A 7-step guide to jump-starting your social life
by Kia Abdullah for medium.com
It was a balmy Saturday evening in San Francisco and the restaurant was filled with the sort of people that make the city great: passionate liberals debating housing laws, old-timers who’d been around the block, young dreamers chasing gold.
I followed the server through the crowded room, both pleased and confused to be given a large table. Moments later, I watched with horror as she placed down four menus and four glasses.
“Um, excuse me, sorry. I asked for a table for one, not four…” I said. “I can move to a smaller table if you’d like.”
She accepted my offer and placed me precisely in the middle of the restaurant where I proceeded to eat my meal, Kindle in hand, surrounded by people who seemed to be having a better time. That’s the problem with great cities: they’re not so great if you don’t have friends.
Thankfully, there are more ways than ever to ‘find your tribe’. Here are some creative ways to make friends in a new city whether you’re moving there for good or just travelling through.
Set yourself mini challenges
It’s obvious that the more people you talk to, the more likely it is that you will make friends. Of course, talking to strangers is not always easy, especially if you’re an introvert. This is where mini challenges can be useful.
Your mini challenge might be to pay a compliment to a stranger once a day for a week, or to talk to someone wearing blue next time you’re in public. These challenges encourage you to venture outside your comfort zone and provide a tangible way to measure your effort.
It seems that online dating has finally shed its stigma but online friending still has a way to go. Friendships — just like romantic relationships — often don’t happen by magic and need a proactive push. As such, make an effort online using a range of tools and apps:
Download Thirtymin and accept a meeting with an interesting professional — or set up a meeting yourself
Create an account with Meetup.com and attend an event based on your interests
Join expat network InterNations for advice and support from newcomers like you
Find interesting events using Eventbrite
Join expat groups on Facebook focused on your new city
Join a language class
Expat network InterNations reports that only 16% of expats have primarily local residents as friends. Naturally, it’s difficult to interact with locals if you don’t speak the language. Enrolling onto a language class allows you to not only meet fellow newcomers to the city but to also interact with locals on a deeper level, opening up a wealth of opportunities.
Of course, you don’t have to restrict yourself to language classes. Consider joining a parkrun, fitness class or even volunteering — anything that allows you to interact with others.
I once met an expat at a London party who said he was Airbnb-ing his way around London.
“Oh, where are you from?” I asked.
He smiled sheepishly. “I actually live in London now. I just thought this would be an interesting way to see other parts of the city.”
It may strike you as a bit kooky but I thought it was a really interesting idea. If, like most newcomers in London, you can’t afford to spend money on accommodation you don’t really need, try house-sitting instead of Airbnb.
Trusted Housesitters matches house-sitters to pet owners who need their animals looked after while they’re away. This is a creative way to see new parts of the city and meet new people. What’s more, subscribing means you can also access free accommodation abroad as well.
Think outside the circle
It’s natural to fixate on finding like-minded people. Just remember that like minds don’t always look alike, so don’t focus only on finding people of your own age, gender or ethnicity.
When I was on the tiny island of Tanna in Vanuatu, my partner and I spent most of our time not with people our age but a 60-something lone traveller from Australia who had a wealth of interesting stories and invaluable advice.
You can form strong bonds with the unlikeliest of people, so think outside your circle of friends.
Interact with ‘ready made’ groups of friends
When you’re at a public event, it can be tempting to latch onto another sole attendee. After all, surely they’re equally keen for company. Avoid this if possible. Instead, join groups of two or more. This has several benefits: firstly, it’s easier to maintain a lively conversation between three or more people than it is between two.
Secondly, no-one is left wondering if they will be stuck with the other person all night; they are free to leave and talk to others.
Thirdly, if you do hit it off with the group, you make several friends instead of one. You may worry that a tight-knit group wouldn’t want a stranger in their midst but most people are happy to meet others. You just need to make the move.
Finally, be likeable!
I know this is like saying ‘have the right personality’ (after all, it’s your personality — how can it be wrong or right?) but there are certain habits you should cultivate.
Basic manners matter of course: make eye contact, don’t scan the room for someone better or, worse, scroll through your phone.
Beyond that, a useful trick is to use names in conversation — not just theirs but your own too. For example, I might say, ‘I’m awful at reading maps. Last time I took a road trip, my boyfriend was like, ‘Kia, it’s a straight road — how did you manage to get us lost!?’
This reminds the other person of my name, something easily missed in a rushed introduction or noisy venue.
Finally, make the other person feel appreciated. If they tell you something interesting, don’t say “Yes, I read that a few weeks ago.” Instead, say “Wow, I never knew that.”
It’s not about being disingenuous; it’s about putting people at ease and laying the course for more natural conversation and, hopefully, a natural friendship.