“In those days, journalists wrote that I started Echo to provide a safe place for women on the Net. Bite me. I wanted to get more women on Echo to make it better.” 

This quote comes from Broad Band: The Untold Story of the Women Who Made the Internet, the kind of book that makes me wonder how my life would have been if I read it in high school. It might just be my brain, but I often think about the Internet as a male-dominated space and can get intimidated by the inner workings of it. (This study, suggesting that men mainly amplify other men's voices on Twitter and not women's, reminds me of why I don't go on Twitter outside of business hours.) I truly didn't know about the role that women played in the history of these machines and how they aimed high in putting the world wide web together.

I've been leaning on the Internet a lot lately to make friends — and connect with them, hello to you all. In the seven months I've been writing to you on Sundays, I've also been working in the background on building my own new friendships. If you'll indulge me to take the mic for one week, here's what I've learned so far.

Your friend,

P.S. What do you think would be the best way Sown could use the Internet to bring some of you together ... IRL? Last week someone reached out asking for connections with other Sown-ers and I happened to know people in the same city as her to reach out to. Would you want a Facebook Group to interact with people? A bulletin board-style setup for reaching out to people from your area specifically? Let me know! I 👂 you.
I was cleaning mouse poop out of my kitchen last night when my phone-flashlight jingled with a FaceTime call. It was one of my best friends from growing up, who now lives in another part of the country, wanting to talk with me about Bumble BFF.

For a lot of people, it's hard to admit that we want friends so much that we download a primarily-dating app to swipe back and forth on other women's personalities. I'm not the first to say it can be a weird sensation initially, but after enough small-talk messaging with a few matches I had started using it to make plans with one girl in particular back in February. We've now met up several times, mostly just for dinner and semi-small talk, but I wasn't sure if the conversation was going to last forever — if we didn't hit it off sooner or later, would this boom or bust?  

We had a few things in common, both being from the Chicago area and relatively recent transplants to Boston. She has a strong relationship with her grandparents centered around Chicago's hockey team, and I bandwagoned for the team when they won the Stanley Cup a few years ago. It almost seemed like our friendship was secretly based on a mutual understanding that we wanted someone to keep meeting up with so we both felt like we had a friend here. On Thursday, though, I took the bus to her neighborhood after work and we went for a walk with her dog. After a few blocks, she braced me: "Okay, how do I say this without being weird?" Gulp.
Turns out, we'd both been going through the loneliness and weirdness of trying to make friends in adulthood, but didn't know how to talk to each other about it. We were finally were able to break down the talk-about-our-feelings-ish barrier. Topics ranged from boyfriend stuff to things bubbling up from the past (hey, we're good friends now, I'm not about to tell everyone on the Internet about it!). We'd spent several hours over the course of the past few months together, but walking around this lake we found in her neck of the woods, we were finally able to mutually talk about the important parts of our lives. It wasn't just for ourselves anymore – it was for each other, too.
Before my phone buzzed during my wild Saturday night, I had steeled myself to go spend a couple of hours in a park an hour away from my apartment interacting with semi-strangers, in an event I had organized. But you know what? It was actually quite fun. This was the latest real-life gathering of the Riotrrs of Journalism - Boston Edition Facebook Group, an offshoot of a larger Facebook Group by and for female journalists. I started the Boston version last year when I was here for an internship and wanted to get to know other journalists around. Now it's been a full year of occasional meetups — ranging from fondue to brunch for dinner to a brewery visit to now the second annual picnic in the arboretum. (The trick is planning something you wouldn't mind doing anyway if only a few people [or none!] showed up.) But luckily, eight other Riotrrrs decided to make the trek and enjoy brownies, strawberries, cookies, pita chips, and friendship in Boston's summer. Somehow we didn't get stuck in too much small talk, either — our conversations ranged from airline credit cards to landlords' mothers to horses.

On the train ride back home, I ended up riding with one of the girls who has been consistently coming to the Riotrrrs meetups over the past years. She works the night shift for a local paper and talked about how her life tends to revolve around working and sleeping. (Sound familiar?) "This is kind of nerdy," I said, "but I actually have tried using those friend-dating apps and they're not that bad." She laughed — and pulled out her phone to show me that she uses them, too. When we reached her stop, she and I made quick plans to meet up and talk about it more, when we're not on a moving vehicle. 

Earlier last week, I also officially finished my first-ever knitting class at a "stitch lounge" (aka yarn store) in my neighborhood that I'd discovered thanks to the power of Google. I'd learned how to knit in high school but never made it past the scarves/blankets easiness level. This five-part class, meeting up with other women on Wednesdays over the course of a couple months, taught me how to use my stress for good and follow a 40+ page pattern along the way. At the end of class, I've now come out with a 95% finished cardigan (on the last steps of the buttonband and pockets, woo hoo!) but also a sort of third place, part of loving where you live. None of the women and I met up for coffee or anything or planned to stay in touch after the class, but I enjoyed chatting with them about TV shows, our pathways to knitting, and the progress we made during the class. Now if I see them around the store in the future we'll recognize each other and have that familiarity.
It kind of feels like building a friendship with a place. Friendship with humans can be a lot of work (!), though it's a worthwhile endeavor because social connections are important for our happiness and whatnot. But it's also important to recognize what you need/want out of your friendships.
For me, I had been restless for both a hobby and a volunteering opportunity. If I made friends along the way, that would be superb, but I also knew I wanted these things in my schedule to help me feel more balanced overall. I didn't necessarily want to use those avenues to find someone to play calendar tag with, but more so build a familiarity with people that I could bounce off of when I returned.

Speaking of volunteering: On Friday I went to a women's homeless shelter in a different part of Boston for a third time to help serve the guests dinner. In the kitchen, the staff leader led us through the preparation and serving of soup, spaghetti and meatballs (with lots of vegetables), and pudding for a few hours on Friday evening.

Again, I didn't spend enough time talking to the other volunteers or the guests to become friends — yet — because that wasn't the main point. But now that I've been there a few times, I feel the familiarity starting to grow. There's a lot of other volunteers around my age or a little younger, so it's easy to relate to them while we're working together to serve these other women. And the kitchen was what worked well with my schedule, but there are lots of opportunities to get involved at a shelter like this. You could volunteer in the food pantry to the dining room to the 1:1 friendly visitor program to English classes, all on different schedules.

This is just a snapshot of my experience; it's not always this smooth for me, and it's not always going to stay this way. (Remember, I was cleaning mouse poop this weekend too!) It's been a year-ish since I moved here, and only a couple months since I tried to stop overthinking and buckle down to start building friendships (with people and places) into my schedule. And I admit, it's partially for a semi-vain insecurity as well: One of my best friends in Boston moved to New York this summer, robbing me of someone to hang out with on the fly, and my boyfriend will also probably be moving away from the city for graduate school next year. But that doesn't mean that these aren't genuine or necessary.

How would you want to see the internet help you make more friends? How can you get involved with Sown on the internet and in real life — what would you actually be interested in? (Boston peeps, would you all be interested in a meetup?) Let me know! 

Go sow: Challenge for the week. 

“They are never so seduced by the box that they forget why it’s there: to enrich human life.” — Claire Evans, Broad Band
Stop the Instagram scrolling. How can the Internet help you make a friend? 

Dedicate some time this week to scoping out — and actually trying — one of the ways to make friends that you're interested in. Is there a cause you can research ways to support, or a hobby you can invest a little time and money into? Is there a Facebook Group for locals you'd get along with? Is it time to pull the trigger on Bumble BFF (or another friend-dating app)?
Write back and let me know how it goes! And add these to your friendship toolkit:
  • Being honest about what you have the time to do: "There are times when I’m like, 'You know what? I need to be in creative mode versus consumption mode.' During those times, I’m really not on Twitter or Facebook or Instagram. I have my moments of going dark; and then, at other times, it’s like I’m on here constantly and it’s probably a problem."
  • Another brownie point to the Internet: Too busy for a book club? Join an online version. (Also, does anyone else feel stressed out about the assigned reading of book clubs?)
  • Knitting!!! How to start knitting and learn to love it, courtesy of the New York Times. I can go on and on about why I love this as a hobby — beyond the social interaction it can foster, it also keeps me from mindlessly snacking while Netflixing. The importance of hobbies cannot be understated, and if you've been curious about what the heck knitting actually is, you should check this out.
  • Creating more women-only spaces, wine tasting club version: "He would not relent. I was like, 'Sir, with all due respect, I am the wine professional here, and I’m telling you, there are no oranges involved in this wine.'"
  • A more or less definitive guide to showing up for friends: 66 tips from BuzzFeed staff writers, from "Establish the low-hanging fruit way to check in with each other regularly" to "When you’re catching up, ask them how their parents/siblings are doing."
  • Here for the headline: "Adulthood is wasted on adults." 🙌

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