Gail Caldwell, author of Let’s Take the Long Way Home: A Memoir of Friendship, was in her early forties, sober, and focused on her writing and training her dog when she met Caroline Knapp, author of Drinking: A Love Story. She wasn’t looking for a friendship but, very quickly, she learned how important — and life-changing — a friendship could be.
Both women were dog lovers, had battled alcohol use disorder, and were in the process of re-establishing their lives. The strong, independent women were, as Caldwell describes it, soulmates. Up until Knapp’s death from cancer, they shared daily walks, taught each other how to swim and row, and enjoyed endless conversations. They were inseparable for as long as they could be.
But meeting someone new is hard, let alone a friend. In sobriety, when we’re focused on working on ourselves and our recovery, it’s easy to put “meeting new people” on the backburner. We’re all caught up in routines — making daily trips to the gym, prioritizing date nights, rushing your kids from activity to activity, practicing self-care, attending therapy sessions — but making new friends isn’t just good for your social calendar. Friendships directly impact your health, well-being, and happiness.
Here’s what I’ve learned as an adult who’s made a lot of new friends: You must put yourself out into the world if you want to meet new people. Sure, there are now apps for this (hello, Bumble BFF!), but they don’t always work. I’ve tried. But since it’s important to make friends in sobriety and build your community, we wanted to gather all of the best tips and trips for meeting new people.
1. Consider a co-working space.
Do you work from home? Do you have a side hustle? Co-working spaces aren’t just for working. Most coworking spaces offer membership perks that include early-morning workshops, lunch events, digital communities, and even on-site programming (classes, workshops, etc.).
There are spaces for men and women but there are also female-focused spaces. The Wing, for example, is in cities like Georgetown, Brooklyn, Boston, San Francisco, and is catered to women of all ages. Each location offers different amenities but some include a podcast room, a pump room, a room for kids, a cafe, and more.
This is an easy, pressure-free way to put yourself out there without having to really put yourself out there. By showing up to the same space every weekday, you’re bound to meet someone at the coffee counter or in the shared meeting room.
2. Attend non-alcoholic events.
Seems obvious, doesn’t it? But often, we worry that if we attend an event, there will be drinking involved. Or we don’t go because we don’t have someone to go with. I assure you, you can “get out” without going out. There are plenty of free and affordable events out there that don’t involve drinking, like DAYBREAKER, an alcohol-free early morning dance party. You can also try candlepin bowling (on the East Coast) or Fowling (in the Midwest), or you can visit local museums for special events.
With the seasons changing, you’ll find more and more events popping up in your city (like rooftop yoga, free museum days, or dog meetups in the park). You can also find alcohol-free events through sober communities. Even if you don’t want to join one of the communities (though I highly recommend checking these out), you can still search their calendars for events.
Club SÖDA NYC (Sober Or Debating Abstinence), for instance, hosts various events throughout New York. I attended one without being a member (Ruby Warrington’s book launch) and, within minutes, I started chatting with the woman beside me. She started the conversation first, of course, because I’m an introvert. All I did was show up — and that’s all you need to do. Showing up gets you one step closer to meeting a lifelong friend.
3. Join a specific group.
Groups are becoming more and more popular. No matter what city you live in, chances are there’s a group waiting to be joined. Ellevate Network is a networking group, for instance, that has chapters throughout the U.S. and abroad. They offer various jam sessions, such as “How to Grow as a Leader Through Travel Experiences” and “Coffee, Chat, and Go,” which can help connect you to like-minded individuals.
I recently joined the group Dames Collective. Their goal: Create networking opportunities for female leaders, entrepreneurs, and innovators. They have chapters in numerous cities and, since joining, I have met some incredibly successful, encouraging, and supportive women who aren’t just in it for the Instagram followers.
And what I really love is that even though they offer alcohol at their events (champagne and orange juice or fancy cocktails), they always have non-alcoholic alternatives such as coffee or mocktails, and many of the women choose not to drink, because it’s not a drinking club. It’s a female-focused networking club.
Think about what type of people you want to meet and think about your interests. Do you enjoy knitting? Do you love beach volleyball or tennis? What hobby have you always wanted to try? When you join a mission-focused group, you’ll be surprised to learn how quickly you connect with other group members.
In my early twenties, I joined an after-work performance dance group. I didn’t know anyone but with weekly dance classes and a seasonal performance, I quickly gained many friends, all of whom who shared a love for dancing. And over time, the friendships evolved — and extended far past the dance studio.
Two years ago, I joined a volunteer organization. I was — still am — one of the youngest members but here’s what I’ve learned: Friendships come in all shapes, sizes, and yes, ages. Some of my favorite friends are from a different generation and I would have never met them through traditional routes (like school, work, or friends of friends).
You don’t have to join a volunteer group to start volunteering. Research opportunities in your area. There are soup kitchens, shelters, food banks, and various organizations or nonprofits in need of volunteers. Whether it’s a one-time event, a weekly opportunity, or a weeklong trip, it’s a great way to meet people.
5. Start a book club.
Yes, a book club. When I tell people I’m in a book club, they laugh and tell me stories about theirs, which is full of wine and gossip. But my book club is nothing like that. Not only do we read the book but we answer questions related to the books (because it’s an actual book club).
You can join a book club online or in-person. Here are a few: Emma Watson’s Our Shared Shelf, The Rumpus Book Club, Reese’s Book Club, the Man Book Club, Lisa Smith’s NYC Sober Women’s Book Club, or Zero Proof Book Club. You’ll likely find one through your local library, too.
Or if you’re feeling ambitious, start your own. Pick a day, once a month, and pick a location (your house, the local library, a park, or a coffee shop). The key is to start small. Maybe you’ve met people in your sober community or at an event but you don’t know how to jumpstart the friendship. Invite them to your book club. Let your book club be an open invitation so your friends can bring their friends, and so forth. I’ve met some wonderful people this way and you can too.
6. Check out sober bars.
Sober bars are the next best trend. They started in Europe, but they’re sweeping across the U.S. They come with all the perks of a “regular” bar — darts, karaoke, game nights, live bands — but without the booze. Depending on the bar, you’ll find milkshakes, sodas, mocktails, kombucha, juice, or specialty drinks.
In Windsor, just across the Detroit River, you’ll find Spiritual Soldiers, a coffee shop by day, a sober bar by night. Whether you’re underage, sober curious, or in recovery, sober bars are a great substance-free place to hang out and meet new people. In Austin, you’ll find Sans Bar, where the owner offers live music, workshops, and plenty of mocktails, as well as a podcast series. Listen Bar is a booze-free pop-up that’s opening its first permanent location in New York City and Getaway Bar is opening up in Brooklyn.
Even “regular” bars are expanding their drink lists to include a more expansive list of non-alcoholic drinks. I’ve seen everything from beer and coffee mocktails to sparkling wines and specialty seltzer drinks.
Of course, dry bars and (and “regular” bars) aren’t for everyone. Being in a bar, no matter what type of drinks are served, could be triggering. Pay attention to your needs and choose your boundaries.
7. Follow people on social media.
Building a support network is a challenge, especially when you don’t have sober friends who can relate to your lifestyle. One way to find your “crew” is to look online. There are now Facebook groups, Reddit groups, and Instagram communities.
Although I still encourage you to leave your house, I know there are fantastic resources available online and you’ll likely stumble across events and in-person groups that are worth checking out. Just don’t lose yourself on the computer. It’s far too easy to build an online persona and neglect your “real” self.
The more you step outside of our comfort zone, the more likely you’ll meet new people — and who knows? Maybe a year from now you’ll be friends with someone you can’t imagine life without, as it happened for Gail Caldwell and Caroline Knapp. Wouldn’t that be something worth finding?