I recently moved to a new place, and I have no friends. “Having no friends” is the sort of thing you want to add a dozen disclaimers to, because it sounds so sad. Sadder than the loneliness — which is not that bad, really — is the sadness of saying it! I have no friends. Oh, God! I actually do have a lot of friends, they just aren’t here! I’m a very likeable person, trust me!
Living in big cities and on social media and having jobs and, before that, school have all kept me from being so undeniably in this position before. I’m asking myself questions I last wondered when I was 7 years old: How do you make friends? Does it always feel a little forced? Do you have to just be willing to be embarrassed and vulnerable and friendly and try for 10 seconds not to be cynical?
Hoping that hearing from other people might help me feel less meta-sad about my new loner status, I sent out a call for advice. What I got in response was this darkly funny Greek chorus of 30-something women whose lives have taken a similar shape (and who subscribe to my newsletter). They’re between 28 and 40, that time of life when you’ve just started to figure things out — and then you change everything and move across the country, or get a new job, or have kids, or have an existential crisis. By the time you’re say, 32, your values are clearer; you know what you need, what you like, what you’re like. Even if she stays in one place, a woman in her 30s might look around and wonder where in the world her people are. Hearing how common this is was both bleak and encouraging.
It’s hard! It’s normal! Everyone hates it! We push through anyway because it’s worth it.
ON THE CHALLENGE
Friend-dating is a total slog. You just keep throwing yourself in front of person after person, and even if those people are GREAT, sometimes they are just Not For You. And they’ll never be For You no matter how hard you try. Trying without trying doesn’t work for me, because whenever I sit back and let other people do the work, I sometimes end up with friends whom I don’t like, which is just terrible for the soul. It’s way better for everyone if you just ghost them and are lonely for awhile. — Adrian, 32
I think it’s just the phase of life we’re in? … I just don’t have space for the emotional labor of making friendships. I just want to sit down next to someone and immediately dive into the deeper conversations about our lives, and also share memes and dance moves, and maybe text at night about Beyoncé and job searches, etc. — Marissa, 38
In 2008, my husband and I moved to Colombia and then Brazil for, like, 8 months while he did his doctoral research. I didn’t know anyone and didn’t speak the languages (he did) and I didn’t really have much to do besides try to freelance. I was super lonely the whole time. It is SO hard and takes me at least a year to really feel like I have a friend. But all it takes is ONE friend, I’ve learned, to feel like basically everything is okay. — Kathryn, 33
Moving from Minneapolis to Cedar Rapids with my husband when I was 22 and didn’t have a job was one of the loneliest times in my life. I started working out just to talk to old people in the gym. I would basically sit in our bleak apartment and apply for jobs then drive around town looking for good coffee shops. I eventually forced myself to join some cooking clubs and book clubs (the book-clubs thing was a failure mostly) until I found some friends who wouldn’t just invite me to their goddamn Mary Kay parties. That first friend who invited me out to lunch, I was so grateful for her. But it took six months. — Lyz, 33
I had a kid right after moving to France in 2013, and when I think back on my first fall and winter here, and how pathetically lonely I was, I feel so sad for myself that it’s almost like it was another person. I would stay at home with my baby, rearrange the knickknacks and books on the shelf, and when my husband would get home from work ask him to spot the changes. — Noelle, 30
I think I spend at least 60 percent of my time in therapy talking about this. — Nicole, 32
SOME TRIED-AND-TRUE TACTICS
When I moved to San Diego I answered this ad on Craigslist that two girls posted looking for friends to go camping with. This would be a good way to get murdered. Also I hate camping, it was just the only ad that seemed to be written by real people. We hung out several times. In Portland, I lived in a house and we had Sunday dinners that were pretty open and casual — if any of us met people out in the world, we’d invite them and sometimes people would come. In New York, I emailed people whose writing I liked and asked them out. I went to the Brooklyn Inn every day and became friends with the people there. Being a regular is good. — Logan, 31
My approach to friends for the past few years is that I notice someone being really smart and/or funny and/or a good writer online and in my relative peer group and I decide we are friends. Gradually, I let them in on this by asking them out on a friend date, texting them, emailing them, etc. I assume a level of familiarity that is appropriate for already-established friends but not in a way that is invasive or entitled. I don’t expect them to reciprocate or anything, I just ask sincere questions and don’t keep any secrets, always assuming the stance: So fun to be around you and in contact with you, Friend. It works really well! They are tricked into being my friend almost every time. — Charlotte, 33
My oldest boy found a new friend at school this year, and I finally got in touch with his mom. Many weeks passed where we try to tell our boys to write down phone numbers, or give them our phone number, and damn if kids are just like the most distracted and useless information holders. Anyway, I finally deciphered a pencil scribbled phone number on a scrap of paper. When I first met her after our kids hung out after school, she just came out and said, “So is there like a dating service for friends? Do you want to hang out?” — Sarah, 40
The only thing that has kept me at all functional since becoming a parent is making friends with cynical and desperate and intelligent mothers (and a few fathers). Having kids changed the way I make friends. Now I show my cards straightaway, and I size them up real quick. — Kate, 39
I’m lucky enough to have made friends with a “planner,” which makes meeting other people so much easier. I went on a camping trip with a bunch of new girls and we actually talked about the difficulty of making friends as a grown-up. It was like breaking the fourth wall or mentioning the unmentionable or something. — April, 31
I took an art class this winter at some random studio in Gowanus through CourseHorse. I did it with the intention to just do something different, and like maybe meet some boy and have a reason to delete Bumble forever, but the only guys in my class were this cool 40-year-old gay guy and a dude who didn’t really speak English. I did, however, become friends with a girl who sat at my table during most of our classes. We started bringing wine to class and gave each other boy advice. We’ve hung out since class ended, going to concerts and art shows. — Meghan, 30
I moved cities four years ago and nearly all of the friends I made are from my CrossFit gym. I think the secret is some place where there is repeat exposure, so that maybe after a month of attending the same 6 p.m. class together one of you, on a busy evening when there’s not enough equipment, will offer to share, and then you’ll learn names, and slowly after more months you have somebody who looks right at you when the instructor says to find a partner for the warm-up. Repeat exposure. So much easier than one-time passings-by. — Lisa, 28
I once went to a Meetup and played Scrabble and other word games with a group of deeply weird people who couldn’t spell. Another time, I slowed down a running group who wouldn’t leave my slow self behind, and it was highly embarrassing. I went to a party with a bunch of people from a hiking Meetup group and they spent the whole time making inside jokes and disgusting comments about women. And yet, everyone keeps telling me to join Meetup. Including this therapist I saw only once whose advice to all her clients was apparently to join Meetup. — Jane, 28
ADVICE FOR THE WEARY (AND THE WARY)
My personal tactic is the same as in dating — find someone who looks appealing to you and then be aggressive (while trying not to freak them out). — Sarah, 28
Ask people to hang in a socially awkward way. Kind of like what you did in seventh grade. If you meet someone somewhere and you have a five-minute convo that feels warm and good (at the grocery store or whatever), self-deprecatingly tell them that you’re looking for friends and would they like to hang out? Some people will recoil and say no, but they don’t make good friends, so. The people who say yes may be a bit surprised because it’s not such a normal thing to happen when you are an “adult,” but they’ll come around to the idea and they’ll be the sort of open, kind people you want to hang out with. — Jean, 34
Making friends is all about being as persistently, doggedly friendly as possible in random interactions with strangers. It sounds exhausting, and it can be, but the transcendent THRILL when you finally find a connection with someone will energize you for more. Also, friendly isn’t the same as “nice,” which is often false and way more exhausting. You can be friendly and still have jagged edges (I do). — Amelia, 28
I’d say get a dog because in my neighborhood everyone stops to talk to someone with a dog. Whenever I get too lonely I sign up for a class of some kind and that will usually at least give me a little jolt of decent adult conversation. Last time it was an eight-week comedy class. Sometimes you meet interesting people, sometimes you meet people that are too “on” and it’s exhausting. — Nicole, 32
I realized at some point that my new friendships aren’t going to be the all-consuming, all-sustaining friendships that I had in my 20s. You’re lucky if you have them, but my friends aren’t my family now — my husband and daughter are. Even if I really like my new friends, we all have jobs and kids and obligations. I’m not really in a position anymore to be up all night lounging in other peoples’ beds drinking Boone’s Farm, anyway. — Adrian, 32
If you do think you might like someone— and honestly they only have to exude a hint of coolness, people are so often hiding their coolness, I think — my advice is to just invite her over for a drink after your kid is asleep. Just like, sit outside and have a beer together, end-of-the-day-chill-sesh-type deal. But how to FIND that person, right? That’s the real challenge. I think that’s just time. — Kathryn, 33