For the life of me, I cannot recall how I first was introduced to Meetup. I know it was several years back – before the popularity of Facebook, before Twitter, before CouchSurfing, before LinkedIn– all those great virtual meeting points where inquisitive folks connect, disconnect and reconnect. It was even before “Social Networking” became a commonplace word – now a necessity in every upwardly mobile executive´s lingo and skillset.
I´ve met European newbies on a party barge docked along the river Thames; young Persians from Tehran that were delighted and astonished when my distant recollection of Farsi was sufficient to welcome them and ask “How are you?” in their own familiar language. Alone and newly arriving in London, when my birthday fell on a weekday I was not to be deterred in finding a group to celebrate with. Searching the web, I found a social networking group Meetup gathering that very night for a wine tasting near St. Paul´s cathedral. I joined the group and checked YES on the attendance roster, posting the message that “In America, it´s tradition to buy a drink for someone on their birthday.” Put it this way, my memories of this event are all happy, but the first half was much clearer in focus than the final few hours! Returning home on the top front seat of the double-decker bus through the late night streets of London was indeed a magical memory in itself.
Gathering in a central pub in downtown Madrid for a language exchange Meetup proved to be an amazing way to gain new friends and meet people. There I was, a blonde woman in a group of dark-haired Spaniards – a beacon, an exotic “pavo real” – drawing hopeful English speakers like a moth to a flame. “Hello! Can we join your table and practice our English?” So while my Spanish conversation was not enhanced that evening, I might as well have been a dealer at a hot table in Las Vegas for the group of enthusiastic English speakers I was surrounded by.
Barcelona is a city of amazing architecture with a vibrant art & music scene – a city that knows the joy of living la vida calma. Here in the land of the siesta, your sense of time is stretched and pulled and tweaked until eating dinner at 10 p.m. and going to bed at 2 a.m. seems commonplace. Meetups for The Night of the Museums (rambling with groups speaking English and Spanish while visiting the late night museums FREE), the Great Photo Challenge (a scavenger hunt with digital cameras in mixed language groups), Cinebar (Films In English on a pub wall), Gratitude Reading Circle (sharing universal spiritual inspirations), The Fat Lady Sings Classical Music group (Oh, the beautiful cathedrals and the magnificent acoustics!), the Cheap Wine Challenge (picnic in the park with wine under 5 €), Live Music, Salsa or Tango dance groups – it is all there. You never need walk alone, unless it is by choice.
I´ve met great friends from every country and continent, spoken several languages and botched many, but always with a smile on my face, a willingness to try and a keen sense of humor. Those that can laugh at themselves shall never fail to be amused!Just who have I met through Meetups? A shaman from Peru, oncologists and scientists, techno-geeks, George Clooney wannabes, a past life regressionist, salsa kings & queens, movie nerds, bloggers and photographers – everyone´s there! I´ve accumulated good friends from every continent and culture (joy!), interesting job leads and a few eager TEFL English students (work!), a rare date or two (like, not love!), dance partners (joy again!), fellow artists (creativity!) – a colorful worldwide tapestry of friends to share the joys and experiences of life with.
I wish I could say I found love through Meetup, but it’s truly the opposite. I lost my husband through Meetup, in a Meetup that I had organized – how´s that for synchronicity? He met a charismatic new buddy, a lost boy whose ideas of luring him away from our marriage to the “Pleasure Island” of San Francisco´s glittery, upwardly mobile social scene culminated in the disastrous destruction our marriage of nearly two decades. Yes, Pinocchio wandered off with stars in his eyes and hope in his heart, but any longings he had to return back “home” were doomed. As they say in Las Vegas “Elvis has left the building.” – and of course, in this case I am Elvis. Wanderlust and an unquenchable desire to connect with others worldwide, coupled with a healthy dose of courage has replaced the sense of sadness and loneliness I felt after that life-altering course correction.
But honestly, meeting new people, sharing interests and celebrating our common humanity – isn´t that really the juice? It´s the reason we get off the couch, the reason we dust off our conversation skills, tackle new languages, travel across town or across an ocean, stretching our boundaries to reach out to others in friendship and community. Sharing a laugh or a sorrow in meaningful conversations is always sheer joy, all made possible by a willingness to connect. Grief shared is sorrow halved – and a smile shared – well, it´s priceless! Whether you´re new to town or new to being single, or just aching to become a new YOU – let your fingers do the walking and MeetUp!