Have you tried making new friends lately? Why is it so hard?
Last August, my husband and I moved to Norway. We’d always dreamed of living abroad, so when we found out we were both accepted into masters programs at the same university in Oslo, we knew now was our chance. Of course, this meant having to uproot our lives in San Francisco and move to a place where we didn’t know a single soul. But to us, the thrill of having the opportunity to immerse ourselves in a new culture while meeting new people and continuing our education far outweighed the intimidation of the unknown.
Fast forward eight months and here we are, about to wrap up our first year of school. In hindsight, the transition of moving across the globe wasn’t nearly as daunting as I had originally anticipated. Yet, there was one component that proved to be perpetually challenging: the “making new friends” part.
A couple of months ago, I found myself sitting in a cafe contemplating this very notion of making new friends. As an extrovert who loves being around people, I couldn’t wrap my head around why I was experiencing such a difficult time meeting people here (besides the fact that I didn’t—and still don’t—know Norwegian). It was then I realized this difficulty didn’t start when I stepped foot in Norway; it began brewing the moment I graduated college. The only close friendships that had blossomed since graduation were ones sparked from meeting (incredible) people at work.
As it turns out, this friendship complex is quite common among adult concerns. The New York Times wrote about it nearly seven years ago. Man Repeller posted a recent article on this topic. So did Refinery 29, the Guardian, and a number of other online publications.
After feeling quite relieved to find out I wasn’t the only one experiencing this problem, I started brainstorming solutions. That’s when an idea sparked (perhaps not the most creative idea, but an idea nonetheless). I decided that I would challenge myself to meet 100 new faces by striking up random conversations with strangers. While I couldn’t predict whether these encounters would eventually lead to friendships, I figured this strategy would at least force me out of my comfort zone—not to mention help break the ice, given that so many of us apparently wrestle with this same issue.
Now, I’d be lying if I said that first trial run wasn’t intimidating. But then I thought about one of my favorite quotes by Timothy Leary:
Admit it. You aren’t like them. You’re not even close. You may occasionally dress yourself up as one of them, watch the same mindless television shows as they do, maybe even eat the same fast food sometimes. But it seems that the more you try to fit in, the more you feel like an outsider, watching the “normal people” as they go about their automatic existences. For every time you say club passwords like “Have a nice day” and “Weather’s awful today, eh?”, you yearn inside to say forbidden things like “Tell me something that makes you cry” or “What do you think deja vu is for?.” Face it, you even want to talk to that girl in the elevator. But what if that girl in the elevator (and the balding man who walks past your cubicle at work) are thinking the same thing? Who knows what you might learn from taking a chance on conversation with a stranger? Everyone carries a piece of the puzzle. Nobody comes into your life by mere coincidence. Trust your instincts. Do the unexpected. Find the others…
After reflecting on his words, I realized the worst thing that could happen would be meeting people who perhaps didn’t want to talk, which was totally fine. So, I took a deep breath, collected my thoughts, and approached a girl sitting by herself in the coffee shop. I introduced myself, explained how I was trying to meet new people, and asked if she’d like to chat for perhaps five minutes. Thankfully, a big smile spread across her face and she said yes. “Ah, is this how it feels to ask someone out on a date?” I remember joking to myself. Five minutes quickly turned to 10, which soon doubled to 20, and before we knew it half an hour had passed. The conversation felt so natural, so refreshing. And the best part was that it was totally unexpected.
Although I haven’t yet met 100 new faces (still working on it!), I’ve found this self-challenge to be incredibly rewarding, not to mention a bit addicting. Not only have I spent time with some remarkable individuals whom I might never have met otherwise, but I’ve also become inspired by their stories. With each new introduction, each new conversation, and each new connection, I’m once again reminded of the happiness that can sprout from simply slowing down, smiling, and saying hello.
What about you? Do you find it difficult to make friends as an adult? If so, have you come up with any tactics? We’d love to hear!
Kathryn is a bright-eyed twenty-something who adores adventure, good company, and breakfast for dinner. She appreciates you being here and wishes you a lovely day.