Why would you invite your Uber driver to your house for dinner? It's a question I've been asked a lot over the last year but the answer is as simple as it seems to be frustrating to others. Why not? My driver and I got talking, discovered we had a shared heritage as well as many common interests, and by the time we pulled up outside the restaurant, I felt a connection that encouraged me to invite him over for a meal. When I got home and told my husband my lovely Uber drive would be joining us for dinner the following weekend, he merely responded, "Of course he is."
After almost 20 years together, this is far from his first rodeo; I've been making friends with people in the most random of places for as long as he's known me.
When it comes to making friends, there seems to be an invisible list of places we deem "acceptable" to meet the people who'll go on to share our lives. Most of us will still have a social circle that's predominantly made up of school friends, uni mates, colleagues you picked up from various workplaces, and as you become a parent yourself, other parents from within your general vicinity. According to a study by the University of Kansas, researchers believe it takes approximately 50 hours of time together to make the jump from acquaintance to casual friend, 90 hours to move up to 'friend' and more than 200 hours of spadework before you can call someone your close friend. To that I say, "What's with all the rules?"
Most of us will still have a social circle that's predominantly made up of school friends, uni mates, colleagues you picked up from various workplaces, and as you become a parent yourself, other parents from within your general vicinity
The first friend I made that didn't quite fit the usual mould was in a strip club. She was one of the performers and we got on so well when I interviewed her afterwards that we soon moved our friendship out of the dingy clubs and into restaurants, housewarming parties, weddings and eventually, pushing prams around landscaped parks.
Over time, I have become friends with people from all walks of life. In fact, thinking about some of my closest friends today - ones I didn't make in high school - there is someone I met in a group counselling session when we were struggling with our newborns, and another I became friends with when I sat next to her in a park and asked her about the book she was reading.
What is it that keeps pushing me to keep reaching out to others? It's the same thing that encouraged me to become a journalist: I'm endlessly fascinated by others and their stories. Has it ever ended disastrously? Nope. I look for kindness in others and when that's your key search criteria for potential friendships, you can never really go wrong. All humans respond to kindness, no matter what they do for a living or where you meet them.
What is it that keeps pushing me to keep reaching out to others? It's the same thing that encouraged me to become a journalist: I'm endlessly fascinated by others and their stories
Cut to 2021, and of course many of use are in lockdown and living in isolation under a dark cloud of anxiety, frustration and loneliness. Earlier in the month, Lifeline revealed that 3,345 calls were made to the mental health support service in just one day - a figure marking the highest number of calls to Lifeline in a single day in 58 years. It's clear we need to keep reaching out to others, whether they've been by your side for more than 200 hours, less than 50 hours, or even if you don't know them at all.
So how do you do it at a time when you can't just invite someone over for a cuppa or enjoy a chance meeting in a cafe, park or - yes, Uber?
In our family, we got the ball rolling by building and installing a 'Kindness Box' outside our home, filling it with non-perishables and inviting others within the community to 'take what they need and give what they can'. Since its installation two weeks ago, I've connected with more people in my neighbourhood (from behind a gate and a screen door plus two sets of face masks) than I have in years of 'regular living'.
I call friends as I walk around the block to check in on them, I chat with people in my community Facebook groups and perhaps most importantly, I make a point of asking everyone - whether it's my postman, barista or a random PR emailing me a press release how they're doing? When you wear your heart on your sleeve and you're genuine in your approach, people respond positively.
My advice? Keep reaching out. Not only do people need each other more than ever, you might just make a couple of new friends out of it in the most unexpected of places.