In a new city, there are few things easier to make than connections. It’s so easy to go up to someone — at a bar, in the office, even in line at the grocery store — and strike up a quick conversation. When drunk, you might even tell each other how awesome the other is, and promise that you’re going to call, and be friends forever. Colleagues melt into happy hour buddies, gym acquaintances are good for a smoothie run, and old classmates who now live in the city are always good to grab brunch with and spend a few hours catching up. Forming a social network of dozens of people comes easier than you’d think it would, and probably easier than you’d want it to.
Because if there’s one thing that’s very, very hard, it’s turning any of those relationships into something real. It’s easy to promise that you’re going to meet up on Sunday afternoon to go for a long walk, or grab a drink on the way home from work, but it’s very hard to find someone with whom you can talk over a glass of wine at 3 AM about everything — family, politics, relationships, what you want from the future. It’s hard to find a real friend, the one you can call when you’re in jail or stranded on the side of the road or just need someone to cry with. When you have an emergency “I need to come over and talk right now,” you don’t call the girl from your spin class. You don’t call the guy you saw twice at happy hour. You call a friend. And friends, in a new city, are hard to come by.
Before you move to your new city, your group of friends can feel stifling. You know each other so well, your connections run so deep, and your routines have become established and comfortable. You go to this bar, order this drink, and see each other that amount of times per week. It becomes like an extended family, and you get just as bored by it as you would your own relatives, just before you move out of your house for the first time. You take your closeness for granted, and mistake it for something much more tedious. You long for the excitement of new connections.
And with the internet, it’s so easy to “friend” someone, to “like” what they do and maintain an extremely tenuous connection that can be cashed in for a real-life hangout whenever you want. In a new city, with just a few social media accounts, you can maintain a web of friendly acquaintances, and keep in touch with however many people you want. But forming the kind of closeness you had with your previous group, and establishing a network of people you can rely on and truly love, is something that can’t be represented in the amount of casual drinks you can organize via email. It’s something you have to dedicate enormous amounts of time and energy to, at the very real risk of disappointment.
Anyone who has ever taken the leap of going on a first “friend date,” or felt the flutter of nervousness before following up on it with an “I’d love to hang out again,” knows that finding friendship in adulthood can be just as hard as finding romance. There are so many boundaries, and you can never be sure if your “huge friend crush” is someone else’s “casual coffee date.” And even when you do make it to the “real” friendship stage with someone, how do you become part of a group? How do you merge friends, and form tribes, and choose people to build something very real and family-like with?
One of the beautiful things about moving to a new city is the ability to start over clean in all of your relationships. You can surround yourself with exactly the people you want to, and don’t have to be tied down by the baggage and the history of your former social group. But a clean slate can also be a terrible burden, and make you realize that so much of who you are — your jokes, your adventurous side, your ability to be true to your personality — stems from having a circle of people that you trust. When that is taken away, and you are starting from zero, you must figure out who you are once again — you must do the emotional heavy lifting of feathering a social nest with people you barely know. And telling someone “I’d love to make you a part of my life,” and really meaning it, might be the scariest thing you’ll ever have to do in your new city.