advice for starting over on the best possible foot
May 10, 2016 11:02 AM   Subscribe

I'm moving to a new city in a few months. It's a place I have a few weak social connections already that I hope to revive, but for the most part everything will be brand new. It's the first time I'm moved a place without a built-in social cohort and I'm 32 now.

I know I should be doing the obvious things, like getting on MeetUp and Tinder and going to college alumni events, or drinking with co-workers. I know that the even my second-tier friends I have here from the past four years will be better than the first-tier friends I make in my new place, just because good friendships take time to evolve. I guess my question is not so much that, as how to deal with the loneliness in the meantime? How to keep my chin up? How to keep a bright attitude? And there habits I should be working on now, a few months before I move? I'm having trouble being optimistic about the move (which is undoubtedly a good thing in a rational sense) when I know how hard it will be to reconstruct a social life at this age. And I also remember being optimistic when I moved to my current locale after leaving my youth in flames somewhere else (promising myself that in a few years your life will be completely different!) and I'm sure some important things have changed, but not the things I wanted -- so that it holding me back from feeling hopeful about this move too.
posted by half life to Human Relations (15 answers total) 29 users marked this as a favorite
I did exactly this a bit over three years ago.

One thing to know is that it takes time. It took a year and change to make a real solid network of friends in my new city. And I've heard from other people who did a similar move that it took longer for them.

You are right, though, that in a few years your life will be completely different! I left New York a film production drudge and solitary writer of mostly dramatic screenplays. Four years later, I'm a sketch comedy writer. Who knew?

I also think it's important to realize that you will find a temporary social network of sorts that will pave the way for the New Real Friends you will eventually make. When I first moved here I "made friends" right away, and those are still people I'm friendly with, but I'm oddly not as close to them as I am to people I met about a year later in a separate context.

I'm also not sure you can manufacture a social network out of whole cloth via things like MeetUp. That's something I tried to do -- and, granted, I wasn't much of a MeetUp person before the move -- and it didn't really lead to anything. Ditto drinks with the acquaintances I already knew in my new city. None of that really led to me becoming besties with any of those people (probably because, like my MeetUp experience, if you were only ever tangential friends with someone before, why would you suddenly become very close?).

Conversely, one thing I did that worked well was to get into a scene. This could happen via MeetUp, depending on what your interests are and how widely MeetUp is used in your new city, but for me it happened more organically, by pursuing a hobby that seemed interesting. When you have to make friends one at a time, via neighbors, colleagues, and old acquaintances from your former city, it feels so incremental. But join something where you're forced to socialize with the same 10-ish people on a weekly basis (or more?), and you will find a built-in social circle that can feel a lot more immediate and satisfying than grinding away on those 2 or 3 individual relationships.

Oh, and that scene I found? I got into it initially via someone I was dating, who I met via OK Cupid. So, yeah Tinder can be surprisingly useful for this. But I would say more to find someone you hit it off with who can then introduce you to a whole world of kindred spirits. And less for that individual grind of "made a new friend" "made another new friend" "made a third new friend" I was talking about above.
posted by Sara C. at 11:31 AM on May 10, 2016 [5 favorites]

Explore your new place. Pick several smallish places (independent stores, bars, restaurants) to be a regular. Then proceed to be a regular at the places. Get to know the staff.

Also, walk a lot. Smile and say hi to people who smile and say hi to you.

These are easy, baseline, right-away stopgaps to keep you from feeling isolated while you work on the more taxing things like finding a scene and joining things.

There's always the chance that if you get outside and get around people, you might luck into something--like you meet one of those amazing socially adept people who becomes your friend and introduces you around. Jackpot! Even if that doesn't happen, though, those little smiles and people saying "hi" all day help.
posted by Don Pepino at 11:38 AM on May 10, 2016 [1 favorite]

I moved to my current city nearly 3 years ago knowing only one person.

Forging friendships in adulthood is tough but 100% doable with the right attitude and, as you point out, the capacity to weather life solo for a bit as you get on your feet. You don't mention which country you're in, but if you're in the U.S. you're already halfway there since I've found that folks in the States are generally so much more open to meeting new people.

While still a work in progress, my current social circles were formed at or through 1) work 2) friends of friends 3) common interest groups (think shared ethnic identity, hobbies, etc 4) chance encounters that I engineer personally (yes, I'm a chummy dude) and 5) romantic interests that failed amicably

Some other things to keep in mind:

1) Say yes to anyone and anything (using your best judgment, of course). Darts with a bunch of strangers? Sure! Opera with that dude you chatted up waiting in line one day? Why not? You just moved here -- Netflix can wait!

2) When in doubt, give burgeoning friendships a second (or even third!) chance because people surprise you all the time and relationships don't usually spark overnight.

3) Abandon social anxiety. You have nothing to lose but ego: You don't know these people and if you're in a major city you may never see them again. Take chances.

4) Remember to be as interesting as you are interested in what people you meet have to say. Listeners are a rare commodity these days.

5) Patience is a virtue. You won't have a "squad" in 4 weeks.

This is an exciting time of your life. Now make the most of it. Good luck!
posted by lecorbeau at 11:47 AM on May 10, 2016 [10 favorites]

I did this last year. Moved across the country to a city where I didn't know anyone. It's still hard, and I'm still not sure if I like it! So yeah, it takes a lot longer than you'd think. I would bank on two years, minimum.

1) Meetup is fine, I met my first "real" friend here back in February via Meetup. But like an answer above, you're unlikely to create an entire social network from Meetup.

2) Now is a good time to do things you've been meaning to put off. Join a book club, join a bowling league, start running, go learn the guitar. Keep busy.

3) Know what is likely to work for you and what isn't. When I first moved, I would RSVP to Meetup groups that were like "we're 45 queer dudes and we're all going to go drink craft beer!" and I would go and get overwhelmed and feel bad. The converse of this of course is that friendships are built on repeated interactions, so go regularly to a meetup a few times before you make any judgments, unless something objectively terrible happens.

4) Do things just to do this, without a goal of "making friends". Find things you enjoy doing that are lightly social and through repeated interactions with the same people, friendships will happen.

5) I had a mixed experience with volunteering. It's good to get out and get involved in your new community, but I can't say I've made any friends through volunteering.
posted by Automocar at 11:48 AM on May 10, 2016 [1 favorite]

Oh and one other thing spurred on by another answer left while I was writing mine: I don't know where you're moving from or to, but don't assume that it's a "big city" and so you'll never run across the same people again. I moved from New York to Portland and let me tell you, I see the same people. A lot. So, be nice, be friendly, be respectful.
posted by Automocar at 11:51 AM on May 10, 2016 [4 favorites]

One thing I forgot to add:

Where in your new city you live can make a huge difference. I had a hard time gelling into a social circle when I lived in a random neighborhood not generally stuffed full of people like me or opportunities to do the stuff I like to do. Then I moved closer to new friends, which means we see each other a lot more. I have a group of people I go to the farmer's market with on weekends, people who'll meet me at our neighborhood movie theater at short notice, people who live close enough to come over and watch Game Of Thrones and have a few beers, etc. This is much more conducive to making new friends than always being a 20 minute drive in the opposite direction from everyone else. Even though my new more social neighborhood is one I would have sneered at prior to moving to Los Angeles.
posted by Sara C. at 11:55 AM on May 10, 2016 [3 favorites]

+1 for being a regular at places you like- especially coffee houses and other gregarious settings. Be kind and forgiving, receptive but not loquacious. Routine for the workaday times really builds up familiarity quickly. My own personal bent is to make sure to include exercise.

And if you have good friends elsewhere, make sure to save up to see the one or two or three you want to maintain contact with. Don't belabor old friends with tales of woe but continue to update them on topics of shared interest.
posted by mrzz at 11:55 AM on May 10, 2016

How to Become a Regular just because.
posted by rhizome at 12:01 PM on May 10, 2016 [1 favorite]

I just never had much luck with meet ups but I don't think I probably persisted as long as I should have. Big meet ups, like Sierra Club hikes were nice in that they offered a wide range of people to meet, but there were rarely the same people at the next meet up so unless you actually exchanged numbers with someone the first time you met (which was way too awkward and sudden for me to finesse) you rarely ever saw them again. I found that organizations with regular, weekly or monthly meetings worked better, more chance of chatting with people several times before having to commit to hanging out. I had the best luck meeting folk through my yoga studio and when walking my dogs in a neighborhood park. I also felt that being a regular at bars and restaurants helped, at least in as much as I kept my conversational skills from rusting entirely away while I looked for new friends.
posted by WalkerWestridge at 12:37 PM on May 10, 2016

I've relocated cities alone a few times now. When I first arrived it was usually in the summer, a perfect time to be somewhere new. My weekends and evenings were often spent taking long walks/bike rides and exploring the nearby areas - checking out the shops, delis, restaurants, and pubs, finding the nice parks, art galleries. I did that for hours. Having a car, I'd go to further away places as well for similar stuff. For me, feeling at-home in a new city meant finally knowing a number of places to go for stuff I like.

Combatting the loneliness - yep, I did online dating, volunteering, meet-ups, and joined clubs. Even if I didn't end up making new friends very often, it really helped to just get out of the house and be in a social atmosphere to satisfy that need. I accepted all invitations to do things with people too, with the motto "I'll try (nearly) anything once", and extended invitations to other people I met for coffee/drinks/activities.

And you have to remember it takes time to integrate yourself into a new life. It takes time to cement new friendships, to get into a new routine, and to feel at home in this new city. Give yourself at least 6 months, preferably a year, to acclimatize.
posted by lizbunny at 12:53 PM on May 10, 2016

If it's in the cards for you lifestyle-wise and something you'd like anyway, consider adopting a dog. You will meet tons of people walking around your neighborhood, at the local park, pet store, dog training class. A dog is a common interest that demands to be taken out publicly, and it's an icebreaker. As a last resort, it can also be a substitute for non verbal human companionship. Without my dogs I would have gone insane moving to a new city and knowing nobody but my husband, who traveled a lot.

Obviously goes without saying it's a big responsibility, work, only do it if you reallywant to. But if you've wanted a dog this might be a great time to get one.
posted by permiechickie at 1:14 PM on May 10, 2016

On the converse (or really, maybe it's all a wash?), I adopted a dog soon after moving cities and found that it was isolating because I always had to get home to walk and feed my dog. When dating, I couldn't really sleep over at anyone else's place because of my dog. I also felt guilty if I wasn't spending a lot of time with my dog, making sure he got a lot of exercise and stimulation, etc. which then detracted from my social life.

I wouldn't say explicitly don't have a dog, but I think having a dog can only help you meet people if you are already pretty set in your ways and are mostly looking for people to chat with for 20 minutes on a Saturday afternoon, and not a core social group/long term romantic partner. Or if the people you're looking to make friends with aren't the type of people who ever stay out late, or make last minute plans, or like to socialize places that require you to leave your dog for a long time.
posted by Sara C. at 1:30 PM on May 10, 2016 [4 favorites]

I'm really bad at the things you SHOULD do (become a regular somewhere, join meet-ups etc.) because I'm kind of introverted and even though I knew I should be doing those things, I was kind of crippled by insecurity and just couldn't.

I did try a book club and met a few cool people that way, but the book club fizzled out and so did those relationships.

Things that worked for me were meeting people through work and working hard to build upon and cultivate those relationships. ... but I think I'm more of a closed person than a lot of people. I'm definitely afraid of rejection, so asking people out for a drink or for a meal, or for whatever was super hard for me.... and still is.... but I worked hard to get myself out of my comfort zone and just start asking people that I liked out to do things and that definitely worked!
posted by JenThePro at 2:21 PM on May 10, 2016 [2 favorites]

Some great advice above. I especially nodded my head to:
  • Sara C's temporary vs New Real Friends + making friends via hobbies
  • lecorbeau's "Say yes to anyone and anything" is also my #1 tip (aka the "yes policy")
  • JenThePro "work[ing] hard to get myself out of my comfort zone" rang true

    I would add one "habit" - and I think this is particularly important having read your comment "I'm having trouble being optimistic about the move" - the importance of being optimistic and positive.

    When you're new to a city / group, you'll inevitably notice many things are different. It's easy to compare, contrast and criticize. Firstly, that's a one way ticket to hating it. Secondly, the #1 thing you have in common with the people you'll meet is your new city (and citizens), so it's a risky strategy to trash it/them.

    So practice embracing change and your new city with unabashed positivity. I started reading my new home's history and watching movies set there. Being so positive might actually feel odd initially, but it's utterly refreshing. And the alternative means limiting your potential friends to cynics, pessimists, and isolationist expats.

  • posted by Chipeaux at 2:57 PM on May 10, 2016 [3 favorites]

    Oh - and get yourself busy exploring the new city: go to festivals, art shows, community events or just get out of the house to eat at the counter of your local bar, try a local gym, or another coffee shop.

    It'll fill your newly empty schedule - plus serendipitous meetings just don't tend to happen in your living room.
    posted by Chipeaux at 3:44 PM on May 10, 2016 [1 favorite]

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