We are always looking to meet new gal pals. Perhaps, we’ve moved to a new city and don’t know many folks. Someone we know back home knows someone in the new city and they fix us up.
Or, we see a woman on a Zoom, which we have been doing during the pandemic, and think, “She’s really funny and smart. I’d like to get to know her better.”
Maybe, we did a project that involved texting, emailing or phoning. Through this, a connection is made. It might be nice to meet in person. And we also connect on Facebook, and want more, now in person.
Because most of us are vaccinated, we’re ready to get back into the social saddle with in-person get togethers. It usually starts this way, at least it did for Margaret:
Dial. The phone rings. “Hello, I know it took me ages to finally call but I think I’d like to meet in person now that it’s safe to eat outside and be around others who have been vaccinated.”
Thus, begins the dance of making plans to make plans.
Meeting a stranger for the first time can be both liberating and unsettling. The zing of meeting someone we don’t know is the vulnerability it inspires. It’s a risk but one worth taking as we know how important social connections are in terms of good mental health as we age, and we lose friends due to death and distance.
Margaret, who has lived in New York City almost two years now, doesn’t know many women yet. She was open to meeting some new women when she first moved and did. Then the pandemic hit and put the kibosh on that plan.
One pre-pandemic fix up example:
The fix up was with a friend of a friend. They emailed, texted and then met for lunch at a place close to where they both live. After they introduced themselves, Margaret had an instant feeling that the other person wasn’t interested. It was very awkward. The conversation was stilted and uninspired; the woman sat staring at Margaret as if she were waiting for instructions. After announcing that it was her birthday—who knew—Margaret offered to buy her lunch. After 1½ hours, they parted ways. It was not a match, and the person never emailed a thank you or offered to repay her kindness and buy her lunch on her birthday. Bye. Bye.
She’d rate this a 1 out of 5 and not want a second date.
During Covid-19, Margaret talked to strangers through email or on the phone constantly. While making calls for a senior project sponsored by a nonprofit, she made some great connections. Here is the scenario of a recent gal pal blind date:
One day, the phone rang. Margaret didn’t recognize the number, but the person, J., left a message that after a phone conversation we had, she wanted to meet. Margaret called back. “Sure,” she said. J. named the place and time to meet.
It was gorgeous crisp spring day when Margaret walked to a coffee shop to meet J. The two sat at a table in an outside enclosure, ordered, sipped lattes, J. nibbled on marbled pound cake and Margaret munched a breakfast sandwich. J. was pleasant looking with a kind, intelligent face and warm brown eyes. She had wisps of short grayish hair that tended to stand on end as if she had just walked across a carpet in wool socks.
The two women launched into the usual banter: kids, families, interests and branched off from there. What did they have in common? Both write, love Netflix, like to cook, have adult children, have a limited grasp of technology and love to read. As they schmoozed, the six degrees of separation surfaced; J. discovered that her daughter and Margaret’s younger sister both live in the same building and know each other. They hope to get together again. Bingo!
She’d rate this a 4 out of 5 and worth a second and third date at least.
Barbara, who has moved several times in her adult life, has been very open to gal pal blind dates. The first was actually with a couple a good Chicago friend introduced her to. The new potential friends and Barbara ate together at a counter, laughed and made dates immediately to get together. The couple didn’t care that Barbara was single.
She’d rate this a 5 out of 5, and a huge success.
But another time, the date was awful and not totally blind. Barbara saw someone she knew from high school on several friends’ posts. The person was a year younger. Barbara emailed her, reminded her of their connection, which now included being writers. Barbara suggested they have lunch in New York City, they did, and the conversation never began. It was totally flat with long pauses in between.
She’d rate this a 0 out of 5 and promised herself, never again.
But more recently, Barbara became FB friends with someone in her village. They shared the connection of one of her daughters graduating from Barbara’s college where she has been active. After numerous times each woman liked a post on FB and after she bought one of Barbara’s paintings at a local charitable event, Barbara decided to be bold. She invited her to her garden for drinks (wine) and nibbles (chips and dips and homemade cookies), and also invited some other gal pals. Her beau asked to join in. It turned out to be just the three of them. The conversation was delightful with laughs and more. They had a lot in common, including loving a certain neighborhood restaurant and its owners.
She’d rate this a 5 out of 5 with more visits together for sure.
The Beginning: Steps to Take
Decide where and when to meet. Coffee? Breakfast? Lunch? Afternoon tea? Wine? Make it simple for a first get-together. Margaret joked and asked if she should wear a red carnation in her lapel so that J. could find her.
These days ask the person how she feels about wearing or not wearing a mask in public. Ask if she has eaten inside a restaurant or would prefer outdoors?
Arrive five minutes early. Use google maps to find the meeting location, if needed. Time it right. Leave time to get lost, something that happens to both of us frequently.
Start the conversation slowly. Don’t interrogate like we tend to do as reporters—no need to ask if married, children, grandchildren, high school or college. Tone it down. It can be a turn off if you get too intrusive with a stranger. Don’t drop names or play, do you know so-and-so too much.
Before you begin, here are some additional tips to make a good impression and presentation:
A conversational template
Is it difficult to have a conversation in person after so many months of social isolation? It can be. We’ve found if it’s superficial and brief, we still have our conversational chops intact. If a longer, deeper conversation, we find ourselves a bit out of practice. Avoid politics, religion and bashing your ex if you have one of those…you might find out she knows him.
So, here is our script for getting the conversation going. And BTW: Before they sat down, J. had already told the waiter to give them separate checks.
“Hi. I’m Barbara or Margaret. It’s great to finally meet you. How are you?”
Make good eye contact, shake hands unless touching freaks you out these days and make sure you’re dressed casually but nicely. Not like a slob. Shed your torn and stretched out pandemic sweats or leggings or jeans.
“Are you from here? If not, what part of the country did you grow up?” You don’t want to get into neighborhoods.
“Are you part of a couple or single?” Don’t ask unless she volunteers to tell you what happened with the marriage.
“When did you move here and why?”
“Tell me about your work or if you’re retired what you do, any volunteer work?”
“How has the pandemic affected your work? Your social life?”
“What are some of your passions and hobbies?”
“Are you watching a lot of TV or reading? What have you enjoyed most?”
“Do you mind doing separate checks?”
If it was fun, say so. “Let’s do this again, soon. Bye.”
And if not, don’t suggest it to be kind.
How to get in and get out if the match is a bust
Again, Margaret knew the moment she saw the person she was fixed up with by a friend shortly after moving to NYC that a match was not made in heaven. She tried extra hard to make a connection because her friend arranged the date, hence the gesture to pay for the woman’s birthday lunch. If the same thing happened now, she would excuse herself and leave.
Exit strategy: “I have a meeting. It’s 2 p.m., and I must go home and take a nap. I have to walk the dog. Feed the cat. Finish work because I’m on deadline. Do the laundry.” Any of those will work, just don’t get defensive.
And remember, try to enjoy yourself. It’s fun, almost like a game or an audition. Our rule of thumb: you get what you put into it whatever the situation. And if it’s a bust, so what! You tried, so A for effort.
On the fence? It might be worth a second date
What you see when meeting someone for the first time is just the tip of the iceberg What you’re not seeing is every angle, every lens. If you kind of like the person, find them interesting but aren’t wowed, give it another try to get to know them better. Some people are less approachable or have a harder shell or are incredibly shy.
Final words: if you are a match, stay in touch. The occasional text or email never hurts. “Hey! Thinking of you and wanted to say hi! Time for another meeting/lunch/coffee/tea/glass of wine?” Sometimes, you may think the person would also like a friend of yours. The more the merrier is our philosophy of inclusiveness.
These days most of us seek connections and everybody doesn’t have to be your best friend, just a nice person will suffice as we become more social animals again.