Making friends in a new place is daunting. Not only do you have to get used to a new area, new living space, new job or school, and sometimes even a completely new culture, you also have to do it without a support system or even someone to grab dinner with.
And making friends as an adult is much harder than when you were a kid. As adults, our leisure time is often consumed with household chores, career responsibilities, and time with our partners, and there are no built-in opportunities to hang out with friends like you did at school.
Since leaving my parents’ home at the age of 19, I have moved five times. It hasn’t all been easy, but I’ve learned a lot along the way about how to meet new people and how to develop new, wonderful friendships at every stage of my life. I hope my advice yields the same for you.
DO Be Open-Minded
Without even meaning to, you may have developed rigid expectations of what friendship should look like.
Maybe in your last living situation, you had a big group of girlfriends who you saw every day and had a ton of activities in common with. In your new place, you may find that your new best friend is a guy who is not going to be your shopping buddy. Or that most of your friends are older than you and not interested in the bar scene. Or that you don’t have a group at all but lots of individual friendships. Allow yourself to experience new dynamics and be open to meeting people who have different interests and perspectives to you.
DON’T Change Yourself To Fit In
It can be hard to find your feet in a new place, especially if it is very different to where you grew up. You may find yourself subject to new pressures and expectations, not all of which you will agree with.
I grew up in England and now live in the American South. I would say that after four years, I do generally follow Southern etiquette, but I haven’t completely changed just because of my surroundings—unlike most of my neighbors, I am not religious or conservative. I do sometimes find it hard to be on the outside of the community because my beliefs don’t fit the core group, but I always think it’s more important to be a genuine person.
DO Be Confident
Making friends is a lot like dating. You want to come across as interesting without trying too hard or being too aloof.
When I first moved to my current location, I felt insecure about the fact that I was unemployed. I got asked what I did for work every single time I met new people—and a lot of them raised their eyebrows about the fact that I was trying to start a freelance writing career—which made me want to avoid talking at all. When I started introducing myself and my aspirations with confidence, I had much more success connecting with people.
And it’s worth saying that no matter who you are and how much you try, not everyone will like you. It really is OK. It’s always good to be capable of self-examination but don’t tear yourself apart because someone doesn’t want to be your friend.
DON’T Be Afraid Of Honesty
There is no shame in telling people that you are looking to make new friends! I feel like it’s stigmatized to admit that you don’t have a lot of friends (even if you have just moved), but you’d be surprised how many people will reach out to you if they know you’re trying to widen your social circle.
You don’t need to blurt out, “I have no friends,” to anyone who will listen, but do make an effort to explain that you’re looking to meet new people and don’t have a lot of connections right now. Earlier this year, I confided in a new friend that I felt a little down about planning my wedding without any family or close friends nearby. To my surprise and delight, she went to my other recently-made friends and they all offered to throw me a bachelorette party. Most people will help if you let them know what you need.
DO Find Reasons To Hang Out Regularly
One of the most important elements in friend-making is actually seeing people more than every few weeks or months. The more you see someone, the more comfortable you’ll be around them, and the more your friendship will grow.
I made most of my friends by volunteering weekly, attending group fitness classes, and starting a book club. Even if I get busy with work or feel a bit anti-social, these pre-planned activities keep me accountable for spending time with others.
DON’T Cling Too Much To The Past
This is another subject in itself, but not all relationships last the distance. When you move, you may find that you stop hearing from old friends, even ones who you were once super close to.
I have some far away friends that I talk to every week, others I catch up with a few times a year, and some I stopped hearing from practically as soon as I packed my bags. Try not to take this personally. The truth is, a lot of people are disorganized and/or don’t like long distance communication. Don’t let yourself dwell on it to the point that your energy is down for meeting new, fabulous friends.
DO Say Yes To Invitations
Getting used to a new situation is tiring. Sometimes you’d rather spend your evenings and weekends at home with your couch than out with unfamiliar people. But when you do get an invitation, try to say yes as much as possible. If you keep saying no, people might stop asking you, and before you know it the window of friendship will be closed.
Also, think about whether you are an impulsive sort of person or not; it’s important to be flexible with other people’s schedules and preferences. I completely admit that I am an old lady and get flustered when plans change at the last minute. If someone invites me to dinner when I have an evening of writing planned, I won’t just say no, I’ll follow up with an invitation for another day instead.
DON’T Make Yourself Uncomfortable
Not everyone makes a great first impression. There may be some people who strike you as off-putting in some way, or who you have an awkward conversation with, but don’t write them off right away. Remember that a lot of people are shy or uncomfortable in certain situations, but that doesn’t mean that they’re not caring or interesting individuals.
That said, don’t feel pressured to get into situations you won’t enjoy in the name of making friends. For instance, if you really don’t like drinking, it’s OK to not pursue a friendship with someone who only wants to hang out at a bar. Now that I’m older and more aware of what I need from others, I only pursue friendships with people who are kind, secure and non-judgemental.
DO Be Proactive About Making Friends
Most of us are kind of lazy when it comes to socializing, and won’t take the time to invite others over or make weekend plans ahead of time. Give yourself a goal of doing something social once a week, make a list of people you’ve met (and have contact information for), and be assertive about making plans.
Even if you think the other person will say no, just ask. I think sometimes potential new friends assume I won’t want to hang out with them because I’m engaged, but my fiancé and I have fairly separate social lives and have no issues going out without each other. Also, some people just need the right kind of invitation—not everyone is going to want to go to a yoga class, but they may want to grab a pizza.
DON’T Be Afraid To Explore Solo
Don’t sit at home refreshing Facebook and weeping over your lack of social life. Explore your new home! If you’re the plan-ahead type, make a bucket list to motivate yourself to actually see and do everything.
What does your new home offer that your old one didn’t? I’ve lived in mid- to large cities, college towns, and small, rural areas, and each place has introduced me to a new side of myself. I no longer wander cobblestone streets and meet friends for lunch; instead I go hiking and kayaking and driving around the mountains. I value the independence and self-reliance that came from moving almost as much as all the friends I’ve made.
As long as you are open and friendly, you can make friends anywhere.
Have you moved recently? What are your tips for making friends? Tweet us @LitDarling!