When we were much younger, it seemed so very easy to meet others. Social circles would blend and mesh; conversations would takeoff like rockets, usually facilitated with alcohol. Then there are a few years where getting settled in becomes much more important than a weekend bender or even a mid-week late night movie with friends. New jobs scatter everyone around the country, or someone's business is doing better and better each year until they cash out.

And then we hit our mid-thirties and find ourselves with some spare time, disposable income, and a yearning to make new friends or try new things –except– we've forgotten the art of socializing with strangers. We've become self-conscious of our personalities and we wonder how can we make new friends and acquaintances without being the "weird" person. The outsider.

Ready to meet some new folks, Shiela and I gathered our courage, handed the kids to their grandparents, and headed down to the marina for our first small sailboat race. It's nothing fancy. Just some tiny little boats with blown out sails and sun-damaged lines. The older, leather-skinned skippers, sit nearby planning the sarcasm and timing in their winner's circle speeches while fingering the wind to determine the best starting tactic. Also present are similarly-aged faces, with whom we'd ultimately end up sailing the same boat.

Today Shiela and I are paired up with Skipper Bob (there's always a Skipper Bob), and Pam and Jim, who are also relatively new to sailing. We dutifully listened to the course brief and boat assignments, and then headed down to the docks.

While setting up the boat and getting out to the starting line, Pam and Jim shared with us that they live in Fort Lauderdale, having just moved down from Boston. Pam is a receptionist, and Jim is a salesman (it took all I had not to make any Office references). They don't have any kids yet. They've gotten a little bored with their routine since they didn't have many friends yet. Pam was looking for something to do and found the ad for this weekly race, and made it a date with Jim to come out.

The neat thing about learning to work with strangers is that surprisingly, most folks leave their ego at the dock. When I was a linesman, I obeyed the direction of the helms-person, and vice versa. Pam had never gone sailing before, so she understandably doesn't know the names for things on board. There was good-spirited frustration when Skipper Bob asked her to "trim in the jib" and she just had this blank "uh, what?" stare.  And we all got a little excited on the last heat trying to inch out in front of the lead boat (who had less people on board, by the way).

While we didn't take the pole position, we took second place in one heat, and third overall in a field of five. Everyone was happy. We all grabbed a beer (hence, "beer can race") and a hotdog and listened as the owner of the fleet, Gary, recapped the race.

The next week, it dawned to Shiela and I that we were actually excited to go because we might get to race with –or even against– Pam and Jim. When we got there (PJ, or "Peanut-Jelly" for short) were already there. They conspired with Skipper Bob to race against us! Before the brief, we talked with them a lot about last week's experience, and how the winds this week might change the outcomes. We all also talked a lot of smack about taking first place!

It took me a few beer can races to realize that making friends with strangers is easiest when you have something in common, or are working toward a common goal. You can't expect to easily make friends at bars or just wandering around the beach. I mean, sure it can literally happen, but it's a rather slow way to go about it. Group activities, where newcomers are not unusual, is a fantastic way to link up with new people.

Header photo by Luke Bender via Unsplash