My husband and I had been anticipating a big move. Finally, on the day our baby girl was born, my husband got a job offer. One month later, we packed up our life in Missouri and drove to Texas.
One reason for the move is that it brought us closer to our families. We still weren’t as close as I had hoped, but drive times of seven and sixteen hours were a big improvement over twelve and twenty-six hours. Beyond that, the move was a chance for an adventure.
Not long after we settled into our new home, the jarring realization hit that I was a new mama without even one local friend to lean on. I hadn’t considered the fact that we’d be starting the journey of parenthood away from the love and support of our friends. My husband and I learned to rely on each other in a new way, but I still yearned for connection with other women. As it happens, I was experiencing the loss of what research has shown is very important for women—having a sisterhood.
So I began the slow process of making friends—something that’s much more difficult in adulthood than in childhood.
Our first instinct might be to turn to co-workers. Having friends at work can come with complications, and there’s definitely an art to healthily navigating workplace friendships. But in many cases, office friendships aren’t even an option. Working remotely, freelancing, being a stay-at-home mom, or being unemployed for medical or other personal reasons come with their own unique set of challenges.
Well, it’s been two years since our big move, and I’m happy to say that, over time, I’ve found my niche. I’ve also learned some important lessons about adult friendships—lessons that can apply to the twenty-something single woman starting her career, my fellow thirty-something stay-at-home moms, and other women in different stages of life.
Lesson 1: Connecting with the community makes a world of difference.
Shortly after we moved here, I loaded my baby girl in the stroller and took a walk around the town square, stopping in each shop to browse and maybe chat with a salesperson. This outing wasn’t about making friends, but understanding my community a little better. While brief interactions on small outings like this are no replacement for deep relationships, they can help ease that lonely, new-in-town ache.
Exploring local hot spots, taking classes, and joining church or community groups are simple ways to start feeling at home. You may not find friends right away, but you will be rooted in places where potential friendships can blossom.
There’s also something to be said for having acquaintances. Through yoga classes and frequent trips to the library, I started seeing some of the same people over and over. I found comfort in recognizing familiar faces, and even though we didn’t talk much, I learned not to take for granted the connection of a shared experience.
Lesson 2: The difference between loneliness and connection is action.
When I think of action, I think of my dear friend Kara from Missouri. Within minutes of meeting each other for the first time, she invited me over for tacos. That invitation planted the seed for a lasting friendship that’s now nine-years strong.
If you hit it off with someone but you’re not ready to make plans on the spot, take a moment to exchange contact information. “See you around” rarely brings good results—something I learned the hard way. One morning, I had a great conversation with another mom at the park, and since we both said we were there often, I assumed I’d see her again. But our paths never crossed. I learned that I’d rather have someone’s contact information and never use it than not have it and wish I did.
Although it may be uncomfortable, sometimes the new person has to do a lot of the initiating and planning, especially at first. This can be discouraging, and it’s easy to let negative thoughts take root: “What if there’s a reason she hasn’t texted me?” “Why hasn’t she invited me to get together?” But those negative assumptions don’t get us anywhere. I realized early on that I could sit at home and wait for a text, or I could remedy my loneliness by making plans. And as friendships grew, more invitations sprung up.
Lesson 3: Patience and persistence pay off.
This may sound obvious, but not every attempt at connection will go well. In my excitement, I saw every interaction as a possible friendship. When my efforts at conversation were met with disinterest, my first instinct was to think, “She doesn’t like me!” But then, it occurred to me that maybe the other person was having a bad day. Maybe she didn’t feel like talking. Any number of “maybes” could have applied, and there was no need for me to take it personally when a conversation fell flat.
Even when a conversation does go well, it’s OK if it doesn’t lead to a friendship. Some people are nice to talk to once, and some become acquaintances. Only a select few become friends, and they’re worth waiting and working for. Over time, we may even find our circle widening as we get to know friends of friends.
A previous editor of mine used to frequently quote the nineteenth-century preacher Charles Spurgeon: “By perseverance, the snail reached the ark.” Whatever the quotation’s original context, it can easily be applied to making new friends. It takes time, but with some intentional steps, we will get there.