Our family has made two major moves in the last three years. We went from Ohio to Nebraska, and then Nebraska to our now permanent home in South Dakota. I was asked what it has been like making friends – it seems like the older you get the harder it can be to meet new people. Here are my best tips for making friends as an adult in a new place.
One New Person Each Time
Ethan and I made a point when we came to South Dakota to introduce ourselves to at least one new person or family every time we go to Mass. This may seem daunting, especially if you’re introverted, but hear me out:
Most people are really nice and are thrilled to chat if you just break the ice. It is the initial ice-break that is usually hardest. And it is true – you may meet some people and the exchange is brief and they seem uninterested, quickly moving on. It stinks when that happens, but don’t take it personally. Someone might be having a bad day, truly be in a rush, or simply not be very friendly, but it is worth the “risk”. With consistency, some of these introductions are going to turn into “let’s get together for dinner sometime” and before you know it… friends!
Time and again we are proved wrong about initial assumptions of people, too.
I made a point to introduce myself a woman once who looked quiet and reserved and was on her phone. I just swallowed my nerves and walked up and said, “Hi, I’m Mariette. We are new here.” She looked up and had the biggest smile and was so thrilled to talk. She said she hadn’t met many people yet and she’d recently moved to that area as well. We had the nicest conversation and I’m so glad I didn’t walk past when my initial assumption was that she would have no interest in talking.
Ethan introduced himself to a man who was quietly standing off to the side the other day and he told me in the car, “That guy is great! I assumed he didn’t want to talk but I’m sure glad I said hello to him because he is so friendly.”
Does this mean people will always be friendly and engaging? No. It seems like younger people are sometimes less interested in conversation with strangers. In fact, any time that I have had an awkward interaction where the person was clearly disinterested, it’s always been with people under 30. I think conversation is an art and a lot of people have not been taught how to go back and forth with it and to power through any initial awkwardness. Despite this, with consistency you not only will likely make friends, but you just may make someone’s day who has been feeling really lonely themselves!
Tell Me About You
Ask people about themselves. We are each experts about ourselves and our lives, so it is usually easy for us to talk about us. If you want to get someone talking, ask about them!
“Have you lived here long?”
“Where are you originally from?”
“How did you and your spouse meet?”
“What are your favorite parks around town?”
“Are there any favorite restaurants that you would recommend here?”
“Do you have extended family in the area?”
“What are your favorite day trips here?”
“What do you do for a living?”
Sometimes people will give very short, simple answers and not ask questions back in which case… conversation is tough. But usually if you ask a couple questions about them, they will volley questions back to you and the conversation ball is rolling!
Do not wait to get involved at your parish. We have lived here 6 weeks and Ethan is already the Saturday morning Mass altar server. We are going to parish events as they come up, going to a couple daily Masses a week, and ready for whatever volunteering opportunities may come our way. I once met a great family in Lincoln just by participating in their new-baby meal delivery. I didn’t know them, but I took them the meal anyway and they were so grateful and made a point to reach out to us in the future.
The more you show up, have a smile on your face, and make clear that you’re invested in your parish community, the more you will get to know people.
Have People Over
Invite a family you meet to come over to dinner. It doesn’t have to be fancy. Order pizza if you need to. Don’t worry about the house. Just have people over. This isn’t entertaining – it is hospitality, and it breeds friendship.
Find Local Groups
Find local groups that pertain to your interests. When we first got to Lincoln I joined a local Facebook group for Catholic women. A mom posted asking if someone wanted to meet up at the park for a play date when we had been in town maybe three months. I was the only person that replied – I went out on a limb and met up with her at the park. Our girls were instant buddies and she and I share a lot of interests. We met up regularly for the full 2.5 years that I lived there, all because I joined a Facebook group and swallowed my nerves and took her up on the invitation.
Give People Time
First impressions are not everything, and sometimes it takes time to click with someone. Two of my most treasured friendships back in Lincoln are with women I didn’t have this instant easy flow of conversation with… but we kept getting together and investing in our friendships and now we could talk for hours no problem. It is awesome when you have that amazing click moment from the start, but when it isn’t there, don’t count that person out as a potential friend.
Don’t Look for Your Peers Alone
Finally, do not only seek out friendships amongst your peers in your same state of life. That friend I mentioned above from the Facebook group? She is probably 15 years older than me, her youngest and last kid being a year older than my first. But that didn’t stop us from sharing a love for holistic health and breastfeeding and all kinds of other interests.
If you only look for someone your age, with your same number of kids etc. you are missing out on the wisdom and fun of so many other people. Maybe you are just the person that a new mom 5 years younger than you needs to walk with her as she navigates life with her firstborn, or you may really be needing to have a cup of coffee with an empty-nester who has walked where you are now and can commiserate with you.
Our girls have often loved hanging out with families with slightly older children who love to jump them higher on the trampoline, push them on swings etc. They have a totally different experience than when they are the “big kids” in a given mix of families, and really enjoy when they aren’t just with peers all of the time as well.
Moving to a new area is hard – and friendships do not happen instantly. We have found, however, that by investing in the lives of others and seeking out conversation, we have been blessed by the gift of friendship wherever we have lived.