What’s the one thing scarier than trying to make friends as a kid? Trying to make friends as an adult. In lieu of striking up conversations with strangers on the street, there are plenty of groups and group activities in D.C. that promise you’ll be swapping friendship bracelets in no time. So I, a friendly and social human living among the citizens of this fair city, sampled a select few of them to test their friend-making potential — and also to judge the hell out of them.
There are kickball and bocce leagues aplenty in D.C., but for those of us who’d rather forget the gym class-stoked anxiety of team sports, there are several running groups. One of these is the DC Capital Striders, which I found on meetup.com. I chose a Thursday evening run with the Striders’ Smithsonian Metro Group, which has its own Facebook page where leaders occasionally poll members on which course they want to do that day. The group’s events are open to runners of all levels — even not particularly fast ones like me — and some of the routes take participants to cool sites like the National Mall and Georgetown’s waterfront.
The event listing on meetup.com said the run I chose would be 4 to 5.5 miles. (Beginners had the option of running a 3-mile route.) When I showed up ready to run at the Smithsonian Metro station, the group was 17 people strong. Before we set off, each runner announced his or her name and pace, so we could find our similarly speedy (or not) friends.
These runs are great for people who can jog and chat at the same time. Michiel, the leader of this particular 6:30 p.m. run, jogged at the back of the pack to rein in stragglers. My pace was slower than most, so I ended up running with Michiel before I sensed he was itching to pick up the pace. “Don’t worry about me, I’ll catch up,” I insisted, and Michiel left me to run about half the course alone. When we all crossed the metaphorical finish line, most people dispersed right to the Metro, leaving little time for more mingling.
My cost: $0.
The verdict: The Striders will benefit your social life if you’re a confident runner who can keep up with the pace of the pack.
DC Capital Striders, various locations and times, free ($25 annual membership available), dccapitalstriders.com.
November Project D.C.
This fitness group began in Boston in November 2011, when two former Northeastern University rowers got together for a month of early-morning workouts, tracking their progress in a Google doc titled “November Project.” After recruiting their friends, who recruited their friends, who recruited their friends, the November Project workouts snowballed into a phenomenon with dozens of chapters in cities throughout the U.S. and beyond.
These days, the November Project is known for its energy and sense of community — which would explain why, at 6:20 a.m. on a Wednesday, I met 65 or so others at the Lincoln Memorial to work out. The November Project rotates sites: Mondays at either Meridian Hill Park or Capitol Hill, Wednesdays at the Lincoln Memorial and Fridays at a new location each time.
The chapter leaders, who spearhead the workouts, make the drills very interactive. For our workout that day, we ran up and down the Lincoln Memorial steps before grabbing a partner — the leaders asked us to make sure it was somebody we didn’t know — and doing exercises together like burpees and planks.
I was entirely expecting to hate this experience: We all know there’s nothing worse than having happy people in your vicinity at 6 a.m. But I found a true tribal feeling to the November Project. All of the regulars knew each other’s name, and if you were new they made a point to ask. There was also a lot of hugging (but sweaty hugging, which could be a downside).
My cost: $11.51 for an Uber to the Lincoln Memorial.
The verdict: If you can hold yourself accountable to getting up early, you are bound to make friends through the November Project.
November Project, Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, various locations and times, free, november-project.com.
Participants in Paint Nite — a popular business that holds events around the country — get to sip adult drinks while painting a designated portrait as an instructor guides them through the process step by step. For my test run, I went to Ivy City bar Big Chief to paint a landscape of the Washington Monument surrounded by cherry blossoms. The sample image online looked pretty enough that I figured I’d wind up keeping my version instead of letting it sit in my mudroom before tossing it six months later.
As soon as I walked through the door, I picked an easel and didn’t hesitate to introduce myself to the four others at my table. Good — the hard part was out of the way. Two of these people were co-workers — teachers at a high school — and two were a married couple, the man of whom I could tell showed up to this thing begrudgingly.
I did find that saying the initial hello made it easier to converse later, and by that I mean joke about how bad our art was turning out. When we weren’t chatting, we spent a lot of time silently focusing on our masterpieces — unlike at the typical happy hour, it was nice to be in a group and not be expected to make conversation. Plus, now I have this painting that I paid to make myself. Do people actually hang these on their walls?
My cost: $50, for the class ($45) and a beer ($5).
The verdict: They say a person makes his or her own fun, and this is one of those situations. You can definitely meet people at Paint Nite, but it’s all about how social you want to be.
Paint Nite, various locations and times, $45, paintnite.com.
I wandered into trivia night at Penn Social and discovered that this is a place where trivia is no joke: The crowd — 50 or so participants on about a dozen teams — took up the entire top floor of the bar. I surveyed the room in search of a team that didn’t seem like they’d be mean to a stranger — or worse, the kind of people who fight with the scorekeeper.
I approached a team of three who had an empty chair at their table. I didn’t want to seem intrusive — I mean, #NoNewFriends is a real hashtag on Instagram. But it turns out a simple “Hey, I’m Bryanna. Is it cool if I join your team? I promise I’m not weird” was suitable enough for these people. I had overcome the hardest obstacle in this undertaking and I was a worry-free woman. Now get me a beer.
Trivia nights, like this one held weekly at Penn Social, are a good way to find out what other people care about pretty quickly. That’s a huge plus when you want to get to know strangers. My prowess in pop culture and nothing else was only so helpful, as literally every other person in America these days feasts on TV and movies and whatever else Jon Hamm is doing. The team in first place got a $25 credit to Penn Social. How did my team do? Next question.
My cost: $8 for two Sam Adams drafts during happy hour.
The verdict: Not a bad way to meet like-minded people, but if you’re worried about approaching a group blindly, see if somebody is organizing a team on meetup.com.
Penn Social, 801 E St. NW, Tuesdays, 7 p.m., free admission.
Also in our newcomers guide: