Whether you’ve moved for work, love, or adventure, finding yourself in a new town without your old friends can be a challenge. Trust me. I’ve been there.
In my 20’s my career took me from my home town to the other side of Canada. In my 30s I moved to a remote rural village in Mexico to rest and recover from illness. Shortly after that, I joined the love of my life in Santa Monica, California.
Each of these moves uprooted me from family and close friends who knew me well, intimate relationships that inspired my growth, people to have fun with, hang out with, and be myself with. But in each move, I discovered that I didn’t lose any of the relationships that really mattered. And in each location, I made new, deep, life-long friends.
As humans, we are social animals. We need connection with others to thrive. If you’re longing for friendship, it isn’t a weakness. It’s a biological need, like breathing and eating.
If you find yourself now in the place I’ve been many times, needing to make new friends…
Here are 7 Steps to Make Connections that Matter:
1. Connect to yourself
It’s important not to confuse being alone with being lonely. Have you ever been in a group of people and felt lonely? I certainly have. Loneliness comes from a lack of connection, not from being by yourself. When you feel connected, loneliness dissolves. If you haven’t truly connected with yourself, you’ll constantly be looking for external ways to connect, and that can become an unfillable need. You’ll create deeper, richer connections with others, if you connect to yourself first.
Often a move to a new place gives you a clean slate for self- exploration. Use this alone time to get to know yourself better. Find ways to connect to the deeper parts of yourself that may get overlooked when you’re busy with others. Consider a regular practice that helps you know yourself more: Try meditation, yoga, prayer, or journaling. Take a memoir class. Try acting or improv as a way to discover unexpressed parts of you.
Take advantage of your time alone. You may never get this opportunity again.
2. Stay Connected to others
Moving away doesn’t mean you have to say goodbye to your loved ones. Texting, social media and email have made it easier to stay “connected”, but it’s important to know that comments and likes won’t substitute for real connection. In fact, scrolling through posts of old friends having fun without you can make you feel more alone in your new environment.
Make a commitment to stay connected in deeper ways with the people you care about. Ask a close friend, (or a few), to help you get through the transition phase with regular conversations. I have a friend who was going on an extended vacation with her boyfriend’s family. They come from very different backgrounds and she was feeling uncomfortable. We made a commitment to have a quick call every evening, to help remind her of who she is; a beautiful woman who’s smart, fun, funny and loved. I didn’t have to remind her of these great qualities. She felt it just by connecting with someone who knew her well and brought out the best in her. This helped buoy her confidence to be herself and forge new relationships in the family.
Be open to who shows up for you. When I moved to Mexico some of my closer friends didn’t reach out or respond much. They were busy with their families and jobs and social life. We pick up where we left off when I go back to Canada, but we don’t stay in touch much in between visits. Not all friends are up for long distance, and you’ll put undue pressure on your relationships if you expect it of everyone. Instead, welcome those who show up from across the miles. I was surprised by some of my colleagues who stayed in close contact when I left the country. We became much closer friends than when we’d been living nearby, and remain close to this day.
3. Connect to your heart
Find something to be grateful for every single day. Make it a regular practice. It can be even better to begin and end your day with gratitude. Don’t make a big long list and rattle it off. Instead, think of one new thing, every day, for which you’re grateful. As you think about it, let yourself experience the gratitude with your senses.
If you’re grateful for the old friend who just called, notice how that call made you feel. Can you see her face when you think of her now? Can you hear her voice? How does it make you feel?
If you’re grateful for the coffee shop at your corner, notice how that place makes you feel. Is it the leisurely walk that you enjoy most? Finding a seat in the window, feeling the sun on your shoulder, or holding the warm mug in your hand?
When you experience gratitude through your body it becomes more than just a concept, and it can change your life. It not only lifts your vibration, but it will lift those around you, and that will draw people to you.
4. Connect to your emotions
Don’t let your gratitude practice be a way to override other authentic feelings. It’s possible to feel grateful and still be sad. You can feel scared and excited, angry and enlivened, all at once. We’re complex beings, capable of experiencing many sensations and feelings.
If you can experience your sensations without judging or trying to change them, you’ll notice that none of them last too long. They’re constantly changing, and moving through you quickly, but when you attach a story, or blame, to the things you feel, you can get stuck. “I’m sad because I’m all alone” becomes a story you tell yourself, that can solidify into an identity you wear. It’s the story that keeps the emotion lingering much longer than they would if you’d just allow them to be experienced.
It makes sense that you’d avoid some feelings. Who wants to feel sad, scared, angry or lonely? But if you can allow yourself to welcome all sensations, you’ll realize that there’s usually more than one at any given time. By allowing the feelings you don’t want to feel, you’ll be more able to access the feelings you want to feel. You’ll start to experience the rich world inside you, which can be a portal to knowing your true self. This acceptance of your emotions will will lead to deeper connections with yourself and others.
5. Connect with nature
Life is always going to give you something to stress about. If you’re in a new environment that stress gets amplified. Nature has a calming effect on your body and soul. If you can get amongst trees, by a body of water, into the desert or up on on a mountain, nature can ease your tension, help you breathe deeper and feel more connected.
A great way to combine the soothing and invigorating effects of nature with meeting people is join groups for hiking, biking, kayaking, walking, or running in nature. Meetup groups, Sierra Club, REI and all sorts of other organizations offer guided tours and get-togethers in nature. You don’t have to be an expert. This can be a chance to discover what you like, stay fit, calm your nervous system, learn new skills, and meet people who like the same thing. They may not enjoy everything you like, but at least you’ll have this shared activity in common.
I had a client whose goal was to get married. While I couldn’t guarantee our coaching would lead to the man of her dreams, I told it would lead to her becoming the person she really wanted to be, which would open her up to attracting the man she’d like to marry. She was feeling lonely, which stemmed from boredom, so I encouraged her to try new things until she found something she enjoyed doing, specifically something outdoors.
She joined a running club. It helped her get in shape and get to know parts of her new neighborhood she hadn’t discovered by car. Two years later she married a man she met in that running club, and he is definitely her perfect match.
6. Connect with your passion
Many clients work with me because they need help finding their passion. A few expect that I will have the answer for them. The truth is that you find your passion through exploration and discovery, not contemplation and discussion (unless contemplation and discussion happen to be your passion). When your life is full with friends and family and obligations you have less opportunity to discover new things. This can be your chance.
This is a great time to take a ukelele class, study permaculture, check out hip-hop, hula or belly dancing, focus on film appreciation or take guided tours of your new town, try your hand at calligraphy, jewelry-making or dog-grooming. Anything that interests you, or you think might interest you, is an opportunity for discovery and connection. It doesn’t have to cost a lot. Community colleges offer inexpensive courses and non-profit organizations often lead groups and teach skills for free.
I own a house in a small coastal town in Washington State. I rent it to a woman who’d always wanted to live in that part of the world, but didn’t know anyone there. She was brave enough to take the plunge and move on her own. She immediately enrolled in classes from fly-fishing to local geology to acrylic painting and sculpting. She made a new friend in one of the classes and has been traveling, learning and enjoying the area with her ever since.
7. Connect to a cause
A great way to get over feeling lonely is to stop focusing on yourself and give your attention to someone or something in need. Find a non-profit in your neighborhood that needs a hand. Check out the cause by going to an event, an orientation, or volunteering for a day. Offer your expertise, or learn something new, as you contribute. It may be a way to discover a new passion.
It doesn’t have to be a non-profit organization. You can help a neighbor wrestle her unruly weeds, offer to babysit the cute kids down the block, or walk the overworked woman’s playful pup. Helping your community will help you feel like you belong. It will give you something to talk about. It can lift your spirits, and fill you with gratitude. And of course, you’re likely to meet more people when you’re in action in your community.