New job. New city. New chapter in your so-called life. Big-deal life transitions may be exciting, but they can also radically rearrange your social life, leaving you in the awkward position of being a squad girl without a squad. Add in a tendency toward shyness and replenishing your contacts list becomes doubly difficult.
Writer Rachel Bertsche was 27 when she found herself friendless for the first time in her life. The author of MWF Seeking BFF: My Yearlong Search for a New Best Friend had moved to Chicago with her then-boyfriend (now husband), leaving behind a pack of close girlfriends in NYC. People told her not to worry; she would adjust and make new friends easily. Two years later, she was still desperately seeking a local BFF.
“I knew a few people from work but there was no one I could call and say, ‘What are you doing tonight? Do you want to have a glass of wine?’” she says. “I realized that I had to make it a project.”
Making friends is a project once you hit adulthood, says Shasta Nelson, a San Francisco-based friendship expert and author of Friendships Just Don’t Happen: The Guide to Creating a Meaningful Circle of Girlfriends. “You cannot make a friendship without consistency, without regularity, without time together,” she says, which is a polite way of saying that building a supportive community is kind of a job at first.
Nelson and Bertsche share their top tips for making friends when you’re new in town, new on the job, or just a wallflower longing to bloom.
Moving? Put your Facebook friends to work
Reach out to friends on social media and ask them to hook you up with any pals who live in your new city. You might not meet your soul sister from a forced intro, but you’ll likely meet someone who can help you find your bearings in your new hometown.
Use Tinder for friendship
Using Tinder to find platonic girlfriends sounds like the plot of a chick flick, but that’s exactly what Dubliner Elva Carri decided to do one lonely night. Seeking new friends to party with, Carri changed her Tinder profile to male and put a call out to other girls, asking if anyone wanted to go out dancing. That plucky move led to Girl Crew Rocks, which acts as a meet-up group for women seeking friends. The site hooks up would-be pals via Facebook groups (Toronto and Vancouver are the only Canadian cities represented so far).
Nelson also put the internet to good use when she started the online connection-maker GirlfriendCircles in 2008: Sign up and you’ll be connected with other local women in similar circumstances (new girl in the city, new mom, etc.). It’s currently available in Toronto, Vancouver, Oshawa, Ont. and Whitby, Ont.
Become a joiner
The first thing Bertsche did in her quest for a BFF was join a whack of clubs—everything from cooking and book clubs to meet-up groups. The benefit of becoming a joiner is twofold, she says. One, it puts you in contact with people who share your interests, and two, it takes most of the effort out of the equation. “One of the great things about a group is the consistency. It takes the work out of seeing someone regularly,” says Bertsche.
Mine your new workplace for pals
Friend-seekers should dip their pen in the company ink, says Nelson. Having a confidant at work not only makes the long days easier to bear, but it makes us happier, too. The trick to building friendships at work lies in discretion—at least in the beginning. Be friendly but not too friendly: There’s no need to immediately tell your cubemate that you’ve broken up with your BF and you’re temporarily sleeping on your sister’s sofa, for example. “You’re not going to bond by sharing all of your secrets the first week,” says Nelson.
If you’re feeling a potential friend connection but don’t know how to make the first move, Nelson advises proposing a work-adjacent outing. Suggest grabbing lunch together at that cool new café, or float the idea of a post-work drink at the bar downstairs. It’s less daunting than an invite to dinner and a movie.
Be the follow-up girl
We’ve all been there: You meet someone new, say “We should hang out sometime,” and then never follow up. Stop doing that, says Nelson. Swallow your fear of seeming uncool and force yourself to follow up about that coffee date or yoga class. Bertsche calls it a proven strategy: “I really made it my job to be that person who would follow up.”
Put shyness in its place
Introverts prefer quieter environments, which can lead to isolation, while extroverts enjoy the snap, crackle and pop of social engagement, but no matter our personality type, research indicates that we all need friendship to lead healthy, productive lives. Extroverts may need to learn how to gear-down to forge social connections, while introverts need to push through a natural tendency to be shyer in a public setting. Nelson advises shy girls to reflect on what they really want rather than on their anxieties. “You have to value the goal of social connection more than the fear of staying where you are.”
Once that’s settled, start systematically pumping up your social muscles, she says. One recent study suggests that lonely people aren’t lonely because they’re socially inept, but because their nerve fails them when they need to put social skills to work. The lesson for the lonely-ish introvert: Stop worrying and just work it. Try saying yes to every invitation you get, says Bertsche. “It’s never as bad as you think it’s going to be.”
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