How I succeeded—and failed—at making friends after moving to a new city

Making friends as an adult is hard. It was never something I struggled with while growing up. Going to school, playing on sports teams, and acting in my community theater basically handed me an instant group of friends on a silver platter. When I went to college, it became harder—I didn’t know anyone, but hanging out with people on my dorm floor, chatting with my classmates, and joining a sorority quickly made the transition smooth.

After graduating from college, everything changed. There were no more sorority socials, football tailgates, or even classes to force me to make new friends. I was thrown into the biggest city in the country, N.Y.C., knowing only a handful of people. Those few connections were a stroke of luck, but I still don’t have the big social circle I had in college.

I’ll probably never have that big of a group of girlfriends surrounding me again, but one thing’s for sure: I definitely won’t expand my social circle if I don’t try.

Making new friends in a new city isn’t easy—it requires effort. You won’t magically fall into a group and instantly be best friends with your colleagues like you might have when you were younger. Although it’s no easy feat, putting a real effort into meeting new people can have a huge impact on your social life. For the month of September, I made a conscious effort to meet new people in N.Y.C. after my recent move to the city. I tried many different tactics, and some worked surprisingly well—while others were utter failures. Read below for the ways I tried, succeeded, and failed at making new friends last month.

1I milked every little connection, no matter how small.

One of the best things about social media is how it can connect you with friends you’ve lost touch with. You know those people you follow on Instagram but haven’t seen since high school? You debate unfollowing them, but forget and wind up still knowing their cat’s name even though you haven’t talked in years. Well, those people can turn out to be really useful.

I followed one of these people from freshman year of college on Instagram, and saw that she was interning in N.Y.C. this summer. So, I DM’d her, and we met up for coffee. Turns out, she knew some people who just moved here full-time and were looking for new friends, too. Even though she went back to school for another semester, I’ve become great friends with someone she introduced me to, and who happens to live just a few blocks away from me. I never would have met my new friend Audrey if I hadn’t sent my old friend Kelly a message on Instagram.

Even though it can feel awkward, old friends are usually willing to reconnect, and you never know what new friendships they can bring.

2I turned work events into social opportunities.

I get invited to lots of cool events through my job. Dinners, cocktail parties, fashion shows—all are offered to me pretty often, which is a huge perk. But sometimes after working all day, commuting across town for an hour-long event doesn’t sound super appealing. When I do accept the invitations, I never regret it. These events are usually filled with people my age, the majority of them girls. (Guy friends are great, but I’m a girls’ girl through and through.)

This month, I continued to treat these events as networking opportunities, but also as opportunities for new friendships. After all, many of the girls attending are also working new jobs and just moved to N.Y.C. Why not see if these newfound work relationships could turn into friendships, too? I started making an effort to really connect with the girls at these events, and I reached out to them afterwards to meet up for happy hours.

Work relationships don’t have to be all business. Fostering friendships with your coworkers can benefit both your professional and social life.

3I embraced my roots.

When you move to a big city, especially one as big as N.Y.C., there is most likely an organized group of people from your home state that gets together—you just have to find them. I’m from Iowa, and I love watching Iowa Hawkeye football games on Saturdays in the fall. I don’t have a TV in my apartment (or even a living room to put one in), so I did some quick research to find a good place to watch the games this season.

Trusty Google gave me two bars that are known as the places to watch Iowa football games in N.Y.C. Come game day, I chose one, convinced my roommate to come with me even though she’s an Alabama fan, and posted up at a high top wearing a Hawkeye T-shirt. When game time arrived, the bar was full of people sporting black and gold, singing the Iowa fight song, and chanting the classic I.O.W.A. cheer when the team scored.

I met a bunch of people who either went to the University of Iowa like me or were just through-and-through fans living in the city—one even knew my sister from her college days at Iowa (we sent her a selfie, of course). Many states have clubs in other states for ex-residents to connect, and I plan on going back to this bar every football Saturday this season to cheer on the Hawks with fellow fans.

Even if you don’t find your best friend through the experience, it feels great to be surrounded by people from your home state in an unfamiliar one—you’ll almost feel like you’re back home for a few hours.

4I tried new exercise activities.

Lots of different gyms promote communal atmospheres, so I decided to try one out this month. I had a free pass to a HIIT-style gym, and signed up for a class at 7:10 a.m. on a Friday morning (big step for me—I’m not an early bird). The atmosphere did feel communal—lots of people knew each other from previous classes. But it turns out, people aren’t at their friendliest at 7 a.m. when they’ve just woken up, or at 8 a.m. after they’ve gotten their butts kicked by burpees. I do think that if I went to these classes consistently, I might build a circle of friends through it, but the membership price is pretty steep. Hey, at least I got a good workout in!

I played tennis in high school but hadn’t picked up my racquet for a few years, so I decided that now was the perfect time to hit the courts again. N.Y.C. has multiple tennis clubs, and I joined one that ran from August through October—perfect timing for my September “month of making friends.” The league randomly matches members up with partners to play during the season, purely based on schedules. For some reason, I kept getting matched up with older guys. That’s fine, but like I said, I’m a girls’ girl. I ended up playing a few women who were significantly older than me who I just didn’t click with. So the tennis league was sort of a bust on the friendship front, but I loved getting back in the game. I have definitely been bitten by the tennis bug again.

Stepping out of your comfort zone is always a learning experience, and you never know where it might take you.

5I reached out to my neighbors.

I live in a building on the Lower East Side of Manhattan that’s full of people in their twenties and thirties. But for a community filled with similar people, not a lot of them like to mingle. It doesn’t feel weird to strike up a conversation in the 30 seconds you ride an elevator with a stranger, but it would feel weird to say, “Here’s my number, let’s hang out some time!” as they’re getting off on their floor.

Luckily, my building has a big rooftop where tons of residents hang out on weekend nights before hitting the town. My roommates and I have done this many times since moving in this summer, but we never really approached other residents—and we weren’t approached by them, either. So, we just stood in our own little circle around a speaker on the ground, sipping our drinks and talking to each other.

A few weeks ago, I decided we would approach whoever was up there, no matter what. When we opened the door, three girls and one guy who looked to be in their early twenties stood, beer cans in hand. We introduced ourselves and discovered we live on the same floor. One of the girls turned out to be friends with someone I studied abroad with—talk about a small world. We hung out on the roof all night, exchanged numbers, and now have a group message for making plans. Mission accomplished.

It can be intimidating to make the first move, but once you do, chances are the other person was just waiting for you to do so. You’ll both be happy that you did.

A neighbor-mingling-fail: One Friday night, I got home earlier than my roommates and found myself literally stuck in my dress. I was tired and wanted nothing more than to slip into my pajamas and crawl into bed, but I could hardly reach the zipper. It felt like I was starring in the movie How to Be Single, in the scene where Dakota Johnson’s character struggles with the exact same dilemma.

After about twenty minutes of reaching and groaning, I thought, “Well, I’m trying to make new friends this month…maybe this could be a funny meet-cute.” (I was still in the “I’m-in-a-movie” mindset.) So, up to the roof I strolled. Turns out, the only people up there were four guys about my age sitting in a circle. I almost turned around, but I really wanted to change into my pajamas, and these guys were my only shot. One of them reluctantly obliged, but they were not interested in becoming friends with the crazy stranger who asked them to unzip her dress at one in the morning. It was worth a shot, right? I want friends who would find that situation funny, anyway.

Final thoughts

I repeat: Making friends as an adult is hard. It can be awkward, seem like a chore, and feel hopeless. Building your adult social circle takes time, and most importantly, effort. But when it pays off, you’ll be so glad you took a 50-minute subway ride across town, because it might have led to a long-term friendship. Even though September is over, I’m committing to putting in a real effort to make new friends in N.Y.C.—even if it takes more cringe-worthy rooftop encounters to meet my best friends.

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