I’ve moved a fair number of times in my life, which means the hardest of transitions: finding new friends. It also means that I’ve come to despise one of the most annoying bits of advice: “Get out there.” (Second only to the all-time obnoxious winner, “When you know, you know,” but that’s another article altogether.) When it comes to “getting out there,” I’m not exactly a hermit. I take the train to work, go out on the weekends, grab brunch with friends—still, the art of meeting new people remains elusive to me.
I’m certainly not alone in this struggle. It can be so much easier to invite my BF over and binge watch Netflix on a cold winter night. The good news is, I know plenty of women who are pros at putting themselves out there and have reaped the rewards. Whether you are in that weird post-college, post-move, post-marriage, post-baby, or post-breakup transition or are simply prone to becoming a wintertime recluse, stop wondering how in the world to meet new people, and just start doing it! Here are tips from women who know a thing or two about “getting out there.”
01. Take risks
“When I moved out to Colorado, I didn’t know anyone,” Katherine tells me. “I assumed that because I work in a hospital, and there are usually young people working there, I’d have no trouble making friends. But that’s not how things worked out. I was surprised by how isolated you can be in a city,” she says.
Four years later, however, Katherine loves Colorado and has a vibrant social life. How? For starters, she is constantly looking for ways to meet new people. From Meetups and volunteering to travel, Denver (and the world) provide endless horizons for forging new connections.
“I think the first key to my making friends was just taking the risk of reaching out to people I didn’t know,” Katherine says. “One day I decided that if I saw anyone that looked slightly normal and nice at church, I was going to introduce myself. It was one of the hardest things I have done but also the most rewarding.”
For my friend Erica, travel taught her a lot about talking to new people. She got good at it while backpacking through Europe for six weeks. Now Erica makes conversation—and new friends—everywhere she goes.
“I made an effort to talk to people in line wherever I was standing,” Erica explains. “I found that most people were excited to talk once the ice was broken. You could talk about anything: what croissant they were going to get, how the weather was outside, where they were from. The options are endless.”
Katherine says that it takes a bit of vulnerability to let the person know that you would like to make friends. Katherine says that after the church ceremony she spotted a friendly-looking girl and introduced herself. “I told her I was new and didn’t know anybody and asked her a few questions,” Katherine recalls. “She got my number and invited me to a few group things. From there, I met a lot of people, who four years later, I’m still friends with.”
Speaking of risks, according to Katherine, “getting out there” often means showing up solo, which is intimidating for anyone.
“I said yes to events, house parties, etc. where I didn’t know anybody,” she says. “Sometimes I didn’t even know the host. It was hard and awkward at times, and I had to force myself to go, but you just have to embrace the awkwardness!”
02. Pursue Your Interests
Every time I talk to my friend Meg, she is doing something exciting and new. It’s truly an inspiration for a routine-loving person like me. Most recently she ran a marathon in Alaska. She says: “Ask yourself: Do I enjoy what I do on the weekend? Or am I just clinging to what is comfortable? It might be that you need to change that and really figure out what you want to do with your time. You only live once, so make the most of it!”
Volunteering is a great way to meet people, and Katherine says she does a lot of it in order to feel more a part of her community. “I stalked the Craigslist volunteer section when I first moved to Denver and still sign up to volunteer frequently, hoping to meet fun people.”
But volunteering doesn’t have to mean donning a hairnet and hitting the soup kitchens. “It’s nice if you’re volunteering for something that you’re interested in because you are more likely to meet people with common interests,” Katherine explains. “For example, this weekend I’m volunteering at a ski camp. I love skiing, so I figure there will be other volunteers who like skiing, too.”
Trying new things keeps you active and enthusiastic about life, but it also puts you in front of new people with similar interests. Meg suggests making a list of new things you want to try. “Set a deadline for your list,” Meg urges. “You’ll meet new people that way.”
At the beginning of each month, search the Internet for cool classes, volunteer opportunities, and destinations you would like to visit, and then lay out a plan for making it happen. My fiancé and I have made a commitment to learn one new thing every year after we are married, in an effort to stay “out there.” This will mean taking classes and hopefully meeting new people in the process.
03. Be Approachable
Having a “bitchy resting face” is not an excuse when it comes to getting out there. Don’t let your unintentional habits keep you from seeming like a great person to get to know.
Living in eight different places within the span of three years--from Virginia to Tennessee to Afghanistan to D.C., just to name a few--Megan knows what it feels like to be in need of companionship. “Be approachable,” she advises. “Being new is already awkward and uncomfortable; it’s easy to come across as reserved/shy or guarded, but it’s OK to make eye contact and smile.” It takes effort to resist the urge to withdraw or appear disinterested in an uncomfortable situation, but this is the key to making conversation and friends with people you might not otherwise meet.
Katherine also chimes in here, encouraging us not to “hide behind our phones.” There is nothing that conveys disinterest in others like scrolling through Facebook in a social setting. If you’re feeling out of place at an event, don’t use technology as a crutch. Branch off, and strike up a conversation. “It’s good to force yourself to talk to new people,” she says.
04. Follow Up
According to Katherine, the key to making new friends is to follow up. Taking the risk of introducing yourself is not enough. “If you meet someone new, and they seem nice, follow up with them, and plan something sooner [rather] than later,” she says. If your new acquaintance is not on the hunt for friends, you may fall off their radar when they are planning events or outings. It’s not personal.
Sometimes the timing is bad, and your schedule makes it difficult to get together soon after first making someone’s acquaintance. That’s OK, but you still need to make a point to follow up. “If I exchange contact info, I’ll send a message that says something like: ‘It was great to meet you. My next week is really busy, but I’d love to get together when things settle down,’” Katherine says. “That way it’s not weird if you message them two weeks later.”
Erica once found that a little follow-through goes a long way. “I was feeling really sleepy on this particular day, so I asked the guy next to me on the train if he wouldn’t mind making sure that I didn’t fall asleep past my stop. That turned into us talking the whole trip. I found out he had just moved to the U.S. from Russia and was a jazz musician. I wasn’t interested in him romantically after our conversation, but I could tell that he was a really nice human. We exchanged numbers, and a few weeks later it dawned on me that he might not have anywhere to spend his first Thanksgiving. I invited him to my Friendsgiving where we had a progressive dinner in our apartment building. He still writes to me on Thanksgiving and tells me how much it meant to him.”
“I think the thing to remember is that most, if not all, people have some anxiety in new social situations—it’s just that some people are better at hiding it than others,” Katherine says. “If you’re feeling awkward, chances are that someone else is, too. So if you know someone is new or looks alone at a party, introduce yourself. Chances are, they will be very grateful, and you might make a new friend.”
Learning the art of “getting out there,” as annoying as it might sound, is an invaluable lesson regardless of the stage in your life. “Unfortunately, it’s usually not until we find ourselves isolated that we are forced to put ourselves out there,” Megan points out. “One of my favorite quotes is, ‘Life starts where your comfort zone ends.’ Get your life started early . . . and you’ll have a lifetime of exploration!”
Here’s to meeting new people and a world of opportunity.
Photo Credit: Xavier Navarro Photography