Sage: Couple in Florida

wants to join social group

Dear Sage:


   I have a universal question about making friends and joining social groups. Six months ago, we made the Big Move down south, from Ann Arbor, Michigan, to Naples, Florida. We bought a house in a 55-plus community and are very interested in becoming part of a group of neighbors – four couples – who get together every week and laugh loudly enough to blow up hearing aids down to Marco Island. We’ve heard from others that these characters are masters of practical jokes, and we’ve chatted with them casually, while out on a walk or while working in the yard, and have been invited to one cocktail party with them. They all grew up together in the same town near Boston. We are wondering if there’s a way of penetrating this little network and getting in on the fun. Clearly, they share many inside jokes, along with behavior that might appear to some to be a bit strange for 70-year-olds, such as grunting and other barnyard noises and a few odd but funny table habits – and that’s the women! Yet they have an unmistakable esprit de corps and an enviably generous system of mutual support. We feel at home with them. Can you please advise us?


                                                                                          – Outside looking in


Dear Outside:


   Seriously? You’re from Michigan and you can really understand these people with their Boston accents? Or could it be that you’ve misunderstood and that they’re actually South Australia aboriginals who are speaking Pitjantjatjara? Having spent decades in Massachusetts, the Sage can assure you that there may be a negligible difference.

   To get a realistic sense of these folks, you might consider finding out if they are rabid Red Sox fans, who tend to be among the most loyal (and loud, and colorful) in the country. The Sage would suggest sitting in during a Red Sox vs. Yankees game with them, standing back about 50 paces and simply observing. Does the place quickly echo with yelling, catcalls and choice language, like the old Fenway Park bleachers? Do these people squirt Gulden’s Mustard or Sam Adams Boston Lager or Fenway Franks at the TV set whenever the Yankees score a run? Do they prowl the neighborhood between innings and start brawls with any known Yankees fans lurking about? Do the cops have to come with nightsticks? OK, not daily ballpark behavior, but hijinks have been known to happen now and then around Beantown.

   But enough about Fenway Follies. The Sage will assume that your observations about these four couples – and their level of maturity – are reasonable and accurate, and that their get-togethers are in the spirit of good fun. Perhaps they pull a practical joke by substituting a ball on a putting green with one that jumps and gyrates and can’t go in a straight line. Or send an official-looking letter to another neighbor saying that because of neighborhood energy restrictions, all dishwashing, laundry and flower watering must be done between 2 and 4 a.m. (hey, someone might end up out there in their PJs!).

   Those things are relatively inoffensive and can be humorous, unlike snorting at restaurants as if you were at a trough; or flossing your teeth while still at the table, or pretending to drink wine though a straw in your nose (once a bleachers fan, always a bleachers fan!).

   Let’s assume that your neighbors are truly friendly adults and genuinely like each other. Stress experts will tell you that it’s healthy to view the world as a child would see it and to look for humor everywhere, as they appear to do. It’s also been shown that the best friends are not only those who are there for you, who boost you up, who are honest in offering perspective and telling you when you are overreacting or are off base – but who also are funny and uplifting and who allow you to be yourself, with no airs, with no need to act as if you are the prince of Wales.

   That’s why you’ll find a fireman being the best friend of a physics Ph.D or a carpenter the best chum of a brain surgeon. It just works. Such relationships make you feel right at home, in your perfect comfort zone, free to converse or not, or just lie there in your PJs laughing at Daffy Duck, Foghorn Leghorn, Pepe Le Pew or the constipation commercials that make up more than half the evening news.

   You should probably feel at least a little gratified that these noble Bostonians has invited you to join them once already. The Sage believes that you would be sensible to be somewhat assertive here. You can invite them to your house and serve their favorite foods and drinks or make it a potluck. Keep it as casual as you think would make them comfortable (probably no need here for multiple sets of Waterford Crystal glasses, sterling silver utensils or Tiffany china).

   Just be yourselves and don’t stoop to any level that you find inappropriate but that the others might get a kick out of, particularly if the Sox have just won and they’re more than a little giddy. For example, The Sage would avoid serving a dinner heavy on Boston baked beans, broccoli, onions, garlic, beer, cabbage, yogurt, Brussel sprouts and prunes, as that might require an emergency appearance from a hazmat team.

   You could also invite them to breakfast at their favorite local greasy spoon, which will require you to ask them which one that is, as heavily populated areas of Florida typically have 30 to 40 such places on every block.

   If that works, great. If they tell inside jokes, ask them now and then to elaborate with the details – no doubt they’ll love to repeat the history. You can add your own stories so that they get to know you and your sense of humor as well.

   As Psychology Today has reported, you need not feel daunted simply because other people already know each other – whether it’s in a neighborhood, a club, a church, whatever. It doesn’t mean that they’d necessarily be disinclined to embrace you. They may, in fact, be happy to do so.

   The article encouraged people to join a group that actually builds relationships: “Which group would you rather belong to—one in which the members don't really associate with each other, or one in which they have built a sense of cohesion through supportive interactions?”
   Further, it made the point that your attitude may play a large role.
   “The pre-existing idea that some group is a clique is often a self-fulfilling prophecy,” wrote the author, Andrea Bonior, Ph.D. “If you think you won't be accepted … you are less likely to try to strike up a conversation with a person.”
   So take the lead. Don’t wait for someone else to befriend you or make you feel welcome. Be a part of the conversation and the give-and-take. Let people know that you are interested in them, and they’re much more likely to develop an interest in you.
   As for the neighborhood, well, these four couples might not work, and you may discover that you have little in common, in which case you would do better to cut your losses and get to know more like-minded couples.

   You may also discover that the laughter coming from their parties is sophomoric. Or that maybe they are not as cohesive as you think, or that they are pretty much limited to the core members.

   But then again if it works, you, too, may be making barnyard sounds (in private, the Sage hopes!), laughing a lot, and able to take you flip flops off, enjoy a glass of wine in a lounge chair, gently rub out the sand between your toes, and enjoy many years of friendship.
   If not, find others who will feel just as relaxed and comfortable as you are. Just leave the floss and the straws at home!
   Humbly Yours,
   The Sage