2010 [1 favorite]

I've been in this situation (graduated two years ago, moved across the country for a job, to a region where I only had one friend and no family). Seconding what everyone says about finding a group that meets on a fairly regular basis.

I joined a local Toastmasters club, primarily for improving public speaking. But the real reason I'm so into it now is because my group is incredibly diverse. I'm a really secular person, but I miss the community aspect of church. Luckily my club provides similar fellowship since it's really multi-generational, and I get to bask in the wisdom and hugs of older members and the peer experiences of people closer to my age.
posted by mostly vowels at 6:23 PM on October 21, 2010

Contradancing. All ages, although the closer you get to the east coast, the younger the crowd will be. I think contra has an advantage over partner dancing, in that it is totally okay to show up by yourself. You're expected to change partners for every dance anyway. If you're lucky, you'll end up in a place where there is dancing every weekend and dance weekends to boot. I'd include a link, but I'm on my phone - just google Contradance and your state. You can drill down from there.
posted by jvilter at 7:46 PM on October 21, 2010

« Older Help me think happy thoughts   |   A gate and a monster appear -- on the wall! Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.