Finding Friends

Photo by Johnny Quirin.
Photo by Johnny Quirin.

This article appears in the December 2018 Grand Rapids Magazine print issue. Available on newsstands now or via subscription.

“We’ve been here six and a half years. It’s time to put an expiration date on it and move on,” said Kim Carignan, 54, a resident of Grand Rapids’ northeast side.

Carignan, who has lived in Detroit, Chicago, New York and Naples, Florida, said she and her husband haven’t been able to make the friendships they’d hoped for in West Michigan, something she said was easier in the other places she’s lived.

“In about our third or fourth year here, I told Dan we need to build some sort of life here, or we need to put this house up for sale and go somewhere else,” Carignan said. After joining Nextdoor, an app to introduce people to their neighbors, going to the Women’s Resource Center, hosting a neighborhood party and holding an annual Christmas party, Carignan said she felt discouraged. “Nothing ever came of it,” she said.

 “If we had people here I felt close to and connected to, we would stay. I guess what I’ve always felt like we’re lacking is a real major connection with others. We’re not religious; part of it’s our age. Doesn’t anybody around here just have some wine and a reading group that’s not so serious and just fun?” Carignan asked.

West Michigan folks are all about fun, though being new to an area — or making a shift in lifestyle — can make meeting friends challenging.

So how can newcomers, or people making that lifestyle shift, make friends? It can be a challenge, even a chore, to get out and meet people. In our 20s, we tend to be surrounded by people like us: most are single, have no children and are looking for social life. Within about 10 years, many people are married and looking to get together as couples, and when a couple begins a family, the shift in friendships centers around doing things with other parents so the children have playmates. High school activities and sports also connect parents with involved teenagers. So, after moving to a new city or finding commonalities with old friends fading, what’s the best way to meet people and form friendships?

Life coach Terri Spaulding advised determining what you’re truly passionate about and pursuing it. From there, she said, the friendships will follow.

“In coaching, I start out asking questions. What fuels your soul? With so many choices now, you can go online and look at all the different things going on around town — art classes, small groups — approach it from the right direction. That’s how you find the friends you want to make. Be yourself and enjoy what you’re doing, that’s how you find people and a common spark,” she said.

Spaulding, 56, speaks from personal experience. She and her husband spent much of their time and formed friendships around other couples with children in the same age group as her two sons. Now her two sons are grown.

“When a lot of my friends’ children grew up, they were empty nesters, things had been centered around their children, a lot of those people’s friends went by the wayside when their children moved away. So, you go, ‘Who am I? What are my interests?’ Trying something new, that’s how you can meet friends,” Spaulding said.

For Spaulding and her husband, deciding to try rock climbing at a local YMCA was one such move. The couple became rock climbing enthusiasts and, eventually, joined the Grand Valley Rock Climbing Club, where they met others who share their enthusiasm for the sport.

According to Spaulding, getting connected is easy. “On any given day, you can use your phone to find out where events are,” she said, noting fallback solutions to ‘how do I meet people?’ like ‘join a gym’ or ‘meet people at church’ aren’t always the best answers. “You’re there to do your own thing,” Spaulding explained, noting the solitary nature of each.

While time on a treadmill with headphones on isn’t optimal for meeting people, group fitness classes can be rich environments for meeting others.

After moving to Grand Rapids from Sioux City, Iowa, in July, Shirley McArdle, 69, and her husband were happy to be living near their grandchildren but also sought friendships. Like the Spauldings, in previous years they’d established friendships around their children, who were involved in high school sports.

“This is the first time I’ve had to work at it,” McArdle said.

And work at it she did, reaping rewards. Starting with contacting the Area Agency on Aging of Western Michigan, McArdle found they offered classes that interested her.

“We signed up for an enhanced fitness class, yoga and Zumba. I’m still with those classes, I know a lot of people through there. I get invited out to coffee through those classes,” McArdle said, adding, “The next thing I did … I found a group called Newcomers (Newcomers Club of Greater Grand Rapids). This group is unbelievable! There are many, many members. They meet at a church in Cascade once a month, and they have games, walking groups, social groups on Saturday nights and they meet Friday mornings at a bakery. Just this week, I went bowling with the group.”

Hudsonville resident Erik Morehead and his wife moved to West Michigan from Wisconsin over two years ago. Both were native Michiganders but grew up on the east side of the state. As parents of a 2-year-old daughter, they have made friends through meeting other parents at the daycare their daughter attends. A self-described “social introvert,” Morehead said making friends is about shared interests.

“We go quality over quantity, finding people we enjoy being with and really investing in those relationships. We focus on the people we really enjoy,” she said. “But with people we don’t have a lot in common with, it’s not that they’re not nice people, it’s just that we don’t have a lot in common.”

While meeting other couples with young children has led to friendships, the Mooseheads are looking into social groups through their church to extend their social connections.

Like Morsehead, Tianna Dusseljee and her husband have a toddler at home, something that led Dusseljee to set aside a career in social work and dedicate herself to being a mom. After living in Grand Rapids for eight years, Dusseljee, 28, and her husband relocated to Muskegon in July.

Dusseljee’s solution to making friends when new in town?

“The first thing is you have to ask questions. Find out what resources are available to you. I find people waiting for resources to fall in their lap. You have to actively seek them out,” she said, “That’s how it happened for me.”

Dusseljee used social media to find groups doing things in her area and to connect with neighbors, finding groups even specific to the street she lived on and her neighborhood.

“It’s uncomfortable to put yourself out there, but you just have to do it. If I heard someone talking about faith, I would (say), ‘I go to so and so church’ or if I heard someone talking about their kids’ school, I would say, ‘Oh how do they like that school?’ and a lot of times that’s where it would take off,” said Dusseljee, who also recommends volunteering as a way to meet other like-minded people.

Whether it’s social media, neighborhood groups or finding that new activity, hobby or class, the solution seems to be in finding others who share your interests — and they’re out there; maybe your new best friend is there now.

*Photo by Johnny Quirin

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