I have two stories for you. Both happened when Jeff and I were new in a strange city, recently married, and looking to make new friends.
The first couple asked us over for dinner, and we were elated. When we arrived, dinner was in the oven, the house was impeccably clean, the table was set, and we sat on the couch across from them, hands folded, waiting for the casserole to cook, and ran out of conversation in about 15 minutes.
The second couple asked us over to barbeque one Sunday afternoon. When we got there, the guy had an entire grill’s worth of parts spread out on the grass in front of their patio. “I just bought this,” he told my husband. “You wanna help me start putting it together?” Jeff is an engineer and makes great conversation, but it’s a huge effort for him with new people, and I saw the delight spread visibly across his face at this idea. I went into the house with the wife and asked, “What can I help you get started?” She had salad stuff ready and asked if I would cut it up. With our hands busy, we found lots to chat about, and occasional silence seemed natural. By the time dinner was ready we knew this was the beginning of a very real friendship.
When you clean every crumb and dust molecule from your house before someone comes over, when you have every vegetable cut and every dish laid, it feels like, “You are a guest!” When someone asks you to help prep dinner, or find a good song to play, or check if the chicken looks done, it feels like, “You’re a friend.”
I think women hesitate to invite each other into their homes because they think there’s a standard that’s supposed to be met – a level of clean, a level of cooking – you’re “entertaining.” But the weird truth is that the more perfect the house and the lunch, the more awkward it often is. When you throw some bread and cold cuts on the counter, when there are some dirty dishes in the sink and some toys scattered around, your new friend can breathe a sigh of relief. No one is expecting perfection from anyone, here – we’re just hanging out and eating sandwiches.
If having people over is hard for you, try this. Leave some of the chopping or dinner assembly, and when your new friends offer to help, let them. Here’s a secret – people don’t usually ask this because they feel obligated – they usually ask because they’re desperate to do something with their hands. Takes the pressure off. Get some frozen dough and jarred sauce and a bunch of toppings and let people make their own pizzas. Get some fun cocktail items and everyone look up recipes for mojitos together.
Think outside the box, and get creative. Find something that feels like a good first step. It definitely doesn’t have to be assembling a grill.
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If you need more inspiration for having friends over and using an activity to break the ice, learn more about making a craft together is the perfect fit!