If you’ve ever taken the plunge and moved away from home to a new town or city, you’ve likely faced the daunting task of making new friends. I was recently asked about this in a response to another blog post. I’ll tell you what worked for me, but first, a little background.
I moved to Charleston in the summer of 2010 having lived my entire life (44 years at the time) in Massachusetts. When I decided it was time to leave New England I didn’t really have a firm idea of where I’d go. I wanted warmer. I wanted a city large enough to support my IT career. I wanted different. I pulled out a map and started scanning down the coast. DC was still too prone to snow. The NC coast just didn’t have enough cities. Hmm – Charleston and Savannah? I should check those out.
I took a long weekend trip to Charleston in late April, 2010 and fell in love with the place. The dining and music scenes were terrific, the historic neighborhoods charming, the beaches close and soothing. And the heat? After years of brutal winters I was ready for heat – heat and humidity. Bring it!
On a side note, it took my until August of 2013 to finally visit Savannah. A lovely city and such an easy day or weekend trip, but I think I chose correctly. Charleston was more for me.
I came back to Charleston in June, 2010 to look at some rentals I had identified online. I can’t tell you how helpful Google StreetView was in my search. You can explore entire neighborhoods from 900 miles away with a browser and a mouse. How cool is that? It took a day of crisscrossing the city on foot in the 90F/90% humidity to find just the right place to call home, but I settled on a nice apartment near the SC Aquarium. I drove down in August with my few belongings.
I should note, I knew no one here. No family. No friends. I also came down with no job lined up. I did have savings built up for this adventure, though. It’s not something I would suggest if you’re not prepared, but if you’re young(ish) and thinking some day you’d like to do something similar, start saving now.
I’m pretty introverted by nature, which I knew was not going to take me very far on this adventure. This was going to be to hardest part – to battle the voice in my head that would tell me to stay home at night rather than go out and mingle with strangers. Listen to that voice and you’re a goner. This is on you. If you aren’t willing to challenge yourself and push yourself you’ll end up disappointed.
“Old friends pass away, new friends appear. It is just like the days. An old day passes, a new day arrives. The important thing is to make it meaningful: a meaningful friend – or a meaningful day.” – The Dalai Lama
I do wonder if we get spoiled by the ease with which we can “befriend” people on social media like Facebook. Making friends IRL was never easy. Well, when we were forced into socializing with our age-peers via the requisite public school system it was easy. College? Still kind of easy. It’s after that when it gets harder. AND THAT’S NORMAL!
Back to finding friends in a new city. How can you do it? First, check out a site like Meetup.com. Actually, not one like it. The actual one. Meetup.com. Check it out and see how active it is in your location. For Charleston, there were hundreds of different meetups to choose from. I selected a few that looked appropriate: a couple single’s mingles, a kayaking group, a Buddhist discussion group, and a writers group. I went to a few free events.
“Mingle often with good people to keep your soul nourished.” – Anthony Douglas Williams
Funny story, I went to one of the minglers meetups and, walking in the door, all I saw were people 20+ years my elder. I could have turned around and walked out but I didn’t. I mingled. One of the organizers pulled me aside to let me know that, while I was very welcome, there was a different mingles group that skewed a bit younger and I might enjoy that more. While I did eventually check that one out, I stayed at this one and met some wonderful people. Some of them had kids closer to my own age that I later shared a drink with and had some good times. Bottom line: you’re an adult now and any group of adults is valuable to you as you try to build a new circle of friends. Friends come in all shapes, sizes, and ages, so leave the judgment at home.
Another way to meet people is to eat out a bit more. It doesn’t have to be fancy or expensive but it does have to have a bar. That’s where you’ll meet people. Bartenders are terrific at facilitating conversations. Take advantage of that (and tip them well)! Don’t go sit by yourself at a table. Mosey up the bar, have a meal and engage the people around you. Even if they’re tourists it
- gives you practice talking to strangers
- gives you confidence now that you’re “a local”
- demonstrates to others around you that you’re social and approachable.
Meetups are great, as is eating out, but what about finding other social activities? Here in Charleston we have a free weekly paper called the Charleston City Paper which was my bible for the first year I was here. It had a huge events section – music, theatre, art exhibits – if it was happening in the city, the City Paper had it. Find your city’s equivalent, keeping in mind it may be something online rather than in print. Find things you’d like to do and go do them. The big thing is to fight the voice in your head saying it’s not something to do alone. You’re not going to look like a loser. You’re going to look like a person who takes life by the horns. So many people won’t do it. You will.
Another option is to get involved with a charity in your area. I spent my first few months in the city doing volunteer work with Darkness to Light. I stuffed envelopes, did data entry, worked on some reports – whatever they needed. I also got to work at their annual gala WHICH WAS A BLAST! For a little bit of work you get to support a great cause and meet all sorts of people. It was actually through connections made there that I landed the job I still have today.
How does it all turn out?
In my case, I made a very good friend, also a transplant, in the first 3 weeks I was here. After that I did some casual dating, continued to do meetups, and gradually expanded my circle of, if not besties, at least good people to do things with. There were setbacks. One problem with dating in a new place is that you may make friends with the friends of the person you’re dating and, when that relationship ends, those friendships may be challenged. You are the newcomer, after all. Be prepared for that and remember to keep building your own circle. Don’t get lazy!
It was probably a year before I could say I had 2 or 3 real good friends. When I moved here I promised myself I’d give it 5 years before committing fully to the place or giving up on it. It takes a while to settle into something so new. Some time between years 2 and 3 I was pretty sure this was the place for me. As I approach my 5th year I am more sure than ever. I now have a fantastic romantic relationship as well as 4-5 besties and am in a few circles of good friends. I’ve gotten into acting, have performed improv, did some open-mic storytelling, and have a couple podcasts and this blog. I have friends from work, some from theatre, others that were established in the mingles groups, and some just from getting out there and meeting people.
Making friends and meeting people in a new place takes effort. Social media and online dating may make it seem like it should be easier. That’s the big lie. I hear a lot of frustration from online daters. You may get a lot more choice, but I’d be willing to bet the results are no better than doing it the old-fashioned way – by going out and meeting people.
So, don’t throw the computer away! It’s still useful in finding where to meet people, but you still have to go out and actually meet them. A Facebook status isn’t enough.
Steve is the founder of Straight Talk Entertainment and currently produces and writes for the audio drama Aural Traditions, recently voted Charleston City Paper’s Best Local Podcast. He’s also an Information Security professional and avid shark tooth hunter.