It takes milliseconds for Google to generate millions of articles outlining a variety of steps to be completed to obtain friendships in a new city. Suddenly, the notion of being social or the idea of finding one “good pal” in this place that has become your home, sounds rather daunting – it becomes another task added to your current list of things-to-do that follows instinctively when you move to the capital.
Whether these steps dictate the new events you should attend, the new hobbies you should inhabit, or the new skills you must gain before making a new friend, the message stands clear: making new friends in a big city demands time and commitment. What if it didn’t?
What if we reversed the notion and claimed that making friends is something that will come naturally, and all you need to do is, simply, be present and open. Note: that is not to say that you can just stay at home, and naturally your future friend will gracefully enter to binge-watch Netflix with you.
If you were looking for a WikiHow uncovering ten tips for making long-lasting friends in the city, you clicked the wrong link – just search for Dan Gabor’s book, he will instruct you on what words to use and how to smile, in case you didn’t know already. Instead, let’s understand the more profound meaning of friendships and social interactions.
Often, we struggle to make deep, profound connections as adults, because we suddenly have a myriad of environments to fit into – particularly when inhabiting a city such as, say, London, with its 8 million residents. Think of your younger years, and how easily we collected friends on a daily basis. Difference was that we generally had one or two environments to manage at most. When we arrived in school, we were amassed into a confined space of a limited number of children, who you would spend every day of the week with for at least the next 5-6 years.
Similar concepts emerged when we engaged in hobbies. Most likely, you engaged in hobbies with your friends from school, seeing you had evidently captured your friends for life. Or, you would dare to venture out. But even then, why should you as a child, or teen, put in the effort to get to know these strangers when you already had your best friends on lockdown at home?
As adults, particularly when choosing to move to a distant new city, we are confronting an overwhelming amalgam of environments. Now, we have obtained a distinct work environment, a solely scholarly sphere for our studious endeavours, and most likely your home environment is already inhabited by people who started off as random strangers.
Being confronted with such a variety of environments that can be completely distinct from one another is overwhelming. The challenge evident in most capital cities is the excessive congregation of what Malcolm Gladwell termed “cultural legacies.” Whether we voluntarily or involuntarily move to a capital city, it is essential to remember: “it matters where you’re from.” According to Gladwell, “cultural legacies are powerful forces. They have deep roots and long lives.” These legacies’ longevity spawn across continents and “they play such a role in directing attitudes and behaviour,” that we must acknowledge their significance, says Gladwell.
The fact of life is that the older we get, the fewer friends we have – logical, as when we get older we know ourselves better and we slowly realise what types of relationships we want to nourish, and which ones we want to fade. Similarly, we need to find the environments that are fitting to who we are as adults. But as many large cities are comprised of endless types of cultural legacies, it is undeniably more difficult to find friends, and there is simply no such thing as one single type of environment.
However, friendships are necessary, and it is vital to our mental health to have a strong social network in the place we call home. London again provides a useful example: numerous sites have reported England’s capital city as the loneliest in the world – even by 2019, Medium claimed that the city is experiencing a “loneliness epidemic.” Two years earlier, Time Out conducted a survey disclosing that 55% of Londoners feel the sting of loneliness. In 2018, The Loneliness Lab presented similar findings saying that 61% are lonely – apparently, 1 in 10 of Londoners feel a lack of close friends.
Where past instructions, guiding you towards the way of eliminating this loneliness, have failed, is the lack of attention to the infinite environments and cultural legacies that make cities like London truly unique. In a piece published by the news site East London Lines in 2020, the sociologist, Dr Alex Rhys-Taylor considered London, as a capital, a particular paradox of loneliness, yet vibrant with communities and cultures. But again, that is the unique beauty of moving to a metropolis.
So the comfort of fitting into an environment like we did as children, and what we do now, as we desperately pick up a new hobby for the prospects of a new friend, will not always be helpful approaches in a diverse city like London. Instead of searching for environments that will breed friendships for you, it will be helpful to consider your individual role.
The first piece of advice to remember is to be open. Hella Joof, a Danish actress and author, published a myriad of rules to live by. One important rule of life, according to Joof, is the paper maché rule, which dictates that what you think about, or what you give your energy to, is what you get. Now, she diverges from theological standpoints and justifications for this cosmic balance that evidently happens whenever we think something, and instead, she claims that when we expect the worst, we get the worst. When we expect a meet-up to go badly, it often does – because our energy is invested in negativity.
Therefore, the rule conveys that even the things we did not wish for in any way can actually be the greatest gift, if only we open our eyes and our minds to what’s in front of us in the moment. Maybe, when we are sitting feeling alone yet surrounded by others, we desperately seek friendships but have low hopes for that outcome, as we feel lonely, and thus so far our endeavor of obtaining friends has been unsuccessful.
The notion appears rooted in the old saying: “when you stop looking for love it will come”. Think about it, when you stop looking, you become more open to the possibilities around you as you are not concentrated on that one perfect person you have been looking for. Similarly, when you are desperately looking to all corners of a room for your future BFF, it most likely won’t come. And yet we are left pondering why, as we feel so ready for new relationships.
According to the paper maché rule, if we force things actively to happen the way we want it and fear the worse, we will receive the thing we deemed the worse. But actually, if we stay open-minded, we can see the beauty in receiving the friendships we didn’t want or searched for, but appreciate the person that is now given to you.
To be open-minded, you also have to be present. Yes, Karen, please put down your phone when I am talking to you. Now, I can appreciate that such a statement is seemingly ironic, but whenever we leave our homes behind every morning, we are consistently focused on the next thing. We outline our whole day, what needs to be accomplished, and exactly where we need to go. Rarely, new friendships are built into that framework of thought. So when we encounter the possibility for a new friendship we tend to be distracted from the person and the moment.
Deepak Chopra, known for his expertise in meditation, said “when you approach meaningful relationships from the standpoint of living in the present, then conflicts and challenges are seen as opportunities for your limited, disempowered awareness to discover itself as unlimited empowered awareness.” When we encounter the opportunity for new friendships, we often worry about the future as we think about how lonely we have been in the past and how badly we want a friendship for the future. Or, we think of the friends we have lost and the pain we have suffered in the past, which makes us reject the person in front of us who may be offering us their companionship. Or, we are already thinking about all the stuff we have to do after this event we attended in our desperate endeavour of finding a friend.
I am not saying you should stop going outside of your comfort zone to meet people – you definitely should. Go to events, gatherings, and social activities, whatever you may feel like. The difference is your approach to those moments when you seek out social spaces. Be open-minded to the person in front of you by being fully present. Only that way, can you see if the person in front of you will watch Netflix with you later.
Dane based in London. Full time student at SOAS, part time worker, every day dreamer and hustler. Aspiring journalist. In her element with hip-hop/rap, coffee, and a notebook.