How to widen your social circle for winter

Don’t let cold weather — or the pandemic — keep you from socializing this winter. Here are six fun, socially-distant ways to make new friends.
Widen Social Circle
“I think the goal here is to get to know people over a shared experience, so it kind of takes the pressure off just having to completely focus on conversation,” said Niro Feliciano.TODAY illustration / Getty Images

Have some of your friendships fallen by the wayside after all these months of social distancing? According to Niro Feliciano, a cognitive psychotherapist and author of the podcast “Coping With The New Normal of COVID-19,” you’re not alone. The pandemic has been taking a toll on relationships.

“A lot of friendships have been very much fractured during this time of COVID-19, as well as the election,” she told TODAY.

There have been differences of opinion on whether — and to what extent — we follow pandemic safety protocols. The presidential election has also been polarizing. And beyond that, simply not being able to get together in person has made it harder to maintain relationships (though easier to weed some less important ones out, too).

With the election upon us and winter drawing closer, coronavirus cases continue to rise across the country. Public health officials are advising stepping up social distancing, which in cold-weather regions means it’ll be difficult to comfortably gather in socially distant ways outdoors. But that’s not an excuse to become a hermit.

People are finding creative ways to meet new friends, both on- and offline, in safe, socially-distant ways, said Feliciano. She explained that many are organizing virtual events on social platforms where they can get to know others over like-minded interests, such as a shared love of books or cooking, for example. Another thing you can do, she said, is create an event that can be hosted over Zoom (or another video conferencing platform). Invite people you know on social media and encourage them to invite their friends, who can in turn invite others.

“I think the goal here is to get to know people over a shared experience, so it kind of takes the pressure off just having to completely focus on conversation,” Feliciano said. “But we kind of get to know their personality as it comes out doing these things.”

Here are six creative options for meeting new people during the pandemic.

  • Virtual book and podcast clubs
  • Virtual happy hours
  • Virtual trivia nights
  • Virtual cook-off
  • Virtual arts and crafts nights
  • Socially-distanced dinners outside

1. Organize a virtual book or podcast club

Virtual book clubs have been popular during the pandemic, according to Feliciano, though she pointed out that many people have been too anxious or busy to read. If that’s the case for you, she recommends organizing a virtual podcast club, which you can host over Zoom. “Find one podcast episode that was meaningful to you or interesting and share it with your friends, because that's something people can do while they're folding laundry or cooking dinner, or whatever it might be, and it's not the same kind of commitment as reading a whole book,” she said. People can choose to just listen, or to discuss it together afterward.

2. Host virtual happy hours

Love making your own cocktails? Virtual happy hours proliferated during the spring quarantine. Feliciano suggested making them even more engaging by picking a cocktail recipe each week that everyone can make and then sip together. “There's a little bit more connectedness than just kind of jumping on a Zoom call where everyone's drinking,” she said.

3. Plan virtual trivia nights

Are you obsessed with trivia? Whether it’s with other adults or the entire family, trivia nights can be a fun way to connect with like-minded people. Trivias can revolve around a favorite theme that everyone shares, whether it’s a favorite TV series, holiday, music, sports or any other shared interest.

Dr. Meredith Renda, a pediatrician in Connecticut, says she and her family have been participating in trivia nights since the pandemic started. Most recently, they joined a Zoom-based Harry Potter trivia night, she said. The organizer asked questions, and families sent their answers over the messaging feature, which the organizer reviewed and tallied at the end. “It has felt like a nice breath of fresh air sometimes when you get to sort of see all these other families and realize that everyone's kind of doing the same thing you are,” she said.

4. Arrange a virtual cook-off

With many restaurants closed, lots of people are testing their skills in the kitchen. If you’re spending more time over the stove, why not invite others to see what you’re making? Each week, you can host a virtual cook-off over Zoom. You can make your own dishes or suggest a recipe that everyone has to make. “People are making (recipes), and you can see what people are doing (while) cooking,” said Feliciano. “They're jumping in and out of that process, and talking with friends. I know people who've done that. It's been great for them.”

5. Set up virtual arts and crafts nights

Have you been spending more time on personal art projects? Whether it’s painting, knitting or anything crafty, getting together with others online to do something fun and creative is a great way to connect with others. “You could even have a teacher do it on the Zoom call to instruct you,” suggested Feliciano. “And they're fairly simple, but a lot of fun. So you're talking, you're connecting, but you're also painting, you're having a cocktail.” Virtual arts and crafts nights can also be great ways for kids and families to connect, she added.

6. Throw small socially-distanced dinner parties outside

As the pandemic stretches into the winter, you can still meet others in person, as long as you are practicing appropriate social distance guidelines and meeting outdoors, say public health experts. Renda and her husband put up a large open tent in their backyard. They keep it warm with space heaters and host socially-distanced meals for friends and family. Occasionally, either she or her husband will invite a co-worker and his or her significant other over for dinner in the tent.

It’s been a way for them to meet new people face to face without breaking social distancing protocols, said Renda. To stay safe, they only invite one couple over at a time, and keep tables, food and disposable utensils separate — with sanitizer and hand wipes on each table. She added that they try to limit meals to only an hour. “I think that the most important thing, when you're thinking about meeting someone, or a family, in person, is to be very clear about your expectations and their expectations,” she said.