How To Make Friends In A New City / After University
This article will cover two similar topics. They're close enough that I'll go over them together rather than split them up and write two overly short, overlapping pieces. A lot of people seem to want advice on how to make friends when they've moved to a new city and don't know anyone at all, or only a handful of contacts. I'm referring to situations where they're making the move aside from going somewhere to attend college, and so don't have all the advantages that come from that environment. A related question people want help with is about how to form a social life once they've graduated from college. Again, the main problem is that it seems harder to get things going once you're no longer surrounded by thousands of your peers.
Like with How To Make Friends In College or University, the ideas here aren't totally new. They're more of a little supplement to the more general principles in articles like How To Make Friends And Get A Social Life and How To Meet People. So this article will assume you know my basic thoughts on making friends; that it's about taking the initiative to put yourself in situations where you can meet new people, and then that you actively try to hang out with the ones you get along with so you can grow the relationship.
If you're also married, either literally or you're in a serious long-term relationship where you may as well be hitched, and you've just moved or finished up school, you may want to combine the advice in this piece with the info in the following article:
It is harder to meet people outside of school
Most people will tell you it's trickier to make friends outside of high school or college. I'd agree. I think if you know what you're doing it's still totally possible to create a rich social life post-university. However things still are more stacked against you. When you're in school there are tons of other people around who are your age. Most of them are open to making new friends. There are lots of ways to run into them too: Classes, dorms, fraternities and sororities, parties, sports teams, clubs, part-time jobs, and volunteer positions.
After university your peers are still out there, but they're more scattered. They've got other things going on in their lives. You've got to more actively look for them. When someone moves to college and chooses to live in a dorm they're literally surrounded by dozens of potential new friends from Day 1. That doesn't happen when you move to a new city.
Realize people will understand your trying to make friends in a new city
In general you shouldn't feel ashamed of wanting to make friends, but I know some people are self-conscious about it anyways, and feel like they're some needy wretch who's bothering all the people who already have social circles. If you're new in town people will think it's normal and understandable if you're trying to meet some new friends. It's what anyone would do. They know you're starting from scratch because you just moved somewhere new, not because you're flawed and unlovable. They won't look at you with pity if you try to strike up a conversation with them or invite them to hang out. In fact, they may respect your gumption for trying to meet them.
If you do have any existing contacts or prospects then take advantage of them
The hardest scenario is to be in a new city, not know a single person, and have to build your social life from scratch. I'll cover some ideas that can help with that situation below. It's not always that drastic though. Like if someone graduates from university then they do lose access to that huge source of easy new people to meet. However, they still have all their current friends, who they can keep hanging out with and possibly meet some new people through. If they stay in the same area then nothing is stopping them from continuing to meet people through all the non-school methods they've already been using (e.g., they can still rejoin that beer softball league next summer, stay on as a part-time server at the restaurant, or keep dropping by the pub or comic book shop they like). Just because you've technically graduated from college doesn't mean you have to throw all this stuff out and start from square one. Somewhat similarly, when someone moves to a new city they may know a handful of people in the area. They may have a roommate or two. This may not be a lot, but it could be a way to jump start their social life.
Meet people through your job if you can
Once you've graduated you get to go to work instead of going to classes. This now becomes one of your big sources of potential friends. However, some jobs are a lot better for this than others. If you're lucky you'll begin a position in a large organization and be put in a department with a bunch of other fun people your age. But you just as easily could be in a small company with only six other employees, and most of them are thirty years older than you. If your job is a bust then try another method of meeting people.
Your hobbies become much more of a factor in being able to meet people
When you're in university you can meet lots of people through your classes or your living arrangements. If you meet anyone through a sports team, part-time job, club, or association, that's just a bonus. Once college is gone your hobbies become a lot more important. From what I've noticed, people who have social hobbies have a way easier time making friends when they move somewhere new. The more hobbies they have that put them into contact with lots of other people, the quicker they seem to build a new social circle. As they're settling down in another city it just comes naturally for them to join a bunch of sports teams, or get involved with a theater or improv comedy group, start volunteering for a non-profit, or whatnot.
It's a lot harder for people who have more solitary hobbies like reading, watching movies, or going for long hikes by themselves. Of course there's nothing inherently wrong with enjoying these kinds of things, but they do carry a disadvantage when it comes to running into new people. Many of them don't get you out of the house. If someone has mainly individual hobbies they can move to a new city then fall into a routine of going to work all day and then hanging around at home during most of their down time.
The advice that obviously comes out of this is to try and find some more social hobbies if you don't already have some. You don't need to totally overhaul your personality or all your pastimes, but do enough that you can meet as many friends as you'd like to. Make a general shift towards doing more stuff outside of the house. It may also help to try to find a way to make your existing hobbies put you into contact with more people. Like if you normally exercise at home, try joining a class or running club. If you like reading about new ideas, try to attend some free talks or seminars. Maybe the members on your favorite web forum arrange local meet ups.
Also, don't be reluctant to stretch yourself. Yeah, you may not have any social hobbies now, but that doesn't mean you never will, or that there aren't a bunch out there that you would like and just don't know it yet. You'll be picking up new interests throughout your whole life. Take the opportunity to try out some new ones, and potentially meet people along the way.
Be more active about seizing on opportunities
When you're in college you can afford to be a bit lazy about making friends. If you meet someone you get along with, but don't pursue the relationship as hard as you could have, it's not the end of the world. You may see them again in class for the next eight weeks. There are tons more prospects where they come from too. When you're in a new city, or no longer in college, the opportunities usually don't pop up as often. You have to be a little more on top of things when it comes to following up with people you hit it off with.
Sure, at your job, or at the start of a sports team's season you can still be a bit lax. But there will also be more times where you'll meet someone only once or twice, and if you don't jump on the chance right there, you'll have lost it. You may go out to dinner with a few other people and meet someone whose company you enjoy, and could likely not ever see them again after that if you don't act. A lot of hobby-related venues like dance classes, rock climbing gyms, or Toastmasters have people who will only drop in a handful of times and then move on.
None of this is to say you should reek of desperation and neediness, but when you do meet a person you could see yourself being friends with, and there's a chance you may not cross paths with them again, be more active about getting their contact information the first time. If you've only chatted to them for a bit, it's still probably okay to add them on Facebook. If you've gotten to know them fairly well the first time or two you met, I'd see nothing wrong with asking them for their number or if they'd be up for hanging out.
Don't be surprised if your social life takes a little longer to get going
In university a person can often get a good-sized social circle going relatively quickly if they're good at that kind of thing. There's just that many people to meet all at once, and like I said, they're often very eager to make a bunch of friends themselves. All someone may have to do is join a frat or sorority during their first week at school and they could instantly have twenty friends to hang out with every day.
Outside of college you don't have those easy opportunities. It's more likely that a person will have to put together their social life one bit at a time. They may make one friend through work. Maybe two through the place they volunteer. One through the bridge club they joined. They may have checked out a bunch of clubs and events and found them to be a bust. There may be stretches where there's not a lot of progress.
Be willing to try a bunch of different approaches
The last point got at this. You'll be lucky if you can find one reliable way to meet a ton of new friends. It's more likely that you'll have to test out a bunch of them. Some approaches won't go anywhere at all. Some will lead to you making a friend or two. Get into the habit of keeping your eyes open for new methods to try. My article on meeting people covers that stuff, so I won't repeat them all here.
Where you live and transportation can be important too
This point is mainly for younger, unattached people. If you're a bit older and you've moved to a new city with your family it's not as applicable. Aside from not having social hobbies, the other way I've seen people end up lonely in new cities is when they live out in some far-flung area away from the downtown. Not having access to reliable transportation makes living far from everything even worse. It's a lot simpler to get a social life going if you live close to where all the action is, or failing that, if you have a method to get there easily. You have more places to go. There are more of your peers in those areas. You're more likely to go somewhere if it's a fifteen minute walk away vs. an hour-long bus trip. It's easier for people to visit you and for you to visit them. You can stay out later because it's quick to get home.