how to build a community wherever you go

I have friends scattered across the world, from completely and utterly disparate walks of life. most of us do. it’s in our nature to chat up other people, reveal something about ourselves, keep a secret, rag on a shared hated person, form a bond. basically, become friends. co-workers, classmates, friends of friends, friends of family members, a favorite bartender at a favorite restaurant. we’re always bumping into people we like and finding a reason to talk to them or see them again.

that’s the beauty of humans, right? we crave community and we find ways to create it all the time.

I’m a top-notch friend maker. and, save for a few notable exceptional periods in my life, I always have been. keeping friends and keeping in touch with friends is where I absolutely fall apart. but, making them, I can do, with relative ease. and it’s not that I’m a super-outgoing person. I’m not particularly funny (unless 101 different iterations on why my friends are gay makes you laugh, then, yes, I am a riot.) I can be chatty, if I like someone, but not always. however, I do have some things that I do continuously that I think have helped me make a network of different friends in different cities and situations.

friendly gymnastics competition in barcelona
friendly gymnastics competition in barcelona


1. reach out to folks. this may seem simple, but it’s not always that easy. if you want to make friends in a new place, you have to meet them first. go where your people go! this, at 28, is much, much easier for me than it was at, say, 18, because I know who I am and what kinds of people I like. I love artists and activists and dreamers and funny people. when I went to dallas to spend time with family before going to paris, I immediately sought out a writers group. when I went to paris, I did the same. neither of those particular groups yielded any friends (others did, though), but you get the idea—find your people. meetup, yelp and facebook groups makes it pretty easy these days to find people who have interests that are similar to yours.

when I found myself in dc after a lot of my older friends had moved away—more on that below—I joined a ton of “afterschool” activities to make new friends. I found them by asking people that I liked what they did outside of work.

2. be yourself. again, sounds simple. but it’s not. it’s so hard to not be tempted to become the better, cooler, skinnier version of yourself with more interesting stories when you meet new people. I remember being a freshman in college, absolutely desperate to make the best friends of my life and being so completely petrified that my own life wasn’t as cool as everyone else’s that I was damn-near frozen in the middle of every conversation on my dorm hall. needless to say, I didn’t become lifelong friends with any of the girls I met during that period. if you’re shy, be shy. If you’re funny, be funny. we all don’t have to be the same and no one is looking to be friends with perfect people anyway. get all sesame street and embrace whatever it is that makes you you, and others will gravitate to you. (I think.)

3. seal the deal. my best friend and I were in a bit of weird situation a few years ago. we were absolutely madly in love with each, platonically. we did everything together. we had the most fun together all the time. our mutual friends joked that we were never to be seen without each other. it was quite the bubble, our friendship. one day we wanted to plan a party. we realized that the only people we consistently hung out with were—you guessed it—each other. we decided to make new friends, since a lot of our college friends had moved away or gotten married and fallen off the face of the earth. that’s when it hit us—it’s really hard to make friends as a working adult. you don’t have those built-in networks of school or close-by family.

look at us! don't we look like complete lovebirds?
look at us! don’t we look like complete lovebirds?

we deduced, rightfully, that making new friends when you’re over-21 and out of school is about as hard as dating. and you’ve got to treat it as such.

all of this to say, when you do reach out to people who are like you and dazzle them with your amazing personality, you can’t leave the friendship to chance. seal the deal—ask to add them on facebook, exchange numbers or email addresses, make a specific date to hang out. you aren’t being pushy, you’re just being the assertive one, since someone has to do it.

4. make time for your new friends/community. this one is so hard in our modern, over-worked and competitively scheduled lives. but, again with the dating analogy, you wouldn’t call someone your significant other if you only saw them once a month. in paris, I had a lot of regularly scheduled friend time that helped to foster those relationships—regular, wednesday lunch with one friend; saturday afternoon picnics with another; first sunday museum days with someone else. pick a new friend date night and stick to it every week if you can.

that’s what I know so far. what do you know about making friends and forming a community in a new place  when you’re not in school??? tell me!

5 thoughts on “how to build a community wherever you go

  1. It’s very hard, it’s so easy to just do what you do and keep a surface relationship with new people that you meet. Good tips.

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