Is it hard to make friends in Albert Lea?

Published 10:46 am Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Column: Pothole Prairie

Surely anyone who resides in Albert Lea has heard from newcomers to Albert Lea that it can be hard to find and make friends. Well, not all newcomers, but some of them.

They say everyone in Albert Lea already seems to have their circle of friends. While people seem friendly, they don’t want to be friends.

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That said, the term “friends” sure has been watered down over the years. For instance, I have people I barely know who are “friends” with me on Facebook. In the 1970s and 1980s, when I was a kid, friends seemed to mean something more. It meant the people with whom you enjoyed spending time.

So when people talk about making friends in Albert Lea, they mean in the real sense, not the watered-down, everyone-in-the-world sense.

Who hasn’t chatted about how to make friends in Albert Lea? Almost all of the chats I have had — whether with longtime residents or people who moved here within 10 years — end with the same conclusions.

Unless you are perhaps under 24, you probably can’t just go to the bars and make lasting friendships. Of course, the age group that seems to have the biggest problem making friends in a new town is the post-college age. They graduate, leave behind the dearest of friends, settle in some city like Albert Lea, then struggle to establish the same sort of connections they had in college.

The fact is, they have to see their college friends as an extra special situation that cannot be duplicated. They ought to be out to make new kinds of friends — the out-of-school kind. For first time in their lives, they are out of school. It’s not Albert Lea’s fault. It’s simply that making friends out of school is harder than making friends in school.

So the No. 1 way to make friends in Albert Lea is to get involved. It’s not that people have some exclusive circle of friends. It’s that they are busy.

Albert Lea is great in that people can get involved, and so they do.

For instance, if you lived in Minneapolis, it would be quite a bit more difficult to get a role in a play. In Albert Lea, they want you in the play. Getting a role in a play lets you spend time with people, and, voila, you develop relationships.

I can think of many examples: the people who organize demolition derbies, the people who put on ski shows, the people who make sure the fair is successful, the people who ride bikes every Wednesday evening, the people active in tennis leagues, the people who love to raise and ride horses, the people who are in service clubs, the people who are active in just about any church, the people who read nonfiction books at the library, people who play racquetball at the Family Y. You get the picture.

The mistake that new people in our town and every town make is expectations. Don’t start off in some new town expecting friends. Do start off looking for an enjoyable activity. Friendships will form, and likely some of them at the workplace.

The out-of-school friendship is not the same as the in-school friendship. In college, there are always many new people also seeking friendships. Join a frat or move into a dorm and friends abound.

In a community, people have relationships and don’t all live together, so you have to grow close to people, rather than strike up instant friendships. People have kids and commitments. The frequency of time spent together is much less often but still strong. But consider this: The college friends were four or five years packed with memories. The post-college friendships will be many more years but not as jam-packed.

Get involved! That’s what being a community is all about.


Tribune Managing Editor Tim Engstrom’s column appears every Tuesday.

About Tim Engstrom

Tim Engstrom is the editor of the Albert Lea Tribune. He resides in Albert Lea with his wife, two sons and dog.

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