A common post-college syndrome for many adults is the difficulty of making new friends. After those years of intensive, peer-surrounded studies, clubs, and activities, it can be an adjustment to cope once that ready-made community dissolves as friends pursue homes and careers across the country.
After graduation, I moved to a suburb within the metropolitan city my husband was originally from. We already had a few friends around the area and his family. In my day-to-day life, though, I began to notice that none of our friends were physically close to us. It could take anywhere from 20-30 minutes to get to someone else’s house––a bit of a culture shock when you’re used to walking across campus. I didn’t realize how much I needed people who were a part of my physical community and able to engage a bit more with my day-to-day life.
Seeing this need, I became more intentional with the people I knew and networked around the area. I even tried a women’s group through my local church to no avail. I found the women there were in very different seasons of their lives.
Although I knew forming friendships takes time and requires exploring different resources, I became more and more discouraged. I’d look around where I lived and wonder why I could see so many young, vibrant women (even young moms, like me!) but not actually find the place to meet them?
I think we’ve all found ourselves in situations like this: wishing we were friends with another woman in the room––whether because of her humor, put-togetherness, or the way she handles her kids––but feeling awkward or unwilling to introduce ourselves to someone we may know nothing about or have nothing in common with.
A woman I know, who is now a dear friend of mine, addressed this issue when she first approached me. We both attend the same church and we’d seen each other around. She was one of those women I’d desired to know from surface impression; not only was she another young mother who cared about her spiritual life, but she had an infant and still managed to keep herself put together (in terms of self-care, not vanity), and seemed genuinely joyful. What I soon found out was that she felt the same way, but didn’t let uncomfortableness stop her.
Act on the desire for friendship
One Sunday she was outside the worship area with her crying infant, as was my husband with ours. After Mass, I mentioned to my husband that they look like a cool young couple and he let me know that she mentioned to him she’d seen us around and would really like to meet me. She came up to me soon after and said, “You look like a cool, young mom and I thought I’d introduce myself!” I was shocked by her transparency but so grateful for her boldness; she did what I had only desired to do. We exchanged names and, the next time we saw each other, numbers.
What she taught me in that moment was not only to overcome fear—either of rejection or awkwardness—but to be open to the potential of friendship, however that is found.
As adults, it can be so uncomfortable to introduce ourselves to someone without a backstory, shared interests, random connections, or helpful group dynamics. But, the truth is, we don’t need these things in order to make friends. Even just the most obvious, simple commonalities can drive the beginning of a friendship if we’re willing to take the chance.
The friends we need don’t always come from a premeditated community like we’d expect, either, which means we may need to seek it out elsewhere. The woman who introduced herself to me had lived in my area all her life and had a community already, but she desired to know more young mothers. Seeing a fellow mother drove her to make an introduction that led to a fruitful, supportive friendship.
Someone else might feel the same when they see someone who’s a fellow student, wife, or in a similar occupation. There’s no harm in introducing yourself; they’re probably looking for a friend too. All it takes is the genuine desire for friendship and the courage to pursue it.
The importance of a remembered name
Practically speaking, one of the most important things I was taught by my friend was to remember the names of people you introduce yourself to. While I was hopeful our brief encounter would blossom into friendship, I figured by the next time she’d see me she would have forgotten my name.
Luckily, this was not the case––as soon as she saw me she came up, addressed me by name, and asked me how I’d been. While it can feel formal to use names at times, simply replacing a “Hi, how are you?” with “Hi Chelsea, how are you?” can be an intentional way of demonstrating genuine care for the person at hand.
Since that interaction, I’ve used this skill many times in subtly expressing the desire to know a person more and remain genuine in all my interactions with them. I immediately noticed it fostered feelings of familiarity that dissipated any awkwardness that was felt initially while signifying I desired more than just small talk. And, although it may seem obvious, addressing someone by their name gives the impression that you truly remember them and they weren’t a fleeting encounter in your day.
The reward always outweighs the risk
While my newly made friend from this story ended up becoming one of my closest friends in the area, it doesn’t always turn out that way. All I knew about the woman in front of me was that she was also a young mom with similar beliefs. It was very possible that our personalities would clash despite these commonalities or that the relationship would just fizzle out. But that risk is present for every potential friendship regardless of how much there is in common.
This was proven true after a few successful and unsuccessful attempts of my own. There were times my introduction paid off and a relationship grew, other incidents where—after one or two coffee dates—things didn’t grow into more, and I was okay with that. Over time, what I learned was that the risk of a friendship not developing was greatly outweighed by the potential reward of finding one.
Through trial and error, discomfort and familiarity, I began to know more people in my community and, ultimately, gained more friends. My circle has gradually widened over time all because someone took a chance on introducing themselves to me. While it took some time to adjust to introducing myself to near-strangers, it ultimately paid off and taught me how to make friends in a post-college life.
So simple, but she empowered me to reach out to people I don't know, to take the risk and be intentional. And with most, it all started with just asking their name. It signified I didn't want to just make small talk, I wanted to really know them and build a connection. Not every interaction like this leads to friendship, but some do—that first woman ended up becoming a very good friend to me in a new city. In this article, I'd like to reflect on that a bit and identify simple ways a woman can build themselves up, reach out to others, and form connections.