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A few years ago Jennifer wrote about leaving her friends behind because of a big cross-country move. I made a similar big move nearly four years ago, following my now husband from San Diego to Seattle when he started his exciting new career. The hardest part for me? Making new friends. It sure isn’t as easy as it used to be!
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Unlike Jennifer, I’m more of an introvert than a social butterfly. My job involves interviewing all sorts of people, but I’m happiest with my nose buried in a book, working on home and design projects, or scouring thrift shops for great scores. Still, I’ve always had plenty of pals.
Back in San Diego, my best buddy lived a couple of minutes away. We’d hang out practically every day. She’d come over to preview my latest date outfit or I’d drop by to admire her new coffee table. We could gab for hours. At my wedding, she even joked to our table that if one of us were a man, we’d have gotten married ages ago.
I also had a wide circle of friends and acquaintances. Whether grabbing my morning coffee or going to shows solo, I’d always run into somebody. My social calendar was exactly as full as I wanted it to be. And it was easy to make new friends, because my job as an arts writer connected me with lots of cool people.
Here in Seattle, on the other hand, I’ve had an incredibly difficult time forging meaningful friendships. I only have a few casual friends, and most of them are fellow transplants that I already knew from Southern California. When you’re in your 30s, making new friends can be a Herculean task, especially if you work at home like I do.
Think of it as dating without the possibility of getting lucky. You meet somebody new, daydream about your apparent chemistry, and hope they feel the same way. Like dating, you can’t straight-out ask: do you like me? You have to read the signs and hope you’re not misinterpreting. You have to be your most charming self. And you have to be prepared for rejection.
I’ve been on the giving and receiving end of brush-offs. I’ve had conversations that required my best interviewing skills to get through. I even went on a blind-friend date recently that reminded me of my worst actual dates. She literally did not ask a single question about me because she was so busy talking about herself. And here I thought I was done with all that when I got hitched!
In the NY Times story “Friends of a Certain Age: Why Is It Hard to Make Friends Over 30?,” writer Alex Williams cites the biggest obstacles to finding lasting friendships as you get older. For starters, your priorities shift. In your 20s, life’s possibilities seem endless and friends are easily met at bars and parties. In your 30s, you’re focused more intently on your career and home life. Your schedule is jam-packed with obligations. You’re pickier about what you want. And spouses and kids make compatibility even more complicated.
In other words: It’s really, really hard to make new close friends as you approach the midlife mark. Especially if you’re starting over in a new city. So what’s a gal or guy to do? Here are some tips I’ve gathered while trying to figure it out.
Keep your old friends close, even if they’re scattered to the winds. Nothing will cheer you up faster on a lonely day than hearing a good friend’s voice or getting an email with all their latest news. It takes effort, of course, but it’s worth it.
Expand your notion of who your friends should be. I’ve been trying so hard to meet like-minded creative people close to my own age that I’ve probably missed out on a lot of opportunities. That elderly neighbor could have some amazing stories or recipes to share. The much-younger co-worker a few cubicles over might remind you of how fun it is to let loose once in a while.
Get over your fear of rejection. It’s going to happen no matter what. I’ve been making an effort to talk to pretty much anyone about anything. Some people look at me like I’m crazy, while others engage. Even chatting with a stranger for a few minutes can be fulfilling.
Follow up on every lead. If a contact says they know someone in your new city that you might like, go for it. Sure, it could be a terrible blind-friend date, but you could also find a new bestie. You network to advance your career. Use those skills for making friends, too.
Take a class or join an organization or team. It’s a cliché for a reason: It actually works! A sporty friend of mine recently moved and she already has a bunch of friends that she met playing soccer. I’m planning to sign up for some classes that interest me, from woodworking to raising chickens in the city. I’m also perfecting my downward dog at the neighborhood yoga center. At the very least, you’ll gain some new skills or get some exercise.
Look into local social networks that specifically target folks who are trying to make new friends. Such organizations host group activities, from cocktail mixers to a shared day on the slopes. As an introvert, I’m overwhelmed by big groups and forced social situations, but this is a can’t-lose approach for extroverts.
Establish guidelines and don’t waste your time. If I meet someone new and our first hangout seems like a success, I’ll follow up with a friendly email. I’ll even suggest making future plans. After that second meeting, though, it’s up to the other person to reciprocate. I learned this the hard way when I first moved here. I met someone that I clicked with and she always said yes when I asked her to hang out. But I realized that I was the only one doing the asking, which is not a good foundation for friendship. I moved on and focused my attention elsewhere. Also, don’t feel obligated to hang out with people you don’t particularly like just because you crave interaction.
Keep your expectations in check. I gave up on finding a Seattle-based BFF — though it still might happen someday — and instead began searching for friends who meet specific needs. Maybe you have a buddy that you grab breakfast with once a month, or a regular coffee date with someone who excels at deep conversations, or a pal that shares your passion for basketball or gallery openings. No one person needs to fill every need
Learn to enjoy your own company and explore your new city. It may seem daunting to sit at a restaurant bar by yourself, but you’d be surprised at how easy it can be to strike up a conversation, whether it’s with the bartender or the person next to you. I make a point of doing this whenever my husband is out of town.
Don’t be hard on yourself. Give it time. You know you’re an awesome person. Eventually, your new friends will know that too.
Re-edited from a post originally published 4.3.13 – NT