With the introduction of the internet, many websites have revolutionized our lives. For those with shyness or social anxiety, the best website that has been invented is Meetup.com.

Meetup.com is a website that let’s people organize social groups and events, usually around common interests or activities. Popular interests or activities found on Meetup.com include:

  • technology interest
  • entrepreneurship
  • hiking
  • foodies (people who enjoy trying and critiquing new food)
  • language exchange
  • single socials
  • professional networking

The benefits of Meetup.com

It’s free or inexpensive, mostly.

Meetup.com is free to join. There are fees for organizers and for buying food or drinks at the venues where people meet, but other than that, it is usually free.

Many groups are based around shared interests or activities.

This is the most important thing about making friends: you should have things you enjoy talking or doing together. If it’s a book club, you can enjoy discussing a book. If it’s a food club, you can visit new restaurants and critique food together. If it’s a basketball club, you can enjoy playing with each other often and probably talking about the NBA as well. Shared interests or activities lay a very strong foundation for friendship and liking.

People are open to meeting new people.

When it comes to Meetups, a lot of the people there are actually from other cities. They view Meetup.com as a way to meet people who are also new to the city. Why? Because people from other cities are almost always open to meeting new people! You can be the friendliest, coolest, socially adept person, but if you’re trying to become friends with someone married with young kids and with a strong inner social circle, it’d be nearly impossible. So, Meetup.com is great because most people you meet may be open to having a new friend.

You’re meeting people in-person.

Unlike a hobby or interest forum on the internet where people can congregate, you are meeting real, live people that live in your area. What’s the difference you might ask? Plenty. Humans are social beings. For better or worse, we require social interaction to keep ourselves sane. That is why in prisons, one punishment is solitary confinement, where a person is put in a room with no social interaction. We need to see a person, to give high-fives, and to hear their laughter. You can’t truly socialize if you’re doing it from your room or on an internet forum.

You can find niche interests.

Do you have interests that none of your friends really enjoy? Dungeons & Dragons? Scrapbooking? French language exchange? Ping pong enthusiast? Meetup.com is a quick way to see if there are other people in your area that share a similar hobby.

Things to watch out for on Meetup.com

As much as I like Meetup.com for socializing, I think there are some things to be aware of.

There are some socially awkward people there.

In general, people who find friends organically filter people out based on their social skills or level of social awkwardness. If a person is seen as bizarre, unable to read social cues, has nervous ticks, says outlandish and inappropriate things, then it is unlikely people would want to add this person to their social circle and invite him to other events. When it comes to meeting people online through Meetup.com however, there is no such filter. You simply sit at a table together, and socialize with them for several hours. They may be socially adept or they may not have left their parent’s basement for the past 2 years. We can’t know. For people who are socially awkward, extremely shy, socially anxious, or socially inappropriate, Meetup.com allows a person to socialize without going through a “social skills clearance check”. If you consider yourself socially awkward, then be prepared to be ignored or to have someone excuse themselves from a conversation to talk to someone else. Also, work on your basic social skills, like small talk.

You might not find other people your age.

Unlike socializing through school, in the real world, you may not always be socializing with people your age. With Meetup.com, there is generally no age restriction for events, so you may see young adults, people in their 30s, people in their 50s, etc. At the last even I went to, the age range probably was 26 to 58. Tip: Whatever you do, don’t ask people’s age! Unless you live in a country where it’s normal.

Groups not based on interests and hobbies might have strange people.

This is an observation my friend has pointed out: some Meetups attract strange people. Similar to the first point, when a Meetup is not based around a hobby or interest but is purely social (singles club, drink and socialize, etc), you will inevitably find more strange people.

Things to Remember When Visiting a Meetup

Vet the Meetup.

Before you go to an event, make sure you look at photos, discussions, and event listings to see that the Meetup is active, well-organized, and that the members are to your liking (in your age range, look friendly, are smiling in the photos, etc.). If you have questions, you can always ask the organizer or post a question on an event page.

Prepare for butterflies in your stomach.

I’m very aware that these writings are geared towards people with social anxiety or extreme shyness. You will need a lot of courage to come out to these events, which are FULL of strangers. It’s an unfamiliar place with unfamiliar faces… the perfect combination for anxiety. However, I urge you to do what you need to to push yourself out here. It is an important part of you developing the social courage and skills to be the Social Shiner you want to be. Take an SSRI or ask a relative to accompany you… whatever it takes to get you out there and out of your head. Just remember: other people are just as anxious about going into a group of strangers.

At your first Meetup, always introduce yourself to the organizer.

When you decide to visit your first Meetup (first, give yourself a pat on the back), come early. You’ll want to be there before everyone congregates and cliques or pre-existing relationships come up. Come maybe 15 minutes early. The organizer will be there early to. You should know their face from their Meetup profile. Just walk up to them, make eye contact, and say “hi (organizer), my name is (name).” The organizer should be friendly, will probably know most people at the Meetup, and hopefully will introduce you to other people. If they are still setting up, then offer to help with setting a table, unloading equipment, writing name tags, etc.

Small Talk is Key

You should have your small talk skills ready. Be ready to ask about where they are from, their job, why they moved to this city, and asked about how they got involved with the interest/club/hobby. Ask open ended questions. If you find yourself in a group conversation, just nod your head, listen, and make eye contact with the speaker — you’re part of the conversation anyway.

Don’t latch onto people — move around.

This is a general social tip: don’t latch onto 1 person. You will make them uncomfortable if you keep talking and talking. And you will run out of things to say. Move around and keep introducing yourself to everyone and open up the small talk can on them too. If you do not feel confident introducing yourself, then hopefully people will see your new face and introduce themselves to you and initiate conversation. If you find yourself sitting by yourself, with no one to talk to, and you feel anxious, just get up, go to the bathroom. Take a breather, splash water on your face. Then, recollected, go out there and try again.

Remember, you can leave at anytime.

The most important thing to remember, and this will help you with anxiety, is that you know you can leave whenever you want. You are NOT trapped there, so anytime things go poorly, feel free to remove yourself. Or if you feel your social anxiety popping it’s ugly head and it becomes unbearable, then leave. Try to just say to the organizer “(organizer), thank you for arranging this. It was fun.” Then leave. And pat yourself on the back for showing such courage.

Be okay with an unsatisfactory Meetup.

Let’s say you went to a Meetup. You read my tips, you vetted the Meetup, and you summoned the courage to go there. Then you go there. Everyone comes late. They introduce themselves to you, then go on to talking with people they already know. To you, it looks like a big clique and you are an outsider. You barely get to know anyone. You barely practice your social skills. You grow anxious. You go home and sulk. It was horrible.

Be okay with this. Not every Meetup is going to go ideally and smoothly like you imagined in your head. Sometimes you mispronounce a word. Sometimes you spill a drink. Sometimes you sweat nervously. And sometimes, things are outside of your control, such as people there not being friendly or having already formed a clique. Part of social skills is the ability to deal with things that don’t go as planned or when you have a small accident. What are we supposed to learn from these situations? That things aren’t always going to go smoothly and we need to have these things happen enough in our lives so that we don’t endlessly obsess over them when they happen.