How to Make Friends In a New City: Things No One Teaches You, But You Really Need to Know

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Adult social life can be tricky.

Here’s what I mean.

When we were kids, many of us naturally fell into friendship with other children who lived in our neighborhood or attended our school. Almost by default, we developed connections to the people who we saw day in and day out in our communities.

Looking back, the whole process may almost seem like it “just happened” as if there’s an “automatic” quality to the way friendships formed.

But while it is a positive thing to develop default friendships that we didn’t have to work to obtain, it can also present a challenge.

For instance, we may not be able to put a finger on what caused us to become friends with these people in the first place. Which means we know next to nothing about how to make friendships in the future.

If you live in your hometown, and all your friends also stuck around your hometown, then you may have never encountered a need to think about making new adult friends. But if, for any reason, your sense of “normal” got disrupted–if you moved, changed jobs, or your friends moved–and you no longer have regular access to old friends, it can feel intimidating to start over.

Here’s a few tips for what to do in that situation.

  1. Don’t personalize it. When you look around and suddenly realize your friend group has shrunk, you may be tempted to feel a sense of failure. Your mind can quickly deliver a set of fear-based questions: Are you not interesting enough? Are you not likeable? Those fears, though, are probably unfounded. Everyone’s friendships change over the course of life, for one reason or another. It is normal to have to make some adjustments, and to have to take some new initiative, along the way. That’s not a reflection of your likeability. It’s a reflection of how transient our communities and careers can be.
  2. Start with low risk opportunities. While you could just start “cold calling”–trying to strike up friendship with people in the Starbucks line–it’s probably not the best strategy to start. Most people won’t be expecting or prepared to respond to social invitations while grabbing their morning coffee, so the risk of rejection is higher. And feeling shot down will only discourage you in reaching out further. Friendships with strangers usually only work under two conditions: one, you have the chance to engage in an extended conversation where you discover a lot of commonalities or, two, you become “familiar strangers” because you begin to see each other day after day which helps you develop a level of comfort. Outside of those two scenarios, the coffee shop line isn’t a prime spot for expanding your social circle.
  3. Join something. The word “something” here is purposefully vague because it almost doesn’t matter what kind of group or club or organization you join, as long as it puts you in repeated contact with the same group of people. So sign up to volunteer monthly, join a gym, start attending a church, sign up for a book club, take an art class. Any or all of the above. The first step in building friendships is always, always, always this: Be around people.
  4. Look for social groups or “meet ups” in particular. There’s a whole website and app called Meetup that helps users connect with other people in their region who are looking to socialize. Some of these groups get together around common interests or age groupings or career fields, while others just simply do lunch or drinks together on a regular basis. What makes this such a great opportunity is pretty much everyone involved with the app intentionally  downloaded it because they want to meet people and make friends. This significantly lowers the possible risk of  approaching people who aren’t interested in developing more social connections.
  5. Be the one to plan a get-together. Think about the people you live or work near. It’s very likely there are other residents in your apartment building or neighborhood, or other employees at your workplace, who would also welcome new friendships. Inviting a few people to join you for drinks after work or to throw an impromptu neighborhood barbecue can be a great, low-risk way to meet people. As you interact in the group, you’ll likely be able to get a feel for which people seem the most interested in getting to know you or who would be likely to have a lot in common with you.

One last word.

Remember, as you try these ideas, that friendships don’t usually form overnight. But the beginnings of friendship do! So go in with realistic expectations. Understand you’re going to need to spend some time on the small stuff–invites, introductions, small talk. Expect that if you interact with people repeatedly over the course of several months, some–but not all–of your acquaintances will likely become closer friends.

There are 3 comments

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  1. JenUhVeev

    No matter what your situation in life, I actually think there’s always ways to grow and improve. Some people prove this by picking up new hobbies or skills even in adulthood. It’s just that not everyone was taught this and a lot of people just settle in and accept where they are at in their young adult years and don’t try to change.

  2. Lorraine

    I actually moved to another city earlier in life. I thought it was going to be easier than it was to be honest. It was still in the south where I grew up and I thought both cities had similar cultures. But when I got there, I was so busy with work that it was hard to make friends. I spent a lot of nights eating takeout.

  3. MandolinGuy

    I am reading this site with interest. I don’t want to be “THAT GUY”, the town cynic or whatever, but I’m not sure I agree with the premise behind a lot of these posts which is that you can learn to be social. I’m sitting here weighing it all: how much of a person’s personality is determined by their DNA vs. how much is determined by conditioning vs. how much can be re-programmed…

    I sorta want to believe all of us have the possibility to thrive socially, but I come from a long line of people who thought differently. That some people are just born recluses and there’s no changing it. Anyone else questioning this?

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