And here you are, in a new city, excited at the adventure that faces you, thrilled at the prospect of discovering new places, learning new things, making new friends and living a new life! But wait. Ah. Shit. Friends. You haven’t had to make friends since high school. How do you meet people now? What do you do? Where do you start? That feeling of dread seeps deep into the pit of your stomach. You’re afraid. And suddenly feel very, very alone.
What can you do when you’re in a new city, about to start a new job, but don’t have anyone to go out drinking with?! Well hopefully I can help – I am becoming somewhat of an expert in starting afresh. I have moved around quite a lot in in my 31 (aka 21 and a bit) years, from university, to a term abroad in France, a year abroad in Barcelona, working away in the USA for the summer, and more recently relocating for work.
As children we seem much more at ease making new friends; I remember on family holidays simply asking the girl or boy in the caravan next to us if they wanted to come out and play. At school it starts to become more cliquey, with gangs or at least groups of kids forming – in America they have jocks and nerds, in the UK there are just popular and not popular kids, but even the loners manage to make some friends at least! University doesn’t really count though, all these hundreds of hormone filled, booze hungry teenagers living away from home for the first time, and put into unisex living accommodation, it was hardly difficult to make new friends, with people bonding easily over shots of aftershock and fancy dress pub crawls.
Then gradually as we get older, and settle into our routines, we go out with the same people, to the same pubs and bars we always do, we start to lose the ability (and the desire) to make new friends. So when you choose to give up the luxury and stability of your usual friendship group, how do you start again?
I learned this particular lesson the hard way. A few years ago I moved to Liverpool for work, for a temporary 9 month contract; and I didn’t know anyone in the city. I assumed at first that I would socialise with my colleagues at work, but most of them had families at home, so they again had no need, or time (if not the desire) to make new friends. So I found myself sinking deeper into the realms of hermitude (if that is a real word) and becoming more and more isolated and alone. I would get up, go to work, come home, eat, watch TV, go to bed. Every night was the same. At the weekends at least I’d go out, maybe to a museum or walking along the docks, or shopping, but it was during the evenings that I felt really lonely. This went on for several months, then one weekend when I was back in Leeds for a visit, I was moaning about the pitiful state of my social life to one of my old friends, that she suggested a website that a colleague of hers had joined. It was a socializing thing where she went out and met new people over drinks or dinner or whatever. I admit I was sceptical, but as they say desperate times call for desperate measures, and I really was getting desperate at this point.
This website was then called City Socializing, now rebranded as City Socializer, and it seemed like an interesting idea. You register, for a free trial at first, put up a profile of who you are, what you like to do, and sign up for ‘events’. So when I returned to my hermit hole in Liverpool I got online and signed up to my first event – fittingly a new members night. I had no idea what to expect, and while I was walking to the meeting place, a bar in the centre of Liverpool, I was tempted every step of the way to turn back; my mouth was dry, I was shaking – I was terrified!! Well maybe that was a little dramatic, but I was incredibly nervous at least! I willed my reluctant feet to keep walking, and pushed open the door to the bar.
I have to say, it was the best thing I’ve ever done. The actual event itself wasn’t the best – having the same conversation with 20 people over and over again did get a little wearing there’s only so many times you can pretend to be interested when people ask you your name, how long of you lived here for, is this your first CS event, blah blah blah. However, I loved the fact I hadn’t spent the night in my flat by myself, watching endless repeats of US comedy shows on E4, or watching Dirty Dancing for the umpteenth time. As soon as I got home that night I was already checking what other events I could go to – meals, cinema trips, museums, nights out…. The list goes on.
Some of you may think this is a strange way to meet people. Those some of you may be in happy relationships, with your comfortable circle of friends, settled in your routine already. But for those of us in a new place, or out of a relationship, I think it’s a fantastic way to meet like-minded people, with whom you share things in common. City Socializer saved me in Liverpool; without it I’m sure I would have never come out of my hermit hole, trapped forever in a never-ending pit of boredom and sloth. Instead, I was going out drinking, dining in restaurants I’d never go to alone, going for nights out on a weekend, cinema during the week, and yes, I was making friends – success!
I continued with my membership once I moved back to Leeds, and there I decided to host events as well of my own – just simple things like a pub quiz, or dinner, but as I already had my favourite places in the city I felt it was only fair that I returned the favour and shared it with my new CS buddies. Then again in Manchester I continued hosting, albeit in a new city, but this forced me to discover the best bits of Manchester more quickly, and I was out and about meeting people within days of unpacking my suitcase.
Now for the sceptics among you, yes, ok, you do meet a few weirdoes. There are a few ‘interesting characters’ let’s say, and a couple of times I’ve been stuck next to people I’d rather not have met. But after dinner, or in a lull in conversation, you politely excuse yourself to go to the bathroom or to the bar, and on your return casually start chatting to someone else. Problem solved.
City Socializer hadn’t made it over to Barcelona when I moved here – it is expanding after an international launch earlier this year, and once a certain number of people have registered on the site for Barcelona they will start to arrange events here too. So if you like the sound of it then sign up here and watch that space!
The similar US initiated site MeetUp is already going strong here though, so I signed up on that site and have made some firm friends through that. I would say MeetUp seems to be more experience or activity orientated, where groups of rollerbladers arrange roller blading events for example, whereas City Socializer is more focussed around the socialising, eating, drinking aspect. Both of course have their advantages; and many people I met back in Leeds & Manchester were members of both. With MeetUp here I have eaten amazing curry, gone on a Christmas themed pub crawl, done language exchanges, ate tapas, watched flamenco, a cabaret show, and tried paragliding, as well as making some firm friends! So it is well worth joining these sites; even if you’ve already got all the friends you think you want – you can always try new experiences as well.
Browsing the internet it seems that there are more and more websites like this, bringing people together through various forums, which can only be a good thing. Sites such as Couch Surfing where you can travel the world hopping from couch to couch for free, staying with friendly hosts who recommend local activities – and also organize activities and events in various cities too. Then you have Airbnb for accommodation, with hosts letting out a spare room or an entire flat to tourists and travellers for reasonable fees. And dining sites like EatWith, where people invite guests to dinner in their own homes, creating authentic cuisines from all around the world. It certainly seems then that I am not the only one who needs a bit of help sometimes getting out and about, the recent explosion in success of these sites shows that there is definitely a market for this. And it isn’t just young kids on these sites – the people using them vary from teenagers on their years out, to retired grandparents who need something new in their lives now the kids are all grown up. What is reassuring for me is that these ways to meet people are becoming more prolific and more varied, so the next time I move to a new place I know there’s a whole internet full of new people I can meet!
Read more about my first EatWith experience on the PorkTie Blog here