Making New Friends as an Adult

Hi Stephanie,

I just moved to a new city, and I’m struggling because I don’t know anyone here. I don’t have any friends yet, and I’m not sure how to change that. Sometimes I look around at groups of girls and think, “I feel like I would fit in with them!” But how do I actually start the conversation? I feel awkward and lonely, and I’m wondering if you have some advice for making friends as an adult in a new city.

Hey, friend! 

First, thank you for being so brave and asking this question! I know you feel so lonely right now, but believe me, you’re not alone. In fact, I was in your exact same shoes just a few short years ago.

Just moments after our wedding, my new husband and I packed up everything we had and moved to Nashville, TN, a town where I didn’t know a soul. It was a total whirlwind — exciting and terrifying all at once. 

I was so excited to be married to Carl, and I was excited to start a new life in a new city, but I quickly found myself in one of the loneliest seasons of my entire life. 

That’s the thing I didn’t realize. I didn’t realize you could be newly married to the love of your life and also lonelier than you’ve ever been. I didn’t realize that a husband couldn’t possibly fill my need for great friends. And I also didn’t realize that making new friends in a new city was going to be so hard.

I remember looking around at church, thinking, “There are all these cool people here who could be my friends! But how do I go from shaking hands during the awkward ‘greet your neighbor’ part of the church service to having that girl’s number? Or feeling close enough to call her up for a spontaneous girls night on a rainy Friday?”

It took some time, but I learned that the best thing to do was simply show up. Easier said than done, right? But truly, after trying and failing (for longer than I care to admit!), I finally realized that the secret to making new friends as an adult can be summed up in those two words: Show up. 

Here’s how we can put these words into action…

Show up in a new situation or place.

If you want to meet new people, the very best way is to show up in a place where people you haven’t met yet are going to be hanging out! So the first step I took was finding some of those places. I did a quick Google search for churches, organizations, clubs, and classes in my area. I was surprised at how many options and opportunities there were. I think you will be too! Once I’d found some options, I took my next step. I picked the church I wanted to try, and I went.  

And yes, I know that is so much easier said than done. 

Trust me, I was SO intimidated to take that step. I think we all are! It may look like everyone else in the room is confident and sure, but the truth is, most of us are scared. Most of us are unsure. Most of us don’t feel comfortable walking into a room full of strangers. Most of our armpits are doing their best Niagara Falls impression. And that realization helped me a lot. We’re all there, feeling awkward, doing the best we can. But when we show up, before we know it, those strangers start to turn into friends.

So, friend, that’s the first thing I learned. Step one is to show up in a new situation or place. Where can you show up this week? Where can you meet the kinds of people you want to be friends with?

Show up consistently.

The biggest mistake I first made was showing up somewhere once, feeling awkward, and then deciding I wasn’t going to show up in that place again. I’d just give up! But making new friends takes time, intentionality, and consistency. (What a bummer, right? I wish it was a one-time thing!) The more often you show up, the more your odds grow for making a new friend. One really does lead to the other. 

When I needed friends in Nashville, I turned it into a little game for myself. I love lists, so I made a checklist. (I can get myself to do anything if it’s on a list!) I told myself I needed to ask one person to coffee every week. Would the first coffee date be awkward? YES! The second? A little less awkward. And by number four? Maybe I’d start to feel like I had a friend. 

So if checklists work for you, make a list! Every time you check off a box, you know you’re closer to having friends who are your people — the comfy pants friends, the ones who really know you and love you — at your best and at your worst.

Say yes. Show up where you’re invited.

Oh, this was a tough one for me. Let me tell you, I am a professional at Netflix and chill. I really am! But for a long time, that kept me from forming the kinds of connections I wanted. It was too easy for me to stay home in my comfy sweats and messy bun. It was easy to shrug off invitations because I didn’t want to get dressed up, put on makeup, and put on my shiniest, brightest smile for people I didn’t know well. (It can be exhausting!)

I can remember one time when I told one of my new girlfriends I’d be at her birthday party. It was a freezing December day in Nashville, and I could feel myself getting sick. I wanted to skip out — and I had a legitimate reason! But I talked myself into going. 

And I’m SO glad I did. 

A few things happened. First, I grew closer to the birthday girl. Because when we show up for each other, even if we don’t already have a deep connection, our friendships grow. That night I learned that having better friends often starts with being a better friend. Good friends show up for each other! (And they definitely don’t flake out at the last minute.) 

Oh, and another amazing thing happened at that party: I met two new girls who I totally hit it off with! I would have missed out on so much if I had decided not to show up that night. I didn’t know if then, but I’d just done one of the biggest things I could do for my loneliness: I got off the couch and said yes to showing up.

Be vulnerable. Show up on the bad days too.

When my dear friend Hanna and I were just getting to know each other, she invited me to lunch. I was so excited for a chance to get to know her better, so I said yes immediately. But when the day of the lunch arrived, I was having a bad day. It was terrible timing. My company was in the middle of total upheaval: people were losing their jobs, feelings were hurt, friends were angry… heck, I was angry about it all too! The thought of showing up to lunch with a smile on my face felt impossible. So instead pretending I had it all together, I was honest with her. I even cried.

And you’ll never believe what happened. 

Well, maybe you will believe it, but I remember being so surprised. Instead of being put off by my anger and sadness, Hanna got angry and sad with me. She got mad on my behalf. She cried with me. Instead of looking down on me or backing away, she got down into the mess with me.

A week later, I got a note from her. In the note, Hanna thanked me for opening up to her. She said she felt honored. She said she was so glad we were friends. 

Vulnerability brings us closer. It gives us the chance to say, “This friendship is a space where you don’t have to be perfect. Your imperfections are welcome at this table. There’s a place for you here. I know this because I’m a mess… you’re a mess… so we can be in this mess together.”

Friend, if you are struggling to find friends, know that you are NOT alone. I know this is tough, but I’m sitting here in Nashville today as living proof that you can make new best friends (that will soon feel like old friends) no matter where you are, no matter what season you’re in, no matter how scared or awkward or lonely you feel right now. It can be done.

You’ve got this!

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