Thursday, April 17, 2008

A Social Life for Cheapskates

[Photo by bahman]

Checking out meetup.com was one of the best things I've ever done.

Okay, I may be a little biased--I met R. through a Meetup group. But I do think Meetup is a great resource for anyone who wants to meet new people, find others who share their interests, or just try something a little different on a boring night without dropping too much cash.

Here's how it works: search for an interest or browse through the listing of groups for your city or area. Just a few of the groups meeting in Chicago tomorrow night include New in Town, Libertarians, Pick-up Soccer, Neuroscience, several singles groups, and a "Friday playdate" for moms. When you find a group that interests you, sign up for it. When the group sets up their next event, you'll receive a notice and a request to RSVP.

Arriving at the event can occasionally be a little awkward, as you're meeting a group of strangers. Many Meetups are held at restaurants or coffee places, and the staff will know whether a Meetup is being held that day. Otherwise, just look for the other people who are either glancing around nervously or looking at the entrance as though they're waiting for somebody.

I've never been completely stood up at a Meetup, though once when R. and I had just started dating we both accidentally attended a Meetup that had been cancelled. Meetup was free when I first started going to Meetups--now the organizer of each Meetup group pays a monthly fee of about $15. At many meetups, the attendees pay the organizer $1 each to reimburse him or her.
You'll also probably want to order something to eat or drink if the Meetup takes place at a coffee shop or restaurant, but it's usually possible to keep the total to about $5--in my experience, most people don't order full meals and you won't be the only one nursing a single muffin or cup of tea.

Every group is different and every individual meeting is different because of the new mix of people.

- The very first Meetup I attended was a board game Meetup. I was thinking Scrabble and Trivial Pursuit. Instead, it was Risk and other strategy games with the guys who hang out at your local independent game shop. That particular night, the group split into several smaller groups, some playing competitive games, others teaching each other simpler games. It was a very low-pressure and friendly environment and, during a bad period in my life, the first good laugh I'd had in months.

- In Austin, Texas, I attended a livejournal Meetup. This one was unique because many of the members knew each other online, but had never met in person. There were a lot of "oh! You're cookie976?" conversations. It was held on a patio outside a sandwich shop on a beautiful fall night, and I don't think the waitress ever even came out to take an order.

- My first group of friends in Chicago grew out of the Meetup where I met R. Five of us became quite tight, with other members of the group moving in and out of our circle of acquaintance. This group became my family in Chicago--people I loved, and a few people who just annoyed me, but who all accepted me as I was. Fragments of this group (the ones who haven't moved away or lost contact with the rest of us) still get together from time to time for birthdays and holidays. Another couple also started dating and is now living together.

- The Children's Literature Meetup is the only Meetup I attend regularly right now. Children's literature is a pretty unusual interest for an adult, and I love talking to people who share my passion. The organizer is a librarian at a research library, and one of the regular attendees is a prominent scholar in the field. When the Modern Language Association meeting was in Chicago last fall, several of the speakers dropped by our Meetup. This Meetup has been an amazing opportunity for me to talk to people who I otherwise never would have met in person.

- At a dining out Meetup, I spent an evening at Spring with two other women. This Meetup was the opposite of frugal--it still stands as the most I've ever spent for a single meal. The conversation was awkward, the atmosphere was pretentious (our server spoke in a fake restaurant, and there was grass growing in a planter beside the table), the food was fabulous, and I'll never forget it.

Meetups have worked so well for me that I haven't explored many other ways of improving my social life. What are some other ideas for getting to know new people without spending a lot of money?


Anonymous said...

A lot of colleges have club teams where "community members" (i.e. non-students)" are allowed to join. I am a graduate student at Berkeley and participated in the Cal Triathlon club team for 1 year a couple years ago. The team was huge, with workouts everyday, and there were many people that were not students. The ages ranged from 18 to mid/late 30s. Depending on what club team you chose the cost will vary. Unfortunately, being an active triathlete can get very expensive, which is why I only did it for one year. But! I imagine other teams (like...Ultimate Frisbee?) and Master's swimming groups and the such would likely only have a yearly membership fee.

Joining a sporting team that you are interested in can be a great way to motivate yourself to try something new while also meeting people you'd never meet otherwise.

Anonymous said...

Timely. I recently signed up for meet-up, but have been too chicken to actually meet up, so I was going to exit the site today. Your post has inspired me to seriously give it a shot. :) I have a boyfriend, but don't really know many other people. It seems like an awkward way to make friends, but perhaps it isn't too bad

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