dear Dr. abby

Step Up Your Social Life: Find Friends at Work, in the Neighborhood, and in your Family

Meaningful relationships make our lives full. This week’s advice column focuses on the right ways to make friends with your co-workers, getting to know your neighbors, and finding a friendship with your daughters.

Dear Dr. Abby,

I realize that I’m around my co-workers most of my waking hours, and I wish I had more meaningful relationships with them. How can I make this happen?

Lonely Employee

Dear Lonely Employee,

For many people, it is easy to go to work, do your job, and go back home. As humans, we long for social interaction. It feeds a certain part of a brain, and without the interaction, we suffer. We found higher levels of depression with people who have less social interaction. The vision of going to work being surrounded by people that really make your day special is a wonderful idea. How are you supposed to make this happen?

There are some things to consider before jumping in. So many people enter relationships with others because of convenience, such as seeing them every day at work. After relationships are formed, sometimes they find out these people are keeping them from their goals and bringing out a part of them that is not their best self. Then they struggle with the challenge of dealing with the negative or planning an ugly confrontation ending in a tense separation. It’s important to choose wisely before making efforts to build relationships.

If you know that your co-workers are people who would add value to your life or if you would like to know them better, take the first step by engaging in cordial conversations at work. It will take effort on your part if your co-workers are introverted. Remember that everybody has an invisible sign that says, “Make me feel important,” so if your conversations are positive and give value to your co-worker, they will be received well.

After you have built a rapport with the co-worker, as long as it’s appropriate, you may plan to go to lunch or even plan a meetup for drinks on a Friday. Remember to gauge the appropriateness of your choices. If you are in an authority position, decide whether it is appropriate for you to take one member of your team to lunch but not another. Also consider whether it is appropriate to go to lunch with a person of the opposite sex. This can be taken wrong, and it can even go in a direction that you did not expect.

Years ago, I had a coworker who was new to town. I felt bad that he didn’t know anyone and he was just getting used to the area. In the work setting, I showed him the ropes and taught him who to go to for different things. Then I wanted him to know where the best sandwich shop was for lunch. We went to lunch twice, and then one day he asked if I wanted to go to his apartment to help him make some decisions about decorating. Well, I love decorating and I would have done a good job, but there was something strange about my going to his apartment. I felt a little strange after that. I didn’t meet him for lunch anymore.

Building relationships at the office may be just as simple as helping someone carry a box, sharing a funny story about a work-related item, or talking about your favorite series on Netflix. I had a coworker that quoted lines from movies, and the two of us would laugh for hours after quoting Dana Carvey’s Master of Disguise quote, “Become another person.” Those moments of laughing turn into shared tears when her son was bullied at school, when I dealt with a lost loved one, and when she got a serious health diagnosis. It really is nice to have someone in the office down the hall to share the laughter and tears with.

What about remote work?

It’s a little harder if you are working remotely. Remember that everybody is dealing with the challenges of working alone, so reaching out to a co-worker while you are working remotely benefits both of you. After a zoom meeting, you can them an email that says, “Hey, I just wanted you to know that you brought up a fantastic point during the meeting just now.” If you know their coworker is dealing with stressful deadlines, you could send a message that says, “I know you are dealing with a lot. I wanted to tell you I’m rooting for you, and I’m here for you if there’s anything I can do from my end.” Picking up the phone and making a call to share these comments is also an effective method of reaching out and building relationship and support.

I applaud you for recognizing that there is a significant benefit from getting to know your co-workers. Remember that it’s going to take a little more effort but be intentional about connecting with others. It all starts with you.

Dear Dr. Abby,

My adult daughter is living her own life. I often get confused about my role in her life. Should I be her friend or her mother?

Mother, May I?

Dear Mother, May I,

When your children are little, it is your responsibility to guide them and direct them in all aspects of their lives. When they made mistakes, you taught them. When they made poor decisions, you provided discipline. When they fell down, you picked them up. This was your ultimate responsibility in your relationship with your children while they were children. 

When they become adults and live on their own, you watch them make mistakes and you watch them fall down, and everything inside you wants to fix the problems by telling them what to do or jumping in.

Do you remember what it was like when you were still experiencing the bumps and bruises of becoming an adult on your own? Did you like it when your parents jumped in and told you how to live your life? I know you didn’t! The problem is that now you are in this situation and you know how to handle things better than your child does. Maybe a part of you wants to save them from the negative experience of learning the hard way. If you think back, every good lesson you learned was learned the hard way. You learned about relationships by dating the wrong person, experiencing the heartache, and building your knowledge about choosing the right guy next time. Not only that, you learned how to pick yourself back up again after being hurt. Your child will not learn this until she experiences it for herself. How about dealing with toxic people or making poor financial decisions? We learned through experience, and so should your child.

When my daughter went off to college, someone told me, “For years, you were the captain of the ship, and now you become the lighthouse on the shore.” Our role as parents of adult children is to watch them live their lives and remain present for the time they will need our light.

As far as being friends, the two of you need to acquaint yourselves with each other to determine if you could be friends with each other. You would have to decide if you can step away from your doting-mother role and be someone she could laugh with, cry with, and confide in. You would also have to decide if you share the same interests. She would have to decide if you are the person who she would want to be friends with. Are you friendly or are you a power-hungry, judgmental micromanager? I don’t know anybody who wants to be friends with that kind of person. Remember that just because she is your daughter, that doesn’t mean she is required to be your friend and vice versa. If you want to be her friend, present yourself as a person who would be a good friend. It takes a lot of effort, just as it would be with any good relationship. Decide who you want to be for her, and if she decides you would be a good friend in her life, then it will happen and it will be right… and wonderful!

Dear Dr. Abby,

I have lived in this neighborhood for ten years, and I don’t really know my neighbors. Sometimes I wonder if we would have fun getting to know each other, but I’m afraid that if we don’t, we will be stuck living across the street from each other. Should I try to get to know them?
Neighbor in Need

Dear Neighbor in Need,

I know exactly what you are talking about! I have watched all the same movies and TV shows you have, where the lady from across the street comes over for morning coffee and conversations or the couples get together in their fold-up lawn chairs in the middle of someone’s driveway nursing their craft beer as they share stories about their crazy week. Is it just a dream or is it something that could actually happen in your neighborhood?

You’ve lived in this neighborhood for ten years and have not really gotten to know your neighbors. There’s a chance they may think the same thing about you: What does she do when she goes into her house? What is she like? What would it be like to hang out with her and her family? For the past ten years, all of you have had these same questions about each other. Think about this: if someone in your neighborhood had one of those July 4th cookouts and you didn’t really know them very much, you would probably go out of curiosity.

You might even be a little excited about finally getting to know these people. It might be awkward at first, but the party host would probably greet you and say, “What’s your name again?” Throughout the party, people might ask you questions and you would find out that the guy across the street is a professional angler, and the lady is an office manager at the doctor’s office near the Target that you go to. It would be a cool time!

So the question is… If no one else is planning this party, why don’t you? What do you have to lose? It’s not like you are renting out a ballroom and paying for a DJ. Make a little flyer, put it on the mailbox or door of the surrounding houses, and on the party day, put some music on and pull out your barbecue grill. You never know what will happen. If people come, you get to know neat things about them. Ask them if they would want to do this again sometime. If they end up being someone that you don’t want to be best friends with, you never have to plan another party.

You asked if you should try to get to know your neighbors, and I say that there’s no harm in getting to know them. It’s actually great to make a connection, and if you end up making some great friends, your life becomes a little brighter!

   

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