Friends in New Places: 5 Tips for Making Friends in a New City

Friends in New Places: 5 Tips for Making Friends in a New City

Making friends in a new city as an adult is never easy. But as we get older, it gets even tougher.

We may meet new people — at the gym, at kids’ playdates, at work — but it becomes increasingly difficult to turn those acquaintances into friends. Our schedules are packed and less flexible, and our priorities change.

This month Nina Badzin, our friendship advice columnist, tackles the question of a reader who also faces the challenge of finding friends in an unfamiliar town.

 

Dear Nina,

I have several close girlfriends, but not many who live geographically close to me. I had a difficult year last year welcoming a new baby while my husband traveled extensively for work, with little to no family support. I generally come across as a very “on top of things” person, so people often don’t think I need any help. But last year showed me I do need help! As our family plans to move in a few months I want to try to cultivate friendships where it’s not unusual to get together with friends for dinner, or to help one another out. Any tips on how to start from scratch in a new place with that particular goal in mind?

Thanks,

Making Friends in a New City

 

Dear Making Friends in a New City,

I love your question and your specific goal! In fact, my answer is on the longer side so it will be the only question we tackle here today.

No matter the number of friends we talk to on the phone, or via texts, emails, Facebook comments, Tweets, and so on, many of us are wired to see friends face-to-face. Let’s be honest, considering that even a phone conversation can seem rare these days, time together can be that much harder to schedule. As you implied with your question, however, it’s those face-to-face interactions that lead to the kind of friendship where you can rely on others in times of need and joy. Despite what Katherine Rosman reported in the New York Times last week about people who manage to find time for Twitter and Instagram, but can’t be bothered to return a phone call, there are still people who remember that nothing can replace the real connection of hearing a friend’s voice and seeing her face (not on your iPhone screen or in the form of an avatar).

Fourteen years ago I moved to Minneapolis without any friends. It took me a long time to feel settled, but I eventually made this city my home. I’ve also watched others move here through the years and marveled at how gracefully some transitioned despite the reputation among non-native Minnesotans that it’s impossible to make new friends when “Minnesota Nice” means “Minnesota Ice.” (I’ve also seen less graceful situations, but I’m going to keep it positive.) I’ll share my tips and some ideas from the women who arrived in town more recently.

I cannot talk about making friends in a new city without mentioning Rachel Bertsche’s memoir MWF Seeking BFF in which she chronicles her systematic effort of going on weekly “friend dates” for her entire first year in Chicago. Like you, Rachel had several close friends in other cities, but she missed having that support system nearby. While going on 52 outings with new friends over the course of a year only makes sense for a book deal, I think anyone can glean lessons from Rachel’s active approach of making friends in a new city, which was: Do not wait for friendships to happen.

While some people feel annoyed by the word “dating” in reference to making new friends, it is an apt description. Actively looking for quality friends is just like dating, yet in some ways much easier because you can have several friends who fulfill different needs in your life rather than seeking a “perfect” match. I think the biggest key to making new friends in a new city is to accept the fact that she who is interested in new friends is the one who must make the effort. Fight that fact, and you will still be asking this question in five years. Harsh but true.

  1. Making Friends in a New City: If You Feed Them, They Will Come

Clara* moved to Minneapolis two years ago and she’s already one of my closest friends. She’s managed to achieve what you’re looking for in terms of asking for help and providing help to others. She’s always carpooling with other families to birthday parties, organizing play dates at her house, or sending her kids to someone else’s house. Clara’s willingness to ask for help has influenced those of us in her midst to feel we can ask, too.

I asked Clara how she settled in so quickly. “Do a lot of hosting,” she said. She hosted dinners and brunches for families from her kids’ classes and her social life grew from there. She didn’t wait for invitations, nor did she feel entitled to tit-for-tat reciprocation. If someone who’d been to her house for a meal reached out to meet for coffee or a walk, Clara considered that invitation a great result from her hosting efforts. She didn’t eliminate women as “friend potential” if they didn’t have her family over right away.

2. Accept Invitations

Julie is another newer friend of mine. She moved to Minneapolis a bit after Clara, and she did so without kids. Furthermore, her job gave her no immediate connections to potential friends because she works from home. We met after getting assigned to the same table at a benefit for an organization we both care about, and at some point after that we got together for lunch. (Lunch was Julie’s idea despite the fact that I’m seven years older and a mom of four.) I later invited Julie and her husband for dinner, and some time after that she had the six of us over, too. (Brave!)

I asked Julie for her number one tip. “Making friends has to be a priority,” she said. Even if she didn’t feel like going out to a particular event, Julie forced herself to go simply for the opportunity to meet someone new or to deepen a connection with an acquaintance. Clara added on the same subject, “If someone wants to set you up with a new friend, always say yes. Worst case and it’s a bad match, it makes for a good story.”

  1. Keep Your Net Wide

While it’s tempting to look for people who remind you of your long-distance friends, I would keep yourself open to anyone no matter their age and stage in life. (Julie inviting me to lunch is a great example.) That means that if you get an invitation to a family’s house, but they’re much more or less religious than you, have signs in their driveway for candidates you abhor, or don’t seem like “your type,” give them a chance anyway. Instead of worrying “why” you would possibly hit it off with a potential new friend, ask yourself “why not.”

 4. Get Out of Your Comfort Zone

I recently learned of a friend-making app called Smile Mom from my friend Ellie, who moved to a new city six months ago. Ellie saw another woman post on the app that she was also new to town and had nobody to invite to her two-year-old’s party. This woman was hoping that others would show up to the party she’d planned for her son at the park. Talk about getting out of your comfort zone for all the individuals involved! Even though Ellie’s kids are several years older, Ellie, also brave in this scenario, showed up with a small birthday gift and hit if off with a few of the other woman who also showed up because of the app. I love that in this case technology brought people together instead of allowing everyone to stay behind a screen.

For MWF Seeking BFF, Rachel took an improv class, started a cooking club, a book club, tried different exercise options, and even asked a waitress who seemed like good friend potential for her phone number. The key here is that she didn’t rely on just one method to make friends. I’d also consider volunteering and even offering to lead committees. It’s a great way to learn more about your new community.

5. Accept the Reality of The Friend Plate and Chemistry

There’s no getting around the fact that some people’s friend plates are already too full. I’ve met women new to town as great as Clara and Julie, but I only have so much room in my life for new, close friends at any given time. And of course the issue of chemistry comes to play, too. I think the best policy is to not take things too personally if a relationship does not get beyond the surface. Just keep going and a few friendships will deepen to the level you’re looking for.

*Names were changed.

 

Readers: What advice would you add? Do you know people who excel at making friends in a new city? Have you seen situations where certain tactics haven’t worked at all? Please share!

 

Also, remember that our contact form is anonymous. While we have several questions waiting for answers, we are open to more. And your question might even get discussed on the radio!

48 comments

  1. Roz Warren says:

    Terrific advice! I like asking people to join me for a walk. It’s a little unconventional, but walking and talking together is a great way to connect. I also invite potential pals to join me for a latte at the terrific kosher bakery around the corner. Even very busy people can grab the 20 minute it takes for a coffee break.

    • Nina says:

      Great point, Roz! I should have emphasized walking more, which I definitely still use to get to know someone. I like that there’s a definite beginning, middle, and end to the conversation, which makes it a bit less pressure. It’s also a non-distracted way to really start to know someone, all while getting a good workout as most of us are super busy! Two birds with one stone as they say.
      Nina recently posted…November Friendship AdviceMy Profile

  2. Melissa A says:

    Where were you 7 years ago when I moved to NJ?
    Seriously, I think it’s all about the area where you live. I moved to MD 5 years ago and have made some great friends here. Most are in my community, but also some from work and other places. It seems like people here are just more open to friendships in general. When I lived in NJ, it felt very cliquey.
    I’d suggest trying out meetup groups. Does meetup.com still exist? I met a friend through one of those, but we didn’t start hanging out until 3 years later. (Long story there.)
    Melissa A recently posted…Movies that “dare to be stupid”My Profile

    • Nina says:

      Melissa, I don’t know too much about meetup groups other than the one I mentioned (Smile Mom), but I like your point that friendships can take a long time to truly develop. Some of the people I’m very close with now remained acquaintances for years. I’m glad MD has been a good move for you!
      Nina recently posted…November Friendship AdviceMy Profile

  3. Susan Berger says:

    All good advice, Nina. I’d like to add the oft repeated ‘find a hobby’ thing. Look at MeetUp.com as an example. I’ve been a folk dancer for over 20 years. I do have some gripes about the culture of some sessions but on the whole, I’ve found an activity I love and a couple of people I like as well.
    Susan Berger recently posted…Out With the Old, In With the YouMy Profile

  4. This article brought back such memories of me pushing my stroller trolling for friends in Queens. We had just moved from NYC to Queens, I left my job to be home with baby, my husband works crazy hours and I was so lonely!!! I was determined to find friends and did a lot of what you suggested. I ended up with a great group of mom friends that made my life as a stay-at-home-mom a real joy! It is hard, but sooooo worth it!!
    Kathy Radigan recently posted…Giving Thanks Isn’t for TurkeysMy Profile

  5. Cindy says:

    Great advice Nina! I’ve moved to a lot of cities due to my jobs, and I always seem to meet people best by engaging in my hobbies. One other thing, if you seem to click with someone online, take the relationship offline by inviting them out for coffee or lunch. This has worked wonders for me.

  6. I think it is difficult to insert yourself in someone else’s history – especially trying to make a space when long time connections are already established. But I do believe it isn’t impossible. When I moved to Arizona five years ago, I joined a few book clubs and now consider some of those women my closest friends. As one gets older, having a common hobby or passion can help build a friendship.

    Your advice is great, Nina. Practical and insightful. The column rocks (as usual)!
    Rudri Bhatt Patel @ Being Rudri recently posted…On Navigating a CrisisMy Profile

  7. Hilary Levey Friedman says:

    So wise! I will need to check out that app. 🙂
    If only I lived near you in MN (although I suspect I wouldn’t be cool enough to hang with you IRL)…

  8. Great suggestions, Nina. It’s harder to make new friends as we get older and / or find ourselves in a new city. It can also be difficult if, like me, you’re an introvert by nature. It’s not easy to make the first move to invite an acquaintance to coffee. I like the suggestions some commenters have made about hobbies. Reaching out over common interests seems easier than a “cold call.”
    Jackie Cangro recently posted…The One with the Books of My LifeMy Profile

    • Nina says:

      I totally agree, Jackie. That first move cannot be underrated. It takes a lot of . . . . something: courage, chutzpah (good chutzpah), and an openness to rejection, which is pretty hard to cultivate. For sure, for some people, it is preferable to join a group and let the one-on-one potential happen more naturally as time goes on. And for some, the group outlet might be enough to ease some loneliness. Not everyone even likes one-on-one situations.
      Nina recently posted…November Friendship AdviceMy Profile

  9. Tamara says:

    Oh, that’s touching to me.
    I moved to San Francisco and then to MA without knowing a soul. I happened to be pregnant at the time so I really could have used friends during that dark and lonely and queasy winter. At first I met many friends through childbirth and then playgroups, etc. Over the years, I’ve cast that net even wider.
    Tamara recently posted…Laughing Like Children, Living Like Lovers.My Profile

  10. Lots of fantastic tips here! I’ve always struggled with initiating something because I’m so shy, but sometimes that’s the only way to make a connection. There’ve been a few times where the potential fell through (the other person was too busy, didn’t seem interested, etc.), but it only takes a few times where it works out to gain new friends. And really, if they become close friends, ‘a few’ is gold.
    Annie Neugebauer recently posted…Patrick at The Decorative WriterMy Profile

    • Nina says:

      Annie– very good point that it does NOT always work out. For sure I have made the first move and it’s been very clear the other person is not interested. It’s hurtful and hard not to feel upset, but there FRIEND PLATE AND CHEMISTRY. Sometimes it’s one or both of those issues, and in hindsight I’m almost glad those few people didn’t let me think they were open to a new friendship when they truly were not. Still . . . it’s hard to keep going back out there. Hard, but important!
      Nina recently posted…November Friendship AdviceMy Profile

  11. Dana says:

    This is great advice, Nina. I had it easy; when we moved to our town I was pregnant with a three year old. Every local friend I have now I met through my kids, and many of those relationships continued after the kids’ friendships faded. If I ever move, I will be coming back to read this!
    Dana recently posted…Who I’m reading…againMy Profile

    • Nina says:

      Kids definitely provide an avenue! I did not have kids when I moved to Minneapolis, and I’ve seen people move here with kids make friends much faster. It may still be hard to find the people you truly click with–that takes work. But at least a preschool, for example, give you a good pool to start with.
      Nina recently posted…November Friendship AdviceMy Profile

  12. It sounds a little over the top but, if you’re moving to another region of the country,it’s worth it to do a little research on regional etiquette. I learned the hard way that my Midwestern way of friend-making was turning people off in my New England town. For example, don’t knock on people’s doors to introduce yourself, especially not the front door. I would also add that it may take several different clubs/classes/coffee dates before you find a group that feels right. If you feel lonely in a room full of people, that may not be the place for you.

    • Nina says:

      I think that’s an awesome point! Though it’s also good to remember that not everyone you meet is originally from that area. So no rule can be 100% spot on, but still, I agree that a certain culture pervades a place and it’s good to be aware of it.

      I love that last line of your comment. So true. Not every group is for every person. I’m in my 4th book club if that tells you anything. 😉
      Nina recently posted…November Friendship AdviceMy Profile

  13. Excellent advice, Nina. The one suggestion I would add is to look for a Newcomers Club. Two particular times in my life these clubs have made all the difference. When we bought our first house and just had our son, I joined a playgroup through our town’s Newcomer Club. Now, 30 years later, those women are still among my dearest friends. Then, a few years ago when we moved to the San Diego area, we joined Newcomers and it was a godsend. We have met some wonderful people and enjoyed lots of great activities and events through this group.
    Mo at Mocadeaux recently posted…Random Things In The World Of WineMy Profile

  14. Pam says:

    Nina, great advice! I moved back to my hometown in Rhode Island when I was in my late 20’s. I met a girl through my sister in law who I developed a friend-crush on. We both needed to go to the DMV and the RI was notorious for being SLOW. We talked about going together, but our schedules weren’t matching up. I was getting frustrated and wanted to get it over with and go without her. It was my sister who told me I was nuts. She said, “You like this girl! She wants to go to the DMV with you. Go with her at 3am if that’s when she wants to go. You have no friends!! You need a friend!” It was great advice. She ended up becoming one of my best girlfriends (although we have lost touch since I moved away).
    Pam recently posted…Lies I Told Myself About Baby #2… Guest Posting at In the Powder Room!My Profile

  15. Estellle says:

    This is a great question and a great post, Nina. I had to totally reinvent my social life to make new “mom” friends when I had my daughter in midlife, even though I lived in the same town I’d lived in for years. I joined meet up groups, and a local mom’s nonprofit organization and I’m happy to say I now belong to a book club, a monthly dinner out mom’s group, and have lots of mom friends with kids my daughter’s age. I started from nothing, though, but continually put myself out there-yes, just like dating, with a few duds along the way.
    Estellle recently posted…Ballet or Bust: A YouTube Contest and a Nutcracker Ticket GiveawayMy Profile

    • Nina says:

      Yes– the duds part is so true, too. Not every group or every lunch date is going to turn into a friendship. Good for you for putting yourself out there and creating that new social life for yourself in the same town. That’s hard!
      Nina recently posted…November Friendship AdviceMy Profile

    • Nina says:

      The friend plate is very real. I for sure come into my youngest kids’ class or school events with a “I’m busy” air. At least I wouldn’t be surprised if I do. It’s a good reminder to open myself up a bit more in that environment.
      Nina recently posted…November Friendship AdviceMy Profile

  16. I really enjoyed reading this. Some locations are easier for friendship making, and some stages/phases of our lives as well. It’s so key to put yourself out there, you never know when you may be the friend someone else is looking for as well!

  17. susie q says:

    I’m someone who has felt the chill of Minnesota Ice. I feel like I’ve always had friends… until I moved here. On behalf of those transplants, please write a column about those ‘less than graceful’ situations you’ve seen, so we can learn! (I moved here with older kids, if that helps).

    I envy and admire Clara and Julie and their success!

    • Nina says:

      I totally get it. I envied them, too, as my transition was MUCH slower. I was not nearly as eager to just jump and try new things. I wish I had been! And I wish I had cast my net wider from the get go. I think I was way too narrow when I got here . . . perhaps I was trying to duplicate my college friends and even my childhood friends. And I also kept trying with the same people over and over even though the chemistry was not really there, and likely their friends plates were full. Had I been quicker to move on and just say –hey, there are plenty of people out there–I would have saved myself a lot of grief! Not sure that helps . . . every situation is different. But, just wanted you to know I’ve been there. I would not call my first few years graceful. Not at all! I wanted to say more about that in my answer, but it was getting really long as is.
      Nina recently posted…November Friendship AdviceMy Profile

  18. Julie Burton says:

    Nina,
    This is great! As a native Minnesotan, I do have a fair number “old” childhood friends but a lot of my high school friends have moved away. I came back to MN after grad school and had to sort of start over with making new friends. Over the years, while I do love my “MN friends,” I aspire to be the MN Nice type, not the ICE :), and have developed many close friendships with women who are not from MN (you being one of them 🙂 ) and I find those friendships very refreshing and fulfilling. I appreciate the above question as the importance of having friends you can count on when your children are young cannot be underrated. My husband traveled a lot when my kids were young and I remember some very lonely times. Your advice is fantastic!
    Julie Burton recently posted…To My Husband on our 22nd Wedding AnniversaryMy Profile

    • Nina says:

      Thank you, Julie!! And I think we are a good example of #1. Making new (very close!) friends even when you already established in a city and #2. going outside our regular box of stage/age, etc. We are a success story. I think I should dedicate a post to us. 😉 (kidding–maybe–maybe not!)
      Nina recently posted…November Friendship AdviceMy Profile

  19. Meeting new friends can be excruciating, Nina, especially for those, like me, who are not glib small-talkers. My husband’s job in the military moved us every two years during the early part of our marriage, and I had such a hard time moving away from all my long-term friends, and learning to make new ones at the other end of that first move. I didn’t even begin to get good at it for the first few moves. But then something clicked – or maybe I just got tired of spending the first year alone in any place we moved. My kids, on the other hand, are both excellent at making new friends. The just wade fearlessly into the fray-their lessons were trial by fire, moving as much as we did.
    Your advice here is excellent.:)

    • Nina says:

      Thank you! What an interesting perspective to have your kids’ experience after moving so much AND to know that after a few moves your making new friends muscles got stronger. That seems logical to me! I almost wish I had the chance to move again because I would do things SO much differently than when I got here 14 years ago. Hindsight and all that . . . !
      Nina recently posted…November Friendship AdviceMy Profile

  20. I think my last comment just got kicked to spam, so I’m commenting again with a different email address. I’m not a spammer! Pinkie swear! Here’s what I tried to say:

    This is terrific advice, Nina! I’ve found that it often takes a year after you’ve moved someplace new to really feel like you’re fitting in — or maybe that’s just me. Knowing that it takes time to build those relationships helps. Having colleagues helps, too. I also find having kids is a good buffer; if you want to hang out with another mom, then a play date “for the kids” is the perfect excuse!

  21. Dana says:

    Oh, Nina what great advice! This is the perfect question for me because I just moved to a new town with my family in August and I’m struggling a bit with making meaningful connections.

    Kids are truly a great gateway, but it doesn’t always equal chemistry. That’s why it’s important to put yourself out there (such a dating euphemism!) and try not to get too easily or quickly discouraged. Cultivating friendships takes time. And the right mix of people!

    Thanks for this wonderfully thoughtful post.
    -Dana
    Dana recently posted…Welcome to…My Profile

  22. Donna Trump says:

    Good advice, Nina. It’s been a long time for me–we moved to a Minneapolis suburb (Bloomington) without knowing a soul some 25 years ago. What I noticed over time (and it may have been more related to MN than anything else) was that I seemed to have a better chance with “outsiders” like myself. In fact, I had the best luck with ex-east coasters…now what does that say about me (or east-coasters)? BTW, I’m loving’ blog-lovin’. Got you in my feed now–there’s no escape!

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