Looking for friends in all the wrong places

A woman contemplates the struggle of making friends as an adult in a new city
By Angela Toscano  Published on 09/11/2018 at 1:22 PM EDT
Gabriel Santiago/Unsplash

In the first place, you will be lonely.

You will have moved to this place of your own free will with some hope or dream packed up and stuffed in your back pocket. Maybe you wanted to change careers. Maybe you were hoping a bigger city would offer more opportunities for love, for adventure, for friendships, for food, for culture…

These hopes will begin to erode on the first night in your new apartment when you start to realize things you should have noticed before but didn’t: there’s no counter space in the kitchen, there’s only one lock on the door, there’s no street parking, you have to drive to the nearest grocery…

In the second place, you will not know what to do with yourself or with your time.

All your friends will be in a different state, in a different place, across phone lines and Ethernet cables, available only through wireless networks, and not available for coffee, for exploration, for helping you carry boxes and bags across busy streets or up flights of stairs.

So what do you do? How do you create a community, a social group, a world of people from scratch?

This is where I am, having just done this move to Minneapolis. I can tell you that I’m both lonely and alone in this new place, and that I definitely do not know the answer to this question. Mostly I just mourn my old life, the one I left behind on a dream and prayer.

For the past six years, I have been working toward my doctorate in English literature in Iowa City. Not so small as to not have restaurants, bars or a Sephora, but small enough that you cannot walk down the street without stumbling into people you know or wish you didn’t know or, at the very least, know something about. There’s no one new after a certain point in time in a small place, where the influx of undergraduates doubles the size of the town each autumn and reduces it drastically come May. There’s no potential for adventure when every cute fellow you meet already comes with a history of lovers you personally know and every new person gets younger and younger.

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Besides, I finished my degree and I couldn’t stay. What would I have done for money? There weren’t very many options. So I moved in an attempt to change course, or fate, or just to keep from getting stuck inexorably on the fringes of academia, adjuncting for less than I earned as a graduate student.

And when I moved to Minneapolis, I imagined all the best bits of my old life would still be true but in a larger, more exciting location: somewhere that meant new people, new possibilities, more opportunities for money and sex and adventure—for the random, the serendipitous, and the surprisingly pleasant. In my imagination, all my best people were there with me. Obviously, I knew that this would not be the case. But it’s difficult not to hope, and hope tends to take the shape of the best we’ve experienced and the best we desire.

Plus, I thought because I had done this before thrice now (pulling my life up and throwing it across state lines trying to take root somewhere else), that this time would be easier. I thought having mastered loneliness in New York City, and disappointment in Iowa City that I would be prepared. Ha!

It isn’t easier. It’s harder. I don’t have the lovely structure of grad school to give me purpose and a built-in body of potential friends.

So I haven’t the faintest idea how to make friends as an adult. Granted, it has only been about two months. Here are things I have tried so far, based on suggestions from the internet:

  1. Chatting up girls I think would be good BFFs on park benches and in line at stores. Much like dating, this is just awkward for all involved, but hey, you’ve got to shoot your shot.
  2. Persistently going to the same happy hour near my work (for some reason I am the only person who is always there on a Thursday. I think it is because it is a fancy bar. Fancy bars just have people on dates. Hint: you can’t make friends with the regulars when you are the regular.)
  3. Being overly friendly with baristas (has this ever worked for anyone, ever? Really, it is just an encroachment on the poor barista’s time. If this keeps up I’m going to end up purchasing a single avocado at the grocery, just so I can have a 20-minute human interaction with the cashier.)
  4. The app, Bumble BFF (just as bad as trying to date on Bumble. You know—a lot of matches, but then rather dull conversations in app that don’t lead to actually meeting in person, concluded by one of you ghosting the other. Rinse. Repeat.)
  5. Making friends of friends of friends.

Number five is the only one that’s worked so far. A friend of mine who used to live in Minneapolis connected me to her friend, a librarian. We’ve hung out a couple of times and I really enjoy her company. So that’s one new friendish sort of person! I call that a win.

Still, when you move away from everything you’ve previously known—the work you used to do (I’m in a new career track), the friends you used to have (I know one person here), the community you used to be involved in (activism, organizations, churches, coffee shops, covens, whatever!, where are they? I don’t know), your regular haunts (grocery stores, hang-outs, what are the best bars? Again, I just don’t know!)—it’s hard not think that your decision was a huge, tiny mistake.

I’ve made a huge, tiny mistake. But I can’t go back now. I just have to keep going and hoping I will accidentally stumble into a rich social life, full of people I love and enjoy. You know, like I used to have.

It’s sort of like falling in love: you don’t have it and you can’t seem to get it until suddenly you do. And frustratingly, it is not something you can get through hard work, mechanized processes, or the right keyword searches. It’s something that just happens to you. Don’t we all hate that answer?

I hate this answer so very much. But it’s the true answer. Until then, I guess I’ll join a book group?

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