I have moved to new cities in which I had absolutely zero friends, family, or connections twice in my life, and both times have managed to build a strong social circle that is not coupled to any job or activity. Both times it was done through a bunch of awkward experimentation, but at this point I think I have it down to a science so I’d like to share in case it is useful for anyone else. But before I do let’s set the stage for why you would even want to put yourself in a situation where you need to do this in the first place.
One is the potential to work remotely — remote work is becoming more common these days, especially within technology. There are entire job boards dedicated to finding remote jobs. Currently I work at a company of over 400 people that is all remote. If you can find a remote job, and make it work with your life, it has the potential to add an extraordinary amount of value to your life. I’m just going to bullet point the benefits
- No commute. The average commute time in the US is about a half hour each way, and ~85% of people commute in a motor vehicle. That means on average we spend about an hour a day sitting in a car doing nothing. Now think about this. Do you do cardio and lift weights daily? Do you cook healthy meals daily? Do you get 8 hours of sleep every night? Do you feel like you have enough leisure time to just relax? If your answer was “no” to any of those question, think about the impact that adding a full hour back to every day would have. An hour to your sleep every night. 30 minutes cardio and 30 minutes lifting every week day. An extra hour to grab a drink with a friend, play video games, or watch your favorite show. These little things add up over time and have a HUGE impact on your health and happiness. Time is much, much more valuable than money.
- Flexibility with Hours. Most remote jobs don’t have very strict hours, because employees live in several different time zones/countries. So long as you are there for any meetings, work 8 hours a day, and are generally available to respond to people that need something from you within an hour or so, in my experience you will not have a problem. This means if you need to do something like take a half hour to go pick up your kids then tack that time on to the end of your workday, or since you’re already at home, take 5 minutes to knead your loaf of homemade bread before it goes in the oven for an hour, these things are easily possible. I work for a company that operates mostly on pacific time but am on the east coast, so I start my days later and get a bunch of things done in the morning like working out, eating a full breakfast, and even spending some time in the wood shop. This time is consistent because it’s in the morning, and I am fresh rather than tired from working all day, and I don’t need to wake up at an ungodly hour to pull it off.
- Flexibility with Location. This one’s pretty obvious, but it makes a big difference. Moving for a couple especially is difficult because both partners need to find a job, and you need to figure out how to split the difference with commuting. If one partner has a remote job, this is no longer a compromise and you can pick an ideal price/location considering only one job. If you’re both remote, you can live wherever you want and it makes no difference at all, which can mean being closer to family and/or in places that have a much lower cost of living. When my wife and I moved to Philadelphia, it was so easy to make decisions because we could center everything entirely around her job without taking me into account. Additionally, I didn’t need to change jobs — if you’re remote it makes no difference where you are.
I lived in NYC for about 7 years. It’s a very expensive place to live. My wife and I were paying $2500/month in rent for a one-room studio apartment. I now live in Philadelphia and pay $1400/month in mortgage (so, we will get at least most of it back when we sell) for a three bedroom home with a finished basement. I got a cheap set of weights and exercise bike and now there’s a gym in my basement which I use every day. We also have a spare bedroom which we rent out on airbnb for about $1000/month. We don’t have cars because we don’t need them, its 10 minutes to bike to the city center. I still live in a major city, and the airport is about a 15 minute trip away in an uber. The financial difference here is a staggeringly large upgrade, same with quality of life.
A lot of the time you don’t think about this type of thing. You live where you live and have other things to think about. But the fact is, there’s a very high chance that you could be saving away thousands of additional dollars each month simply by living somewhere else, likely without sacrificing anything at all. This is definitely worth thinking about.
I talk to a lot of people who have interests in things that they cannot make happen because of the place they live. I was always interested in woodworking, but it was prohibitively expensive to explore this interest in NYC. Here in Philadelphia, I live down the street from an affordable makerspace where I go multiple times a week to build furniture and it makes me so happy to be learning and building things. I also would really like to grow more vegetables, and have chickens. I can’t really do this with the limited backyard space I have here in the city, but by moving elsewhere I would be able to explore that interest. Same with rock climbing — I love doing it when I have the chance but right now I don’t live near climb-able real rocks, or an affordable climbing gym. Is there anything that you are interested in doing but are held back from because of where you live? Have you thought about moving to solve that problem?
I lived in Spain for a couple months with my wife and really enjoyed their lifestyle there. The pace of life was slower and more relaxed. The timezone was shifted so the sun rose later and set at like 9pm. Siesta was a real thing. The weather was beautiful, the parks were lush, and we spent hours just walking around looking at beautiful flowers, peacocks, and lakes. On top of that, the cost of living was crazy cheap — all our groceries were a fraction of what we were used to paying anywhere else. High quality wine was under $5 for a bottle.
There are a lot of places you could live that would change your lifestyle, and the new lifestyle could be something you enjoy, or it not at least learn a lot from. I often say that it is worth living in a big city for at least a couple years just to have the experience of living in a big city. Same with a more rural area. If you haven’t really tried a variety of things, you don’t know how much more happiness you could be missing out on. I have a family member who used to live in an apartment in LA, and recently moved to a little plot of land in the desert, staying in an RV trailer. I spoke with him recently and he seemed so much happier. He was closer to nature, outdoors more, working on projects he liked, and his living costs were so much lower that he was working way less overall, and spending more time on the things he really cares about, like figuring out how to convert a small bus into a mobile living space, which involved learning how to weld, run electronics, etc.
We kind of settle into our lifestyles and take them for granted, and it’s easy not to think about the fact that maybe there’s a better lifestyle out there for you. Think about it this way — if you were retired, money weren’t a problem, and you’d have your group of friends no matter where you went, would you stay right where you are, or move somewhere else? If you were moving, where would it be, and why?
The Scary Part
Ok so at this point you might be thinking about the fact that maybe moving could bring great benefits to your life. And it’s likely that it could! But moving is scary because you don’t know what to expect. And for me what’s most scary is that you don’t know anybody. Where you are, you probably have friends/family, and this is great. Where you’re going, you probably won’t — so how do you deal with that? Especially if you have, or want to have a remote job, you can’t count on having work friends (and to be honest this is not a good friend source anyway, mixing work and social can get awkward).
My last two moves, this is exactly what I faced. I moved to Philadelphia about a year and a half ago and knew literally nobody at all here. Absolute zero. And I was working remotely so I had no office, and I chose not to work out of a co-working space because I am comfortable and productive at home and would like to avoid the commute and expense. When I moved to NYC I knew a few people from college but rarely saw them and lived quite far from them, and while my company was quite social, for some reason I had this drive to establish friends outside of work. In both moves I did the same thing and it worked really well, so let me break it down.
Step One: Attend Social Events
First you need a way to meet people. For me, the best option has been networking events. It doesn’t matter what industry, really any industry is fine. In fact, you will often have an easier time at events for industries you do not work in, as your background will be more interesting to those people. They key is that networking events are social spaces where it’s not only acceptable, but good to approach and introduce yourself to random people. You can find a lot of networking events on meetup.com and just by googling around “city name + industry name + networking/event.” Conferences work as well, but are not ideal because they usually are paid and the conference talks are usually not relevant. If you can just get in to conference “after parties” these are usually great though. I remember when I moved to Philly, I spent a good couple hours just googling around and poking on twitter and looking for city events that I could go to.
If you live in a rural area, it might be more difficult to find as many events. While I don’t have direct personal experience to back it, my best bet is to reach out to neighbors — the key is you need to be in a situation where it’s normal and not weird or suspicious to start engaging with random people. Saying something like “Hi, I live down the block and just moved in, wanted to meet some neighbors and say hello!” is definitely normal and not weird, so that works.
Ok so you have found some events and showed up. Now what? There are a few important things that I have learned over the years to make the best experience.
Go to events by yourself. Do not go with any existing friends, partners, etc. You will just end up talking to and hanging out with that person. If you go by yourself, you are forced to interact with random people, or just stand there and feel real awkward.
Be confident, friendly, and engaging. Look the person you’re speaking with directly in their eyes. Put a big smile on your face. Stand up straight and speak clearly. Listen carefully to what the other person is saying, ask followup questions, and respond in an understanding manner. Everyone feels more comfortable in the presence of a confident, happy, good listener.
Talk about things that you are really interested in. Asking questions like where someone is from, what their work is, or even their name are just space-fillers, and if nothing substantial is added to the conversation other than these typical “get to know you” questions, it will just peter out. Think about the last time you had a really great conversation. Was it about any of those things? Probably not. You’re here to find cool, interesting people, so talk about things you find cool and interesting, and encourage the people you’re talking with to do the same! I have a friend that likes to open with the question “what are you nerdy about?” to get the other person talking about their passion. I love the concept, but the term “nerdy” tends to carry a negative connotation, so I would switch it perhaps to “what’s a personal project that you have been working on?” or “what do you do in your free time?” or “is there anything that has been on your mind a lot recently?”
Be vulnerable. Opening up to people makes them feel more comfortable in your presence, and encourages them to open up to you. If you are struggling with a difficult situation at work, or with your family, go straight in for it. Talking about this stuff is healthy for you, and interesting to others. It makes you seem less intimidating, and gives them an opportunity to offer valuable feedback, especially if they have ever been in a similar situation.
Get the other person talking. It’s better to have the other people talking about something they are interested than you talking about your interests. People love talking about themselves and being listened to. A good balance is ultimately important, but be conscious at the beginning to try to move the conversation to a place where the other person is talking about something that really gets them excited. Hopefully this is interesting to you.
Bail quickly from bad conversations. Some connections were just not meant to be. Some people you just do not connect with. Others take a very long time to open up and will be absolutely stuck on boring discussion topics like where you live for a long time. Some people are really only looking for business networking and not friendships (these people tend to be narrow-minded, as friendships can easily lead to business either directly or through recommendations). Some people are “maxed out” on their social circle and not looking for new friends. Some people are simply not friendly and really just came there to talk to specific people. Do not spend extra time in conversations like these, it’s a waste. If you can tell that the conversation is not going anywhere, bail right away. Just say that you have to take a phone call from your partner, or that you’re going to go to the bathroom or get a drink and that it was great talking to them, and leave. Many times I have made the mistake of trying to salvage a bad conversation and wasting a TON of time. It almost never happens — you need to be efficient at these events so if the conversation isn’t great, fast, move on.
Get their contact info. If you find yourself in a conversation that is going well and you are enjoying, get that person’s contact info. It’s very easy to forget, then never see them again. As soon as you feel like this is someone that could be a good friend, or as the conversation wraps up, say something like “hey I have had a great time chatting we should keep in touch!” Then take out your phone, open the “add contact” screen, and hand it to them. They will put in their name/number. When people do this to me, I will often take a selfie making a ridiculous face and add it as the contact photo. Sometimes I encourage others to do this — it’s a silly, fun thing to do, and also allows you to easily pair a face to a name later.
Do not be disappointed by poor results. As a human being, it is very easy to feel bad about negative social interactions. In fact, it’s the default. However it’s important in this specific scenario to steamroll your sensitivities and not let it bother you at all. You will talk to a lot of people who are boring, mean, or otherwise uninterested in speaking with you. It happens to everyone who does this type of thing, constantly. It’s not because you are an unattractive or uninteresting person at all, it’s because they are not confident, happy, and friendly. People who are not confident, happy, and friendly are not people you need in your life, so it’s actually much better that you didn’t get far with these people. A lot of people are like this, but there are also a lot of wonderful people. If you go on a streak of bad people, do not be discouraged. Keep approaching people and I promise you will meet good ones. I have gone to events where I had 5 terrible conversations in a row and was ready to leave, but the last person I talked to ended up being fantastic. I have gone to events where I didn’t get any good connections. And I have gone to events where I made several lifelong friends. Ultimately, it’s going to come down to chance, so keep rolling the dice.
Bring more people in to your conversations. Initially you will likely approach one or two people to start chatting. While you’re chatting, keep your peripherals active and look for others around who are wandering without a conversation, or are leaving a conversation. Say hello and invite them into your circle. This is a super nice thing to do, and also makes you look really good to everyone already in the circle. A confident person who is outgoing and inclusive is just great all around. Be that person!
Reflect on your approaches. It’s important to take time during breaks or after the event to reflect on how your interactions went. Think about the nicest, friendliest, most successful people you know. The kind of people that talking to is so easy it feels like nothing. How did you compare to that? Did you focus on the other person, asking them questions and making them feel comfortable? Did you get stuck in a boring conversation and not exit quickly enough? It’s critical to take time specifically to think about what happened, and how you could improve in the future.
Step Two: Follow Up
So at this point you have been to one or more events, talked to a ton of random people, and got a few peoples’ contact info. What’s up next?
First, you want to follow up immediately. Either the same evening, or the next morning/afternoon, follow up with a text to the person saying it was great chatting with them at X event last night, and you’d love to meet up again soon. Hopefully they will also respond in a positive manner. If they are a very social person, they will follow up with a specific recommendation on when to meet, or an invite to another event. But I have found that this almost never happens, so the ball is likely in your court. After the first meeting, I have found that you want to meet a second time within typically two weeks at most, to strengthen the connection. The ways I have done this are:
- Meeting with just that person (or if you were chatting with a group and got all of their info, all of them if possible) at a local bar for a couple drinks, early evening weekend or weeknight after work hours.
- Inviting that person to an event you are hosting.
The first is quite straightforward, reliable, and works well. The second is a little more careful, but can be much more effective and rewarding, and I do recommend going for it as often as possible. At the beginning of your friend circle creation, it will take a lot of work to get events like this together, because people don’t know you as well and so are a bit more reluctant to commit to an event. Over time it becomes easier.
As for what type of event, it’s really up to you. I will often do a movie, bowling, hanging out on a weekend day at a park, a game night at my house, or a party at my house (themes like birthday or holiday help). Something along those lines.
I remember a time early in my friend development in Philadelphia where I spent literally 4 hours texting with a variety of people I barely knew trying to put together a trip to go see a movie. It was an emotional roller coaster of people joining, bailing, changing times, etc. but eventually it came together and there were like 8 of us who came out to a bar for a couple drinks beforehand then headed to see black panther. Everyone had a great time, a bunch of people met each other and formed new connections, and overall it was 100% worth it.
Events with any sort of social lubricant (drinking, smoking, etc) can make people feel a bit more comfortable. That being said, it’s important to partake in these activities in a non-judgemental manner, not everyone is interested. A general purpose house party can be quite effective at getting people to come out of their shells. Just get people together at your place, everyone brings some drinks and/or snacks, you provide some, and let the evening progress as it will. Just make sure you keep it together and everyone else does too, in general.
Step Three: Second Follow Up
In my experience, it takes at least three positive social interactions to genuinely make a new friend. At this point, you met the person, had a good conversation, did some other social activity, and hopefully had a good time again. Now you need to seal the deal with the third. Same drill as above, keep this person in mind and invite them out to another thing (or maybe they will invite you!) Once you have three, you should both feel comfortable that you have established a pretty good initial relationship!
Step Four: Consistency, Invite List Segmentation
At this point, you have made at least one new friend, from scratch. This is awesome! Now you need to put in a little extra work to ensure that you continue to build the relationship. You won’t necessarily see each other regularly through work or another regularly scheduled activity, but it helps if you can make that happen somehow!
Personally, there are a couple things that I do to make sure I am staying in touch with new friends:
- Consistently schedule group social activities. My wife is a medical resident and works absurd hours, so in order to do anything with a group of friends we are kind of forced to sit down and plan it out, since she often works nights and weekends. Regardless of work schedules though, it’s a great benefit to sit down and take dedicated time yourself, or with a partner, to do some social planning. If you have a weekend coming up when it’s supposed to be nice out, why not plan a party just for fun? Or maybe a day of hanging out at the park? Or drinks with a group somewhere local? Hosting a consistent game night at your place or a local bar is a great way to make and strengthen connections as well. Look through the calendar and make a plan, then set calendar reminders to start inviting people about 2 weeks in advance. Through some very rough trial and error, I have found that this is about the sweet spot, with a reminder a day in advance.
- See people after work. Most people that have 9–5ish work hours are down for hanging out for an hour or two after work. It’s a good way to relax and get some social activity in. I usually will do drinks or dinner — no need to make it too pricey though. I’ll do this maybe one or two times a week to catch up with people. I’ll also often have people come by my place to hang out for a bit. Offering beers from my fridge for both of us is still way cheaper than buying beers at a bar for only me (typically where I live a beer plus tip at a bar will be $6–9, from the store, $1–2).
- Get into some projects or activities! If you have any shared interests, it’s always fun to get into some activities based on this. I really like building things, and have worked with several new friends on fabrication projects, or even made furniture for friends. With one new friend, we took a trip to a lumber mill outside the city together and worked together to select the wood he wanted me to use for the table I was going to make for him. This was not only a fun experience, but made the finished piece even more meaningful for us both. Sports are often a great activity as well, whether it’s watching or playing. There are plenty of bars, or your house where you can be consistent about watching games, and there are always intramural leagues that can be joined.
Whatever you do, make sure you’re consistent about it! Consistency is the key to strong friendships.
Another important piece is to keep track of all the new people in your life. I have a metal system for keeping track of this. For me, good friends are people I would very comfortably hang out with 1:1, any time, and talk about anything with, and who consistently show up to events they are invited to. But there is of course a range as well. Some relationships are newer, in the beginning stages as above, and others consistently have a difficult time making it to things you invite them to. I have a “core” list of people I always invite to everything, as well as a “fringe” list of people that I either recently met and am trying to strengthen relationships with, or who rarely make it out. These two categories get slightly different treatment, with a bit more care and tact put into the fringe list. Everyone will have their own system, but it’s important that you have some sort of system, because otherwise it’s easy to lose track, and lose great connections!
That’s it! A full dump of all the knowledge and experience that I have in the realm of making friends starting from scratch. I truly hope that this was helpful and informative, and as always please leave comments, questions, and/or feedback and we can make this piece better over time.