Finding and Keeping Friends
One of the most common concerns of FAST members...especially adults with allergies...is the inability to make and maintain meaningful and genuine friendships. This should not be attributed to the individual's lack of friend-making abilities; rather it is often due to (1) being unable to participate in many activities outside of the house and (2) at times our friends do not stick with us for long because we may not be able to be involved in similar activities (such as eating out).
In the following article, FAST members offer tips on how you might not only be able to find friends, but also maintain lasting friendships.
Tips for Making Friends
One method my sister uses (who is an introvert), is to share my friends. I find
and make friends with all sorts of people. I introduce to her the ones I think
she will get along with and she ends up making lifelong friendships from that
group. We are very close in age. So I guess my recommendation for introverts is first to make an extraverted
friend and then go with them to events and parties. Then share with them the
people you both like. That way the extrovert did all the work of introductions
and initial filtering. he introverts I know tend to make very binding
friendships with each other after I have introduced them. (Miriam)
I live in a town with lots of restaurants in a pedestrian friendly area. If I
encounter a couple friends having drinks or dinner, I ask if I might join
them and sit and have a coke, coffee, or even a glass of water (I tip the
waitress, even if I'm just having water). (ygg)
I think the biggest hurdle to making friendships--and one I personally need to overcome--is the "clone factor." It's something I still struggle with. It stems from school; beginning from nursery school on we are only with people our own age. As middle school, junior high, and high school roll around we are further segregated into different classes and different social groups: the band members, the football players, etc. It's ingrained into us that we should have friends who are exactly the same age and have the same interests. The clone factor is one I'm still trying to get over, but I feel that opening myself up to a wider age/interest range of people will help to also open up the door for new friendships. (Melissa T.)
In a setting such as class or church, join a conversation (though kindly). I've always been opposed to this (and would sit/stand quietly and listen), but have tried it before, and it can work if done in a polite manner. Also, if you are in a new setting (where everyone else is new), be one of the first people to speak. If people don't know one another and you are one of the first people to speak it will (1) build your confidence and (2) let people know you want to talk and are friendly. Especially if you're shy, these two tips will get you off on the right foot! Remember that if you remain quiet, it will take someone else going out of his/her comfort zone to become friends with you. It's best to help it along with a little push of your own, by taking the first step.
The most important thing to do when meeting new people is to smile. If you walk around
with a smile on your face, even when depressed, people interract with you
Where to Find Them
Best way to make new friends is through your favorite hobby. Go to a store,
event, or convention where your hobby is being emphasized. There you will meet
other people with similar hobbies. Then you have at least one thing in common.
After you establish a common bond, ask the other person more about himself/herself. I
do this by mentioning a few personal details about my life that I don't mind sharing.
For example, if I see a woman with an engagement ring on, I will start
talking about my own fiance and see if she starts opening up about her own. I
will also talk about the challenges of planning a wedding. This is a bride's favorite
or least favorite topic, but it's one that is always rich in information. (Miriam)
I meet with a group of women once a week for a few hours of crafting. We show each other new techniques and have a contest at the end of the year to show what we learned from the established program we put together at the beggining of the year. It's just fun to meet with them and chat about other things than food allergies! My sister joined in this year and my mom was the first of us in...so it makes a great excuse to spend a few hours with my sister and my mom. They are mostly grandmas, but we find things we have in common: our love for crafts. It's organized by the city and there are other groups like that around. Groups can be organized by the church too. (Mylene)
Barbara F. has been fortunate enough to have friends who also have allergies. "I got together with four other friends with food allergies for dinner. We compiled a complete list of everyone's allergies and took on the challenge of bringing dishes completely free of everyone's allergies. It was so much fun. Before we ate, everyone discribed what they brought and told what was in it. Then after we ate we compared what our doctor says and what supplements we are taking and what works best and what our problems are. It was such a success. I would encourage any of you who know of other food allergy sufferers in your area to get together. It really helps you feel not so alone. And it is fun to eat 'out' and eat everything that is served."
Miriam thought of many places where you might meet new people: grocery store, hobby shop, cashiers anywhere, other people in line, parties, local events (Rose Festival), movies, conventions, dance clubs (I don't recommend this as much, it's too loud for conversation), college clubs, cafeterias (just sit down with someone you have never met before, as long as you
don't have to worry about airborne allergies or accidental spills), professional societies, daycare centers (parents have an obvious shared topic "What silly thing did my
kid do this week?"), competitions (sports, science, history, debate...), go out for a walk in a park (meeting with other walkers), janitorial staff anywhere, secretarial staff anywhere, library, concerts, any place where you don't know anyone around you. Find someone else by
themselves and talk to them.
Book clubs are great. Libraries sometimes have info. on local ones. They are especially nice for those who are not naturally gregarious. The topic of conversation is the book and then members may say as much or as little as they like. (Gigi)
One of the easiest ways to find a new friend who is very similar in interests to you is to find a mentoring organization and volunteer for it (one site to check is mentoring.org). If you have health problems you can let them know right off the bat any special requirements you will have. In my experience they are very helpful because children who *need* the mentoring far out-number actual volunteers. I recommend that if your allergies really inhibit your life, you ask for permission for someone else to transport the child (though you should be with them) and find a program that allows the child in your home. You may also want to request a child with a disability, so that there won't need to be a lot of physical activity. Mentoring is usually not a tutoring program...it's like being a big sibling to someone of the same gender, who has similar interests. For example, if you are an introverted lady who likes to do crafts, they can find you an introverted girl who likes to do crafts; if you're an outgoing sports guy, they'll match you with a miniature outgoing sports guy. It's a great way to make a nice young friend with similar hobbies. (Melissa T.)
One thing that you can do is to join a group where you have an interest. For
example, you might like to dance. Join a dance group. Or maybe you like to
read. Join a group at the library. Like to bicycle? Join a bicycle club. At one time I volunteered with a group for the mentally handicapped. While it
sounds pretty depressing it was actually very uplifting. I was alone and lonely
and here was a group of people who needed help and I was able to provide it. I
looked forward to seeing the "kids" and doing things with them. And I made some
good friends in the other volunteers. By joining a group where you already have an interest you find other people with
the same interests, and that makes for better friendships. (Kathy)
Attend a small class at a local college that meets "in the round" (in desks facing one another or around a table). Such classes may be small writing classes or other classes that need peer-review. You may not make lasting friendships in this sort of class, but I've noticed that most of the time students talk to the whole class when they have news to share, rather than just to a select few people. They're also more open to you stepping in and participating with their conversation. If you can, attend a class that has two parts that will continue over the span of a college year. Often I just begin forming an acquaintance friendship or two when the semester is suddenly over, and then we lose contact. One semester is really not enough time to make a friend. (Melissa T.)
Tips for Keeping Friends
Miriam has a method that has helped her maintain her friendships with others:
1) Call your friends (on the phone) at least once a month.
2) Arrange to go to a major fun event at least once every six months with friends (a convention, big party, or weekend long fun).
3) Invite all of your friends to the major fun event, even IF they don't like each other.
4) Arrange minor events every once in a while (a coffee outing, themed movie night, or board game night).
5) E-mail friends with major updates in your life (passing a hated class, an actual diagnosis, moving, birth of a child, change of jobs, change in health status).
6) E-mail friends with funny stories about your life (quote a ridiculous boss or co-worker).
Friendships when You're Stuck at Home
I have e-mailed friends even if they're local! It sounds odd, but it's a good way to keep in contact with people who are busy and keep in contact when I'm not feeling well enough to visit. A caution with e-mailing your local friends is that e-mails can be read many different ways--even when people really know you!--and misunderstandings can happen sometimes too easily. Tone-of-voice can't be heard, so make sure your friends know a rule: I try to tell people ahead of time that I only write e-mails when I'm in a good mood (or at least, never angry) and my e-mails should be read without any tone-of-voice. Also, don't overdo e-mails with local friends...it can get a bit annoying if you get several from one person in one day! (And never send forwards--no one really likes them.) (Melissa T.)
The easiest friends to make are on-line friends. They might be ones you make from hobby or work
societies or on-line gaming. Online gaming allows you to escape to a world
where you don't have allergies for a few hours. However, it is addictive and
you have to be careful to limit yourself so that you don't ignore the rest of
life. These are acquaintence-type friendships, although over time you can
grow very close to an online friend. (Miriam Becker)
I have online friends (without any intent of meeting the ladies in person), but in some ways this can be even more alienating to someone who is sick. If all of your friends are online it just sort of hammers in the fact that you are lonely locally, because you can't see these people. Many of them stop writing without notice. In addition, just sitting at the computer to answer e-mail after e-mail becomes tiring and, if you are sick, is not always something that is fun to do. My suggestion is to think of people you moved away from, or who moved away from you, and send them cards or letters through snail-mail. See if any of your old friends are willing to keep in contact with you this way. It is incredibly encouraging to open up your mail slot or mailbox and see that you have received a letter, the old-fashioned way. Don't feel bad if no one writes back. I've asked friends why they don't write back, and the answer is always the same: "I can't write...but I still really like to read the letters you send." (Melissa T.)