Saskatchewan·In Your Shoes

'Will you be my friend?': Speedfriending surprisingly non-awkward way to meet new people

Is it possible to join a group of strangers playing board games in a cafe for a night, and walk away with a new friendship?

Board Game Bistro cafe tries out speedfriending games night

Jessica Artemenko, owner of Board Game Bistro, said she decided to hold a speedfriending event at the cafe based on her own desire to meet new people. (CBC News)

Is it possible to join a group of strangers playing board games in a cafe for a night, and walk away with a new friendship?

I'm hoping so as I walk through the doors of the Board Game Bistro on a Thursday night, bracing myself for awkwardness at the cafe's first-ever Speedfriending night.

It's been 10 months since I moved to Regina, and the loss of my old friends can still feel like an open wound, an abyss under my feet.  

Jessica Artemenko, owner of the cafe, says she knows what it can be like to try and make new friendships.  

"I grew up in Regina, I lived here for my first 18 years and then I moved to Vancouver for five years. Now I'm back and I'm finding it hard to make friends, I guess," she said. "This is an event that I would love to go to."

The games' action moves swiftly, leaving little time for awkward first meeting chatter. (CBC News)

Artemenko has set up tables, filled with about 15 people, who shift between board games, meeting strangers as they try each one.

Surprisingly, there's little room for awkwardness with the fast-moving game action, but we still get a feel for others' personalities, one who's fiercely competitive, others who are funny and self-effacing, and others who seem more shy and reserved.

After some time, I've learned a few new games and had some laughs, but I still don't feel like I've gotten to know anyone. So I put down my cards and explain what I'm doing here, and ask others if they mind telling me what brought them out tonight.

I'm surprised to learn that at my table, I'm the only newcomer to Regina, with the others having lived in the city for years.

"I don't make friends very easily," explained 20-year-old Gabrielle Kyrylchuk.

"All through elementary school, I've watched people and they have maintained these friendships from elementary school all the way through high school and they're still friends. I don't have that."

Sam Rotelik, Oren Jobko, Colton Workman and Gabrielle Kyrylchuk were among the people that came out to a Thursday night speedfriending event at Board Game Bistro cafe. (CBC News)

People drop out of her life all the time, she said, explaining she's constantly looking to broaden her social aspects.

Thirty-two-year-old Sam Rotelick also has several friends, but busy schedules, work or even kids have sent many of them on different life paths. She's here looking for other people wanting to make a connection.

"Everyone I met tonight has been awesome," she said, adding like me, she too had worried that people might be awkward about making friends. "But everyone seems to be really nice and open to the idea."

But how do you make the jump from a casual interaction to friendship? Much like dating, there can be a touch of anxiety or insecurity about asking people if they'd like to exchange numbers at the end of the night. The group agrees they'd come out again, maybe getting to know the strangers over time.    

"I am afraid sometimes I come across too exuberant for some people, and I'm afraid I scare them," says Rotelick, noting she'll worry she's being too loud or domineering, or gesturing too much with her hands.

"I'm not in control of my limbs when I'm excited," she jokes.

It seems to me, after some time talking, that many of us are trapped in a box of quiet yearning, for things we've lost, or perhaps, for things we've never had. But maybe it's possible to find our way out, with a little courage and hope.

I tell them I hope they all find a friend, but then I check myself. After all, we all met each other tonight. 

Kyrylchuk nods, and says, "I feel closer to you now — I would go for coffee with you."

It's an offer that sounds rich with possibility. Every new friendship starts somewhere, after all.   

When I head out into the now dark and cooling night, I see four of the people I've spoken to are still lingering, talking by the bar. If you were an outsider looking in, you might think they were friends who'd known each other for years.

Maybe they will be.