By Brian Armstrong
Here’s a story: Back when I graduated from university, longer ago than I care to mention, I was faced with a life-changing decision: Move back home and work part-time while I pursued stand-up comedy? Or accept a position teaching ESL halfway around the world (a job for which, given my recently acquired BA in English, I was somehow both overqualified and wildly unprepared). Choosing adventure over five-minute slots onstage in front of a crowd of angry drunks, I arrived in beautiful Ulsan, South Korea and immediately fell into a deep depression.
Finding myself alone in a strange new place, one where I didn’t speak the language and all the cutest little bakeries served picture-perfect tarts and cakes alongside sugared garlic bread, I panicked a bit. Luckily, I found an envelope with my name on it in my new apartment, left there by the previous tenant, who also happened to be my predecessor at the language school. Inside, I found a lovely handwritten note wishing me luck in my new role and, much more importantly, giving me directions to Benchwarmers, the only English-speaking pub in town. I arrived that Friday night to find myself in a rowdy sports bar owned by Troy, a friendly yet visibly-psychotic Canadian man with a ridiculous accent and a 49ers jersey you could fit a car under. As the night grew dark, and more and more customers poured in — every English-speaking person in the city, it seemed — Troy introduced me to each one as if he’d known me for years. It was official: I belonged.
With the long, dark struggle of COVID-19 now finally giving way to a long dark winter, there’s no time like the present to expand your social circle, even if your current circle is just you. While this may seem easier said than done–I’m aware, of course, that not everyone has a giant Canadian saviour– in reality, the world has never been more packed with potential friends, and all it takes to meet yours is a little effort. Whatever your age, experience or background, here are some tips to help you get started.
Accept the awkward
If the bold approach sounds like an invitation to some awkward interactions with strangers, you’re right! But making friends is more about honesty and openness than that initial leap of faith. Just as children make friends easily because they’re guileless, doing your best to simply forget that you’re on a mission to meet people will help you adopt a positive attitude that others can’t help but notice.
Focus on you
Happiness starts within, and being comfortable with yourself is integral to feeling comfortable around strangers. Whatever your hangups, there’s help. For example, if you’re unhappy with your body and joining a gym isn’t your thing, try making long walks a part of your daily schedule. You’d be surprised how many calories you can burn just by walking. Plus, you’ll grow more familiar with your city, and you might even meet a new friend along the way. Also, if you’ve got a hobby but you’re worried it’s too niche or lame to help you connect with others, get over yourself! That Zumba class at the gym could be the best chance you ever take. And of course, in a perfect world, it would go without saying, but you deserve to live your best life: if your issues run deeper than the physical, there’s no shame whatsoever in talking to a professional therapist. If your insurance doesn’t cover it, online services like Mypsico, Instahelp and Betterhelp are staffed by licensed psychologists and more affordable than you might think.
No less important for its obviousness, friendliness is integral to attracting new friendships. A smile at a stranger can make you feel like a lunatic, but you might also be making their day a little brighter. Ask questions, listen, and learn about others as they learn about you. Who knows? Your kindness might just become your new friend’s reward for taking a chance on you.
Feeling good? Ready to get out there? Great! But don’t just hit the club scene and expect people to come to you. Remember, this isn’t dating (come to think of it, you shouldn’t hit the bars for dating either); real friendships are rooted in shared experiences and interests. That’s one reason coliving spaces like Urban Campus are so invaluable: by arranging so many activities and opportunities to meet new people, they’ve done all the heavy lifting for you. All that’s left for you to do is to be open to forging new friendships. Not yet an Urban Campus resident? How about becoming active on Meetup.com or in local Facebook groups? Just be sure to follow the guidelines above while doing so, and remember that hanging out in person is the end goal. Love to read? Join a book club. Play an instrument? Check out the jam nights at nearby pubs. Attend local festivals; find a bar that hosts a fan club for your favourite sport or team; work up the courage to ask strangers if you can join their teams for trivia night at the pub; or even just invite your new neighbours to a housewarming party. Whatever you decide — volunteering for a good cause; hitting up a Warhammer or trading night at a comic book shop; taking a language or cooking class; joining an amateur sports league; anything at all, really — pursuing activities that you enjoy will connect you to others doing the same, and that connection is the first step towards making a new friend.
Whether we’re moving to another country, a different city, or even just out of our parents’ house for the first time, at some point most of us are faced with an uncomfortable upheaval of our social circle. Suddenly, often for the first time in decades, we’re on our own, alone, and unsure of how to make new friends. But I learned something that night at Benchwarmers: we’re not alone, not really. Wherever you find yourself, rest assured you’re likely surrounded by others who’ve either found themselves in the same boat before or, like you, are currently paddling for their lives. Whichever it is, put a little trust in their empathy. The truth may be cheesy, but it’s still true: those strangers are just friends you haven’t met.
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Brian is a copywriter and permanent ex-pat, like most of our colivers, who’s travelled extensively throughout Southeast Asia, Europe, and North America. Besides writing, he plays guitar for artist Diana Bailey and serves as the YouTube spokesman for Aconno GmbH.