Making friends, finding community, and what I learned from Abby Wambach’s Wolfpack
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Dear M, My partner and I moved to a new state for work. It’s been months and I still haven’t found community here. I’m trying to be brave and invite people to do things, but it’s hard for me to put myself out there and I feel all alone. How do you find your people when you have none???
Okay, first things first. I want to name this right up front: What you are doing—trying to find belonging, trying to build a community and a deeply connected life when you know just one other person in the whole freaking tri-state area—is hard.
Letting go of your familiar friendships and having to start over again from scratch as a full-grown human—it’s really, really hard. It happens when you move, sure, but really it can happen to anyone, anytime.
Because even if you were to live in the same house all your life, you know what happens?
Other people move.
Or maybe they have babies when you don’t, or you have babies when they don’t, and your lives don’t quite line up anymore.
Or you get a new job and never see your old coworkers again.
Or you start over in a new neighborhood, with new coffee shops and new grocery stores and new rhythms and routines.
Or one day you find that your old book club/school/church/work/training schedule doesn’t fit the way it used to, and you need to move on—which almost always means losing the community you had in those places.
Even if you don’t move your house, your heart and mind and spirit are always on the move.
And it’s hard.
Change is hard. Finding community is HARD. Making friends is just really hard. It’s not you. It really is that hard.
“This is a nearly UNIVERSAL problem in our society,” my friend Heather said, when I asked for her take.
In other words: It’s not just you. You’re not the only one out there thinking, Why, why, WHY is this so difficult?
I’m pretty sure the answer is: because we’re human, and we’re busy, and sometimes we get in our own way, and sometimes we get in each other’s way. We have all the feelings, and we overthink things. THIS IS THE HUMAN CONDITION AND IT IS NOT EASY.
Do you know what Abby says?
She says: “When you’re new at anything—when you don’t know what to do or how to begin—all you can do is show up, awkwardly and nervously sometimes, and try.”
That sounds about right to me. That sounds like how we do it. That’s how we do everything, and it’s for sure how we do THIS thing. We do it awkwardly and imperfectly and we try a bunch of stuff, most of which will not work, and then we try AGAIN.
Okay so but how. (Yes. I can read your thoughts.)
I’ve experienced the GROWTH OPPORTUNITY (this is what we call “positive spin”) that comes with losing my community and getting to rebuild from scratch more than once, even without moving to a new state, and here are a few ideas that have helped me.
(This is going to be a long one, because I want to give you All The Ideas in one place. Take what you need, leave the rest.)
1. Get super clear on what you’re looking for.
What specifically does friendship look like in this season? What would community look like?
Do you want to meet up regularly? With or without kids present? When? Where? (Literally, when and where. Are you imagining Tuesday morning one-on-one coffee dates, or weekly group gatherings, or what?)
Does being friends look like sending text messages throughout the day, or like exchanging weekly catch-up emails? Does it mean long phone conversations? Does it mean being able to say certain things that you can’t say in other relationships? What exactly are you missing right now, that you wish you had?
We don’t all have the same things in mind when we talk about “friendship” and “community,” and we don’t all find them in the same places—so if you’re going to find what YOU want, it helps to get super specific about what that is.
And then when you know what it is that you want right now—start creating space for that specific thing.
2. Put yourself in places where you’re likely to meet potential friends.
Guess where you will not find potential friends? You will not find them curled up on your couch, looking at your phone! They are also not watching Netflix on the ipad in your kitchen! You’re going to have to actually go somewhere to find them.
(Even if you MEET a friend inside your phone, at some point you’re going to have to go out into the real world to get coffee or something. Or at least you’re going to have to get off a social platform and send a personal email or voice message or whatever other brain-bending technology we come up with next.)
Try going somewhere that you actually want to be (coffee shop? book club?), and see who else wants to be there. If you find yourself somewhere you don’t want to be (at a party, on the sidelines of anything…) look around and see who you can commiserate with. If you’re reading a great book or amazing article or listening to an incredible podcast, post something about it and then notice who wants to discuss. Look for the potential friends right where you are.
When my oldest kids were small, I wanted to have deeper conversations than I could manage while chasing them around playgrounds, so I started hanging out on old-school blogs on the internet. That’s where I wanted to be, and that’s where I found people to talk to. (Do you know how many of my friends are now writers? A HIGH PERCENTAGE.)
3. Make the first move.
Make the first move. Maybe make the first five moves. You won’t die from this, I promise.
Invite someone to go out for cupcakes. Invite someone to be your Instagram friend. Invite someone over for dinner. Invite someone to come with you to check out the new (fill in the blank with literally anything: restaurant, library, art show, ice cream place, tea house, community garden—since it’s NEW, it’s interesting). Find tickets to something (something you actually want to do!) and invite someone to join you.
Yes, it’s awkward and feels vulnerable and risky and super uncomfortable. But if they say no—especially if they’re mean or rude or snobby and say no—well, yay! That means you don’t have to try to figure out if they want to be friends right now. You can move on to being awkward with someone else.
And again, remember what YOU want community or friendship to look like. You don’t have to invite people to do EVERYTHING with you. Just invite people into the kind of community you’re looking for.
4. Invite people to go deeper.
Think about people who are not-quite-friends. Can you invite them into deeper relationship?
Could you text someone just to start a conversation? Could you ask an acquaintance out for coffee, or over for dinner? Could you plan a gathering of people you don’t know very well yet? Could you invite the neighbors over after work? Could you start a book club or a cooking club or a movie watching club or a chocolate tasting club or a any kind of club that means you meet up for a bunch of weeks in a row to get to know each other???
Community grows out of choosing to see each other and belong to each other. Getting there takes time, and it takes familiarity. Being in the same place at the same time a lot helps.
5. Ask real questions and give real answers.
In every conversation—over text, via email, in person, on the phone—you can skate on the surface of your life, or you can go deep. You can stick to “What’s new?” or you can go with, “What’s been keeping you up at night?” You can default to, “How was your weekend?” or you can ask, “What’s saving your life right now?”
Anne Bogel and Kelly Corrigan talked about this recently. Their advice? “If you ask a slightly different and slightly better question, that might yield a different and more meaningful conversation.”
And when someone asks how you are, tell the truth.
You might be “fine,” but you’re probably not ONLY fine.
Maybe you’re also great because you’ve been reading a book that’s firing your imagination, or you’re worried about your kid and how to connect with them right now, or you’re excited about a new creative idea you want to try, or you’re anxious about trying to break some old patterns and rewrite old scripts, or you’re scared about all kinds of stuff but trying to be brave and do the thing anyway. You’re both/and/all.
“Fine” is shorthand for “I’m not dead yet and I don’t want to get into the rest.” But when you do go into the rest, you invite the rest of us to open up, too.
Make every conversation a relationship-building conversation. Ask real questions. Give real answers. Every time.
You’re not alone in feeling lonely.
You’re not the only one. The truth is, even people who have lived in your new neighborhood for years may still be looking out their windows feeling alone. Maybe you’re going to be the one to change that.
You know what Abby says: “Whether you’re a mom, a college student, a CEO, or a little girl, you need a crew of brave and honest women to support you. You need them to hold you accountable to your greatness, remind you of who you are, and join you to change the world.” You aren’t the only one who hasn’t found your pack yet, but maybe you’re going to be the one to start the gathering.
And also, one other thing: some seasons are seasons of quiet. I know we’re talking about how to find friends, but I just want to point out—it’s cool to have some time alone, if that’s what you need. Sometimes taking a break and sitting with yourself is the next right thing, and that is okay, too. Both/and/all, friend. You’ve got this. xo.