I’ve lived in 5 different cities in the past 10 years. For me, that’s been quite a lot of moves, especially considering my stable childhood, where the only time we moved was a few blocks away. I didn’t even leave LA until I was 24. Now that I’m 34, it seems I’ve been making up for lost time.
One aspect of moving and starting over that I seem to have not quite figured out is making friends. Making friends as an adult is hard, and I’m not the only one who feels this way. Do a quick Google search and you will come up with a plethora of articles dispensing sympathy and advice for friendless adults.
Children make friends without mystery, effort or prejudice. I met my best childhood friend on the first day of kindergarten and we were inseparable until she moved away in middle school. She was laying on a bench; I asked her why. She said that she just felt like it, and that sounded good enough to me, so I layed down on it too. That’s all it took. Instant friendship.
I think perhaps a lot of people make friends through work, but for me that hasn’t always turned out to be the case. Working retail in San Francisco, I found that I didn’t relate to many of my coworkers. I got lucky in Kanazawa, where I quickly formed a tight-knit circle of companions who not only worked with me but lived in the same apartment building, but the city got lonely as one by one they returned to their home countries. Since moving to Tokyo and now back in Los Angeles, I don’t have colleagues nearby, so making friends at work has ceased to be an option.
It was easy to assume that I’d have tons of friends when I came back to LA, but that’s not necessarily true either. A lot has happened in the past ten years. Many of my friends have left the city for the suburbs or for other parts of the country, and those that stayed have families and careers and a lot going on. Even the few friends that aren’t married with kids are busy people living in far-flung parts of town that are hard for me to get to from the valley. As a result, I don’t really see any of them nearly as much as I’d hoped.
So, how do you do it? How do you meet people? It’s the same question I have about dating, and really, it’s not so different. Both contexts are about connecting with others and building relationships, and both can be hard, tiring, and scary. Some people reading this might wonder that it’s so much of a struggle for me, as I come off as being so confident and friendly. And I am confident and friendly. I have a lot of friends. But making friends takes time, a fact that I seem to forget until I’m faced with it again each time I start over in a new place.
For me, the best way to make friends has always been through hobbies. Finally, this summer, I joined a swing dance class, and I’ve been starting to make friends there. We’ve gone for drinks a few times after class, and meet up at different dance events over the weekend. But it’s still slow, as I was reminded this past Saturday. I schlepped across town to a dance party that I was really excited about, but ended up spending less time dancing and more time sitting by myself watching the band. I tried to remind myself that I was new to the scene, so naturally less people would ask me to dance, and my new friends are established members, busy schmoozing with all the folks that they already know. Still, it was hard not to feel like the uncool kid at the party.
However, all is not lost. I’ve been a grad student for six weeks now, and I’m starting to get to know my fellow cohort a bit better. While we span a wide range of ages, backgrounds, and life experience, we are all more or less in the same boat and have some clear common interests and goals, not unlike my colleagues back in Kanazawa. I’m even considering joining the linguistics club. I said I was doing it for the swag, but we all know that’s only half a lie (I really do want some nerdy linguistics club swag, how fun would that be?)
One classmate and I are in all the same classes, and have taken to chatting on our breaks together. Finally, I got up the courage to ask if they wanted to hang out sometime outside of class, and they heartily agreed! The following week, we met for coffee on campus, and the conversation flowed just as naturally as it had on our breaks, effortlessly filling the 90 minutes leading up to the lecture we had that evening. It always feels weird to take that step and ask a new acquaintance to spend more time with you, not unlike asking someone out on a date. In my experience though, taking that risk usually pays off, as the other person might also really want to spend time together but feels nervous about asking.
All friendships have to start somewhere, and coffee is a great place to start.
Safe and Happy Travels,