How/where do you find community?
November 1, 2019 7:00 AM   Subscribe

I know there are lots of AskMeFi questions about making friends as an adult (I think I've even asked one of them), but I don't think I've seen anyone ask about finding community. I've realized that part of the emptiness in my life is lack of community, but I'm not sure where to find it. More inside.

I have individual friends, but they generally don't know each other, and I tend to befriend other socially anxious introverts like myself, so they do not want to be introduced to each other. Trying to build a community with them would be unsuccessful. Even hosting a party would be unsuccessful.

I live in a small town where I know many people well enough to say hello on the street, but I feel incredibly socially isolated.

What I want, deep in my bones, is to be part of a community, where people check up on each other and make casseroles when something bad happens. I know the standard advice is to join a religious community, and I haven't ruled that out, but I'm a Buddhist/Pagan, and I have found the local Unitarian Universalist fellowship to be unsatisfying (there are no local sanghas to speak of). I am desperate enough to start looking at other options, like liberal Episcopalians and Lutherans, but I thought I'd ask here first in case there's something I'm missing. Is there somewhere else I could be looking?
posted by missrachael to Human Relations (29 answers total) 63 users marked this as a favorite
Is there a local community centre or arts centre that hosts a community meal? Or somewhere of that ilk that you could volunteer at? Community takes many forms.
posted by Chairboy at 7:07 AM on November 1, 2019

Two that have worked for me are a regular (ideally weekly) volunteer gig and a choir.
posted by mskyle at 7:10 AM on November 1, 2019 [6 favorites]

My brother is very happy in a large, old-school, liberal Episcopalian congregation, but he's also a Christian.

But, I mean, the larger question is this: If you're in a smaller place, the default community is going to be the faith groups. You have wider options in a major metro, but for a small town the churches are going to be the default for most people, and opting out of that structure will probably mean you feel isolated.

The other side of this, though, is that I suspect these congregations include at least a few that are way more theologically diverse than you'd expect. Quiet agnostics or even atheists may find homes there, because regardless of your position on the supernatural the community they offer is real and meaningful.
posted by uberchet at 7:12 AM on November 1, 2019 [8 favorites]

Community theater (behind the scenes if you don’t want to act), Habitat For Humanity, Elk’s Lodge... basically anywhere people come together for common cause will have a community built up around it.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 7:14 AM on November 1, 2019 [11 favorites]

Do you have any other hobbies or pastimes that absorb you? Depending on what they are, there may be groups in your town that fit some f your requirements - at the very least, you have a common interest that you can talk about, as you build friendships. I'm an atheist, so for me, it's a community theatre group and a couple of other groups where I find friendship and people who care about me.

On preview, what Tell Me No Lies said.
posted by Mogur at 7:15 AM on November 1, 2019


Three years ago, I could have written your question. Now I live in a co-housing neighborhood in New Hampshire and I never lack for community. We have common meals and parties, work together on projects, lend and borrow things, look after each others' kids and pets, and know that, if we need them, our neighbors will line up to help, no question.

Perhaps there are people who can create community wherever they are, but for me, as an introvert, nothing has worked as well as joining a group of people who have also expressed an interest in community by moving here. It's not perfect, but it has been such a rewarding experience for our whole family. I really recommend checking it out.
posted by libraryhead at 7:15 AM on November 1, 2019 [10 favorites]

A friend of mine has created this by making an association of neighbors in the 2-3 block radius. They lend each other stuff and do the casserole thing and help out with tree branches, etc. They have an email communication chain and a Facebook page. There are also events that regularly bring people together, like last night's open house during Halloween and Saturday's dog costume parade.
posted by xo at 7:19 AM on November 1, 2019 [7 favorites]

The reason religion is the go-to answer for this is that community grows from repetition and dependability, and most religions have a weekly gathering with lots of different types of pressure to attend regularly, and annual seasonal events that people organize around. But religion doesn't have to be that, as you know. And other things can be, if you apply the same level of commitment on an individual basis.

It boils down to becoming a regular somewhere. This could be a group that meets for a cause, like volunteering at a food bank or to clean up local parks or local government organizations. But it could also be a social group like a knitting circle, or a weekly card game, or a book club. The trick is that you have to display dependability - show up on a regular schedule, commit to the thing, become predictable - and other people will attach themselves to you. We form community through familiarity, so you have to become familiar. But you do have to be proactive about it because you won't have religion's preexisting structure and pressure year-round. It's a lot of emotional labor! So budget your people-time accordingly.
posted by Mizu at 7:21 AM on November 1, 2019 [27 favorites]

I tend to befriend other socially anxious introverts like myself, so they do not want to be introduced to each other. Trying to build a community with them would be unsuccessful. Even hosting a party would be unsuccessful.

I 100% hear you, and I have to tell you about one of the best things that I have ever heard of:
A few weeks ago, my partner was invited by an introverted coworker to a bar to read books in the same space but not talk to one another. The pitch was something like, “I'll do my thing, you'll do your thing, but we'll both be there.” More recently, I was told that that same coworker is planning to host a book reading “party” at their house, where several people are invited to come over and read their own books but not necessarily interact.

I wonder if something like this done on a regular basis could grow an actual community as people gradually become comfortable around one another...?
posted by D.Billy at 7:22 AM on November 1, 2019 [34 favorites]

I get my community from volunteering at my kid's school. It's a regular recurring event (Friday nights and some other days.)

Sports and exercise groups and clubs are an idea. I belonged to a running club for a long time and met a lot of good friends. We met every Saturday morning and occasionally during the week. We all knew one another and would socialize during the run, after the run, would travel together to run in other cities and places, and would meet up to do non-running things. Yoga studios can be good also. Practice long enough and regularly in one studio and you will meet people, teachers, and do social stuff outside the studio -- if you want to.

Being a fan of a local sports team is an idea. Minor league baseball is an example. Go often enough and you will meet other fans who attend regularly. Any hobbie or activity that interests you that involves regular meetings or gatherings is where I would look.
posted by loveandhappiness at 7:25 AM on November 1, 2019 [2 favorites]

I feel like I could have written this question! I joined a choir and it’s been great for this. We meet weekly and I often hang out with various choir buddies outside of it.

Something else that could be good is ballroom dance/swing dance/contra dance. Whatever happens regularly near you.
posted by azalea_chant at 7:36 AM on November 1, 2019 [2 favorites]

If the UU group you're a part of is large enough, there's a possibility that there are other members who are finding themselves in the same situation as you. A small-group may be something to look at - maybe post a note on the bulletin board or in the newsletter? "Looking to form a small-group for fellowship in XYZ area" or something along those lines.
posted by jquinby at 7:37 AM on November 1, 2019 [1 favorite]

Dog! I have never known my neighbours in the past, but since I have a dog, I now know so many neighbours and am invited to all the doggie events.

If dogs aren’t your thing then I’ll second exercise groups. Runners and hikers are very welcoming.
posted by frumiousb at 7:38 AM on November 1, 2019 [3 favorites]

- Rec league sports team. I’m terrible at sports so I joined as the scorekeeper (lol) but I made a big group of interconnected friends this way.

- neighborhood email list. Sometimes it’s just about swapping tips on home repairs or discussing local issues, but other people send out notices about events.
posted by sallybrown at 7:38 AM on November 1, 2019 [1 favorite]

Are there any groups around you that (a) meet regularly and (b) are focused around the betterment of one thing that everyone has in common?

This may not be an option for you, but the easiest way I’ve found for finding community quickly is having a baby. People are extra kind and looking for other parent friends at the newborn stage of their child’s lives, so it’s pretty easy to pick up friends who know and actively care for each other if you attend a baby group activity regularly. By attending a mother’s group once a week for several weeks, I was able to join/create a community in just a couple of months where we regularly host parties and step in for each other when we’re facing something tough. In short, my community is focused around the betterment of our children’s lives.

If having a baby isn’t in the cards soon or ever, another way to do this might be through pets. My mostly isolated dad shocked us ten years ago when he started making lots of friends in the neighborhood that he met at the dog park. Since people tend to walk their dogs at around the same time each day and don’t have a lot to do while standing around in the dog park, he got to see the same people regularly. Now they sometimes have parties and step in to walk each other’s dogs when necessary. They are focused around the betterment of their dogs’ lives.

Finally, my parents have, as you mentioned, found community through religion. They are Soka-Gakkai (SGI) Buddhists, and they meet regularly—often twice a week. If you’re struggling, they come to your house and chant with you. If you don’t have anywhere to go on Thanksgiving, a community member is usually hosting a party that you can attend. I’m not saying you should dive into my parents’ religious group, but there are Buddhist sects that meet regularly and prioritize community building and outreach (at least one!). This group is focused around the betterment of their spiritual lives and, they believe, the world around them through Buddhism.
posted by saltypup at 7:40 AM on November 1, 2019 [1 favorite]

Best answer: If the location on your profile is still where you are than you might consider checking out this Quaker Meeting. there are lots of Quakers who are also pagan, or Buddhist, or atheist. I don't know anything about that particular meeting but have generally found Quaker Meetings welcoming. I've never been particularly religious but do like the sense of community I've found in them over the last 15 years.
posted by mareli at 7:59 AM on November 1, 2019 [5 favorites]

I've gotten this wherever I live from folk singing and folk dancing, which have the same social benefits as religious practice or having a regular bar: you show up someplace regularly, with the same people, and you do things together that make you feel good.

I find that eating meals together and traveling together can help fast-forward the process of bonding as a community. Being on a folk dance team that traveled to gigs a few times a year, and that shared meals and housing while doing it, was the absolute best community-bond-forming thing I've ever done, and I still call all those people close friends.
posted by nebulawindphone at 8:00 AM on November 1, 2019 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I live in a small community, about 11,000 people on an island. I have recurring feelings of isolation, even though I worked in the schools and write for the newspaper and know a metric crap-ton of people around here. So some of it is purely psychological. I do, without wishing to, a very good job of keeping my distance, which people are all too happy to honor. So, far more than infrastructural changes in my life, I need to learn how to feel glad to see people, tell them I feel that way, and not resemble a jacked-up android when I do so.

That said, I can think of three kinds of community I found, all of which involve a risk:
- Monthly karaoke at the local Eagles club became a bit of a scene, although a motley one. Misfits, has-beens, never-weres and suburban moms and dads all hung out for hours singing at each other. After a while, even if I never spoke to someone, I had already cheered for them, danced to them singing, sung to them, seen them look ridiculous. So everyone was on a fast-track to friendship, and in fact several of my true friendships came from that group. That said: karaoke is lame, right? Well, yes, but who gives a shit.
- I joined a community choir. Many members way older than me, many not very good singers, some hokey material. Again: Outwardly lame. 24-year-old me would never have been part of it. 38-year-old me joined and it was a huge solace and source of community.
- There's a nice local beach on our Island. In summer, we are there every Monday evening. About a decade ago, we alerted everyone that we would be there every Monday evening, and they were welcome to join. People brought their kids (yes, that can be a big part) and let them run wild while we all sat there. That started about 8 years ago. Now the regulars are kind of family, although there's turnover.

Every one of these three involved taking a risk and turning up every time. There's no other way, I think.

Good luck.
posted by argybarg at 8:02 AM on November 1, 2019 [23 favorites]

I also think that one form of decision paralysis that some people use as a crutch is finding a volunteer activity that's deeply meaningful: volunteering for a profound cause, let's say. Two problems: 1) This invites you to endlessly weigh which action is of greatest social import, and so do nothing; and 2) You want to play, which means a playful setting. So I'm not saying you shouldn't do profound work. Just don't use it to get your social expansions from.
posted by argybarg at 8:10 AM on November 1, 2019 [7 favorites]

i belong to a community orchestra whose practice is to adjourn to a local pub after our weekly rehearsals. we all have music in common, so friendships feel easier to come by than with non-musical folks. we're a close-knit group and our ages range from early 20s to 70s, and it really feels like a big family. not everyone in the orchestra comes to the pub, but the core group of us who does is fairly stable and we regularly add new members. these folks really show up for each other and every time i'm with them, i count myself fortunate for being a part of the group. the pub we go to even reserves the same bank of tables for us every Thursday night during the season so it's easy to find us.

on preview, what @argybarg said: "taking a risk and turning up every time" is truly core to creating and maintaining a solid group of adult friends. it doesn't hurt when the group is centered around a very meaningful activity like music.
posted by hollisimo at 9:11 AM on November 1, 2019 [1 favorite]

I am a friendly introvert and have developed some great friendships through community theatre, a knitting group, and a book club. They’ve all fostered a sense of community that I think you’re looking for.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 9:56 AM on November 1, 2019

If you build it, they will come.

I suggest reading up on how to handle various controversies and interpersonal conflicts ahead of time, so your community doesn't get totally derailed when that happens. You can also do a _lot_ to prevent issues by making good choices early and communicating well.
posted by amtho at 11:30 AM on November 1, 2019 [2 favorites]

I am not especially crafty. But I was interested in joining a sewing group for community. A friend told me about a neighborhood knitting and crochet group. It meets every other week and I’ve been there twice and I love it even though I’m the only person mending. The others absolutely do not care. Mostly I sit there and listen to their conversation in hopes of improving my Swedish and also getting to better understand these mysterious foreigners who are now my countrywomen. I figure if I keep showing up, eventually they will be a part of my community.

Unfortunately, I may need to leave my city and relocate. If that happens, I expect that I will join the local Swedish Lutheran church. I really enjoyed seeing the church folks all decked out in rainbows for a pride event at the smaller town I may move to; it gave me a good feeling. It also has a choir, and it’s fairly open minded. Which is to say, I don’t think I will be the only atheist attending events there.

This is an important question; thank you for asking it, OP.
posted by Bella Donna at 11:30 AM on November 1, 2019 [5 favorites]

Choirs are good for this, as well as improv groups -- as long as they don't serve as launching pads for ambitious people.

Volunteer groups too. You could look into making a branch of Habitat for Humanity or similar if you don't have one already.
posted by amtho at 11:32 AM on November 1, 2019

I love jander03's comment (below) on this post.

"Honestly the trick to making friends is to keep showing up to the same place at the same time for a long period of time.

A friend who lives a lot taught me this:

Find a weekly activity for each of 3 areas:
Community service
Spiritual (whatever that means to you)

That's three social events a week.

At each event have a conversation with at least 3 people.

After 3 weeks to 3 months you will have community."
posted by foxjacket at 1:45 PM on November 1, 2019 [19 favorites]

I wonder if something like this done on a regular basis could grow an actual community as people gradually become comfortable around one another...?

It absolutely could, if someone offers to host on a regular basis. Board game meetups also help with the awkwardness, sometimes, and draw in a less religiously focused crowd. So do crafting meetups. If there isn't one in transportation distance for you, maybe think about setting up shop in a coffee shop and saying you'll be there doing X activity every week, and would anyone like to join in? Or you can host a dinner or a craft night at your home and invite all your friends on a regular basis. If they don't wish to join in, they don't have to, but having a regular standing event where people will be Doing Something (instead of sitting and talking) can be really helpful for making introverts feel at home.

My weekly ace meetup, which I've run for seven years, disproportionately draws awkward introverts. But because it's a regular thing--and I do think weekly is the sweet spot for a community proper, even if not everyone goes every week--the casual relationships that it's generated have built up exactly the kinds of relationships and close-knit friendships you describe. Once the community builds up enough momentum--I think this began to happen at about year three or four and was fully fledged by year five or six--it will begin to spawn new intitatives and places for friends of friends to enjoy things and interact, and that will give it enough energy that it won't need to be solely sustained by your organizational skills anymore.
posted by sciatrix at 3:47 PM on November 1, 2019 [2 favorites]

I belong to a book club that, in the past year, has coalesced from a bunch of random weirdos to a group of weirdos, and I am quite grateful for them. We have socialised outside the meeting only once or twice, but I always look forward to seeing them every month.

One of my friends works at a university. He saw that a lot of the students from other countries were left adrift at Thanksgiving, Christmas, and other holidays. So he started a series of informal pot luck dinners that became, well, a series of informal pot luck dinners, barbecues, music nights, frisbee afternoons, and so on for students, domestic and international. Most of the students have moved on, but he has developed some pretty deep friendships along the way.
posted by Multicellular Exothermic at 5:22 PM on November 1, 2019 [2 favorites]

In my smallish town, the answer is to join the county Democrats and go to the monthly meetings. Then volunteer for things they’re doing, like marching in the Christmas parade, registering voters, phone banking for candidates, etc. The Dems here were extremely welcoming, and we are basically family. We all just went to a Celebration of Life this past Monday for someone’s stepmother who died. When my own mother died, they offered all kinds of help. They’ve given me references for a job. We marched at Tornlllo together. We held a candlelight vigil after the riot at Charlottesville. Etc.
posted by MexicanYenta at 10:21 PM on November 1, 2019 [3 favorites]

My husband found community by joining our local volunteer fire department, and I have, too, to a lesser extent by helping with their fundraisers and community events (we were all crossing guards around town for trick-or-treat this week; it was fun!)
posted by abeja bicicleta at 3:36 AM on November 2, 2019 [1 favorite]

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