A reader recently told me that she wanted to hear more about my experience with Meetup.com. I can’t claim to be a seasoned veteran. Still, I’ve tried a few groups, and I’ve had a great time with the trivia group we joined. So I (probably) have some insight into the process.
What is Meetup.com?
If you’re not familiar with the site, Meetup.com is essentially a site to meet or join groups in your area.
You can go on the website and join any number of groups in your area. There’s a group for almost every topic you can imagine: book clubs, movie clubs, food, outdoor recreation, sports, social networking, groups by age range/life stage and more. And if you don’t find a group you like, you can always create one yourself.
The site is free to use, and it’s a great way to find people who share your interests — or at least your age range. Because after a certain point it becomes well-nigh impossible to meet new people. It’s even worse if, like me, you work from home.
Unfortunately, the site’s sheer enormity (not to mention social anxiety) can make Meetup.com seem daunting. So this post has some basic steps to navigating the Meetup.com experience.
Creating a profile
Sound daunting? It’s not. All you need is a picture of yourself and a few words for your bio.
Actually, I’m not even sure the bio is mandatory, since I couldn’t find anyone else’s from my group. But I’d still advise advise you to put something down, even if it’s just “New in town and looking to meet people.” Or “I love [activity] and [second activity]!”
For the record, mine is,”My husband and I realized that we’ve become complete hermits. We’re just trying to find some people to socialize with. What better way than through activities?”
If you know exactly what type of group you’re looking for — say, a book club — then you can simply use the search box for those keywords.
But since most people will be at a loss for ideas, Meetup starts you off with several lines worth of keyword tiles. Just click on the ones you like, and that will lead to lists of matching groups. You can even set a maximum distance from your zip code to avoid getting far-flung results.
By the way, the results themselves may give you more ideas. Much like Google, the results will go put the most exact matches first, but if you keep scrolling you’ll get some interesting (if barely related) suggestions. That’s actually how I found our trivia group when I was actually searching for board games.
Some of the interests are pretty nebulous — I’m looking at you “Fun Times” — and they’ll lead to an overwhelming number of results. Still, if you look over the first couple of pages then you’ll get some ideas of more exact keywords to search for: movies, book club, hiking, etc. Then you can plug those into the search box for more targeted results.
Then again, those nebulous interests will lead you to general-fun groups, which might be more your speed. These have a variety of activities: happy hours, seeing movies, potlucks, walks/hikes, potlucks, attending local events and more. These groups are usually (though not always) broken down by age and/or gender, so you’re more likely to meet people at the same life stages as you.
So if you find niche groups to be too narrowly focused, join one of the broader interest groups and choose the events that best suit your interests.
But no matter what kind of group you choose, you’ll want to carefully consider the size of the group.
The benefits of a large group
Larger groups are more likely to be general interest. Or perhaps it’s more that groups with a variety of activities tend to attract larger numbers of people. Chicken or egg, the result is the same: a lot more options to choose from.
This gives you a much better chance of finding something you’re interested in/feel comfortable trying. It’s hard to argue with that benefit.
More people also gives you a better chance of meeting at least a couple of people that you really click with. But the problem with more people is that you’re less likely to see the same people from event to event.
When we first moved to Phoenix, I joined a Women in Their 30s group. It had something like a thousand members, which should’ve been a warning sign. Instead, I figured that it must be a quality group if so many women participated.
I had fun at the first meetup, but I was disheartened when I didn’t see any of the same women at the second event. Instead, I was alone at a party where people all seemed to know one another. It didn’t feel like people made that much of an effort to chat with me, and a whole new set of strangers was exhausting to my sensibilities.
After that, I didn’t go back.
Admittedly, I quit a little too easily. But the idea of going to a third and fourth event where I’d probably once again face yet another slew of strangers… Well, it felt like an overwhelming, wearying proposition.
The (better) benefits of a small group
That’s why I recommend that new Meetup members start by exploring small groups.
These are more likely to have a core set of people, which means that you’ll see a lot of the same faces every week. This makes it far easier to get to know people and feel more comfortable with the group more quickly. This setup means that there will still be a couple to a few newcomers each week, so you can keep broadening your social circle… With the safety net of that core group.
Our trivia group has a core of about eight people who show up pretty much every week, plus another two or three who attend somewhat regularly. The 12-person limit for each event means that we generally have only two or three new people at any given meetup. This gives us the ability to really focus on the newcomers to make sure they don’t feel left out.
There was a similar welcoming vibe when Tim and I checked out a board game group. They all clearly knew one another pretty well, but we were immediately invited to join a game that was starting. There was no hesitation, and we didn’t have to sit on the fringes waiting for interaction.
The definition of a small group
Of course, it’s important to remember that “small” is relative when it comes to Meetup groups. Our group has 136 members and I’ve met maybe 25 of them. Only about 15 of those have been repeat attendees.
So when judging the size of a group, assume that only 10-15% of members are likely to actually go to these events. If 10% is still a daunting number, then that group is too big for you.
Alternatively, you can determine a group’s “real” size by going to the Past Meetups section. You can go through past events and see who attended. It’s a good way to determine how often you’ll be seeing new faces versus people who you can steadily get to know.
Once you’ve chosen a group and are ready to go to the next event, you have one important thing to remember…
You don’t have to stay (but at least try)
It’s completely normal to be a bit antsy about going to your first event. These are people you don’t know, and that’s scary. But there’s one thing that helped me each time I went to a new group: I knew I could leave at any time.
Just because you go to an event doesn’t mean you have to see it through to the end. You can just take off if you feel unwelcome, uncomfortable or just uninterested.
If necessary, come with a prepared excuse: “I think I’m a little under the weather” or “I actually need to head home and get some work done.” or “Gee, did I leave the stove on?”
I’m not saying that you should use the excuse the minute you feel ill at ease. You’re bound to be a little tense at first, so try to give it at least half an hour.
But the point is that you’ll have the excuse as a fallback. There’s something comforting about having a solid escape plan. It can make you feel safe enough that you don’t actually need to use it.
It’s still okay to leave
Of course, sometimes there’s a very good reason to leave. You won’t always feel like you’re meshing or that it’s quite right for you. (Or maybe you feel ignored even after that first half hour.) If so, then your excuse lets you leave with a clear conscience.
The board game group that Tim and I tried didn’t work out. So we cited my fatigue as we demurred a second game and left. Once we got home, I withdrew us from the group. No fuss, muss or drama.
Sometimes the group just won’t be a good fit. That’s okay. There are a ton of other groups to try out. And if your efforts to be social were particularly painful for you, look for introvert/shy people groups. There are multiple ones here in Phoenix.
Why it’s worth it
If you find a group of people you like, it’s guaranteed fun social interaction ever week or two — or even just once a month. That alone is good for your mental health.
But there’s also the chance that you’ll get lucky and find people you really click with. Then the friendships go beyond the group meetups.
One week almost everyone bailed on trivia. There were just five of us, and we did… Let’s just say “not well.” Afterward the guys played pool, while I had an in-depth conversation with the other gal who attended. All of us chatted and got along really well, so later that week we met up at a local cafe that had board games. We played til after midnight.
I now text regularly with the other gal, and the two of us even had a much-needed girls’ night. Plus we’ve gotten invited to a few game nights that one of the guy’s friends regularly hosts. There’s actually one this weekend.
Meanwhile, the main group has also expanded beyond just meeting for trivia. There’s now a monthly happy hour, we went to a local bar’s ’80s dance party, and the organizer even had several of us over for her New Year’s Eve party.
Of course, your mileage may vary. I can’t promise that you’ll meet people you’re dying to hang out with outside of the group. But with a bit of research and some trial-and-error, you should be able to find a group that guarantees you some time with people who are genuinely fun, which is good for the soul.
Have you ever tried Meetup? What are your tips?