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Making friends - Martha Carr

When I was a kid, I made a lot of friends easily. I'd just strike up a conversation with whoever was sitting the closest to me in school or at lunch.

That piece of news is not going to come as a surprise to anyone who knows me at all.

It will only confirm for them that I showed up on the planet like this. I look at each new acquaintance as an interesting adventure, because I know they'll have hobbies or interests that never occurred to me that just might be fun to try. I'm very rarely wrong.

It's why I can tap dance really well, have jumped out of a plane, have participated in a lot of sweat lodges and met a few times with American Roman Catholic exorcists about a possessed house. Imagine what might happen next.

Even in college where everything was new, and I was in a city where I didn't know anyone, I still found it easy to start building a new web of friends to go hang out with and discover fun stuff to do. I'd take a look around in my classes and start saying hello and offer my name. It didn't take too long to build a new posse.

Sure, I ended up with some people that normally didn't find themselves mingling in the same group together, but that was part of the fun. I'm not looking to constantly recreate the same experiences I'm already having, and I'm willing to not only try new things but to listen to new ideas.

It didn't matter that as I got older, I was often hanging out with people who didn't see eye to eye with me politically, or were at different stages in their lives. I learned pretty early on that to be a good friend, I had to try to be honest, listen well and let it be OK that someone else sees things differently. The last one is the key ingredient that is most often missing.

However, a lot of people say that as you get older, it gets harder to meet new people.

I've moved twice in the past three years. First, I went from Virginia, to New York City, and now I'm in Chicago, where I'm hoping to hang out for quite awhile.

Both times, I arrived in large U.S. cities cold and knowing only two guys. In New York, one was a very busy distant cousin and the other an old friend. Not enough to start a new gang.

My approach to finding a solution was to first believe one was out there, and then to be willing to try a lot of new things and keep saying hello.

I went to classes on manifestation on the Upper West Side, tried meditating at a Buddhist center in Union Square, joined a women's writing organization (the WNBA) and did a lot of sailing around the island. Whenever the going felt a little lonely, I reminded myself to approach it like a kid sees things. It's all new and it'll take a little time, but it'll be OK.

Not only did I make some great friends, I've kept them all to this day. Thank goodness for Facebook, so we can stay in touch in real time.

But just as I was gaining some traction, I moved again and had to start from scratch. My twenty-something son lives here, but he has his own life, and hanging out with Mom all the time isn't in his plans.

This time I adjusted a couple of things, like I knew that I'm happier in a smaller building with decks, where it's easier to meet people than in a high rise. I started saying hello to whoever I bumped into on the first day, and invited people over. Soon enough, I had two new buddies, Emily and Mimi, who both knew where the good, cheap restaurants were in our neighborhood. "Try the Opart Thai House on Western in Lincoln Square."

This summer, I worked on the census and met even more people in my neighborhood, who I still see at the grocery store or the library. Every month, I invite some of whoever I've met over as a small group for dinner, and get the pleasure of hanging out all over again. If no one else is initiating things, I can go first, over and over again.

The end result has become that, when someone asks me, 'What's your story?' my first thought is that it's evolving and interesting and I'll let you know later. Right now, I'm too busy. More adventures to follow.

Martha's column is distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons Inc., newspaper syndicate. Her latest book is the memoir, "A Place to Call Home." www.MarthaRandolphCarr.com. E-mail Martha at: Martha@caglecartoons.com.