Moving to a city as large and fast-paced as DC, as well, can make for a pretty overwhelming adventure in some cases. There are a hundred books about starry-eyed twenty-somethings making it in New York, but what about farther south?
So, you’ve moved to DC – probably to take a job, so we won’t go into that here – but how can you grab hold of all the opportunities the city has to offer, when you’ve left your friends, family, and network behind in your old town? It’s not as much fun to bike along the Potomac or show up at the Kennedy Center in black tie for the opera alone. You need people, and the DC Metro area has over five-and-a-half million of them. You just have to go out and find them.
Short of accosting people on the sidewalks and offering to buy them coffee, or pestering your new coworkers every weekend to come to your tiny apartment to drink Pabst and watch Breaking Bad, what are good ways to get to know people and have some fun in the DC area? Been there, done that. Here’s what you do:
Pluck the threads of your old networkYour old friends have friends, and they have friends and they have friends. Get in touch with friends, family, former coworkers, and people from high school and college to ask if they know anyone in DC. Chances are someone does. Even if it’s your college roommate’s step-sister’s cousin’s brother-in-law’s best friend, that’s still a connection. Tenuous, but a connection. A good friend of mine from graduate school set me up on a “friend date” with her middle-school buddy and now the friend-of-friend and I have a lovely pal-mance going on. We paint pottery together, throw Downton Abbey parties at her place, and I’m her dog’s new auntie.
Also, get to know people outside your age cluster. One of my first good friends in DC was a friend of my mother, who shares a love of art museums with me. We have lunch together and she knows all the best shops and restaurants, so I don’t have to trust the Yelpers exclusively when I need something to wear or a place for good brunch. Not every new friend needs to be the kind who’ll go dance until last call at El Centro with you. Getting to know people outside of your age group will give you a wider range of experiences.
Join something other than Netflix
If you have an interest, there’s a group for that. If you have no interests whatsoever, there’s probably a group for that, too. What language did you study in school? Isn’t it time to dust that off? Take a conversational language course; it’s a perfect way to meet people, because you already have something in common and you’re all expected to talk to each other and ask getting-to-know-you questions. Just not in English.
If you’re a Francophile, there’s the Alliance Française, which offers French classes and cultural activities. There are two locations, one in Dupont on Wyoming Avenue and one on 7th Street in the Penn Quarter. If you got pretty far in Spanish, there are places to go even further, like Spanish Blackbelt or the Spanish courses at the USDA’s Graduate School near L’Enfant Plaza.
Hey, the Cherry Blossom Festival was pretty awesome; how about Japanese lessons? The Japan-America Society of Washington, DC is right in the center of the action in the Golden Triangle on L Street, and there are always Japanese language classes and culture-sharing opportunities. Want to learn how to cook a Japanese dish or two? Check. Learn how to put on a kimono? Done. Hear a lecture on Japanese politics or join a pub quiz night? Hey, there’s something for everyone. Fans of Japanese cinema can go around the corner to the Japan Information and Culture Center to catch the monthly film (with subtitles, never fear).
Because of the embassies scattered throughout town, there are some amazing opportunities to learn about foreign countries in the comfort of your own neighborhood.
Speaking of…Check out the embassies
Passport DC in the spring is the biggest and most concentrated opportunity to get to know the various embassies, since you can dart in and out of many of the embassies all day for two consecutive weekends. That isn’t your only chance, though, since many of the embassies have cultural outreach and organize events and gatherings. So if you miss the nation where you studied abroad in college or backpacked for a month, head down to the embassy of that nation and start asking questions.
Restart Your resolution to buff up or slim down
Yeah, it’s July. We’ve all completely abandoned our New Year’s resolutions to get fit and here half the year is gone already. How about a July resolution, then? It’s never too late and every day is a special occasion. You could just join a gym, but that’s not the best way to meet people as you’re getting ripped. Think about it: you’re in a big room on your own treadmill and everyone is wearing ear buds and craning to see one of the twelve flat screens on the wall. The cute person across the room is totally oblivious to you trying to catch their eye.
Instead, find a team to join (you might even get your own special t-shirt!) or a club or circle for solo-sport lovers. I was walking past a running shoe store on a Saturday afternoon, spotted a group of neon-clad runners milling around outside, and got curious. Turns out, the shoe store organizes group runs in the neighborhood. Now, I’m not a runner myself, but if I were, I’d be out there in screaming-green shoes in a heartbeat.Tennis is super social and perfectly suited for meeting people. Google around and find a casual tennis circle. If you have a park or neighborhood church with a baseball diamond, ask around for softball or baseball teams you can join. The last time I went to the local polling station to vote, I was approached by a neighbor recruiting for a softball team that played on the diamond right outside!
If you already have one of those pesky gym memberships and feel obligated to use it (but what for?), try taking classes instead of simply hopping on a machine and peddling away all by yourself. In a class, no one is wearing earbuds and there’s plenty of down time before and after to talk to the people on either side of you. Guys, listen up: go to yoga classes. I’m telling you, no joke. A room full of women in tight clothing. See what I’m saying?
Do something nice for the community and yourself
You’ll be amazed at the variety of people who volunteer and the multiplicity of volunteer opportunities. I volunteered at the Cherry Blossom Festival and met a bunch of awesome people in the process. Granted, I didn’t go out and build a homeless shelter with my bare hands, but I achieved my goals of making some new friends and helping run a fun event for DC-ites to enjoy.
For those of us hungry to help more than once a year, there are websites that list opportunities in the area. I haven’t tried them out myself, but you might see me out there if you end up volunteering: volunteermatch.org, serve.dc.gov, or (I’m squirming a teeny bit as I think of trying this one) the Single Volunteers of DC at svdc.org. Or, why not blend exercise and community service by becoming a Bike Ambassador with the Washington Area Bicyclist Association, at waba.org?
The traditional route: Bars and clubs
Maaaaybe you’ll have better luck than I did; I met a few people, who quickly vanished. If you’re already this far down in the list without having any luck, time to go back to the top and start again with different groups and organizations.
If you absolutely insist on taking a wingman or wingwoman and hitting up a U Street hot-spot with a long line, here’s my only advice: wear red. Everyone else is wearing black; you’ll be more visible. And if anyone of the opposite gender starts dancing with you, then asks if you work out, the answer is yes.
Meeting people online
You are going to completely and utterly disbelieve the next sentence. I’ve never tried online dating and I know barely a thing about it. Sure, I know people who met their now-spouses online and I know people who have breathtaking, record-breaking bad date stories because of Match.com and OKCupid.com, but I’ve been too chicken to fling myself into that whirlpool yet. If you’ve got the hustle, please go right ahead. I’ll be in the kiddie pool of meetup.com with the other avid hobbyists.
So, whether you’re new to town or just looking to expand outward a little, the key is to find ways to partake of activities and experiences you enjoy while finding people who like the same things. Sit down with your inner nerd for a minute and ask, “What is it that you get all jazzed up about? What could you go do for hours?”
Once you figure out what you already like to do or are really excited to try, ask around and hunt around online for ways to do that activity in a social setting. It can be as elaborate as dressing up in Japanese animation costumes and going to a Cosplay convention, as adventurous as group sky-diving, or as simple and quiet as joining a knitting circle. People do all of these things for essentially the same reason: to find a sense of community to go along with their personal interests. The danger level is just a little different between them, but you can’t have an adventure without a bit of risk, right?
As for me, I’ll pass on cliff-hanging and highspeed car chasing, but if that’s your kind of thing, power to you. Go knock yourself out!
Hey, got a great idea for an opportunity to connect? Tried something that worked out really well? Leave your story in the comment box! I’d love to hear from you.