How To Make New Friends and Find A Community

If your spouse’s medical studies have recently brought you to a new city, or to a new community within a familiar city, you will need to search for new friends and support groups. Medical school is not about being “strong” and pushing through all the hard stuff. It’s about having people to lean on when the going gets tough.
Building yourself a new community and finding friends, especially those that you hope to be able to share your delightful, as well as dark moments with, is not an easy task. However, it is a necessary one!
During our own school years, we constantly crossed paths with new people. This daily exposure to numerous people made the search for friends a little bit more hopeful. Now that you’re “adulting,” you’ll most likely see the same set of people day in and day out. You will actively have to put yourself out there in order to meet someone that could be new friend material. You’ll need to “shop” for possible friends, and (gasp) start and hold conversations with complete strangers. It involves courage, commitment, some small talk, and some mental and physical energy.
However, it is IMPERATIVE that you do this. You MUST find a support person or group of some kind! If you’ve read my previous articles, you know how strongly I feel about this (see “How To Start A Medical Spouse’s Support Group“). Putting yourself out there can be scary, but you need someone to lean on that is not your spouse. Your spouse will be busy, and if you don’t have a friend to turn to, you will feel lonely, unsupported, and resentful.
So, let’s get you pumped you up to do this! Here are some tips to help you start this process. You can do this, because you MUST do this! Step by step!
Take Advantage Of Newcomer Offerings
When your spouse first begins medical school, and even in the days/weeks before classes begin, there will probably be many gatherings of other students in your spouse’s class. I highly recommend taking advantage of these events. I talk more about this topic HERE, but the gist is that your best shot at meeting new people and starting some friendships is by attending newcomer socials. Once classes begin, you will rarely see these people unless you attend the occasional party. Welcome events are awkward for everyone, so it won’t just be you, you’ll be in good company! The biggest thing to do is to bring your sense of humor. Laugh off the weird moments and don’t be afraid to be transparent. I’ve often just cut to the chase and said something along this lines of, “Wow, this is pretty awkward, isn’t it? Where can a girl get a drink around here?”
Join A Group
The second best way to get connected is by joining some sort of group or program. What are you into? Whatever it is, search Facebook or Google activities in your area and see what pops up. For parents, there are Mom’s/Dad’s groups such as MOPS, library activities like story time, playgroups, and experienced-based groups like HikeItBaby. Also search for “mom’s day out” programs, or classes through your local recreation center.
Other non-parent ideas are joining or starting a Medical Spouse Support Group, joining a reading group/club, outdoor adventure club, volunteering, joining the YMCA or some other wellness/fitness center, or attending a small group at a church. There is also an organization called Side By Side, which is specifically for doctor wives and has chapters all over the country.
You can also search your city’s government website for information regarding events in town. City events can be a good place to start. Personal experience: I heard that there was a 4th of July parade in my city, so I trucked down there solo (husband was busy doing something) with my baby in tow. I happened to sit next to a couple that had a child my daughter’s age. I started the conversation by asking, “How old is your daughter?” We ended up talking the whole parade, exchanged information, and afterward we started meeting up for regular playdates.
The internet can also come to the rescue. Consider joining a group like Lives Of Doctor Wives, where you can find and connect with other medical spouses in your area.
Invite People Over For Dinner Or Out On The Town
Is there a couple in your spouse’s program that you think you might connect with? Invite them over for dinner or dessert! You both are new to the area or program, so it doesn’t matter that you don’t know them that well. That’s the point! If hosting a meet up isn’t your thing, consider seeing if they want to meet you for Happy Hour or for a casual lunch or dinner.
How To Start A Conversation With People You Don’t Know
I am an introvert to a T. For many years, I really didn’t want to talk to anyone, especially people I didn’t know. I wanted to stay in my bubble, but I also found that that bubble was lonely. Additionally, due to my husband’s and my careers, I was often thrown into situations where I had to strike up and hold conversations with complete strangers. To help myself break through my social anxiety, I ended up taking a conversation skills class and started putting what I learned into practice. I gradually became comfortable in new settings with unfamiliar people. So much so, that many people who meet me now can’t believe that I’m an introvert. I won’t go into the details of what I learned in that class, but I’ll give you the Reader’s Digest version. Whether you self-identify as an introvert or extrovert, these steps can help:
1. Start considering the idea that what you have to say is important and people would want to hear you talk.
2. Start considering that other people are interesting and you may learn something about them. Commiserate and empathize about the joys, miseries, mysteries and mundanity of life.
3. Prepare ahead of time. Who will you see and what might you ask them about?
4. Listen for clues. If you ask, “Have you lived here long?” and they answer “No, we just moved here.” Then, you have several follow up questions available: “Where did you move from?” “How do you like it here so far?” “What side of town are you on?” “Have you tried out anything in the community yet? I’m thinking of trying that restaurant on 14th St.” Etc, etc.
5. You will either connect, or not. If not, it’s not a reflection upon you or the other person. It’s just not a match. Excuse yourself from the conversation and move on.
A Personal Example
When I was pregnant with my first child, I went to a prenatal yoga class. (Curious about having kids in medical school? Check out my article on that topic HERE). At the beginning of the class, we went around the circle and said our names and due dates. One lady in particular caught my attention because her due date was just a few days away from mine. I took a mental note of her and at the end of class, I took a deep breath and just walked over to her and said, “Hi! When did you say your due date was again?” That started the conversation. We talked about when we’d have our babies, what type of work we did, what our husbands did (both happened to be in medicine), how we both recently moved to the area, and so on. I made the leap to ask her if she’d ever want to meet up sometime and she said yes, so we exchanged numbers. I saw her a few more times at class and then we made lunch plans one day (we found out that we worked near each other). That friendship blossomed and has became one of my most treasured friendships of my life so far. It all started with just walking over and saying “hi” – as awkward as it felt at the time!
Conclusion
Remember that most people are in the same boat as you. Look at others as if they were you. Would you welcome someone acknowledging you and saying hello? I dare say that you would! A “hello” says a lot and most often, you’ll know pretty quickly whether that person is someone you jibe with. So, get out there and open yourself up to the possibilities. You won’t sync with everyone you meet, but I promise that you will find at least one person who is a coffee-date match, and hopefully a potential, “Why did we think medical school was a good idea??” friend. You can do this!
About the Author
Amy Rakowczyk is a medical spouse, mother, writer, singer, and former voice instructor. She currently resides in Galveston, TX with her husband and two young daughters. She enjoys helping other spouses navigate the world of medicine and actively participates in support groups and activities. Her husband is a Family Medicine resident at UTMB Galveston and did his medical training at The Ohio State University.