About two and a half years ago, I did something that, in retrospect, was fairly gutsy. I moved to Chicago – a city where I had no friends or contacts – at the age of 23. While most of my college friends stuck around Philadelphia, moved back into their parents’ houses or to a nearby city, I decided to go to a place that wasn’t a short drive away, meaning I could only see everyone I knew every few months. And I lived to tell about it.
Granted, I didn’t exactly just throw myself into a new city with absolutely nowhere to turn for human contact. I actually moved to Chicago to attend grad school at Northwestern University. It may seem like going to grad school is basically an extension of college – meaning you’ll make friends easily and party with said friends all the time – but if my experience was any indication, that’s really not the case.
For one thing, most people won’t be living on campus, so both meeting people and making plans with your classmates is more difficult. I can’t speak to all graduate programs, but mine didn’t organize much by way of orientation events…and the worst part? I finally became close to people in my program right before the one-year curriculum ended and everyone went off on their own ways.
I work from home so it’s not like I have coworkers to rely on for human contact…but I still somehow managed to end up with a respectable number of friends and a long-term relationship. It’s not just a testament to my sparkling personality, though that probably didn’t hurt – the secret to building up a solid social life in a new city really come down to a few points…
Utilize your existing circle of friends. The sad reality is this – making friends post-grad sort of starts to resemble networking in structure and approach. I would absolutely suggest doing some good old-fashioned research by hitting The Book (that would be Facebook) to see if even one friend lives in the same city as you now do. Whether it was the girl you took shots with one time during your freshman year of college or the guy who used to eat his boogers in fifth grade, if you know this person well enough to be Facebook friends with him or her, you probably know this person well enough to reach out and suggest a coffee date. People change and you may end up really hitting it off with someone completely unexpected.
…Utilize friends of friends, too. Don’t be afraid to ask your out-of-town friends if they know anyone at all in your city. Asking people to set you up on blind ‘friend dates’ seems a little bit scary but it can really work out beautifully. Case in point – my two first friends in Chicago met one another through a mutual friend who suggested they get together. I met one in grad school, then met the other friend through her and now the three of us are pretty much #besties.
Be aggressive: There is absolutely no shame in just cold approaching someone with whom you think you could connect. In college you probably did plenty of that by way of stumbling up to some girl at a bar and slurring something along the lines of “those shoes are evvvvverrrrythingggg.” I mean, I met most of my closest friends in undergrad in similar fashion. That sort of friendly-aggresiveness flies in The Real World (TRW) too, albeit in a more professional fashion. Shooting someone an email to say ‘hey, I came across your Twitter page and I think we might get along really well, would you be interested in grabbing a drink sometime?’ sounds really creeptastic, but here’s the thing: There are a lot of people in TRW who are bored and lonely and desperate for friends who they don’t work with, so you just may get a bite this way. If not, suck it up and go about with your life, knowing that you probably will never run into this person.
Hit the Internet. You’ve probably heard some online dating success stories. Another way the Internet can connect people? By encouraging platonic relationships. Joining a networking site for your chosen field is good; joining a site that has absolutely nothing to do with your line of work is better. Sites like MeetUp can connect you with people who want to talk about fun, frivolous things, not office politics or how underpaid you are. On that note…
Don’t be afraid of online dating. Living in an amazing city can feel sort of depressing when you have no friends. When I first moved to Chicago I used to think about all the great restaurants and attractions that I so desperately wanted to take in, only to realize I had no one who would join me. Even if you’re not looking for a relationship, online dating can provide a way for you to get out there and experience the city with another person. Even if you end up going on some terrible dates, at least you’ll get a better sense of what goes on in your new city. And of course, there’s always the chance that you’ll meet the love of your life this way. If nothing else, maybe you’ll end up with a cool new friend.
Find a hobby. I started a blog a few months ago – it isn’t just a creative outlet, it’s also a great excuse for me to reach out to other people to conduct interviews or get advice on relevant topics. I also get invited to media events and blogger meetups because of it – and reaching out to another blogger to suggest a coffee meeting is no biggie at all because I’ve become part of a community. You don’t have to be good at something to enjoy it. Just figure out something you’re remotely interested in and give it a go.
Stick around: I knew a girl who moved to a city that wasn’t 10 miles away from her parents’ house for the first time at age 22. She ran back home to her fam every single weekend (and by weekend I mean she would be gone from Thursday morning to Monday night every single week.) She complained about her living situation constantly before dropping out of school to live with mom and dad again. I mean, how do you expect to be happy anywhere if you don’t give it a fair shot? Stick around during the weekends even if it seems miserable. I was lucky in a way – I was in an extremely rigorous program and going away for a weekend just wasn’t an option because of the workload. It was rough but it definitely ensured that I stick around and make a serious effort to be independent.
Aim for a few different circles of friends: In college it’s great to have a crew of people you do pretty much everything with – TRW isn’t exactly like this. You’re likely going to be tired of partying six nights a week and interested in exploring other options. Having a few different friends or circles who can enjoy your various interests with you is great. For one thing, when you’re craving a random Wednesday night dinner out, most people you reach out to will probably say no because real life is tiring. You want to have different people across the board to maximize your chances of making plans with individuals as opposed to trying to coordinate among seven people. It’s great if you can find one friend who is always down for a crazy night out, one who loves food and won’t judge you for ordering dessert, one who will motivate you to get off your butt and go for a run, one who is a great listener, one who lives by you and can be counted on when you just want someone to watch TV with you….you get the picture. In short: Focus more on cultivating individual friendships as opposed to seeking out a large group – it’ll eliminate drama and make you a more well-rounded person.
So there you have it. If you’re considering making a big move and giving a go of it on your own, do it! Worst comes to the worst, you can always change your situation – but think positively. You will learn so much about yourself and have so many interesting experiences if you become the one person in your circle of friends who tries something new – you may even start to feel like your old friends are all stressing about the same drama they always did while you suddenly realize you don’t got time for that. Just give it your all, be aggressive, keep an open mind and be patient. Good things come to those who take chances.
[Lead image via Grisha Bruev/Shutterstock]