A lot of people have e-mailed me over the past year or so asking for advice on how to make female friends after college, and I noticed this point in my 2012 verb post attracted a lot of attention — apparently a lot of you just moved to new cities and are feeling a bit lonely! — so I thought I’d share my thoughts on this today. These are the things I know to be true right now, but I fully expect I’ll have a Part II to this as I push myself to socialize more in the new year.
Fact: making friends after college is hard. If you live in the same city where you graduated or you have a ton of friends who moved to a new city around the same time as you did, please understand how lucky you are. Those of us who moved alone or moved repeatedly are jealous. You have something we wish we had.
For everyone else who is not blessed enough to have a group of good girlfriends just a short walk/cab/drive/train ride away, I’m here to tell you it’s possible. I actually think it’s easiest to approach picking up women like you’d approach picking up potential love interests. And if you’re thinking, “Well, shit, Rachel, I already struggled with that for three years and now you’re telling me I have to start over? The rejection never really ends?” I’m here to tell you…yes. Sorry. But it’s true, and furthermore, I want you to think of it like picking up a significant other because I want you to accept that it’s not easy and that it takes work and effort.
The good news is, unlike trying to find the right person for a monogamous relationship, you don’t have to be monogamous when it comes to friends. And with that in mind, the stakes are a bit lower. It makes things considerably easier than dating.
So with that said, here are some things I know to be true from dating that you’d be smart to apply to making new friends.
Go where the girls are. When I was dating (or trying to date, as was the case in NYC) I knew I would meet guys by going where the guys were. Sometimes this meant online dating sites, but more likely it meant bars, cool events, parties, etc. The first step is just putting yourself in a position to meet other women your age with similar interests. Honestly, this is a big part of why I started going to Define and doing yoga in Houston; I thought that the small atmosphere would lead to friendships. The crowd was a tiny bit older in my yoga class than I had hoped (more talking babies than living in sin) but I had better luck at Define.
If you are attending a small/boutique workout studio, I highly recommend going to one of their workshops. Usually these are held at special times and may cost a fee, but the smaller atmosphere almost always leads to bonding with the other attendants, if only because you usually have to say your name or partner up at some point.
I also found another great option: free classes and events at Lululemon. While I’ve been raising a serious eyebrow to Lululemon this week after reading a rather disturbing article about the company, I have to say, their in-store events are awesome. Every single store has a Facebook page where they post them, and they’ve done a pretty expert job of building communities. There is disco yoga and running groups and everyone is really friendly and fun. The first time I went to their free Saturday morning class, I looked around and thought, “Oh…these are my people.” It was SO exciting!
Fitness events are a good fit for me, but if that’s not your thing, you need to figure out another way of finding where the girls are. Groupon/Living Social/etc. are good ways to find out what likeminded people are doing in your city. Even if you don’t buy the deal, you might discover new places to try out and meet potential friends. And I haven’t used Meetup.com to its full potential yet but I’ve heard great things about it and I plan to use it this year.
Don’t be shy. I never went to a bar hoping to meet guys and then hid in a corner all night; I put myself in a position to hit and be hit on. You need to do the same thing when making friends. Have an opening line, the same way you do with potential dates. Good starting points: jump into a conversation that you find relevant to your shared interests or just give a compliment. For example, if you’re in a yoga class, mention the upcoming inversions workshop and ask if she knows anything about it because you’re thinking of going. Even if she’s not going, at least you’ve broken the ice; next time you see her in class, you’ll feel more comfortable talking to her. Or tell her you like her pants and ask her where she bought them; she tells you and then a few weeks later, you mention that you bought them and love them. Once you’ve started up a conversation, friendship can easily follow. For example, the next time there is a workshop, she mentions she’s going to try it, you say you are too, you suggest you meet a little early for breakfast, and boom! Now you have a friend date. And all you had to do was just be nice and friendly.
Come up with good date ideas. Unlike dating, when you might expect the other person to ask you out and make the plans, you have to be a bit more aggressive with other women. Don’t just say, “We should get together sometime!” If a guy said that to me, I’d think, Eh. Whatever. Probably not going to happen. But if, after a long discussion about, say, sushi, a guy says to me, “We should get sushi sometime!” and then suggests his favorite sushi place…well, just tell me what time and how long I have to wait before I can start taking my pants off. But seriously, every time I buy a Groupon or Living Social Deal, I think to myself, “Do I have a potential friend I can send this to and invite to do it with me?”And if it’s a deal that will keep happening (like a month of boot camp classes), you can have repeated dates. If you hear about a cool event going on? Invite your potential friend. This will also help you nail a date and time so it’s more likely to happen; coffee and happy hour friend dates just always seem get rescheduled. And she’s more likely to think of you and invite you when she hears of a cool event in a few weeks.
Make your intentions clear. You’re cool with telling people you’re single and putting it on your Facebook page, so why do you feel awkward about saying that you need to make new friends? I’ve found the easiest way to make friends is to say to a potential friend after I’ve proposed a friend date, “Oh, I’m excited! I just moved here and haven’t met a lot of people yet!” So many women breathe a sigh of relief at that statement and confess that they, too, need to make new friends and have been struggling with it. Why is this such a taboo thing to say? To me, it’s not different than saying you’re single. So you haven’t clicked with anyone yet; it’s not like you’re a social pariah. Friending them on on Facebook can really help state your intentions too; it’s like saying, “What’s your number?” when dating.
Don’t expect sparks to fly right away. You probably went on a lot of bad or just “eh…no chemistry” dates before meeting a great significant other, so why would you expect that you’ll hit it off with every friend you meet? You won’t. But I’ve found that while sometimes it takes a little time to decide if you really click with a new friend, unlike in dating, you aren’t keeping yourself from meeting more friends if you “settle” for someone. So if it’s a no chemistry thing, hang in there, and if she invites you to group events (like, say, her birthday party), go! You might find that you connect with her friends more than with her.
I think the biggest issue I’ve run into is pushing myself to do these things. I know they work. I’ve seen them work. But then I make excuses. My goal for this year is to give making friends as much effort as I gave dating. I didn’t expect that to just happen; I made it happen. Just like I realized that I wasn’t going to find the love of my life by “meeting cute” like they do in romantic comedies, I’m through expecting that I’ll meet great girlfriends that way.
Any suggestions to add to this list? Please share — I’ll put them into action and add them to Part II of this lesson, when I update you in a few months on how things have been going for me in my quest to make new friends!