“Beyond Dances and Mingles,” Ensign, Aug. 1987, 15
“But how am I supposed to meet new people?” This question is often asked, and more often pondered, by single members of the Church.
After the frustrating—and often fruitless—round of dances and firesides, just where can we go to meet new people and enlarge our circle of friends? How can we make initial contacts more comfortable and more likely to become lasting friendships? And how can we know if our limited time for social contact is being spent in the most productive ways—particularly if marriage is a concern?
Single adults from throughout the United States shared their ideas on these questions. Their answers suggest possibilities that may help others.
Church social activities are important resources for meeting people with values and standards similar to ours, especially in areas where members are in the minority. But many singles feel that dances and firesides are often too crowded to let them really get acquainted with others. Smaller groups and activities that promote interaction are more effective.
Mike Prusse of the Denver Twenty-first Ward, a singles’ ward in the Denver Colorado Stake, says that one of the best activities his ward schedules is “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?” Each month, the activities committee sends around a sign-up sheet to get names of those who would like to attend a potluck dinner, then divides the list into groups of seven or eight. One person hosts the meal and makes food assignments to other group members. Each month the groups are scrambled so that ward members get to know many different people.
After members tired of just “dances and more dances,” says John Pyne of the St. Louis Seventh Ward, St. Louis Missouri South Stake, the ward’s single adults “started coming up with all kinds of ideas.” They have organized such activities as road rallies, progressive dinners, and potluck firesides; attended sporting events; carved jack-o-lanterns to deliver to other ward members; and visited Christmas light displays. Recently they sponsored a slide show competition. At the beginning of one month, each home evening group was given film and the assignment to come up with a slide show that told a story. Group members brainstormed ideas, then shared the responsibilities of taking pictures and putting the show together. During a Friday activity at the end of the month, all the groups screened their shows, and the audience chose its favorite.
Members of the Champaign Second Ward—a University of Illinois student ward in the Champaign Illinois Stake—make opportunities to meet with other LDS singles groups in the area. Last fall, for example, the ward hosted the Purdue University Branch singles at a talent show and audio scavenger hunt after a U of I-Purdue football game in Champaign. Area and regional conferences have also provided chances to mingle with other singles.
Because there are few Young Single Adults in the Rockingham Branch, Fayetteville North Carolina Stake, Steve Haymore says that they take every opportunity to attend stake and regional activities. The drive to such activities is often long, so the branch singles go as a group whenever possible. LDS singles in their region sponsor activities every other month—cookouts, temple trips, testimony meetings, and square dances. To balance the responsibility and the amount of travel required for everyone, each stake is assigned to plan one activity a year.
Lisa Johnson, of Salt Lake City, feels that though ward, stake, and regional activities are helpful, “you can’t rely on them completely to plan your social life. You have to take some initiative, make friends in lots of places, plan your own activities.”
One of the most successful activities Lisa has initiated is the “lunch bunch,” a group of single people who meet together for lunch each Friday. “We started out by inviting people we knew from our ward and from our offices, then they started asking people they knew,” says Lisa. The group goes to a different restaurant each week; they decide each Friday where the next lunch will be held, then pass the word throughout the week.
Lisa thinks the group is successful because “You have a set amount of time; it’s not as if you’re committing an entire evening. Also, it’s easier to talk to people if you’re sitting next to them than if you had to approach them in another situation.”
Lisa also enjoys holding parties at her home. She invites friends from different areas and encourages those she invites to bring friends. She makes sure there are several outgoing people who can “carry the party” and that there are plenty of opportunities for conversation. Another of her secrets? “Make the activity sound exciting so people won’t want to miss it.”
Carolyn Meyer, of the San Jose Ninth Ward, Saratoga California Stake, finds that it helps to let others know that she would enjoy participating in an activity with them. “Recently a friend at work was going to take her kids to see a movie,” she says. “I said, ‘I want to see that movie, but I feel strange standing in line to go to a cartoon.’ She invited me to go along. Another time, a friend told me that she and her husband had been to a rodeo. I mentioned that I love rodeos but didn’t know anyone else who did. We later attended one together.”
This kind of initiative should continue after the groundwork for a friendship has been laid. Carolyn invites new friends to her home or offers to show them around town. Other singles get new acquaintances’ telephone numbers, plan to get together with them again in the near future, or invite them to an upcoming group activity.
Mary Cannon, of the Minneapolis First Ward, Minneapolis Minnesota Stake, feels that there’s no need to restrict her circle of friends only to members of the Church. She enjoys associating with nonmembers, but doesn’t feel comfortable going to some of the places they frequent. So she invites them to do something both she and they can enjoy—perhaps attending a play or a concert. Last winter she invited her co-workers to go ice skating at a lake near her home, then to go to her home for dinner and a movie.
Outings don’t always have to be planned in advance. Impromptu activities give you a chance to involve people other than your regular crowd. Because he is a busy pre-med student at the University of Illinois in Urbana, David Mooth finds much of his socializing is impromptu. For example, since several people in his ward (the Champaign Second) are involved in an orchestra, he and other ward members sometimes plan spur-of-the-moment excursions to their friends’ concerts.
Many single adults have found that regular service in the Church and their communities lets them meet others and see a side of those people they may not see at a social gathering.
Many singles find that getting to know those they work with in Church assignments—on a ward, stake, or regional level—is good opportunity to make friends from other areas.
Carolyn Meyer has made many friends because she has made the effort to help with Church service projects and fundraising activities. “Even though I sometimes didn’t know anyone when I first started going,” she says, “now I know everyone in my ward and many people in my stake. I never feel like I’m by myself at Church anymore.”
In David Mooth’s ward, the single ward members occasionally plan free baby-sitting evenings for the married members. They announce the night a few weeks in advance so that couples have time to plan something special. The singles meet at the LDS institute building—where they have access to the kitchen, a video recorder for showing cartoons, and the nursery toy closet—and spend an enjoyable evening getting to know one another while they play with the children.
Of course, the most important reason for serving is the opportunity to help. But an added benefit of service, especially community service, is the opportunity to get to know people you probably wouldn’t meet otherwise. Mike Prusse’s sister Kathleen has made good friends through her work with the Junior Symphony Guild, and Mike has enjoyed his participation in a regional choir. There are dozens of other good options: for example, working on political campaigns or volunteering at a youth detention center.
Claudia Howard of Arlington, Virginia, believes in self-reliance in her social life—using her own imagination. But once she has exhausted her options, she doesn’t mind going to friends for help. She asks: “Who do you know that you could line me up with for a date or invite to dinner at one of our homes?”
John Pyne’s friends in the St. Louis area often introduce each other to new people. “People in the ward will say, ‘I have a friend who is really outgoing and crazy like you are. I’d like you to meet her.’ Or maybe I’ll say, ‘Come out to volleyball. There’s this guy I’m bringing from work you might want to get to know.’ Everybody helps everybody else.”
Letting others know that you want to meet other single people need not be awkward. “Don’t act as if you have a problem, but let them know that you are interested,” says Lisa Johnson. “Jokingly say, ‘Do you have any friends or cousins? There’s nothing for me to do around here. You’ve got to help me out!’ Even though these line-ups don’t always pan out, at least you’ve made new friends.”
Claudia Howard believes that one of the biggest problems in life—including social life—is that “we’re looking for temporal answers to spiritual problems. We say, ‘There is a commandment to get married, and I need to do this and this in order to do it.’ Here’s the temporal answer: We rush to a bunch of dances, or we ward-hop, or we go to different single social scenes.”
But one woman Claudia knows took a different approach. She would pray and tell Heavenly Father what she was doing to keep herself worthy and prepared for marriage. Then she’d ask if she just needed to be patient with her singleness, or if there were changes she should make in her life in order to change her situation. “That’s a spiritual solution to a spiritual problem,” Claudia says.
Our Father in Heaven can give us the courage to talk to others, the motivation to try something new, or the desire to go out of our way when we just don’t feel like it. And he can comfort us when our efforts don’t turn out quite as we had hoped.
Many single adults have learned that no matter how many activities they attend, how many community projects they are involved in, or how many times they ask Heavenly Father for help, they must make the effort to interact with others in comfortable, positive ways. LaPriel Christiansen, of the Hamilton Ward, Cincinnati Ohio North Stake, says, “You’ve got to make it happen. A lot of people feel that they’re not a part of things because they don’t get involved themselves—they don’t make any effort.”
Developing friendships with new people can be intimidating, especially if you’re shy, but Lisa Johnson has an answer: “Forget about yourself and concentrate on making the other person feel comfortable. Ask them questions about themselves. And when you introduce them to others, try to include something about them that will start a conversation.”
Steve Haymore starts conversations by asking basic questions about a person’s work, where she is from or what his family is like. Then he tries to expand on responses by bringing in something he can relate to. He has also found that giving sincere compliments often helps others feel more at ease.
Claudia Howard makes a point of being the one to extend herself when she meets someone new. “Having felt your warmth, those people will want to respond when they see you later,” she says. “But don’t expect the friendship to fall in place the second time; it may take several times. When you don’t get a favorable response at first, the natural thing is to withdraw; but you have to go 100 percent if it takes five times.”
LaPriel Christiansen stresses that after you have talked to someone, you need to remember what the person told you. That information will not only help you to start a conversation the next time you meet, it will show you care about what he or she said.
By concentrating on developing friendships first, Mary Cannon has found that if dating follows later, it is more comfortable. “There’s no nervous first date or wondering if the guy is going to call you back,” she says. Mike Prusse agrees: “The person that you end up marrying should be your best friend—not someone you’ve dated only a few times.”
One sister stresses that we need to learn to make the effort to be friendly. She starts conversations with people on the elevator, clerks in stores, those next to her in line. She especially tries not to discount people just because she isn’t interested in dating them; she doesn’t want to miss opportunities for good friendships.
“The more true friends you have, the happier you’ll be”—both now and in the eternities, says Steve Haymore. “By being truly interested in others, we’re becoming more Christlike.” And LaPriel Christiansen says that though it’s a risk to try to meet people, “it’s worth it to have friends who will love you, support you, and teach you.”
One sister tells of a lesson she learned recently, after a painful breakup with a man she had dated for some time. “I was moping around at home, at work, and at church, letting everyone know how miserable I felt,” she says. “After a few days, I realized that I was really no fun for me to be around—and if I didn’t like being with myself, how could anyone else like being with me? I decided I’ve got to be the kind of person I want to know if I expect to have friends. So I’m working on being more cheerful, more outgoing, and more interested in others than I am in myself.”
Mary Cannon says that she is interested in people “who want to become better, to learn new things.” She believes that enjoying life and continually developing herself are crucial to making herself more attractive to others.
We meet new people and enlarge our circle only when we make the effort to be involved, to initiate friendships, to be a pleasant person to associate with. We can go to friends, family, and our Father in Heaven for help with our social lives, but the major responsibility rests with us. It is sometimes hard—but every effort becomes easier. And the resulting friendships will enrich our lives not only now, but throughout eternity.