Tuesday, January 16, 2024

From Strangers to Friends: Crafting Connections When You're the New Kid in Town

Image by Chu Viết Đôn from Pixabay
Image by Chu Viết Đôn from Pixabay

We just moved house and I am lonely. 

It's taboo, isn't it? To say that we feel we lack friends? But it's a huge problem. 

Loneliness: The Secret Silent Global Epidemic

In 2023, the World Health Organisation said that current global estimates suggest that 25% older adults experience social isolation and between 5-15% of teens experience loneliness.

In the UK, the 2022 Community Life Survey found almost one in 10 young people in the UK feel lonely often or always. In the USA, about half of adults report measurable levels of loneliness.  

As loneliness is such a huge issue, and we tend not to talk about it, I have been posting my experiences online. I hope to break the taboo, and hopefully to help others.

Thankfully, this is a happy story because we're making friends! 

Friendship After Relocation

We moved to Thornaby in England, a place we had never been before, 10 weeks ago. We have no family here. 

Usually, work provides connections. Not for us! I run my own business, and as a therapist I can't be friends with clients. As for Tom, he had to wait to apply for work because companies wanted to be sure he has a visa first.

Therefore, loneliness was one of my top concerns (along with finding good cat food for Target, Tic Tac and Inkie).

Socializing In A New City

Friendship is about turning up and talking to people, finding common ground, and then meeting up over and over again, so that the connection deepens. 

After landing in Thornaby, we went straight out to the local pub. In the past, the interior design of pubs was fostered to promote community. Sadly, this has changed. The old horseshoe bars where strangers mingle are mostly out, and lots of individual tables are in. So you go out - and sit by yourself!

This is something scientists and politicians should be interested in: interior design in public places should promote communication, not foster isolation.

One pub is too far away for comfort. A second pub is nice but after 4 visits we still weren't beyond a, "What would you like to drink?" So we concentrate on the third pub, our local. After a few visits, people started to chat.

In addition, we looked into mixers. We found the local council has a meet and greet - which led to my first ever game of bingo. We also found a garden bowls group, a classic British game. We're having a go at that tomorrow.

Finally, I joined a book group. It's lovely but it meets only once a month, so probably won't be very productive in terms of connecting.

For us, going to the pub and meeting a happy crowd was the game changer. We have been twice now to meet the same gang, and had a lovely time. So we are on our way.

If you want all the details, I have posted on Facebook about each effort.

My first post, explaining the plan

My second post, visiting the pub alone

My third post, disaster report! 

My fourth post, more planning

My fifth post, success!

Dealing With the Fear of Rejection

Everyone is capable of stepping out in some way, but one of the typical obstacles to reaching out is, “What if they don’t like me?”

I should disclose here that I am bold.  When I meet people who don’t like me, that’s okay.  This is partly experience, I talk to hundreds of people every year as part of my therapy and feature column work, but it’s also partly attitude.

I'm sharing my philosophy because a change of mindset is empowering.

The process of making friends starts impersonally. Yes, it's not about you!

Let me put it this way: suppose Alice likes books, tea and cats, and Joan likes football and raves. They’re both perfectly nice people, but they’re not a good match. 

Building friendships, at least at the beginning, is about matching interests and attitudes. My point of view is that out of 100 people, a good half will have interests that don’t match mine. And that’s okay.

As for judgement, yes, a surprising amount of people confuse “not a match” with “don’t like” or nasty labels like “boring” or “stupid”. That says a lot about them; it’s nothing to do with me.    

When I meet a non-match, I make the most out of the encounter and then I move on. 

How To Game The System

Making friends is a percentage game – at the beginning. You may meet a lot of non-matches at first. Knowing that gives me energy to try again and again, without feeling bad about it.

However, once you meet a match, then the opportunity changes because people tend to hang with their matches.

I think of it as bubbles. If I meet a person I get along with, their bubble is bound to be my cup of tea. I will actively ask for introductions (the bold part) and it usually works great!

Also, as making friends at the beginning is not personal, I am practical about non-matches. When I meet a person who is not a match, I know their bubble is likely to be similar, so it’s best I give it a miss and try something else.   

If You're Introverted

I am fairly introverted, so I keep an eye on my energy levels. I plan my socialising carefully, in blocks on certain days. But when I do go out, I go all out. 

I suggest that you plan carefully, so you make sure you don't overdo it. However, do be consistent. Part of the magic is turning up regularly. You can't make friends if you only see people once in a blue moon!

So there you have my approach. My method means I can approach new connections with optimism and interest. It works well for me. But I am not shy. If you are, then I’d say go at it but do it with a friend. 

I hope you found this interesting, and if you are lonely, useful and inspiring.

PS, Recommend Me

I have two slots open, one on weekend mornings UK time. So if you can recommend me, please do!