Come Together

MeetinDC's Mikey Herd founded the social group four years ago to
MeetinDC's Mikey Herd founded the social group four years ago to "create an environment where everyone's invited," he says. An anniversary party at his Alexandria home drew about 200 members, including Maria Robertson, from left, Charann White and Annette Delallana, shown with Herd. (Mark Finkenstaedt Ftwp - Mark Finkenstaedt)
By Ellen McCarthy
Friday, June 15, 2007

Dave Connolly needed friends.

Which is a tricky predicament. Tricky and kind of banal. And -- let's be honest -- a little sad.

By the time you're out there in the world, haven't there been enough opportunities -- in the sandbox and eighth-grade math class and the varsity tennis team and between dorm rooms and cubicle clusters -- to pick up a few good friends?


Unless, you know, there weren't. Or there were. There were all those opportunities, and buddies were met and made and then, somehow, lost. Binding ties came unbound.

Maybe there was a marriage. A baby. A transfer, a taxing project, an illness, a changing lifestyle, diverging hobbies, a new neighborhood, a gradual maturing, a big dramatic fight over a guy you were both interested in. Maybe your new medical sales job has you sleeping in Reston and creeping along Interstate 66, shaking hands with lots of doctors and nurses and not really getting to know anyone.

Maybe you're Dave Connolly, 29, athletic and outgoing and fun and successful, and everything was great and your social calendar was booming until one day it just wasn't.

Banal. A little sad. And common enough for this town to support a whole host of organizations designed to help people reach out and meet someone. Probably lots of someones. Probably in similar predicaments.

"People feel almost guilty that they need other people; Western civilization has taught us to be individuals," says Mark Leary, a social psychologist and professor at Duke University. But that emphasis on individuality, he adds, is a relatively recent cultural shift -- and it's at odds with thousands of years of evolutionary reliance on community. "People do need to be accepted by other people. It seems to be hard-wired. . . . It's an extremely strong motivation that they cannot escape."

Leary studied a group of college freshmen a couple of years back. Those who reported, a few months into their first semester, a decreased sense of belonging were more likely to develop depression. "One of the best predictors of quality of life is 'Do you feel like you have enough friends and supportive relationships and social activities?' " Leary says.

When people lived their whole lives in the same place, it was easier to maintain a stable set of friends, he says, but that just doesn't happen today, so "we're all having to reestablish our own relationships continuously."

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