I consider myself something of an expert on people meeting, after moving from Chicago to New York several years ago and finding myself in need of friends. But now I’ve discovered new options for worming my way into other people’s lives. Here, my evaluation of the friend-making methods I tried.
Local walking tours. Many are free, but I chose an ice cream tour ($45) on the theory that I’d meet people who share one of my great interests. Twelve of us visited four places, sampling flavors while our guide educated us on the difference between ice cream and gelato. I reached out by offering tastes of my coconutto. Soon we were all sharing and comparing. When a rainstorm hit, we shared umbrellas. At the end of the tour, three of us exchanged e-mail addresses.
Meetup.com. On this site, designed to help you find events based on common interests, I typed in my ZIP code and found groups for everything: expats, animal rights advocates, belly dancers. I registered for a cupcake picnic in Central Park, where about 30 people mingled around a blanket covered with mostly homemade cupcakes. Nobody wanted my store-brand ones. The first two women I met were promoting cupcake websites. The next was promoting Google.com/places (she gave me a free pen). Another was promoting a cupcake forum (she gave me a free pin). The woman who organized the Meetup told me about her cupcake blog. These weren’t cupcake lovers. These were cupcake exploiters. When I complimented a baker on her watermelon-flavored cupcakes, she handed me a card. Good news! I could order them through her website. Meetup.com has potential, but next time I’ll try belly dancing.
One-day cooking classes. Stepping out of my comfort zone, I signed up at the Institute of Culinary Education (iceculinary.com; $115). I’m one of those pick-a-takeout-menu-from-the-drawer women, so when the students introduced themselves, I got nervous. These were serious cooks. A former restaurant owner. A sous chef. But after teaming up with 11 other shallot choppers and sipping Chardonnay over the finished dinner, I wrote down my new friend Sandra’s favorite fish recipe (not that I’ve cooked it) and e-mail address.
Grubwithus.com. After my gelato tour, cupcake picnic and cooking class, I should have tried making friends at Weight Watchers. But this site offers a way to meet people over restaurant dinners (you prepay for a meal served family style). Most groups consist of eight to 12 diners, half men and half women, but only four women signed up for my meal—all so young that I could have given birth to them. Turns out most members are in the 24-to-40 age range. I don’t expect to be in touch with any fellow attendees, but everyone was really sweet and upbeat and agreed with me that the eggplant was overcooked. Grubwithus is currently in seven cities and growing; it is also working to bring its concept to other demographics.
WordsWithFriends. This is a Scrabble-type app that you download and play on a cell phone or an iPad. You can find an opponent by linking with Facebook friends or meeting random new people. I chose random, and within seconds up popped my first challenger: Kool-Kidd-Marie. Five moves into the game, she must have gone out for pizza, because two hours passed without her making a move. So I sent a message via the chat option: Still playing? Turns out, games can go on for days, and you receive an alert when it’s your turn. The following morning, Kool-Kidd answered: Yes. Encouraged, I wrote: I’m in NY. Where r u? No answer, but we kept playing. Two hours later, I tried a less invasive message: Missed that triple word! Nothing. I switched to nonthreatening: This is my first time here. How about u? No response. But an hour later I crushed her, 302 to 176.
Local dog runs. For my last friendship foray, I borrowed my neighbor’s Yorkie and headed for a nearby spot. Boy, did I meet people! It wasn’t even necessary to say things like “Hi, I see you like animals.” I just waited for Nellie to sniff a few dog butts, and the conversations flowed.