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Finding friends



Published: Sat, September 2, 2006 @ 12:00 a.m.



Adults sometimes must find creative ways to connect.

By JESSICA YADEGARAN

MCCLATCHY NEWSPAPERS

WALNUT CREEK, Calif. -- Terra Khachooni has plenty of friends. The 26-year-old real estate consultant can travel to almost any large city and crash with an old buddy. But, at home in San Francisco, she yearns for deeper, closer connections.

"You have your high school friends and your college friends, but that next group of friends is the hardest to find," says Khachooni.

After college, like many adults, Khachooni took a job in a city away from home. At work, she struggled to find friends. "The company was all-male and these guys would just hit on me," she says.

Eventually, Khachooni returned home, hoping to establish roots and reconnect with friends. Once back in the San Francisco Bay area, however, she found that many had relocated for jobs. The ones who were around busied themselves with book clubs, work friends and spouses.

"You go where the job is, so the friends you make fade away as quickly as you make them," Khachooni says. "We're so mobile these days that it's hard to cultivate those real friendships."

Khachooni is not alone, according to Duke University researchers. In a recent study, they found Americans have only two close friends -- down from three 20 years ago -- on whom they can lean.

Taking bold steps

So how do adults make new friends? Whether you're in a new city or entering the next phase in life, it can be tough. Sure, you can cram hundreds of friends into your MySpace, but can you really count on them? Khachooni, for one, has taken proactive steps to making more female friends, much like some women pursue men, she says.

"We literally say, 'Let's go meet some girls,'" Khachooni explains. "We might go to a happy hour and try to strike up conversations, maybe starting with a compliment like, 'Cute shoes.'"

She's also had luck with classes, public parties on Evite, and with Gen Art, an arts organization with a loyal following of 21- to 39-year-olds. There, she supports causes and meets like-minded people.

When Khachooni met Ally, the girlfriend of a co-worker, she was thrilled.

"I told her straight up that I was more excited to get cool girls' phone numbers than guys'," Khachooni says. "She felt the same way."

These days, Khachooni sends out mass e-mails inviting these new friends to brunch, happy hours and weekend getaways.

"You can throw out a big net and maybe only one person will respond, so you get close to her," she says. "If you want solid friends, you have to be bold. You have to be active in following up. You have to keep calling and inviting people to things."

Like-minded moms

For Helen Bedell, becoming a mother meant re-examining the role friends played in her life. Gone were entire days spent with girlfriends. She longed for friends who could relate to her life as a married, working mom of a 3-year-old. She knew few women who fit that description.

"I panicked and started with the Internet," says Bedell, 29, of Martinez, Calif. "It allows you to socialize without spending a lot of time. And the level of friendship that you can find is infinite."

Bedell turned to Meetup.com, a community-building site with 2 million members. There, she found Meet Ups for just about everything: hiking, drinking, even ghost tracking.

Bedell started her own group, the Contra Costa County Moms Meet Up. They have 52 members, and Bedell has bonded with two women, Laura and Sherry, whom she can call on in a crisis, she says.

"Our excuse to get together is our kids, but it opens so many doors," Bedell says.

"We support each other and provide reassurance. It's necessary. Thinking you can get through life without close friends or a variety of people to talk to isn't right."

Feeling isolated

Regarding the Duke University study, psychotherapist Bob Heath says it's not how many friends you have but how much you tend to isolate yourself. In fact, 25 percent of the 1,500 respondents said they don't talk to anyone about the things that matter to them.

"Isolation is bad for people," he says. "You need confidantes with which to share vulnerabilities."

Heath attributes the overall decline in friendships to the same things that have caused the breakdown of the American family.

"The suburban commute, both parents working, more entertainment at home, computers, you name it," Heath says.

Sach Chaudhari, who was born in India, is privy to the cultural differences.

"What I notice is that the society here is in flux," says the 30-year-old Oakland, Calif., man.

"The jobs, the relationships, families. Everything changes so much around here so you have to constantly re-adjust. In other countries, once you're in a city, you generally stay there for a while."

Hoping to find new friends when his left the San Francisco Bay area, Chaudhari posted a note on Craigslist under "Platonics" looking to meet people for movies, walks around Lake Merritt or just hanging out. So far, he's met five new people.

"I start out with activity partners," Chaudhari says. "We'll see if I end up with closer friends."




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