April 15, 2019 at 04:00AM by CWC
The last time I lived in a new place where I didn’t know anyone was college. Back then, it didn’t matter that I shied away from starting conversations with people I didn’t know. Everyone was in the same boat: new and friendless. Bonds were made easily, based on who else lived on your dorm floor, what your major was, or a new, shared love of cranberry vodkas. Making friends was never a problem, even for me, a generally introverted person.
After college, I moved to New York City along with the majority of my other friends. Even though I was in a new, overwhelming place, my college friends and I experienced it together. I also made new friends at the magazines and clothing boutique where I worked. I didn’t feel the need to “put myself out there” at all; I had my people and never felt lonely. That’s how it worked for ten years.
Then at the end of last year, I moved down south to Raleigh, North Carolina—a city where I didn’t have any friends whatsoever. My parents, older sister, and younger brother all lived in the area, but because they were in such vastly different life stages than me—single with no kids—I knew they weren’t going to be much help in the friends department. My move also required me to start working remotely, which meant that I now couldn’t rely on my job to give me a built-in place for friends. Unless I wanted to spend my nights alone watching Netflix with my cat (which as an introvert, didn’t really sound that bad to me, really), I knew I had to make an effort in a way I never had to before.
Five months after my big move, I wouldn’t say that I exactly have a tight-knit group of BFFs, but I do have quite a few acquaintances who are turning into friends. It’s not by accident—I’ve made purposeful steps to get out there and meet new people. How have I been making friends as an introvert? Keep reading to see what worked for me.
Meeting through shared interests
The first week I moved into my new apartment, the building just happened to host a happy hour for all the residents. Even though drinks and chit chat with a bunch of strangers sounded like the opposite of fun, I forced myself to go. Just one drink, I repeated, psyching myself up while I put my makeup on and curled my hair.
I went…but it was awkward. Everyone else seemed to recognize each other, so I spent most of the time nursing my glass of wine, willing someone to talk to me. I struck up the nerve to introduce myself to a few people, but nothing progressed past small talk. While I was proud of myself for going outside my comfort zone, this approach didn’t seem the best way for me to make friends. So I called up Introvert Power author and psychologist Laurie Helgoe, PhD, for advice.
“When I moved as an adult to a new city, I joined a memoir writing group,” the fellow introvert told me. “Because of the nature of it, we had real conversations quicker—not just small talk—and formed deeper connections. I actually met some of my best friends through that.” Dr. Helgoe said she also found good friends through a painting class she tried.
Inspired, I decided to join a local running group that met once a week for a casual run and then went out for drinks afterwards. Because it’s a small group, right away a few people recognized that I was new and struck up a conversation with me. We continued talking while running, but because of the run, I felt less pressure to keep the conversation going. Afterwards at the bar, even though the activity part of the meet-up was done, the fact that we were all there because of a shared interest in running gave me something easy to talk about. Sample convo starter: “You training for anything?”
I left the first running group meet-up feeling pretty good about the conversations I had and kept going back week after week. The third week in, I exchanged phone numbers with a couple other people, making plans to check out a local art gallery together. We’ve met up several times since and even have a group chat going. Friends, it’s happening!
Meeting through shared beliefs
When I called up Dr. Helgoe to talk about the challenges about making friends in your 30s (or older), she highlighted a big silver lining: Unlike in college or your early 20s, friendships aren’t based on shallow interests (like partying or how hard that bio seminar was) as much. “By your 30s, you know what’s important to you in life, and you can use this time to explore that more, whether it’s religious beliefs, activism, or giving back in some way.” Pursuing these interests isn’t just fulfilling, it provides a more meaningful foundation for the new connections you’re making. With this in mind, I decided to join a small group at a local church.
The group consists of between four and ten people (depending on the week), which is the perfect size for an introvert like me. Every Monday night they meet at a local coffee shop to talk about whatever the sermon happened to be that week. Similar to what Dr. Helgoe experienced in her writing group, because the subject matter was so deep, there wasn’t much small talk involved. I found that people opened up about their personal lives because it felt like a safe space. Even after the first time we met up, I felt like I knew them—not well, but certainly more than the people I met at my building’s happy hour. A couple days later, I met up with one of the other girls for coffee, and we had a similar deep discussion one-on-one. I’ve been going to the small group for about a month now and already feel like I’m forming strong friendships.
Becoming a regular
Dr. Helgoe also recommended consistently showing up to the same places where you feel comfortable, like a bookstore. Since I work from home, I decided to take my laptop to a coffee shop near my apartment and work from there every day. Sure enough, after showing up every day, I started to strike up conversations with the baristas and other regulars. “Can I ask you what you’re working on?” a fellow regular asked me the other day. After striking up a conversation, we realized our parents were from the same town and then got to talking about other shared interests. Now, we have plans to get brunch—at another coffee shop—next week.
What I’ve realized these last few months is that you absolutely don’t have to have an extroverted personality to make friends, though it does require effort—perhaps more effort than you’re used to. As Dr. Helgoe points out, “Whatever you’re interested in, there will always be other people who are into it too.” The key is to find your people.