Welcome to September

6 Sep

September is the month of brilliant red and orange leaves, of crisp sweater-weather and apple picking and back to school.

This year, September will also be my Month of Learning to Make New Friends.   Why now?  Because this September, instead of returning to my teaching job, and the collegial work environment it provides, I have embraced the solitary life of a writer. No more water-cooler conversations, no more stopping by a fellow teacher’s classroom for a quick chat, no more “I’m free this period; let’s grab lunch.”

It’s just the computer, the dog, the cat, and me.  I can talk to the dog and the cat – and I do – but the conversations are rather one-sided.  In fact, the animals seem to think their job is to sleep as soundly as possible all day long.  Yesterday, the dog was even snoring.

I plan to keep the many good friends I have, but this new life I’m trying calls out for new friends as well.

Unfortunately, I don’t have much experience being the kind of friendly person who makes new friends.  I have travelled through fifty years of life being mildly surprised and very grateful when someone wants to be my friend, but I must have been absent that day in school when the lesson was how to reach out and make friends.

It’s time for me to learn.

Of course, changing a fifty-year old pattern requires more than just deciding to do so.  And unlike learning to sing, there are no private classes I can take.  Instead, I will have to construct a course of self-study, and learn how to make new friends on my own.

In preparation for this new challenge, I’ve been studying the ways of my friendly friends (and family), hoping I can model myself after them.  Here’s what I’ve observed:

  • Friendly people talk to the people around them.  My friend Jennifer says she walks into every yoga class looking for someone who might become a new friend.  I, on the other hand, can go to the same gym class every Wednesday night for a year and never – I mean, NEVER – speak to another soul.
  • Friendly people ask questions.   At the beach with my friend Laurie, I watch, amazed, as Laurie approaches the lifeguards to ask them about their job.  What hours do they work? How long is the lifeguarding season? What do they do with their lifeguard chair when they leave each day?  Does the beach ever get crowded?  Laurie is honestly curious, and the lifeguards are happy to talk.   I, on the other hand, assumed they were too busy guarding the lives of the six of us on the beach that day to be bothered with such idle conversation.
  • Friendly people talk about themselves.  My nephew, Ian, who, at four, is the friendliest person I know, begins every conversation with a little tidbit about himself.  “I went to the water park today,” he tells the waitress at the diner, and the clerk in the bookstore, and me, even though I was at the water park with him and know all about it.  I always feel that nothing I can say about myself could possibly interest another person, but watching Ian in action I have come realize that every conversation doesn’t have to be the most scintillating in the world.  Ian’s water park experience is something he can talk about with authority, and it is vaguely interesting.  That’s enough sometimes.

I’m heading out into September armed with these three be-friendlier, friend-making strategies, determined to approach the world differently.  Wish me luck!

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7 Responses to “Welcome to September”

  1. Sally Prangley September 6, 2011 at 6:53 pm #

    HAH!!! Cathleen, this post is soooo how we first became friends some 18 (?) years ago. I had baby Calder with me and was desperate to meet other mothers with similarly aged babies. I saw you in the Edge of the Woods natural food store in New Haven, with baby Eli. And I started a conversation with you and yes, you were surprised that I spoke to you, a total stranger! And now look! Despite moves across the country and many life changes, we have still managed to keep track of each other and remain friends! Just remember in your new friend-making quest that it’s not quantity but quality that’s most important! Love, Sally

    • Cathleen Barnhart September 6, 2011 at 9:01 pm #

      I well remember meeting you – and just as you described!

      • joan September 11, 2011 at 12:32 pm #

        Hey…what a wonderful story! I made so many of my friends just by having a baby in a stroller…maybe that’s why as we get older we have dogs to walk! Anyway…I am very proud of you. After class next week if that woman is in class ask her if she wants to grab a cup of coffee or something after the workout. I bet she would be thrilled to make a nice new friend like you!!! I miss my friend at school!! Love, Joan

      • Cathleen Barnhart September 11, 2011 at 5:51 pm #

        Maybe I should walk the dog more!

      • Cathleen Barnhart September 21, 2011 at 8:33 am #

        Thanks for reading, Joanie! I’ve tried tot dog thing, but my incredible cute dog doesn’t seem to attract any interested parties. Know anyone who could loan me a baby? 🙂

  2. Renee September 19, 2011 at 2:30 pm #

    My husband told me that the best way to get people to talk to you is to walk a cute dog or a baby (not sure if cuteness is important). He might have meant women, but that might be okay for you in your new-friend-quest. From one old friend, I can say that I miss you here at school! Renee

    • Cathleen Barnhart September 19, 2011 at 3:32 pm #

      I’ve walked my very cute dog (the one in the blog photo) many times, but it hasn’t generated any attention. If you know anyone who would let me stroll their baby around, I’d be game!

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