- You’ll have more success finding connections if you rethink your expectations.
- An open, honest relationship matters more than finding friends who have a similar background or agree with you on everything.
- Your tribe may change over time as people come and go from your life—and that’s OK.
For most of us, “getting out there” and meeting new people is demanding enough. Just saying “I’m finding my tribe” out loud is a bold declaration at any time of life. Whether we are 20 or 60, married or single, with children or without, setting out to build our tribe is a daunting life task—and a vital survival skill in its own right.
To add to the pressure, the pandemic has disrupted our social lives with complicated and frustrating barriers, magnifying the challenges of “finding my tribe” in times of mask-wearing, Zooming, awkward social constraints, and other headaches. In pandemic times, “getting out there” online or offline has forced us to pivot and pivot again to create ways to meet people and keep up with our closest circles.
And that’s exhausting. On top of that, our relationships have often been strained and tested as many of us face drastic changes in jobs, housing, child care, remote work, school, and health concerns.
One of the kindest things we can do for ourselves is reframe the way we look at our “tribe.” Could we be a bit more open to who “fits” and more willing to spot a kindred soul who is out there trying their darndest to build friendships? Perhaps we could bust the myths (and high expectations) about what a “tribe” is and reconsider what kinds of people are “good for us” in an uncertain and stressful time. Not only has the pandemic limited our access to friendships, co-workers, and family relationships, but we’ve had economic strife, political divisions, climate crises, social unrest, and many other stressors squeezing the bandwidth of our patience and tolerance of others. Given these testy times, it might be fair to examine what our “tribe” really means—and maybe clarify and adapt our criteria for who fits.
I would like to offer five myths about finding our tribe that have been studied by social scientists and suggest that we take the pressure off of our expectations for the right fit.
Five Myths and Five Realities about Finding Your Tribe
MYTH 1: Instant recognition—you know right away this is the right person. You feel comfortable and accepted by the person and can freely be yourself.
REALITY: It takes time to get to know someone and it helps to invest in meeting regularly. During the pandemic, some of us have become awkward as social skills have atrophied or gotten rusty. Chatting is just not the same. Our online or offline connections can make us feel nervous and skittish in our first encounters. Aim to be patient and invest in meeting a few times over a shared activity. Joining with the person over regular meetings—such as a class, a volunteer gig, an online meetup, or a common cause you both care about—and spending time together over the weeks and months helps to build your trust.
Katherine Cusumano writes in "Find and Keep New Friends” in the New York Times, “After a successful get-together, make plans to continue meeting up regularly. Several experts agree that consistency strengthens bonds. ‘Ritual is really important when it comes to connection, especially friendship,’ says Adam Smiley Poswolsky, author of the forthcoming book, Friendship in the Age of Loneliness.”
MYTH 2: Your interests should match up. In building your tribe, you should only include people who share your passions—otherwise, you will feel alone without a person as enthusiastic as you are about your passion.
REALITY: Values, character, and purpose-driven callings are more likely to matter than common interests alone.
It is wonderful to find people who share your passions, but hopefully, others can also fit in your tribe outside of your immediate interests. Perhaps you do not share quite the same excitement for some topics, but you probably have similar values. Indeed, you may even have a deeper sense of purpose in common. Interests may change over time, but what lasts are the core character traits and values that drive your choices.
Here’s one example, from Aanchal Dhar in her piece “How I’m Finding Purpose and Connection in a Pandemic” in Greater Good. “As we’ve seen, a sense of purpose can arise from crisis—and it’s also true that purpose, as well as helping others, can help us get through crisis with greater strength and resilience.” Accounts of people meeting and bonding over issues that are values-driven from authentic lifestyles demonstrate how we can build friendships and community in these challenging times. Many heartening stories abound since 2020 about the galvanizing forces that drew people together.
MYTH 3: You have similar backgrounds to share. The person fits in the same demographic (background) as you, or shares common age-related concerns.
REALITY: Allow for some pleasant surprises and discoveries as you meet people who are different in age, socioeconomic group, culture, or race.
One thing a pandemic can do is give us permission to be more proactive in reaching out to people who seek similar resources or solutions for mutual needs. In a sense, we are more likely to find people with the same situations in common rather than the same backgrounds in common. For example, in a support group for moms on an app called Mom Life, women of all ages come together around their dire need for camaraderie in the midst of the pandemic’s challenges to parenting. Or, as another example, neighbors are reaching out to each other with the app Nextdoor to help each other with everything from where to get vaccinated to where to find food pantries, or where to volunteer locally.
On a personal note, as a boomer, I’d like to share that my new friends are 20 and 30 years younger than I. The pandemic has caused me to stretch beyond my “tribe” of boomer friends (mostly retired) while I still work full time with colleagues who now struggle financially and professionally alongside my ordeals. Certainly, the pandemic had once limited or nearly shattered our common dreams last year—but, fortunately, we are now recovering. Indeed, recent studies on mental health outcomes show younger adults are more touched by the financial as well as social impact than any other age group. Older workers in my age group who have suffered job loss and underemployment also have been more impacted psychologically than my retired peers who live more comfortably. It is no surprise that my younger friends who are suffering the same stressors have more in common with me now than most of my retired peers. I’ve welcomed their millennial and Gen X perspectives on my long-held coping skills and have updated a few—including the savvier use of social media in my toolkit.
MYTH 4: Agreement on all or most of your choices—the person “gets” you. You pick a person for your tribe because he or she mostly agrees with you or completely understands you. There’s no need to feel alone or defensive when you have friends who are completely in sync with all you think, say, and do.
REALITY: Openness and honesty may matter more than agreement. As you may have observed over the years, your good friends and people in your circle do not always agree with you—and may have (in a loving way) been a “reality check” for you on decisions you were making. The bottom line is that they care.
However, their questioning or offering their opinion is better without a judgmental tone. It could be coming from their concern or genuine curiosity about your reasoning or motivations. The ensuing conversation can be a way to understand one another more deeply, and not just to fix you or measure you.
With so much vital information mixed with misinformation and simplistic information all over social media and news channels, it’s wise to ask questions and examine our thoughts with each other as well as with ourselves. We might even learn something new.
On the wonderful podcast Call Your Girlfriend, with Ann Friedman and Aminatou Sow, Ann sings the praises of having open, candid conversations. Indeed, their podcasts themselves are ideal conversations to use as role models for friends to learn how to have fascinating, explorative discussions without judgment.
In her article in Goop, “Finding Your People—and Why They Might Surprise You,” Anne Davin, Ph.D., advises, “Tribes teach you how to love and live in your community. They shouldn’t protect you from yourself or from people you don’t like. In fact, the opposite is true: They should reveal you to yourself through your interactions with others.”
MYTH 5: Your tribe will last a lifetime. Your tribe should be a circle of lifelong friends and extended family who stand the test of time.
REALITY: If only that was true—and it does happen for some of us, but not all of us. We may have one or two friends who have lasted through the decades, but equally deserving friends may enter our lives at times when their pertinent wisdom matters more. Essentially, our sense of having a “lifelong” or “favorite” or “best” friend might not be a fair way to define our tribe members in these times. Perhaps keeping open and being welcoming to the people coming and going from our lives is a sound approach. We could describe this outlook as a kind of agile companionship. Agility in our relationships these days is a smart, compassionate, and fair way to survive isolating and disruptive life situations.
And hopefully, our agility can help to lessen some of the pressure to have the “right” kind of tribe.