Moving to a new city can be exhilarating—except for the fact that you have to leave behind pretty much everything you know about life, from your entire network of friends to your knowledge of exactly how long it takes to get to the nearest grocery store. The grocery store commute? That’s easy to work out. Making friends in a new city is where the challenge sets in.
Maybe you’re an introvert. Maybe you have a super-busy work schedule. Maybe you can’t even fathom thinking about friendship until you feel 100 percent settled and unpacked. Regardless of the reason, it’s worth reminding yourself on the regular as your take on this task: Meeting new people takes time and effort.
“When it comes to meeting new friends in a new city, you have to be patient with yourself,” says Shasta Nelson, friendship expert and author of Frientimacy. “A study came out last year that asked us how long it takes before it feels like we’re friends with somebody. We report that it takes 50 hours to go from meeting a stranger to becoming casual friends with that person and 80 to 100 hours to become real friends. After that, you’ll need to log approximately 200 hours to feel like someone is a best friend. Obviously, numbers vary depending on the person, but it’s a good reminder that friendship has to be developed, not discovered.”
In other words, you can’t expect to land on a brand-new social circle overnight. Nelson adds this piece of advice: “It’s important to look at it less like a treasure hunt where you’re auditioning people and see it more as a development. You’ve simply got to put in the time.”
So, how do you get started? We chatted with real women who have done just that—left their friend group to relocate to a new city and found new and meaningful relationships in the process. Here, their tips and advice on exactly how to meet new friends and get outside your comfort zone when you’re in a new place.
1. Start a Conversation and Accept Invitations
When Julie moved with her husband to Washington, D.C., she was worried about rebuilding her friend group since she considers herself a total introvert and homebody. But she also knew she’d be miserable in the long run if she didn’t at least try. “I know it’s hard and weird and sometimes awkward, but no one can read your mind, so they won’t know what your interests are or if you have things in common if you don’t speak up,” she explains. As part of that, you have to also be willing to totally be yourself. “When I was a teenager—and even when I was living in New York ahead of my move—I was so concerned with having the right style and the right opinions and the right taste. Now, I’m comfortable with the things that really represent who I am. Being honest makes it easier to form authentic relationships when those things are on the table from the get-go.”
2. Check Out Facebook and Reddit Communities, Too
Friendship apps—like Peanut—are a great way to make connections, but don’t underestimate other digital avenues that are more everyday, says Julie. “They’re a great place to meet people who have similar interests,” she explains. “The regular contributors all get to know each other by talking about whatever the shared interest is and most of the groups I’m in at this point have floated the idea of meetups in different cities at one point or another.” Another benefit? A public group get-together is a lot better than a 1:1 meetup, not just safety-wise, but there’s less pressure on conversation.
3. Ask a New Acquaintance Out on a Friendship Date
When Erin relocated her family to Chicago, she said that she really had to put herself out there—and suggest plans—in order to test the waters with people she met. “When you’re in your 30s, you definitely have some experience as a judge of character and can recognize right away if there’s chemistry between the two of you,” she says. That’s why she recommends actually making plans—as in putting something on the calendar where you can interact one-on-one without distractions. She also recommends giving the meetup a few attempts even if you don’t immediately bond on the first hang-out. “Maybe after three get-togethers, you realize this is not the BFF you were looking for and you have to move on. But you sort of need to give the relationship some time to grow and evolve instead of judging the person right off the bat.”
4. Join a Professional Network or Volunteer
Multiple women we talked to said this was a great jumping-off point when it comes to meeting new friends. One mom is leading her daughter’s Girl Scout troop—something she never thought she’d do. Another found a professional organization for her industry—finance—and attended a mixer just to try to get face-to-face time with like-minded women. “It helps to put yourself in a situation working on something you’re generally passionate about,” explains the mom leading the Girl Scout troop. “You have something in common from the get-go, too, so conversation flows much more naturally than if you’re out having wine during happy hour at a bar.”
5. …Or Network at Work
When a job change brought Jennifer to Florida, she opted to get involved with extracurricular groups and activities within her own office. (Yes, that’s a thing!) “At work, I’ve joined a ton of networking groups with interests aligned with mine—the parents’ network, the women’s network, the campus green initiative, PRIDE and the Hispanic/Latino heritage network,” she says. “Not only will this help me out career-wise, all of these organizations do outings and community projects that will definitely allow me to spend quality time outside work with like-minded people.” Jennifer adds that she’s also not shy about her needs at this juncture. “It’s as simple as, ‘Hey, I just moved here and don’t know a soul, so if anyone wants to get coffee and talk about Bachelor in Paradise, the Yankees or toddlers as terrorists, hit me up.’ People respond to directness—and humor, but it’s about being open and honest.”
6. Enroll in a Regular Class
You’re favorite way to decompress in your previous city was a regular Saturday morning yoga class. Or maybe you’ve been meaning to pick up a new skill, like French. (You took it in high school and miss it, after all.) This is a great way to meet new people when you relocate, says Sarah, who just moved to Maine, also for work. “It’s the consistency of the meetup, especially if you shell out cash for the activity you’re attempting to learn,” she explains. “I actually tried out an art class when I moved here—something totally outside my wheelhouse. The newness of it all actually made me a lot more tuned in to the experience, but also the people. I was much more open-minded than where I lived before about going out for drinks after class and just saying yes to plans in general.”
7. Reach Out to People You Already Know
No, we’re not talking about friendships you’ve already made and just happen to be located in the city you’ve just moved to. (That would make this whole thing a lot easier.) Julie suggests getting in touch with random contacts—say, someone who was on the periphery in college, but happens to live in your new town—and making plans. “If nothing else, you can say you’d love some tips on the area and ask if they’d like to share their favorite haunts over coffee,” she says. “Sometimes you click and hang out again, sometimes you don’t, but either way, you put yourself out there—and you might walk away with some great insight about your new home.”
8. Make Every Effort to Cut Yourself Some Slack
In a new city, it’s very easy to beat yourself up about your lack of a network—but self-care matters, too, when it comes to making friends, says Mary, another woman who relocated her family for work. “Don’t burn yourself out attending social gathering after social gathering,” she says. “Leave a buffer day—or days—in your week that are reserved just for you.” Why? She adds: “Sometimes I overbook myself because I’m trying to put myself out there, but giving yourself a bit of down time makes you more attentive and a better conversationalist, too.” It’s also a good opportunity to stay in touch with your old friends, who remind you of everything you love about yourself and make you, well, you. “Part of rebuilding your network and starting over in a new place is staying in touch with who you are at the core. What better way to do that than to dial a friend who knows you the best and who you can unload on about your experience putting yourself out there in a new place? There’s honestly no better form of R&R.”