A dial tone. That was it—just a dial tone. My car, parked in a rest stop off of Route 66, hummed as the rain continued to tap against my windshield. I used the sleeve of my sweater to wipe my eyes. Clear eyes. The phone screen faded to black. I never felt more alone in my life: I wondered how to make friends in a new city.
The first months after moving 400 miles away from all of my family and friends, the loneliness crept in. Not to say I didn’t try making friends. I joined a MeetUp Soccer Group; I attempted to sign up for a writer’s club. One of the hardest things to do when you’re male and get older is making new friends. Especially when you’re in a new city.
There’s a quote I love, “Be the writer you needed when you were younger.” That philosophy is entrenched through so many of the articles on Dudefluencer, from our conversations on positive masculinity to stuff about male body image issues. I’ve written about the importance of male friendship. Still, for this article, I wanted to speak directly to dudes who just moved to a new city, new town, new boat, and are struggling to meet other dudes. Learning how to make friends in a new city as a guy requires vulnerability, adventure, and a willingness to put yourself in uncomfortable situations.
Why is it difficult?
Let’s get to the point right away. Understanding how to make friends in a new city as an adult is difficult. It has little to do with you and more to do with a society that has deemed close male friendships as unmasculine. No one teaches you how to make friends when you’re older.
It’s easier when we’re kids because people come into our lives because of circumstances outside of our control. For example, you don’t get to choose which kids live in your neighborhood. Or who is in your elementary school life? But what makes those friendships work is that, according to Leon Neyfakh, “they represent some of our first meaningful choices as autonomous beings.” As adults, the only time we really are put into situations where we have no choice to be around is at work. That obviously limits our ability to build new friendships.
Researchers have studied male friendships for decades and have concluded that there are four main reasons why men struggle to build deeper friendships: too much focus on events rather than more in-depth conversations, lack of vulnerability, prioritization of work, and neural pathways that encourage action and perception rather than analytics and intuition.
We’ve established that men have difficulty building close friendships, now let’s add in the fact that you’ve moved away from everyone you know.
I’ve told this story on Dudefluencer before. Still, I moved away from Buffalo for my first teaching job around seven years ago. While I quickly learned the inner workings of living on my own, like how I shouldn’t eat pizza every day, or if you don’t run your garbage disposal enough, things are going to smell. But what I didn’t expect was how lonely I’d feel within a couple weeks of living in Virginia.
My routine became frustratingly tedious: wake up at 5 A.M., get dressed, go to work. 3:30 P.M., come home, order out or eat a pound of bacon. Play video games or watch wrestling. Go to sleep. Every once in a while, I’d spend some time at a former coworker’s house to watch Bills games, but that always remained a shoulder-to-shoulder relationship.
I held onto old connections through daily phone calls or Facebook messages. They’d always say they couldn’t wait to visit: few did. But the larger issue wasn’t with them. It was with me.
I never understood the importance of male friendship, or more specifically, I didn’t know how to build deep connections. Even my friends back home, we connected through activities, we bonded over sports. Emotional vulnerability just wasn’t something we knew how to do. Without any obvious answers, I poured myself more into my work. I avoided self-reflection.
But I did make one crucial decision: I reached out for help.
Why is moving to a new city particularly tough?
Male loneliness continues to be an epidemic that continues to negatively affect men’s lives. One study revealed that “social isolation, loneliness, and living alone can increase your odds of dying prematurely by up to 32%.” Having close friendships can stave off stress and deter diseases such as Alzheimer’s and diabetes. Without those bonds, lives are literally at stake.
And it’s difficult not to feel a bit lonely after moving to a new city by yourself. You don’t have roots; you haven’t settled yourself in yet. It’s not easy to move away from your friends when you’re a teenager, and there’s still that mix of excitement and fear when leaving for college.
It’s different moving with a family, or with friends. But what happens when you go on this adventure alone?
There’s the initial excitement. You’re moving to a new city, maybe you got a new job. It’s a fresh start. You start to figure out your favorite restaurants, your new place is decorated. But there’s this time afterward when things are no longer pristine when you feel this pang of loneliness.
That pang expressed itself in a tear-filled drive home one night. I tried calling my friends back home, but no one answered. I felt hopeless; I felt alone. Soon after, I made an appointment with a therapist. It took some time, but I finally admitted that part of my depression was due to my loneliness.
Three in 10 millennials are lonely, one in five admit they have no friends. According to “psychologist Christopher Blazina and researcher Lori Kogan, 62% of male dog owners said their relationship with their dog is ‘almost always’ secure, while only 10% said the same about the relationship with the closest human in their life.” It makes sense. The bond between a man and his dog is a lot easier to build than a new relationship with a guy friend. But just because this is all too common, doesn’t mean we should ignore how to make friends in a new city.
For example, a study in Australia showed that those with strong social connections can live a decade longer than those without. In fact, friendship and camaraderie is “as powerful an indicator in predicting longevity as smoking or abusing alcohol.” A 2015 analysis revealed that “absence of social connections carried the same health risk as smoking up to 15 cigarettes a day.”
Psychologist Janice Kiecolt-Glaser, director of the Institute for Behavioral Medicine Research at the Ohio State University College of Medicine in Columbus, told The Washington Post, “A good friendship is a wonderful antidepressant. Relationships are so powerful, we don’t always appreciate the many levels at which they affect us.” The benefits of friendship are overwhelming, and yet, men continue to struggle with them.
The challenge becomes a push and pulls of masculinity: shy away from vulnerability and potentially increase long-term health risks, or take the uncomfortable step to make new friends in a new city.
How to make friends in a new city for guys?
If you’ve gotten this far, as Dean Graziosi likes to say, “You’re ready to take uncomfortable action.” Below are just a few tips on putting yourself out there when in a new environment, and hopefully how to make friends in a new city.
Find a community.
The first step to making new friends is becoming a part of a community. That means seeking out activities or finding a club that fits within your lifestyle. Since men build friendships through activities, joining a new community is actually one of the more straightforward steps in this process.
You can search for local Facebook or Meetup groups in your area. Or if you’re more interested in sports, most leagues have an option where you can sign up as a free agent, and someone will pick you up for their team. That’s how I ended up meeting my friend Dave through a wiffleball league draft. Being a part of that community made me feel like I belonged to something bigger than myself.
Another way is to join a men’s support group. There are often a couple of local options available. Depending on your location, there might be meetups associated with MenLiving or Evryman. If not, you can always check out our friend, Neal Conlon’s Men’s Circles. The key to this will be meeting in person. Online and Zoom chats are great, but it’s way more challenging to build a deeper relationship without being in someone’s physical presence.
There are already a ton of built-in communities for men to access. Are you a football fan? More than likely, you can find a team-sponsored bar in your neighborhood. Want to join a DnD game? Visit your local game store to see what they’re offering. The belief that there are no options for you is false. You just need to take the first step and seek them out.
Join up with work colleagues.
Remember how I mentioned that part of why it’s easier to make friends when we’re children is because we are consistently put into situations where we don’t have a choice in who we are spending time with? It’s not a whole lot different when it comes to building workplace friendships. Research shows that one of the critical factors in deeper friendships is the amount of time spent together. And what better place than your job to meet new people.
When I moved to Virginia, one of my saving graces was my colleague, and now good friend, Kellen. We immediately bonded during training, and that carried over our first year of teaching. I still remember the afternoon my grandfather passed away. Kellen was one of the first friends I reached out to, and he immediately offered me a ride to the airport to get back home. Over shared drinks before my flight, I confided in Kellen: he listened. It was a small moment, maybe 20 minutes max. But those brief flashes, however fleeting, were what grew our bond.
I’m not a big believer in the statement that people shouldn’t make friends at their workplace. In fact, I find it kind of ridiculous. You’re going to be spending a lot of time there, so why not build those deeper relationships for another reason to be excited to go into your job.
So find ways to get involved with your colleagues. Maybe it’s as simple as joining a happy hour or a team event. If you find yourself feeling lonely, and seeking connection, put yourself out there.
Anyone who has taken an improv course understands the concept of “Say Yes.” The best way to meet up with new people or join a new community is merely saying yes to things. Invited to trivia night? Say yes. What about a book club? Say yes. It’s that easy.
By saying yes to activities you might not usually participate in, you’re not only allowing yourself to meet new friends but also growing as a person. Having an open mind towards new experiences will enable you to continue figuring out what you like, what you don’t like, and who you want to be as a person.
Vulnerability is one of the most challenging things to get right when it comes to friendship. Brene Brown often speaks to the importance of vulnerability while also warning about the vulnerability spotlight. Imagine vulnerability like a light, you first meet someone, and you shine your spotlight right into their eyes. They’re going to feel uncomfortable; you’ve told too much too soon.
Or in the other scenario, you’re just not vulnerable at all. You keep to yourself, you hide anything personal, and you struggle to connect with others. Too much vulnerability and a lack thereof makes building relationships equally tricky. There is a middle ground.
Jeff Polzer, professor of organizational behavior at Harvard, said, “People tend to think of vulnerability in a touchy-feely way, but that’s not what’s happening. It’s about sending a really clear signal that you have weaknesses, that you could use help. And if that behavior becomes a model for others, then you can set the insecurities aside and get to work, start to trust each other and help each other.” Vulnerability is about building connection through trust. If you don’t have a willing partner, you may not create a more profound friendship.
Daniel Coyle presents this idea only with his vulnerability loops:
“1. Person A sends a signal of vulnerability.
2. Person B detects this signal.
3. Person B responds by signaling their own vulnerability.
4. Person A detects this signal.
5. A norm is established; closeness and trust increase.”
Coyle noticed these vulnerability loops occurring naturally in group settings where people needed to work together. During these loops, there’s “an acknowledgment of limits, a keen awareness of the group nature of the endeavor. The signal being sent was the same: You have a role here. I need you.” And it’s the “I need you” part that is so difficult for men.
Masculinity has told us that individualism is key to maintaining our manhood. But cooperation and teamwork are essential to a healthy life. It’s okay to need help, and it’s even more important to admit it.
Make and keep your plans.
This is the last step towards how to make friends in a new city: continue building those friendships. A deeper relationship with others is entirely built upon continued experiences. That means you might need to make the first step in making follow-up plans with your new friends.
Or, on the other hand, if you’ve already made plans, keep them. Don’t bail out at the last minute. There’s nothing that kills a new friendship earlier than broken trust.
I’d love to tell you that this is the secret formula on how to make friends in a new city. Sadly, it isn’t. I can tell you that if you open yourself up to people and new experiences, the likelihood of building deeper connections and friendships grows. The loneliness will be difficult to handle at first, but it will get better once you start reaching out to more folks.