Let’s take a walk back to Elementary school for a second. Imagine a scenario with me.
It’s the first day of first grade, and Brian is a bit nervous. Now that he’s moved out of kindergarten, he has to share a playground with the big kids, go a whole day without nap time, and even learn to write in cursive. It’s going to be a rough year. Brian is sure of it.
The teacher takes her place at the front of the room and asks them all to get out a pencil. Brian reaches into his desk to pull out a Captain America pencil, which he had carefully selected to correlate with the rest of his Avengers-themed school supplies. As he glances around the room, he sees that the young boy seated beside him is pulling a pencil out of his Ironman backpack.
“Thanks. Cool pencil.”
“Want to play Avengers at recess?”
And just like that, Brian made a new friend in a new place.
Now, this isn’t going to be a post that could alternately be titled How to Make Friends for Dummies. You’re no dummy. You’re just new to town, and it’s harder to make real friends than it seems.
Let’s just say this right off the bat: making friends in Nashville was not something that happened completely naturally for me. I’m an introvert. While introversion doesn’t equate to social ineptitude, it does mean that I prefer deep friendships with few people, and the idea of walking up to a stranger to initiate a conversation of small talk makes me want to go home and go to bed. So when I transitioned into a new place and I felt like I was surrounded by acquaintances rather than friends who truly knew me, I was frustrated. I was discouraged. I wanted to leave.
Maybe you’re an extrovert, and you’re worried about only having one friend in your new place, and it’s taking the energy out of you at this very moment. Or maybe you’re somewhere in between, and you just really want a group of people you can grab pizza and a movie with this weekend.
No matter where you fall in the introversion/extroversion spectrum, making friends will likely involve being outside of your comfort zone at some point in time. But, it’s a risk that’s well worth the reward.
Here are three things to keep in mind when trying to form friendships in a new city:
All friendships have to start somewhere. Sometimes when I would get discouraged about not immediately having best friends in Nashville, I would remind myself that all of my friendships had to start somewhere. It seems obvious and simple, but it was really good motivation for me to be okay with the beginning stages of friendship in a time when I was longing for the later stages. Inside jokes, shared memories, and built trust are all things that take time, but none of it will happen if you aren’t willing to take the first step.
Let go of your inhibition. Kids make friends pretty easily because they lack inhibition. They aren’t afraid someone will think they’re weird if they ask them to play, they don’t debate for 20 minutes whether or not to talk to someone sitting next to them, and they don’t get hung up on coming on too strong or seeming desperate. Letting go of those grown-up-created inhibitions is one of the keys to making friends in a new place.
It’s kind of like friend-dating. Just go up and talk to someone. Add them as friends on social media. Ask for their number. The first time you get coffee or catch a movie very well may include a few awkward silences or nervous rambling. But if there’s a friendship spark there, the next time you hang out will be less awkward, the time after that your nerves will be gone, and so on and so forth.
Fun fact: the first time I hung out with a group of girls who are now some of my good friends in Nashville, it was because I invited myself to their Bible study. Inviting myself places is not something I do a lot. Or ever. But they didn’t kick me out, and here we are. (Psst. Just another reason to get involved in a church when you move to a new place.)
Initiate. In 99% of cases, happenstance doesn’t create group hang outs. All gatherings are organized by someone, and if you want them to happen, that someone might as well be you. Send out the facebook message, find a time for the movie, or choose a restaurant. It’s not a very hard job, but it’s not taking the initiative to do it that keeps us from making new friends. I’ve found countless people who are looking for the same type of community I am, regardless of how long they’ve lived in the area. So invite people over, invite yourself along, or find an existing event and ask people to go with you.
Maybe you’re in a similar place to where I was six months ago: you know that this is where you’re supposed to be, but in order to make it home, something is going to have to change.
You can do it. All you have to do is channel your inner first grade Brian. You’ll have a new friend by the time recess rolls around.