If you’ve experienced any type of transition at all, whether it be transitioning to a new job or a new city, a new baby or a new lifestyle, chances are you’ve had to adjust to a new social environment. Whatever the reason, you may be at a point in your life where you are longing for the comfort and familiarity that a sense of community affords. But if you’re the new kid in town or you just feel like one, making heartfelt connections may be more difficult than you care to admit. Here are four tips that may help.
- Deal with loneliness before aloneness.
Being alone is essentially a physical state that does not imply anything is wrong. We may choose to be alone or try to offset it by spending time with others. On the other hand, loneliness denotes a state of distress that may be difficult to resolve even for those who have groups of people around them. Loneliness has less to do with those around you, and more to do with what you feel you need to be complete.
Loneliness has less to do with those around you, and more to do with what you feel you need to be complete.
Loneliness implies that something about us is missing, and often we seek to fix this feeling by looking outside of ourselves. If you struggle with loneliness and feel it is because you do not have a solid friend group, consider what it means about you to have or not have those friends in your life. If your desire for friendships is really an attempt to resolve some insecurity, you’ll spend a lot of energy focusing on attaining those relationships, and risk devaluing the relationships you do have. Even after developing the friendships you desire, you may still feel lonely. Instead, think of how you can get what you believe you’re missing without needing someone else to give it to you. This way you can be free to build friendships with those who complement you rather than with those who you use to fill a void they can never really fill.
- Have a positive perspective, unaffected by past friendships.
We all have past experiences with friends that shape the way we view our current friendships. If you had a difficult time making and keeping friends during your teenage years, you may be more guarded about making friends as an adult. So statements like “I’ve always had a hard time making friends and it’s still hard” may be part of your friendship narrative.
On the other hand, if you have good memories of friends, your friendship narrative might read: “I had a great time with friends throughout high school and college and I expect it to be the same as an adult.”
Remember this: a bad history with friends does not doom you to a life of poor friendships.
Our friendship narrative tends to locks us into a pattern of predictable behaviors that support the narrative. Negative friendship narratives often lead to, predictably, poor relationships. So remember this: A bad history with friends does not doom you to a life of poor friendships. The quantity and quality of your friendships are determined by what you tell yourself about the kind of friends you can have or can be to others. Try to gain a renewed perspective and create a new narrative that is more helpful and hopeful. Something like “I may have had a hard time making friends in high school but I’ve grown since then, and those experiences are not the ones I’m having now” is one way to flip a bad narrative, and encourage more rewarding friendship experiences.
- You’re not weird because you make the first move.
Trying to make new friends, particularly in a new community can make you feel like it’s the first day of school all over again. Only when you started school there were usually other new people—and having that in common may have helped to ease the situation and establish friendships more quickly.
As adults, it can be challenging to reach out to form connections with people, especially if they are already immersed in their friend groups. You may feel you are not needed or you should have established your own group of friends by now and this can hinder attempts to create connections. During those moments, it’s important to remember that you are the one seeking connections because you want them, not because someone else does. And this may help you to push past fears of rejection and initiate a conversation, a lunch date, or some other type of get together. Sure, some will seem unresponsive or uninterested, but don’t internalize the rejection. Instead, consider that those who are receptive will probably be better friends for you anyway.
We aren’t going to necessarily have that same “spark” we had with one friend with every friend moving forward.
- Different friends fulfill different needs.
As children this can be a hard concept to learn. In elementary school, I remember having a difficult time playing with anyone other than my best friend for fear that I’d be betraying our friendship. As we grow, our concept of friendship becomes less rigid, yet we may find ourselves learning all over again as we attempt to negotiate complicated peer relationships as teenagers and young adults.
And when we reach adulthood, we may continue to struggle as we attempt to re-experience close, past friendships. In our quest for the comfort of friendships, we may forget that we aren’t going to necessarily have that same “spark” we had with one friend with every friend moving forward; this could hinder our ability to develop new connections. Since one friend cannot meet all of our needs, we must learn to relegate our friends to different roles in our lives. You may decide some friends are better for certain things than others, or you may feel some are best as acquaintances. This does not mean you are flippant or self-centered, but it means you are becoming more aware of what types of friends you need and what role they should play to enhance your life.