When Briana and I decided to leave Oregon, I had lived in Portland for 15 years and she’d been there for 12. As we prepared for our move to Boulder, Colorado – where we knew no one – Briana was concerned that we’d have a hard time making friends. I assured her it would be a breeze. Maybe I was a little overconfident.
Until then, I’d never had to put much work into establishing a friendship; they just happened. I hadn’t considered that during my tenure as an Oregonian I spent seven years in grad school, I held several jobs, and I lived with many housemates – situations that caused me to be around the same people day in and day out, which made connections easy.
We found it more challenging to get a friendship started through “single exposure” events. When you’re limited to short, infrequent meetings – like a dinner party or an event at your kid’s school – there’s a greater dependency on “chemistry.” We noticed that even after hanging out with people who were friendly and cool, if we didn’t feel a spark of connection, there wouldn’t be a strong drive to keep the ball rolling. Also, if the connection process started but lacked timely follow-through, it could sometimes get a little weird, as if there were a question hanging there: “Why didn’t we take this deeper? (Was it Murray’s gas?)”
Eventually we found a tribe of dear souls who feel like family, but along the way, it became clear that chemistry isn’t everything. Sometimes it’s not there at the outset – it doesn’t develop until you “learn” each other and discover how to harmonize together. Other times, the chemistry never really happens, yet the connection can still be fruitful. For instance, while we might not share meals together, I know I can count on my neighbors to keep an eye on my house or feed my pets – and I’d happily do the same for them.
Through this process, we felt moved to learn more about community building. We recognized the value in having multiple circles that served different functions. And we saw just how much the people can make the place. Until we made connections, we weren’t sure we wanted to stay; once we found our people, we could easily see ourselves living out our lives here.
We go into this (and much more) in our book, The Well Life. Here’s an excerpt of some guiding questions we came up with to help people build community consciously. Feel free to share your insights in the comments section below.
- Describe the kind of community that would make you feel excited to participate.
- If you could shape your community, what values would it have? Some ideas: mutual respect, creative expression, healthy living, education, helping, active participation, safety, tolerance of differences, honesty, integrity, fun, equality, inclusiveness, etc.
- Write down the names of five people you value having in your life (they don’t need to be local).
- What skills and gifts could you share with your community?
- What sorts of people would you like to invite into your community to make it more diverse?
- What forums can you utilize to make these connections? While the internet can sometimes promote physical disconnection, it also provides lots of tools (evite, Facebook events, Meetup, etc.) for organizing real-life get-togethers.
I encourage you to get a piece of paper (or use your journal) and write freely on these questions, even if you already have a healthy community.
Wishing you an environment that supports you to be your best,
Dr. Peter Borten