After moving to London, Ontario last year, I’m faced with establishing a new social network, not an online network, as, thankfully, this network moved with me, but a network of real people.
Previous to this move, my husband and I lived in the greater Toronto area for 26 years. After such a long time in one place, relationships were easy to take for granted. Friendships evolved from participating in bridge groups, book clubs, meet-ups, and volunteer activities. My husband and I belonged to a large gym and athletic club that hosted social events every month. We also socialized with former work colleagues who lived in the greater Toronto area. Because we attended the same church for years, participated in neighbourhood events, and loyally shopped in nearby stores, we developed many relationships that provided a sense of belonging.
Although we had lived in London when we were younger, moving back presented a bit of a culture shock. The network of relationships that gave comfort while living in Markham suddenly changed. Casual connections with people at the post office, hair salon, dry cleaning shop, florist, and grocery store were gone.
The geographical distance from Markham to London is just over 200 kilometres — but it’s a change of lifestyle, habits, and expectations. I can’t imagine what it would be like to move to a new country, with a different language, and completely different customs!
In 2017, I’ve made it a priority to connect with others and establish a new network. I’m determined to feel comfortable in my new community and relate with real people. However, finding new friends, as a senior, isn’t easy. There is no workplace where meeting people is part of the day. I’m not about to hang out at bars or clubs. Nor do I intend to sit in front of a screen and rely on a tech-dependent lifestyle while hibernating at home.
Meeting New People
I began my quest by doing a walking exploration of the city. Walking is one of the best ways to explore any community. Last fall I started walking in nearby parks where I often encountered friendly people who gave advice about possibilities for exploration.
One recommendation was to walk in the environmentally significant natural areas in the city. One of the 10 designated natural areas has an entrance just steps away from our house with an interesting hiking trail along the Thames river including several kilometres of marked paths. After finding this trail, and meeting wild life enthusiasts walking with cameras and binoculars. I’ve resolved to explore all the designated natural habitats within the city once winter ends. Hiking doesn’t give many opportunities to meet others but I’ve found that people on the trail are always willing to strike up a conversation to point out a bald eagle or warn of a coyote that’s been spotted during their walk.
I also found ideas about historic sites for walking from the local tourism site. Many of these sites contain buildings that are also museums. All were catalogued by a Masters student at Western University who developed a walking guide of historic sites. Learning something about the history of the place where I live, gives perspective about the culture and the lives of those who lived in this community.
Joining a local gym has opened new possibilities for meeting others. The morning aqua fit classes and yoga classes are filled mostly with retired people who make fitness part of their daily routine. I hired a personal trainer to help develop a routine in the women’s weight room using the slightly smaller ‘ladies’ machines and dumb bells. To my delight, I’ve met a couple of women who have similar backgrounds to mine and who attend at similar times for strength training.
Recently I joined the London Newcomers Group. Newcomers groups are founded with the idea that people new to a city can meet together around common interests. The London club is for women although some events include spouses and partners. Breakfast and lunch meetings are held at restaurants. The club has several interest groups including bridge groups, book clubs, day trips, wine tastings, and pub nights. Based on the premise that all members are interested in developing new social networks, the club offers a unique way for learning about what’s going on.
Just as in Markham, there’s a bookclub at my local library. The atmosphere at first meeting was strange to me as the informal ‘rules’ were unclear. Interestingly, the librarian leading the group changed last month. The new leader asked for guidance from members regarding expectations. Hearing these ‘informal’ rules explained by the longstanding members helped with understanding how the club operates. I’ll attend a few more meetings before I judge whether or not this is the bookclub for me.
My local library has proven itself a storehouse of valuable leads about the community. Each time I visit I see posters advertising lectures, forums, concerts, and art exhibits. There are more activities than I have time to attend. Through the library, I’ve become loosely involved with a writers’ group and have also participated in a series of photography classes.
Attending cultural events is a way to meet people who have similar interests. Health permitting, I’ve gone to everything I’m invited to attend including activities in which I have only a passing interest. One of my neighbours suggested a London Singers concert. Both my husband and I enjoyed the music so much that we attended a second concert by the same group. Meeting a couple with whom we had lost contact many years ago was a nice surprise during an intermission!
Because we lived in London many years ago, it’s been interesting to re-connect with former neighbours, friends, and colleagues. I’ve enjoyed several lunch and dinner meetings with people whose lives had previously intertwined with mine. It’s fun to have conversations that were left off many years ago suddenly resume as though years had not intervened.
Wherever I go, I make it a point to talk to people I meet. Although I’m an introvert by nature, I’m trying the ‘fearlessly friendly’ approach. This involves stepping outside my comfort zone and taking risks. I look for opportunities to open conversation and reach out to people I encounter. Most respond with friendliness.
Moving gives new opportunities to start over and pursue new directions. It’s difficult yet energizing. Making new friends takes effort. I remind myself that it took time to cultivate friendships before we moved. Connections with people happen by chance and evolve over time. Some become meaningful; others stay at a casual level.
Thanks for reading my post. Please leave your comments about experiences with making new connections after a move. If you like my blog, please consider becoming a subscriber to receive an email when I write a new post.