Making New Friends: The New Virginians
So, how do you make friends when you move to the East Coast from the West Coast and you really don’t know anyone? You are in your mid50s, no kids, so you are not going to meet people at the school bus stop. You don’t really like to go to bars, at least not alone. Your elderly mom lives with you. Your job is consulting by telephone, so you don’t go to an office. Sounds challenging, right?
When I moved to Richmond in 2001, this was my life. Another thing to keep in mind is that I am not a “joiner.” I have never joined a group before, if you can believe that. My career had always been very demanding and was the focus of my life. I always lived near or in the company of my family. My mother lived with me for most of my adult life, after my Dad passed away far too early. The friends I had were typically made at the office, but I actually found Southern California to be somewhat…plastic. I just didn’t find my people. So when we moved and I was not in an office, for the first time I really felt I needed to pursue a social circle, perhaps even one that would include my Mom somehow. But Mom made it clear that she did not want to infringe upon my social life. What to do?
I am not a joiner, but I am a researcher. So I gathered up some local publications, and subscribed to the Richmond Times-Dispatch. Thanks to the RTD, I received a copy of their special Discover Richmond publication, which contains any and all information Richmond—it is a great resource.
In this helpful guide, I found out about a group called The New Virginians Club. I was new! So I decided to reach out…and then got up the courage to attend their monthly luncheon. The members were wonderful, so welcoming. I decided to join that very day. And here is what happened: The New Virginians changed my life.
Since all of us were new, everyone was reaching out. Also, this organization employs a successful model for making friends. The New Virginians has a large membership that fluctuates around 400-500, and so they break out into “interest groups.” In addition to the regular monthly luncheons, you will find, for example: games (Bridge and Mahjongg), luncheon adventures (the Lunch Bunch), walking and hiking in various parks around the area (A Walk in the Park), 3rd Friday hors-d’oeuvres, and a single women’s social group. I go out to lunch once a month with a group of 8 New Virginians and then another group of 8 for dinner! (Do you see a pattern here—we love food!!)
The New Virginians is a women’s group. I am single, so I gravitated to the singles events. There are also certain events geared to couples, and many of the husbands have become friends as well. It is kind of funny, at the couple’s events the women always end up in one room chatting and laughing and the men in the other, chatting and laughing. So arriving as a single isn’t really an issue!
What was great about The New Virginians is that there was a place for my Mom. She did not get as involved as I did, but she loved playing mahjongg, so we joined that group, and we played every week. Mom also made some of her best friends in Richmond through The New Virginians. In this way, she got to know my friends, and they came to love and care for her. Because many of my friends are also single or have families out of town, for years we have shared our holidays together (see Reflections on “FriendsGiving” and What I am Grateful for Now: A Conversation with Camille). We have become…Family. All of these ladies had lost their moms, so my Mom became everyone’s honorary mom during those years. She lived to be 95, and passed away just over a year ago, so we had many special holiday gatherings. At our Thanksgiving dinners, she held court at the head of the table and the ladies treated her like the Queen Mother. These same friends were there with help and support as I dealt with Mom’s illness and then death. What would I have done without them?
In The New Virginians, I found some of the very best friends I have ever had, and these friends have certainly been a lifeline. They provided support during my battle with breast cancer (see War Stories: Perspectives on the Battle with Cancer — a Conversation with Camille LaCognata. One of the best discoveries of this great group is my roommate! I now share my home with someone from The New Virginians, which is a great story in itself. Barb is also single, having dealt with the loss of both her husband and daughter just before I met her. I was looking to share expenses as my house was large and my paycheck diminished, and she was looking for a place to live that would allow her the flexibility to leave for the summer to visit family out of state. Plus The Golden Girls scenario is great for single “women of a certain age” because it is much safer and more secure—and of course much less lonely—if you have a roommate. This is the perfect solution and one that has worked out so well for us, thanks to The New Virginians.
My advice to newcomers: Join the Board or a Committee! This is the perfect way to get to know people one-on-one. That’s what I did: Soon after joining, I was working on the newsletter, offering my computer skills as a way to help the organization, and then I served on the Board. In this way, I got to work with people more closely, really got to know them — we were a team. I became so much more comfortable in this way.
When I joined The New Virginians Board I found myself being transformed. My career had been spent primarily in computer programming, a rather solitary pursuit. Because these ladies were so welcoming and so nice, I came out of my shell, one that had become second nature to me. Where I had been solitary, I am now gregarious. Where I was shy, I gained confidence. I believe these ladies changed me into the person I am now.
…. Or you know what, maybe this gregarious person is the real me, and I just needed to look up from my computer and decide it was time to search for what I was missing.
In any case, The New Virginians changed me, and I like who I have become.
Note: There are newcomer groups in every city! Just do an online search or check out the local publications.