TED Conversations

Lisa Cook

President and Founder, Plan B Connections

This conversation is closed.

How do you build offline meaningful social connections?

There are many life transitions which trigger the necessity to make new friends- a geographic move, retirement, new job, divorce, etc. How does one establish meaningful friendships - relationships where you both are able to talk about what's really happening in your life rather than Facebook-type status updates?

The US and other nations are seeing an increase in the numbers of people living alone and studies are showing increased loneliness in society as a whole- it affects people regardless of age and marital status. For all those seeking meaningful social connections and stronger social ties, this is an important question. I think building social capital is very important. What is the glue that makes for meaningful social connections?

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Closing Statement from Lisa Cook

I was fortunate to have the chance to share my story at TEDxMahtomedi!

Hope you'll watch my talk and share your ideas on making meaningful connections. Let's keep the conversation going!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KRVjj02BxEk

Lisa Cook

  • Mar 6 2013: Find a cause you agree with.

    Attend one meeting.

    You will suddenly find youself connected with a lot of like-minded folk, who you are off to a good start with because they know you are one of them, on Topic X anyway...

    Rinse

    Lather

    Repeat...

    :)
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    Mar 2 2013: Facebook doesn't help building connections, it helps self centrism. It is all about how we LOOK and how we SOUND and how entertaining we are. The status are about how happy, lucky, intellectual, successful... we are. That's why when someone tries to bring this to the real world they will not be able to form connections. Because in the real world this is not admired nor appreciated.

    I think having common interests that are disassociated from me or the other person, openness, understanding, compassion and altruism is what build good connections in real world.

    I don't think loneliness is a bad thing. In fact I believe that it is better than being involved in communities that give one a hard time. Human interaction is good to some degree, but when it starts shaping the person and taking away their originality it is not good at all.

    I dont know if i am saying this because I am a loner myself. It is just how things seem to me!
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    Mar 2 2013: Time, effort and a feeling of self worth...
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    Feb 17 2013: Lisa,

    What a heartening question to hear.

    I'd wager a majority of people seek meaningful relations and, if not, intentionally engage them, would certainly welcome them--beyond, as you note, cyberspace.

    I think there are two or three primary Qs to ask first: Why, Where and Who? Once these are known, the How?, in my view is actually really easy.

    First, the Why? Why do want meaningful connections? Because I'm lonely, bored, want to step out of my normal circles, need to change companions, want to share specific activities with others interested in the same or new to the area? The answer will inform the next two Qs, of course.

    Once you've got an idea of these, making the connections themselves is as easy as asking questions. Most people enjoy sharing bits of themselves, as long as they feel the other person's curiosity is sincere. In the process of dialoguing with each other, you'll discover what if any shared interests you have. From these you can deeper your discussion to orient around them in more meaningful ways. And, if all goes well, agree to stay in touch -- maybe plan to catch up at the same place sometime and continue the dialogue.

    This 'technique' can be expanded to bring more people into your fold, using roughly the same process. I've found when meaningful connections occur, where both parties recognize how nice they are, they are interests in intentionally extrapolating the effect and bringing others in where apropos, to share in relationship building.

    And, if for any 'breaking the ice' sounds too daunting, you might consider three more things:
    First is that it is likely that nearly everyone at different times has wished to have a meaningful connection around shared interests. Second, that nearly all people feel some reluctance to risk reaching out, but someone has to 'make the first' move. And, Third: you are not only doing yourself a favor, you are also giving someone who might well appreciate it, some attention.

    Andrea
    • Feb 18 2013: I agree with the three primary Qs to ask in narrowing down to how we build meaningful social connections.

      A few years ago (when I was immature), I had a lot of friends, different groups of friends that I meet in different occasions. I had fun of course, but at the end of the day, I felt so hollow. Spending so much money just to spend time with these different people and all we did were talk about other people's lives, what's the latest fashion and where the next party was. And when I was in need of someone sensible to talk with when I felt so down, I could only count a few people that I was comfortable spending time with. I had reached the point that I realized I had to be more matured in spending time with my friends. I could still be friendly and meet new people but I should also think of which kind of friendship is healthy to me.

      So, yes. I have the answers to Why? - It's no longer healthy spending so much time and money for a shallow friendship who was only there when I had money or whenever I had something good to offer them. Who? - My real friends who are there when I'm happy and sad. People who truly care about me and are there to listen to my problems or just there to share sensible thoughts with me.

      The answers to where and how will follow. Because of our busy or different schedules, I am already satisfied to meet with them once or twice a month for a coffee, lunch or dinner. And we get to spend a couple of hours talking about what's new in our lives and our plans to unwind the next time we meet. Sometimes, if our schedule and money permit, we get to spend a night by the beach or drinking a few bottles of beer. And at the end of the day, I know I have spent my time well with the people who truly matter to me.
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    Feb 15 2013: I find frequency of interaction to be more important than most people want to admit. There's a subtle difference between friends you keep updated on what's going on in your life versus friends who ARE what's going on in your life, and that distinction can really be as simple as how often you see them. It can be hard to make a social effort for even our favorite people when we're feeling busy, stressed or tired, but for me this is the biggest reason to make the effort anyway -- I want my friends to stay actively a part of my life, and not just in the know.
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    Feb 14 2013: Important question. The pathways will be different depending on where a person lives, how mobile a person is, and how outgoing.

    In some places people can join in pre-existing communities with those who share their interests. Churches, book groups, and craft circles are examples.

    Volunteering in an organization often brings a person in contact with others with similar values and interests.

    Some locations have public programs that people can attend toll free or for a nominal fee. For example, where I live there are community centers and senior programs, free lecture series at the museum and at colleges and universities, and so forth.

    None of these immediately leads to deep social connections, but contact with people with similar interests or values is a first step.
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      Feb 15 2013: I agree, Fritzie. Activities surrounding shared interests are very important, especially those that make you feel comfortable and in your element. As a kid, I always had trouble making friends on vacation because I wasn't very athletic, and swimming and bike riding weren't my strong suits, whereas I made friends very easily at school because I loved learning and was so confident and engaged. I think it's helpful to know what kinds of environments make you feel like you're the person who can reach out, and what kinds of environments make you feel as though others have to reach out to you.
  • Mar 1 2013: Respect,love,patience,tolerance those are the glues to make meaningful social connections.they are all built by education.That's why we need to keep on learning lifelong.
  • Feb 22 2013: Hi Mary, Yes, I live in the states. I am open, unless something intense is going on, almost always. Why would I wear a mask ?
    The paradox I encounter living is multi-dimensional. When one has been hurt deeply, one may adopt the wall. (to protect oneself ,one thinks) There is a behaviorialist that stated people with walls are self-destructive.One misses life's pain and joy, intensity and peace, etc, when one is protecting themselves. He also said the healthiest people are truly spontaneous. (Dr. Robert Firestone). How often have you met a stranger and talked for an hour, or two ? Rumi said there are friends we haven't met.
    I find face to face exchange crucial to my world. What many of us are going through in the USA, I believe is so clear.At times,it does appear to me that more people are speaking to each solely as goal oriented. A conversation of substance requires an intrinsic desire to know another. We all may get hurt or disappointed. The garden may not have as many flowers, which makes even one beautiful person stand out even more. My Mom used to bring the mailman in for coffee. I was a milkman and people actually left their door unlocked so I could put the milk in their refrigerator. Now try to find someone who looks in your eyes.
  • Feb 17 2013: Social media cannot replace real-world relationships,in my own opinion,I think that social media connections aren’t analogous to real-life connections,but I have to say that you can also meet wonderfully amazing people via Twitter,Facebook,etc that I consider friends.

    I'm wondering if the number of people I communicate with regularly in real life is outnumbered by those that I have on social sites.

    But again definitely social media creates many weaker connections compared to those in real life.Anyway this was interesting post!
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    Feb 14 2013: I think the concept of dating sites have somewhat of the right idea.
    You talk to someone online and then you meet,
    and seeing as meeting is the ultimate meaningful social connection, it seems like a good idea to be on a site where you can talk to people with the intention of meeting.
    • Feb 17 2013: I was thinking along your lines as soon as I read the conversation starter. Perhaps the problem is also the answer? Internet dating from what I hear actually works. & in theory(not sure if its true) improves your chances of meeting someone compatible, than by chance coming across a match that good out in the real world.

      Perhaps the likes of Facebook could be harnessed by those interested in finding friends, perhaps very compatible ones at that! I'm considering as I speak, creating a facebook page dedicated to those who want to get OFF Facebook in my town :)
      • Feb 18 2013: "Perhaps the likes of Facebook could be harnessed by those interested in finding friends, perhaps very compatible ones at that! I'm considering as I speak, creating a facebook page dedicated to those who want to get OFF Facebook in my town :) "

        Great idea. I definitely despise the depersonalizing effect Facebook seems to have, it 'caricaturizes' experiences, transforming them into this quasi-type existence.

        Don't get me wrong, it's a fantastic tool (its praise is exaggerated in my opinion) that has allowed people to transmit ideas and manage relationships at a remarkable pace... but it should be a means to an end rather than the end itself. Virtual living cannot replace the authenticity of natural experience, they are polar opposites and impermeable to one another in the most basic sense; one is 'conceptual' the other is physical.
    • Mar 9 2013: Could it also be that too much focus on trying to meet person/persons to resolve your loneliness or fad itself exploits you to a level at what you are not................observed that ultimately you rarely settle, its just by chance and have to keep up the portrayal else its self defeating.....

      Having a look at the advts itself conveys the shallowness, the pleasure of making genuine effort to build on a chance / meet is more worthy, irrespective of the ultimate outcome.
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    Mar 4 2013: Get a giant hat in the shape of a pirate ship. If by the time you leave wherever it was you went to meet people and they're are not cheering for the awesome person with the crazy pirate ship hat, something is terribly wrong. At which point
    I'd advise you to not throw chairs at people, punch them, or talk about your bowel movements. Refrain from those types of actions and wear the pirate ship hat (or something equally ridiculous) and there's no reason why you shouldn't have made at least 10 friends.
  • Feb 19 2013: I belive that Facebook is actually not a good way to comunicate your feelings toward someone or something becasue of the mis comunication and false acusations that could be precived when reading a status. Even now, as you read this post, you don't know wether or not I am happy or just plain annoyed. But that shoudnt draw people away from the aspect of going out and making friends. I see facebook as a place to help connect people and share ideas or places of interest. But when you want to create a meaningful relationship, don't go cyber. One on One, Face to Face interactions actually help you really get to have a close relationship with someone, you can see there facial expressions, hear the tone in there voice, and may or may not create a bond that will last. This is more important because it helps you really know the pearson instead of guessing what he or she is meaning when on the web. Also moving and creating new friends is a GREAT way to create social connections. When you move, you can take what you have learned from your old friends and build it upon your new friends. Thus, creating a better relationship.
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    Feb 19 2013: For me, the glue is rock-solid honesty along with compassion. I know who truly loves and cares about me. On the flip-side, 'they' know I care when I am talking to 'them' about something uncomfortable - if I didn't, I wouldn't bother.
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    Feb 18 2013: On a second thought, if I may add something interesting here.
    The part of the country where I was born and currently live there is a cultural thing called 'Adda' (a Bengali word). Adda is a hangout with a difference where the central focus is discussion of anything imaginable from current affairs to philosophy. Adda is deeply ingrained in Bengali psyche such that anybody belonging to this culture will give a hand or a foot to be participating in one almost everyday. This is also looked at as a negative trait of Bengali intellect and criticized as a lazy and pompous waste of time.
    However, the most intriguing part of adda is its composition of participation which is hotchpotch of genders, social status, age groups and individuals. This is a great source from where people of Bengali culture strike meaningful relationship.
    Interestingly, Indian culture of festivals (called Mela in Hindi having its root in the sanskrit word Milan meaning meeting) actually started with the idea of fostering the spirit of meeting between people and communities. It is quite close to the western tradition of Carnivals but different in the sense that venues for Melas are fixed geolocally.
    • Feb 22 2013: We could use Adda here.
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        Feb 23 2013: Try it. Find a park, a bench or a neighbor's place. Nobody hosts, everyone pools money or food and drink. Be careful not to pick and choose a participant - all are welcome. And talk freely. Best of luck.
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    Feb 18 2013: Live from your heart not from your mind only. Then you can connect with people any where you are. We live toooooo fast with crowded schedules to allow us to live from the heart. I have chosen to slow down and live not in alignment with societies industrial pace but more slowly and with less pressure on myself to meet the artificial goals as set by society. Hope this helps
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    Feb 14 2013: Well, the best friendships I've formed recently have been with immediate neighbors, either living in my apartment building or, in one case, on the next street. I guess one has to be inviting, like in one case I invited a neighbor to go for a walk, in another case I kept running into this neighbor walking on the street so I asked if I could accompany him, in a third case I may have invited a neighbor in to talk, or perhaps he invited me in. Inviting someone on a walk might be good because it's free, there's no awkwardness over who pays.
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    Mar 14 2013: Thank you for contributing your ideas and strategies to this conversation. It was a meaningful online connection!

    To share ideas and thoughts after this conversation closes, please email me directly.

    May your life be filled with meaningful social connections!
    Lisa Cook
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    Mar 12 2013: It takes time and effort to make friends, so be patient, try socializing, I have savant syndrome, and aspergers but still managed to make friends through effort.
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    Mar 9 2013: Let me explain my experience. We live in a very small country, we are 70.000 people, yes smaller than your neighborhood. Our TEDx organizer group started from a twitter conversation. We decided to go offline and meet for a coffee, That was the spark. our first bay step to start walking together, then we decided that we wanted to organize our first TEDx . This friendship trip started with a common project. We didn't have something in common to start with, just twitter talks. We have done 4 TEDx event for our community.
    My advise, if I may, Create a purpose and be yourself. That works.and give baby steps one by one, don't hurry
    We had people that joined us at the beginning and they left, but a great good of people keep working together and being friends. Without this common action we would have never become friends
  • Mar 8 2013: Small groups. There is a sense of foreboding anonymity in large cities. It's much harder to make meaningful connections with people when it's incredibly rare to see the same person twice at a public venue within a given year. Making friends with coworkers or neighbors is the most viable option.
  • Mar 4 2013: Everyone is always saying how teens these days don't know how to have meaningful relationships or even conversations because they are always stuck behind a screen. I think this is a very pessimistic and narrow-minded view that ignores the meaning online social connections can add. Yes, teens need more practice face to face, as these sorts of interactions aren't going away. However, as the world is evolving, relationships are too, and this isn't necessarily for the worse. With facebook, we can stay connected with friends, sustaining lasting relationships, as long as we use these social networks responsibly and sparingly. We can even make connections like these, discussing ideas on Ted.com that are beginning to shape the world! Do you believe that this may be a new era of relationships and social connections, or that social networking is a fad that is a detriment to face to face conversation?
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      Mar 4 2013: Have you watch this talk by Sherry Turkle?
      http://www.ted.com/talks/sherry_turkle_alone_together.html
      Turkle has researched the matter and provides more than an unsupported opinion. Perhaps you can reply more specifically to Turkle's concerns.
      • Mar 4 2013: Turkle argues that the reason we are afraid of conversation is that it is uncontrollable. With texting, emailing, and the like, we are able to edit what we say so that we can present our best possible self. We are always seeking more control in our lives and in our world, but when does this control backfire? It seems it has with the teenage boy who texts all the time but earnestly wants to learn how to have a conversation.
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          Mar 4 2013: Your assertion is that Increased connectedness equates to an evolved form of relationship, while Turkle's well argued postion is that we are connected, via technology, but alone. The trend toward being alone, and indeed lonely is well documented.
          Findings that " Parents text and do email at breakfast and at dinner while their children complain about not having their parents' full attention. But then these same children deny each other their full attention." does not support the position that "the world is evolving, relationships are too, and this isn't necessarily for the worse."
          Turkle says, "We expect more from technology and less from each other." and then asks, "Why has it come to this?" for which the only answer is that technology is addictive and we merely justify the addiction and filter our lives through it.
          Again Turkle says, "I believe it's because technology appeals to us most where we are most vulnerable. And we are vulnerable. We're lonely, but we're afraid of intimacy. And so from social networks to sociable robots, we're designing technologies that will give us the illusion of companionship without the demands of friendship. We turn to technology to help us feel connected in ways we can comfortably control. But we're not so comfortable. We are not so much in control."

          "How do you build offline meaningful social connections?" is the question Turkle is also asking. We shouldn't abandon technology, but need to be thinking about whether we are using it in the best ways.
          "Human relationships are rich and they're messy and they're demanding. And we clean them up with technology. And when we do, one of the things that can happen is that we sacrifice conversation for mere connection. We short-change ourselves."
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    Mar 4 2013: Go out.

    Online can help you to find people with common interests.
    Less FB more Google groups.
    Go out and gather.

    Remember friendship takes time.
    Do not filled up others with your problems from the start.
    Baby steps, from shallow to friendship
    Good luck
  • Mar 3 2013: I think it's hysterical ... and sad ... that the word "offline" has to be stated here :) (as i have to put a sto0pid emoticon into my thoughts to show i am not as snide as it might seem without it.

    Easy answer: move to the South. But for godsakes don't tell them you're a Yankee! Southerners are very open and easy to talk to. I talk to everyone. Ive never met a stranger. So part of this is foreign to me.

    Hard answer... no, not an answer, per se, but a muddled thought... there's meeting a potential romantic partner... that i have failed at for -egads!-8 years now!! So from that angle i can see the plight of those who would rather be gorgeous and flirty in, say Second Life, then have to face real people as they really are.

    I've heard the Frozen Food section in a supermarket is good hunting grounds... or a laundromat. Sigh...
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    Mar 1 2013: All,
    I've been enjoying reading your wonderful comments and ideas - great food for thought! Thank you!

    What role do you think chemistry and openness play in developing meaningful social connections?

    There are people we meet with whom we have an instant rapport - the conversation flows very easily - and there are people we can know for years with whom that flow never develops, though we might have similar interests.

    I grew up and lived most of my life in a city where it was easier to meet people with whom I clicked. Social circles were fluid - both natives and transplants were open to meeting new people because the area had a very high percentage of people moving into and out of the area. For example, my high school friends and I all left for college and none of us live there anymore. 

    Now I live in the upper Midwest where I find it more challenging to make close friends. Most people (70% according to Pew Research) are natives. It seems most have lived here their whole lives and their social circles go back to grade school. Transplants like myself find that most natives aren't actively seeking new connections because their social "dance cards" are already filled. :)

    Transplants here typically find that their closest friends are other transplants - perhaps that's the best strategy. We have an actively growing Transplants Meetup group with 1300 members - a great start.

    So I'm interjecting two factors into our thread: 1) chemistry and 2) openness and availability to making new (offline) social connections. Any thoughts?
    Lisa
    • Mar 7 2013: While improvement in technology has made it incredibly easy for us to "connect" with people, I think it's subconsciously suppressing our inherent need to build a network of people around us who are like-minded and share our interests. To answer your second question, the inertia of making new friends is huge so, even if people are lonely, they prefer a "social" life vicariously (through FB, online chat groups, etc.). If they can get over that little hump and go out once to do some activity with the locals (not drinking or dining necessarily) they'd start to realize how much better it is to make real life friendships.

      I think the answer to your first question, about Chemistry, is a bit more difficult. We often confuse chemistry with what we want to think. So, if I attend a bbq with the neighbors who are supposedly "cool", I might think I like bbq'ing and want to do it again when in fact I'd rather do something else (we do this because we so desperately want to "belong"). FB, Online chat groups give us that illusion and we can't seem to break ourselves free.
  • Feb 19 2013: What about first beginning with no online "connective relationships"?
    That might help urge one to seek the real thing instead of the phantom illusion so many fall for.
    One might even be able to use social media as a method of sorting through those you meet, to try and find a real one, meaning one worth pursuing.
    If they want to know your Twitter, FB accounts and so on, forget'em.

    I'm not one to talk (well, I actually talk or spew too much), probably because I have never had a friend in my life.
    That means no community, no one to talk to, no one to connect with. Bonding is an experience I have absolutely no idea what it feels like.
    I do notice however, that when I am out there in the world, the less I think of me and the more interest I show in others, the more people gravitate to me. At the end of the day though, I feel extreme loneliness and now realize that must have been the reason for my coming here to earth. My early childhood was painful loneliness and it has never ended. Soon it will.

    Did anyone see the film, "Into the Wild"? Based on a true story about a young man who had the emptiness, the broken or never connected connection, so bad that he gave up a successful school education and promising future along with his somewhat considerable inheritance, to head to the wild in hopes he would find what he needed. I don't think he really knew what it was. His travels throughout America on his way to Alaska brought him in contact with many people, from different walks of life, experiences and so on.
    It struck me, that before he finally reached the Alaskan wilderness where he thought he would find what he was looking for, and in fact died a horrible, painful death from both starvation (physical) and loneliness (spiritual), he found everything he needed and was looking for in the people he met, who loved him, accepted him and connected with him, but he never recognized it!
    He couldn't I guess, or he would have. That's strange.

    Isolation: the cure for loneliness
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      Feb 22 2013: It sounds like it's very hard to seek those connections if you're not quite sure what they feel like or what you're looking for. It is also my experience that the more interest I show in others, the more interest they show in me. I've always seen that as a good thing, perhaps the first way to show someone that I come in friendship rather than self-interest. But still, that vulnerability can be exhausting.

      I wish you all the best!
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    Feb 19 2013: Online interactions are usually focussed on creating and sustaining an 'image' by presenting to the world the things that are, in our perception, presentable.
    Now, this also happens in one-on-one interaction but the other party in this kind of interaction still has more opportunity to make important discoveries.

    The key to building lasting relationships is letting go of our obsession with ourselves (which we may not be aware of) and making sincere effort to discover the world of another person.
    Now, this is not easy because it cant be done by the lazy and impatient; and it cant be done by someone who has seen too many movies and expects a perfect relationship.

    One would have to be careful, no doubt about that. But if you are really sincere about caring and giving and forgiveness, then its possible.

    "If you believe, all things are possible to him that believes" -Jesus Christ (Mark 9:23)
  • Feb 17 2013: I have found one big problem is busy schedules. In my family we refer to planning get togethers as 'herding cats'. What has worked in the past for me is to get a regular meeting time on the calendar, and whoever is available gets together, rather than trying to find a pick a time that works for everyone. Otherwise one week becomes two weeks, becomes a month...and you've lost the connection.