How to Make Friends When You Move to a New City

Practical approaches for making friends when you move to a new city that I've fine-tuned with my own experiences.

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Some people can go the bathroom and come back having made a new friend.

Not me.

It’s more likely that I’d go to the bathroom and my existing friends wouldn’t even realize.

Since you’re reading this, I suspect we’re somewhat similar in that regard. You and I weren’t born with the personality or raised in the environment that endowed us with the ability to click into cliques seamlessly. Then we didn’t do a good enough job working on our friend-making skills we were never taught at school.

So making friends when you move to a new city is extra tough.

You’re already struggling to get settled in your new surroundings. Then you have to befriend unfamiliar faces on top? It’s like trying to do weighted dumbbell presses while kneeling on one of those big blue inflated Swiss balls.

(Image source: FitforLifeCoaches)

On the bright side, a new home is a fresh start.

Every time I move to a new city—seven times so far in my adult life—I get a boost of motivation to put myself out there. Something about being unsettled physically loosens me up mentally. From my experience, the trick is to use this to your advantage before it runs out.

Facebook post asking for tips before moving to a new city
Relying on my wife to use social media to collect leads when we relocated to Cape Town. Two in one!

1. Start By Collecting Friendship Material

People who have a tough time making friends tend to think a lot—too much even—so you’ve no doubt already considered the following strategies for making friends in your new city:

  • Get involved in clubs, groups, or sports.
  • Rely on your spouse/partner/friend to make friends for you.
  • Attend meetups and networking events.
  • Ask your existing friends to connect you.
  • Join local Facebook groups (expat groups if you’re moving to a new country), and introduce yourself.
  • Use dating apps.

I ranked the above in descending order of how successful they’ve been for me. In my case, basketball then beach volleyball have been the source of about 60 percent of my friendships. I can thank my wife Kim for another 35 percent. The rest have mostly been a waste of willpower, time, and effort.

But here’s the thing:

None of the above made me friends.

They only gave me good leads.

I’m not cool enough for others to fawn over my friendship, so I’ve learned I have to take charge to transform my “friend material” into something solid.

Invoke the Philialistic Paradox

Have you heard of the hedonistic paradox?

It goes something like this: Pursuing happiness and pleasure leads to disappointment and dissatisfaction. But if you pursue something else, notably others’ happiness and pleasure, you will find happiness and pleasure along the way.

The hedonistic paradox is one of my top five frameworks to live by. And I believe it can be tweaked to find the secret to making friends:

Rather than pursue friendship, help others with their pursuit of friendship. Then you’ll find friendship along the way.

Let’s call it the [looks up “friendship” in Greek] philialistic paradox.

This, my virtual friend, is the key to making friends in the new city. In short, to meet cool people, help cool people meet cool people.

YouTube video
“Congrats. You’ve both just met a cool person.”

2. Be a Producer, Not a Desperate Candidate

Organize get-togethers that your friendship material people will perceive as opportunities to collect leads for their own friendship-making goals.

Yes, this takes extra effort, risk, and cost, but it’s worth it. It’s like going from being a desperate candidate in The Bachelor, to being the bachelor/bachelorette yourself AND the executive producer of the show. You choose the guest list. You control the proceedings. And you get the credit, along with reciprocal invites from attendees.

This lets everyone know that:

  1. You’re a connector worth keeping in their circle.
  2. You’re a proactive person who doesn’t wait for excitement to happen to them.

Whether or not you think you’re that type of person is irrelevant. Your actions define you, not your thoughts.

Every action you take is a vote for the type of person you wish to become.

James Clear

Too Introverted to Be a Connector?

Saying, “I don’t want to host because I’m too introverted,” is akin to saying, “I don’t want to work out because I take longer to get fit than most people.”

The personality trait of introversion has nothing to do with being proactive or not. Sure, highly introverted people don’t get as much positive energy from social events as highly extroverted people. And “feeling is for doing,” so that gives you less incentive to host. But you can overcome that and experience major long-term benefits.

See these posts for more help with this:

Me explaining the process for the blind taste test we hosted in Medellin to meet new people there.
Hosting a Colombian cheese blind taste test to make friends in Medellin.

Invite People Over

When hosting, keep the philialistic paradox in mind. Imagine you’re being invited to someone’s place for a gathering:

What would you hope for?

In my case:

  • A smaller group of six to eight people.
  • A mix of familiar faces and new ones.
  • A host who takes charge to moderate and connect everyone.
  • Structured conversation.
  • A predefined end time.

This isn’t that hard to pull together! It just takes leadership.

Here are some ideas for types of gathering to organize:

  • Blind taste tests. Do a famous food or drink from your new city. For example, in Medellin, we blind taste-tested coffee, cheese, and aguardiente. In Vancouver, we taste-tested California rolls, which were invented there.
  • 2-Hour Cocktail Parties. A guy named Nick Gray wrote a book on the formula he’d perfected over hundreds of trials. We tried it out, and my wife Kim wrote a post about it.
  • Second Degree Dinners. Invite a couple of people and ask each to bring along someone new.
  • Priya Parker Dinner Parties. A five-step formula we distilled from Parker’s book, The Art of Gathering.

The bonus of following any of the above suggestions is that you can tell your guests, “Hey, someone told me this type of gathering is fun, so I’m gonna try. Wanna come?” This gives you an excuse to organize and someone else to blame for anything that goes wrong.

All the people we can now borrow flour from.

Bonus Suggestion

Host a neighbor housewarming as soon as you’ve unpacked your boxes in your new home.

Better yet, plan it before you’ve unpacked to give yourself a deadline for making your place comfortable enough for guests.

Kim and I have hosted a couple of these neighbor parties. In Cape Town, we made a couple of friends from it. In Vancouver, none of our neighbors were our type. And in both cases it made our new apartments feel more like homes.

Extra tip: Hand out name tags to avoid the awkwardness of forgetting someone’s name. Then take a group photo to refer back to when you forget.

Organize Activities

Ask yourself:

What kind of activity would you want to go to, as a person hoping to make new friends?

Then plan it.

I prefer moderately challenging activities like hikes, frisbee golf, outdoor workouts, escape rooms, courses, or eating spicy food over casual activities like going drinking, watching sports, or hanging out at the beach. Challenges filter out unadventurous folk I don’t care to befriend, reveal more of people’s true nature, give me more to talk about, and create a sense of solidarity.

Going for a walk with a potential friend on a small leap, both of us with babies strapped to us.
“Hey man. You wanna go walk our babies together?”

3. Make Small Leaps

Just like in The Bachelor, the next step after group get-to-know-each-others is to do one-on-ones. I like the term “small leap” David from Raptitude uses in his post on how to make friends as an adult.

Small leaps are first dates for friends, low-investment activities where you can feel each other out:

Can’t you skip the group gathering efforts and jump straight to small leaps?

Yeah.

For instance, I met a guy named Chris at a Meetup not long after moving to Cape Town. He was getting into blogging, so I invited him to lunch to talk about it and share my experience. This got the ball rolling on our friendship.

But I generally don’t recommend it.

Better to include a gathering in between to avoid scaring someone off by being too forward, broaden your pool of candidates, and better asses who’s worth making small leaps toward.

Personal user manual example

Unusual Friendship-Facilitating Addition

If you’re as peculiar as me, make yourself a personal user manual and send it to the people you make small leaps toward. Their reaction will tell you a lot about them. And it’ll give them lots to talk about when you meet.

Here’s my manual, plus tips: Personal User Manuals: Good Examples and Tips for Making Yours

4. Stay Socially Proactive

Treat your social circles like a successful company treats recruiting.

Even if you successfully saturate your social life with friends, continue working on your pipeline to keep your pool of candidates full.

It feels good to help people find new friends. Gatherings and small leaps keep life from getting stale. And it always helps to have a broad network.

Plus, you never know when you’ll be moving to a new city again. Maybe someone you connected with might be able to connect you with friend material in your next new city.

Recap

To make friends in a new city:

  1. Start by collecting leads.
  2. Invite those leads to gatherings to help them meet other people.
  3. Make small leaps toward people you want to befriend.
  4. Stay proactive.

For settling into your new city, check this out:

And if you want to keep pumping your social skill muscles, consider these posts:

About the author

👋 I'm Chris. Everything you read on TheZag.com is my fault. This site is like a gym for your comfort zone, full of challenges to make your status quo sexier. Join my 'Consider This' newsletter for a fun new challenge every 10 days. Try it!

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