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Making Real-Life Friends: A Guide for Internet Shut-Ins

Jenny Owen Youngs will now answer your questions with cat photos.

In “Any Questions? with Jenny Owen Youngs,” our favorite Brooklyn songstress takes your questions about music, life, or… anything, really. If you’d like some words of wisdom laced with cat memes, this is the advice column for you. This week, Jenny tackles some more of your questions. (And if you’d like to ask her anything anonymously, you can do so here.) Let's get advicing…

With things so completely digital these days, how would you recommend someone meet new people? I'm kind of a shut-in because of the internet so I have no idea how to do any of it.

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The radical electroclash band Le Tigre has a great song called “Get Off the Internet.” Among other things, it’s about (you guessed it) getting off the internet. My first suggestion would be for you to go listen to that song, because it rules. Go on, I’ll wait.

Now, I fully understand that the world we live in makes it easy to sink into the loving arms of the internet and forget all about corporeal reality. It is an inviting and slippery slope. HOWEVER. There are still brick-and-mortar places in the real world where “stuff” happens, and oftentimes, flesh-and-blood human beings just like you will be in these places, hanging out. You can totally visit these places, participate in these activities, and meet these people. What’s available to you will vary depending on where you live, but here are some ideas that shouldn’t be too hard to sniff out:

Do you like bowling, softball, soccer, running, ping pong, or do you play any other kind of sport-ball? There are all kinds of recreational leagues you can join! This is a great option because you’ll already be doing something you love, and any new pals you accumulate will just be gravy. (Or maybe let’s say they’ll be caramel—I feel like gravy is conceptually pretty gross, not really sure why that saying remains so firmly embedded in our cultural vernacular.) You’ll also have a sense of shared purpose during your interactions with them, so you’ll never be struggling to think of a conversation topic. You can always just say “Go Growlbacks!!” or whatever your team’s battle cry happens to be.

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Gross.

I know that the opposite of sports isn’t PRECISELY Dungeons and Dragons, but in case your response to my first idea was “YOU JUST DON’T GET ME, DAD, I’M A GAMER” let me assure you: I’ve read loads of books in the Forgotten Realms series, and you are not alone. If your idea of a game has less to do with kicking a ball and more to do with rolling some dice, you can still meet up and play with like-minded folks. Many comic book & hobby shops have designated game nights, and hey maybe that cute girl over there needs to borrow a twenty-sided die… Good thing you came prepared.

BREAKING NEWS: Adults love to drink adult beverages around other adults! A bar is a place where there will always be people hanging out, and personally I find that when I am halfway through my one-beer-of-the-night, I’m far more prepared to talk to strangers who might turn into friends. An all-ages substitute is of course Your Neighborhood Coffee Shop… or a Fugazi show!

Then there are the more niche activities—and the more obscure your interest, the cooler it will be to meet people who share it with you. There are feminist knitting circles (what up Bluestockings!) and spooky catacomb tours (in Green-Wood Cemetery for instance), but perhaps the best example I can think of is the Anthropomorphic Taxidermy Class offered by Brooklyn’s own Morbid Anatomy. You just know that if someone wants to take that class as much as you do, you’re prooooobably going to have other stuff in common too.

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The bottom line is pretty simple: you have interests, and there are heaps of related activities out there for you to try. It’s up to you to figure out what you’re into, and seek out things in your town that line up with that. Once you’re knee-deep in a group setting, try to keep an open heart, relax, and most importantly, have fun!

Companionship is imminent.

P.S. I realize I took a very activity-based approach here; please note that if you’re straight up looking to date ‘til you drop, you can actually use the internet to discover people, then level up and meet them IRL—I’ve never used an online dating site, but I have plenty of friends who met their romantic partners online. Hooray for the future! Just make sure you don’t accidentally fall in love with Siri or something, because the video for Kate Bush’s “Deeper Understanding” taught me that this will probably lead to homicide.

If you are going through a major transition in life, like moving across the country for college, is it OK to burn all of your bridges? Or at least burn the bridges that have caused the most hurt? Is it OK to cut someone out of your life who is harmful to you emotionally? Or does it say something about me that I want to do that?

Listen. Human beings love to make things more complicated than they need to be. We are all essentially like iPhone ear buds, tangling and tangling in on ourselves for no reason that any outside party could fathom or identify. All reason suggests that our natural state SHOULD be streamlined and smooth, but we just can’t stop getting twisted up about things.

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UGH, us.

It is this simple: If someone has hurt you, been cruel to you, or disrespected you, then I say out out, damn spot! There is no law that says you have to stay friends with someone just because you’ve ALWAYS been friends with them. People change—you, your friends, me, Oprah. Everyone adjusts their values as they grow up. I think that actually might be the definition of growing up. If someone you care about turns into a jerk, you have the right to distance yourself from them. You also have the right to not make yourself sick with guilt over it.

Nothing is sadder than suddenly realizing that the Venn diagram illustrating your friendship with another human being somehow no longer has any overlap… but sometimes that’s just how it goes. However, life is long, and you will meet approximately one miiiiiillion people over the course of your time on the planet (maybe more, depending on if reincarnation is a thing). Not everyone turns into a jerk. Some people are sweet little pigeons for their whole entire lives, and I hope you befriend many of those folks. You can’t give up on people as a general concept. Don’t let a bad experience with one human sour you on the whole species.

As you’re settling in across the country, unpacking your boxes in your shiny new dorm room, take some deep breaths and try to remember that you deserve to be treated with respect and thoughtfulness, and also that your dining hall PROBABLY has unlimited Cap’n Crunch.

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Want more Jenny? Here you go:

How to Make a Long-Distance Relationship Work, Dammit.

My First Year as An Openly Gay Musician