On Making New Friends

Have you tried to make new friends recently? It’s terrifying…

When I first came to New York, a year and a half ago, I moved into a tiny apartment with my two best friends from Missouri. We navigated the city together, ghostwrote each other’s romantic text messages, and battled homesickness with bottles of Trader Joe’s Cabernet Sauvignon and Twin Peaks episodes. We pleaded for each other to hang out five minutes longer and finished each other’s sentences before they even started. (You know that exaggerated breath right before someone starts talking? That was all we needed to hear.)

Our lease ended a few months ago. One friend moved back to Missouri. The other got engaged. I rented a studio apartment near my office. Even though I’m an introvert, all of my newfound alone time made me feel like I was “The Only Living (Girl) in New York.” I longed for the company of my old roommates, and the distance of my other hometown friends began to hit me. Those people knew me. They made me laugh until my ribs ached. They even thought I was funny. I already had my people, they were just far away.

But long days came where I just wanted grab a beer with a pal. And there were nights I needed someone to squeeze my shoulder and, with flicker of a smile, say, “My god. You’ll be okay.” So, I challenged myself to find new companions. After some trial and error, here’s what I found worked best:

Just say something.People already have their friends! They don’t want more!‘ I would hear myself think during social gatherings. I had to stop this self-fulfilling prophecy and force myself to walk up to people and say something — anything! Maybe the exchange will be just the run-of-the-mill, awkward small-talk, maybe I’ll meet someone who also has a celebrity crush on Michael Shannon and maybe, just maybe, there could be a long-term connection there. I had to give it a shot — and bribe myself with 90’s sitcom reruns when I got home.

Enjoy the world around you. You can have friendly experiences throughout your day without putting pressure on yourself to meet a soulmate immediately. I made a point to hang out longer at work events, comment on people’s reading choices on the train and engage more with my neighbors. Doing these things wouldn’t necessarily lead me to a best friend, but I started to recognize the community I already had.

Reach out to anyone/everyone. I racked my brain for people I sort of knew in Brooklyn. I emailed past co-workers to invite them to dinner. I met up with old classmates from my hometown who I didn’t know well. I joined friends of friends for hot toddies. I even made coffee dates with local Instagrammers (after all, we had established our commonalities online, like similar career ambitions and the same taste in memes).

Do more stuff. A couple weeks ago, I scheduled social events nine evenings in a row. (I almost died.) But, I realized, in moderation, there is magic to that mindset. It’s impossible to meet new people if you don’t try new things. One night, I attended a party where I only knew the host — something I typically avoided — and had the time of my life. Guests snacked on Baby Ruth candy bars and everyone ended up huddled in a circle telling murder stories from their hometowns. The group collectively murmured, “Noooooo,” anytime the story began to take a turn. It was traumatic and hilarious. To break the tension at the end of every story, one of the guests would say, “And he’s here tonight. [Insert murder’s name here], come on down!” Brooklyn began to feel like home again that night.

Don’t panic at parties. Large social gatherings where I didn’t know many guests used to give me the cold sweats. It’s tricky to insert yourself into conversations (those excruciating minutes smiling at the edge of the circle!) and retreating to your phone in the corner feels like a bummer. But at every event I’ve attended solo, there have been others in my same boat — and that’s who I’ve approached first. We had things to talk about (the party, the host, the food) and if we ended up hitting it off, it was easier to enter larger groups with a sidekick.

Invite people to join your rituals. Certain things I usually do on my own — like Sunday night movies and evening strolls — but I’ve started asking acquaintances to join me, especially if it ties into something we’ve discussed recently. It takes the pressure off their feeling obligated to go and gives the occasion a casual vibe. For example, if we had chatted about how many good movies are playing right now, I would say, “I’m going to see La La Land tonight; if you’re free, you should come!”

Give it time. At first, I put too much pressure on myself when I began new activities with the intention of finding a good friend. I had to chill out and start small. (It’s like that saying about dates: If you shave your legs, you’re less likely to get lucky.) When I think back to when I met my BFFs, I realized I wasn’t initially aware of how much those relationships would later mean to me. But over time, as you share experiences and lean on each other, the bond strengthens. I have to remind myself there isn’t a rush or goal line to friendships. It will grow naturally, if you put in the effort.

Over the holidays, I spent a couple weeks in Missouri; and afterward, like always, it was hard to leave my old friends. Yet for the first time since my move, I was also eager to return to new pals. It finally hit me that no one is ever done making friends. Like Barbra Streisand once sang, “People who need people are the luckiest people in the world.”

Have you made new friends as an adult? What worked for you?

P.S. Stella’s beauty uniform, and Mindy Kaling’s friendship advice.