Or any other metropolitan area post-graduation.
Once you graduate and leave school, it’s difficult to make new friends. Schools are designed in a way that facilitates making friends: 1) proximity, 2) repeated interactions, 3) common experiences and troubles, and 4) a period of time of exploration and openness. Five days a week for several hours each day, you see the same people day in and day out. There are various projects, tasks, and problems that need to be completed or solved that create bonding experiences. All of this is happening during a period of your life where you’re open to meeting new people and having new experiences. Not to say that when you’re older that you aren’t open to meeting new people and having new experiences, but that openness is not as much of a priority as it once was.
As someone who moved twice to major cities where I knew absolutely no one in one case and only a couple of people rather distantly in the other case, I’ve had to re-create my life a couple times. Among my friends, I’m seen as an expert or at least knowledgeable on how to make friends in adulthood. I won’t say that my advice is the definitive way. I’m sure there are other ways that work as well or even better depending upon your situation and personality, but here are some advice based upon my own experiences and perspective.
- Treat making friends like a job. Having a Type A personality, this tends to be my default position on lots of things that need to get done — treat it like a job. I am by nature a problem-solver. Having no friends is a problem. How do I solve this? What this means is that every month I felt I had this problem, I set out specific goals and actions (more on this further down).
- Be prepared for failure. Lots of it. Making friends is easier than dating, but like dating, not everyone you meet is going to be right for you even as a friends. One of the reasons why it’s more difficult to make friends as adult is that you meet people who are in different stages in their life from you. In school, everyone is going through more or less the same cycle. We’re all new to each other at the beginning of the year and desperately searching for friends. Unfortunately as an adult in a workplace, you may be the only new person and everyone else has their circle of friends already set. It’s not that they’re unfriendly, but once people have their circle and a certain friendship dynamic, they’re loathe to disturb it. You’ll go to social events and may not meet anyone you’re interested in being friends with. You may meet someone and suggest that you guys go out for drinks, but that person is always busy. This is life. This will happen. Be prepared for this, but don’t let it get you down or discourage you. Think of it as something that is supposed to happen on the way to your finding your circle of friends. How long this takes depends upon city, circumstance, and other extraneous factors. It took me 5 months for me to find my circle of friends in Toronto and 2.5 years in New York City. Not that it took me 2.5 years to make friends. I had friends, but I didn’t have a regular group of people with whom I would hang out on a regular basis and were the first ones I called whenever I had something to say or something to do.
- Steal your friends’ friends. Before I moved, I asked all of my friends if they had friends who lived in the city that I was moving to. If they did, I would either ask for an introduction or went ahead and introduced myself. I figured if we had the same friend, then chances were pretty good that we would have other things in common.
- Use social media/networking to be social. If people go online to find romance, there’s no reason why we shouldn’t go online to find friends. If you like to write, blog as a way to introduce yourself to the world and find other people who share your interests and live near you. Read and follow other bloggers. Comment on their entries. Ditto with Twitter. Although I’ve only been on WordPress for about six months, I’ve had other blogs before and made good lifelong friends through our blogs.If you’re a foodie, use Yelp to meet people. Create an account, write reviews, read other Yelpers’ reviews and send compliments to other Yelpers. Every month Yelp hosts a free social event (usually several in large cities, such as New York, Los Angeles, and San Francisco) with food and drinks. It’s a great way to meet Yelpers whose reviews you’ve been reading and talking to. A few months after I moved to New York, I created a Yelp account and within a year, I met several good friends through Yelp. The best part was that many of them live just a few blocks from me. I’m not a photographer, but I have several friends who are and they’ve used Flickr and Instagram to meet new people and make friends.
- Join Meetup. Meetup is an online social networking site specifically designed to have people meet in real life around specific interests or activities. There are various groups for an incredible number of interests, so you’ll definitely find a Meetup group that could be interesting to you.
- Join other social clubs, such as ZogSports or New York Social Sports Club, book clubs, or other hobbies, such as outdoors and hiking. Think of a hobby you have and join a social club based on that hobby. In Toronto I joined an outdoor hiking group and a German language group. Between those two groups, I created a huge circle of friends and a lively social life. These social clubs help provide repeated interactions necessary for creating friendships.
- Join your local alumni association. If you’re lucky, your alma mater will have a large active alumni association. In New York, I met my circle of friends through the alumni association. We all attended a social event and by the virtue of having attended the same school, we felt as if we had known each other a lot longer than we actually did.
- Once you find a social group you like, become a volunteer and start organizing activities. People want to become friends with the event organizer. If you’re an introvert like me where always going up to people is exhausting, being an organizer was an easy way to make people come to me for a change. I didn’t have to do anything to start a conversation. People rushed to come speak with me and sought me out.
- Try to do something social with a new group of people once a week. Because your goal is to make new friends, being social with your old friends is not sufficient. You must go out and meet new people. Which is exhausting, but as I said before, I treated this like it was a job and simply thought of it as something I had to do in order to accomplish my goal. I’m loosely defining something social. I usually favored going to an event, such as a hike, or participating in a scavenger hunt as doing something social, but going to a party where you don’t know people also counted. At these events, I always made it a point of talking to at least two or three new people. Usually I never or rarely saw them again, but I always reminded myself that I would never know if they were a potential friend unless I made an effort to speak to them.
- Be proactive and set specific goals. You can read my prior entry on how to make resolutions about how to set specific goals. Unless you’re charismatic and people naturally are attracted to you, you need to make the effort to go out, meet people, and make friends. While I was looking for friends, every month I set specific goals on how I was going to be social. For example, I might decide that I would attend two social events, send out 10 compliments/week on Yelp, and say yes to every get together that someone would ask me to go to as long as I was free. Being an introvert, however enjoyable these activities may be, I do find them exhausting and have a tendency to hole up, but by having these specific goals I forced myself to be social and meet people. In the end, it pays dividends. At the very least I did things I found fun most of the time, I increased my social circle so that I had friends I could do stuff with once in a while, and eventually I found my circle of friends with whom I share my life.
If you’re already set in your life and have your circle friends, don’t forget what it was like to be new and not have friends. If someone reaches out and asks you to go do something with them, make time for them. Or better yet, include them in your circle of friends. One of my dearest friends in Toronto did just that for me. We met in a dance class. She decided that she liked me and from there on out, not only did she include me in every get together that she had with her friends, she made it clear to her friends that they were also expected to invite me. Thanks to her, I got a built in group of friends (which is one of the reasons why Toronto only took 5 months to get a circle of friends). Be kind and be inclusive. Here’s a NY Times article on why it’s hard to make friends over 30.