How to make friends in a new city

There's a lot to do when you move to a city. Here's how to make sure finding friends is less challenging than assembling a coffee table with an allen wrench.

Erin Carson Former Senior Writer
Erin Carson covered internet culture, online dating and the weird ways tech and science are changing your life.
Expertise Erin has been a tech reporter for almost 10 years. Her reporting has taken her from the Johnson Space Center to San Diego Comic-Con's famous Hall H. Credentials
  • She has a master's degree in journalism from Syracuse University.
Erin Carson
5 min read
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Moving to a new city can be a daunting task. 

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This is part of CNET's #adulting series of stories to help you figure out how to live, work and play now that you're all grown up.

I didn't know a soul in Louisville, Kentucky, when I moved up from Nashville in March 2014.

In a matter of a few years, I'd graduated college, graduated grad school and in effect, severed myself from my immediate friends every time I moved to another state. Sure, they were present in the endless group texts on my phone, but they weren't going to be able to hang out on a Friday.

Eventually, after I'd set up an apartment, I started plotting how I was going to make friends in Louisville.

I started indoor rock climbing, befriended co-workers, joined a feminist book club and joined a group for local women journalists. Whenever I've met a fellow transplant, I've stuck out my hand to say hello. After all, being in a new city is a common struggle.

Every year, about 11.2 percent of Americans move, according to the US Census Bureau. Each of us will probably move about 11 times in our lives. Each new start is a big task that involves so much more than finding housing and learning how to get to work. Moving comes with a nebulous goal of creating a meaningful life in a new place, complete with a new group of friends.  

Mercifully, using a combination of tech tools and the gumption to get out there and chat people up, you can rebuild your gang in a new city.

Just do you

The natural lull created by moving to a new place can actually be a good thing -- the rare opportunity when your interests aren't pitted against your calendar and your social obligations. So embrace the time to yourself.

"Our brains are having to adjust to so much, we're craving comfort," said Debra Joy, a Santa Monica, California-based life coach.

Joy said that people often get overly tuned in to the idea of friendships as a means to happiness, when in reality, the focus should be on the happiness itself.

She recommends getting involved in the kinds of activities that make you happy. Or use the initial lull in your social schedule to take up a new hobby, like learning a new language or instrument -- the sort of thing you've maybe always wanted to do and hadn't had the time.

"If you're interested in something and you're passionate about something, it makes you a more attractive human," she said. Friends become a side effect of you tending to yourself.

Here are a few other ideas you might try:

  • Take a class, be it pottery, cooking or Krav Maga
  • Join a book club
  • Search Meetup for groups based on your interests to find your fellow foodies, movie buffs, new moms or brewmasters
  • Volunteer at a local nonprofit
  • Join a professional organization

If you can't find an ongoing activity, Facebook's events tab will surface events happening nearby.

Be a 'yes man'

When Dena Adams moved to Seattle in March 2016, she decided she'd say "yes" to just about everything that came her way the first six months she was there.

She joined a softball league and a book club, went out for after-work drinks, even started working out with an old friend from college she'd reconnected with.

"Every person you meet is going to have more friends," Adams said. Plus, if someone asks you to hang out and you turn them down that first time, don't hold your breath for another invite.

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Adams also took a look at who she knew in Seattle already -- she had a childhood friend and an acquaintance from her college sorority. Though neither were close friends, she messaged them anyway to say hello and let's hang out.

Along those lines, I found out quickly that a lot of folks like playing tour guide in their city. So if someone has the good will to offer to take you around or to a local event, take them up on it.

Early on, I spent one Friday night walking around a local, vaguely hipster flea market with a friend from work, her mother, aunt and cousin. And when another co-worker made me a list of the best coffee shops, restaurants and cafes around, I visited them. The list is still on my fridge.

Keep building

After 22 years living in New Jersey and New York, Margaret D'Agostino headed west.

Fresh out of college in 2012, she landed a job in Colorado Springs, Colorado, figuring that if she was going to embark on an adventure halfway across the country, this was the time to do it. No spouse, no kids, no dog.

Once in Colorado, she became a regular at a kickboxing gym. With the friends she met there, she tried other fitness classes.

In that vein, expand your interactions with the people you know from work, the gym or your other daily activities. Just this week I recruited my book club to go see "Wonder Woman," figuring a feminist book club might just be interested in seeing it.

If you hit it off with someone, exchange contact info and actually follow up. If you're with a group of people you mostly know, spend some time talking to the ones you know least. And give people a chance. Grabbing coffee once won't make you best buds.

Start your own meetup group

If you can't quite find a space to fit in, make one.

It could be a Meetup group or an event -- board game lovers, a beer crawl, even something a broad as local geeks.

That strategy's worked out for Stacey Servo. About 10 years ago, Servo and her husband moved to Louisville from Seattle. For two years, she traveled a lot for work and didn't make much in the way of connections locally. But she and her husband, who works in real estate, would regularly talk with other transplants who wanted advice on how to make friends, which bars to go to and which neighborhood were the cool ones.

They ended up starting what's now a Meetup group called New2Lou. On the second Wednesday of every month, New2Lou attracts about 150 to 200 people to a different bar or restaurant. Folks slap on a name tag and start talking.

Can it be unnerving to go somewhere alone? Sure, but the good news about an event like New2Lou is that everyone's in a similar situation. People move through a crowd, drink in hand, searching for a friendly pair of eyes to chat with for a few minutes.

And that might just be part of the big secret -- you're not the only one out there.

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