Community ConnectionOct 30, 2023
THE DOMINO EFFECT
In the fall of 2017, I began my first job out of college back in my Midwest hometown following a great four years at college in the Mideast. As I returned, I realized that my community in the area had become non-existent due to many friends moving away. I was disappointed and quickly realized that I needed to initiate my journey to finding community.
Building relationships is difficult during any era, but I’d argue that it is more difficult today than it has ever been thanks to modern technology. Yes, having instant access to anyone and everyone is great, and I would not trade that access for the world. However, it becomes difficult to maintain positive and healthy interpersonal relationships with anyone when you are expecting the instant gratification that we often get from technological communication.
I often hear many millennials and Gen Z members ponder online how they can continue to build relationships with individuals in an in-person manner.
The best way to do it is simply to do it in person.
I started attending various young adult social groups. For example, I was looking to find a softball team that I could play on and develop friendships. I asked around and I quickly found out that I knew a few people who were part of a softball team. Although there was no room on the team that season, I was immediately invited to practice with them. The shown interest paid off as I began playing with this team two years ago and have since co-managed the team beginning this year during the summer and fall seasons.
Soon, one friend connection led to another, which led to making additional connections.
I was in a group chat with several of my friends when out of the blue, my friend Josh reached out saying that his then-girlfriend (now wife) was a part of an Ultimate Frisbee group and they wanted to invite me to join them. I had played Ultimate in college and I knew I had to explore this opportunity. Although it was a 40-minute drive from my house, I felt like this was a unique opportunity.
Once I made the commitment to this social group, I learned that they also had an “April Adventure League,” which is a group that does creative and fun activities every day during the month of April. This sounded completely up my alley. I began participating in the events and even hosted a couple of the events myself.
Honestly, I ended up with more community than what I could have imagined. I found myself a part of softball teams, basketball teams, ultimate frisbee pickup games, disc golf groups, board game nights, and most recently, line dancing. Building up these connections did not happen overnight, but gradually, the more willing I was to connect with others, the more opportunities I began to receive.
So you never know where the connections may take place.
HOW SOCIETY CHANGED
If you are currently struggling to build community in your life, that is okay!
We all struggle with it from time to time as our world is more transient today than it ever has been before. We are uncertain about our calling and our purpose at times, which I’m finding is leading many adults to switch jobs and living situations numerous times even before the age of 30. Additionally, with the option to work from home, people even travel away to work their 9-5 jobs.
Oftentimes, communities in prior generations were found within families and close friends (often by proximity). History.com notes that 3.4 million babies were born in 1946, and 4 million babies were born PER year in the 1950s. Meanwhile, families were migrating to the suburbs to start these families.
So larger families, plus neighbors with large families led to instant community for not only the children, but the parents as well. This mentality seemed to have carried on until the early 2000s when affordable mortgages led to an easier sense of community.
However, times have changed.
According to the United States census, individuals are often marrying much older now than they did before. In the 1940s, 80% of women and 65% of men were married by the age of 25. By the mid-1990s, only 30% of women and 20% of men were married by age 25. And those numbers continue to rise today. According to theknot.com, the US average age of marriage for women is 30 while men wait till age 32.
Many individuals believe this is the case due to a societal expectation of having everything together before getting married as opposed to earlier generations where getting married young was normal. In other words, some people believe adulthood marriages now are a capstone to adulthood as opposed to a cornerstone.
What does this have to do with community?
Well, until recent generations, once someone finished their highest level of schooling, chances were that people found their communities in their new startup families, and the need for adulthood hobbies was limited. Now, with most individuals in America not marrying until their 30s, the need for adults to find connection is at an all-time high.
And the need for connection is not just a struggle for young adults. According to Psychology Today, 30% of middle-aged Americans are single and living by themselves. The need for people of all ages to have a sense of community is only continuing to rise.
In other words, if you find yourself needing additional community, you are not in the minority.
That said, it is going to take some effort on your end to make connections to build such a community. Even if we are not the most excited about approaching new people, one way to do so is to simply find a hobby that other people take an interest in. You may already have a hobby like athletics/recreation, board games, music (playing or listening to), or dancing. If you know your wheelhouse, find a way to utilize your interest.
Ultimate Frisbee was something that I enjoyed playing intramurals in college, so it was something that I knew I could easily attend and connect with the individuals who were there.
If you don’t have a clear social hobby that you are aware of, that is okay as well. I challenge you to try something new to build that social community. I began line dancing without much interest in country music or having dance skills. However, I knew that I could hold musical rhythms, enjoyed mindless exercise, and had a good mind for basic patterns. These insights have allowed me to become an above-average line dancer in just over a few months.
If none of the ideas above spark your interest, you can always join a gym. We all need to have some sort of activity in our lives, it is how we are designed. Many gyms often offer classes that meet routinely and will allow familiar faces to join you while you get a necessary workout!
Now another detractor that has gotten me in the past is to find time to build these connections.
We all struggle to find time as there are more demands in our lives than ever. With modern technology, many of us are not on a 9-5 clock with our jobs and often need to (or desire to) check emails during off-hours of our jobs. If we are not doing that, then we are likely spending some time on social media during our peak off hours that could be channeled into another hobby.
If in the event we truly do not have time to find another social opportunity, then I would encourage you to take a deep assessment of your life to see if you can block 30-60 minutes a day to find some sort of social opportunity to connect with other individuals.
People are not designed to be isolated; we were created to have the opportunity to connect and love other people.
It is not easy to build a community in the 21st century as we continue to build our lives amid isolation. The connecting points begin with taking that step of courage and initiating an opportunity to find other people with common interests.
When approached by someone about a new social opportunity, say yes!
Even if you are not 100% certain that you will have a fun time (chances are, you will), you may find out more about yourself than you did before. When I decided to join the frisbee group, I did not know anyone that was a part of the group, but I knew that each of us had at least one commonality.
I took that opportunity to grow friendships that are still in my life today.
Take the opportunity to go out there, explore, and find a new community. More than likely, you will find out that others are looking for a new friend or two as well.
By: Austin Anderson - Program Coordinator of Communication Arts, Judson University
Austin oversees curriculum, teaches classes, and advises students in their academic scheduling. Before this role, he was the Director of Athletic Communications.