Whether it’s to a new town in the same state, across the country or across the world, you’re uprooting yourself from everything, and everyone, you know.
And while we all consider the logistics and bureaucracy basics, we don’t always consider the most important thing: forging relationships.
Making friends as an adult is like dating, minus the sexual tension. Though the thought process usually boils down to, “I like you. Let’s hang out.” It’s not that easy in real life. You don’t want to seem desperate when you find someone you think is cool. You want to play it safe, not seem pushy but still branch out. When you do actually hang out with someone, you want to seem interesting. You wonder if they think you’re strange, what you can do to meet up again. Maybe you even meet over dinner, bringing the dating analogy full circle.
I was lucky in a certain sense that I had Marco and an Italian family to fall back on. Through my husband and his family I instantly gained a support system, one that helped me in big and small ways.
I was in a new country. I was exploring, adapting, discovering. I had had job interviews and hosted dinner parties. Each and every day there was something new, including getting to know Marco’s friends.
Perhaps that’s why it surprised me so much when my dad questioned me on the phone just six months after I had moved abroad. “You still don’t have any friends of your own?!”
Of course I didn’t have friends of my own!
First, I was dealing with feeling wildly overwhelmed by everything. Second, Italians tend to live in tight-knit communities. They live, grow up and stay in the same town where their parents and grandparents and great grandparents lived, grew up and stayed. They already have friends, and they don’t need you.
Whereas a Midwesterner would welcome a complete stranger with open arms, instantly best friends in a way that disgusts New Yorkers, perplexes the stranger and seems entirely fake to everyone else (it’s not, we really genuinely consider you our new best friend), an Italian would never. You’re distrusted until you’ve proven you can be trusted.
So there are some cultural differences. That’s all fine and good, but it doesn’t make finding new friends easy.
After three years of skating by with friends of Marco’s who have since become mine. With excuses of Italian’s tight-knit communities and a complete rejection of the expat community, I’ve decided that it’s time to wake up and make friends of my own.
It hasn’t been easy, but it has been worthwhile.
5 Steps to Making Friends in Your New Home:
1. Give yourself time
I gave myself time to adapt, to understand better the new town and culture I moved in to. I gave myself time to feel comfortable with my Italian, to feel comfortable with my job. I hung out with friends I already had, with people I felt comfortable with. Moving is overwhelming, don’t be too hard on yourself. (And tell your dad not to be too hard on you either!)
2. Get out of the goddamn house
I don’t know about you, but I find that it’s far too easy to hide away in your safe space, leaving the house only for the essentials. This is especially true when leaving your house means dealing with a different language, mentality, culture, road laws….the list goes on. For the first months — ahem, years — my solo ventures out of the house were just that, solo. I went to the park, the grocery store, museums or simply walks around the block. Still, I slowly began to see familiar faces on these outings. I learned more each day about my surroundings (see: The Weird People in My Neighborhood) and grew less self-conscious about exploring alone.
3. Become a regular
Go to the same place. Take the same walks. Visit the same coffeehouse. You aren’t likely to become BFFs with your barista, but there’s nothing that will make you feel more accomplished in your move, more at home, than when your neighborhood barista not only recognizes you, but can even guess what you’d like before you order.
I eat at the same lunch place almost once a week for the past two years now. Though I have yet to have a significant conversation with the owner/waiter there, she recognizes me. She knows that sometimes I speak English and Italian and I know that she just recently had her second baby, that her aloof attitude is repeated with all the customers and not just me. It’s enough.
4. Join a club
I know that this seems cliché, but it might just be the best advice on this list.
How do you find these friends? Out of college it’s not so easy. You’ll have to do it like an awkward adult. That means: DOING SOMETHING.
Long gone are the college days of going to the bar and leaving with dozens of new “BFF’s, maaaan!” Now you’ll have to seek them out. This means the usual things: Sign up for a club, explore a hobby, volunteer, join an organization. For me, this meant two things: taking Spanish lessons where I was able to form friendships, and finally accepting the expat community here.
Marrying an Italian meant I finally had instant access to what we all want: Italians! I had studied the language and culture for years, like hell was I planning to move 4,000 miles only to hang out with other Americans or English-speakers.
And yet, the few I’ve begun to meet have been oh so helpful. If you’re abroad, these are your go-to friends. They are your entry into the community. They have more knowledge than you, experience, stories! I can’t do each and every activity my local expat club organizes, but I can meet occasionally, and it helps.
5. Start dating
Once you’ve gotten out of the house and found your groove, start dating! Friend dating, that is. Yes, it’s awkward. Yes, it feels slightly unnatural. Yes, it’s necessary. Sooner or later you’re going to have to actually talk to someone. Put yourself out there.
I think the main point to remember here is: Life is not a freaking beer commercial.
It’s not all huge, toothy smiles and bonfires on the beach. And the truth is, life isn’t usually like that for other people either.
Though you may feel anxious about having to strike up conversations or put yourself in awkward situations, probably the other person feels the same way, and most people are glad to meet someone new. Unless of course they’re too busy lounging on hammocks in groups of six with strategically-placed bottles of Corona…
Whether you’ve moved across the world like me, or simply out of your hometown, give it a try. It’s your last step to building a new community in your new home.
Reminder: leave age at the door.
Once out of college, it doesn’t matter anymore. Go out to lunch with colleagues your mother’s age, frequent Thursday night happy hours with Master’s students, get advice from the butcher, baker and candlestick maker.
Remember you’re seeking a community here, not the final slot of your beer commercial.