Making friends in a new town is no easy task, especially as an adult. When you’re in school, it’s much easier – you have a dorm full of built in friends, or everyone is taking the same intro classes, and so the work is practically done for you. Even in my first few jobs, it was pretty obvious how to make friends – everyone was “entry level,” which was code for (1) young and (2) new to DC, so again, my friend group was almost settled before I even started. But, as a “real” adult, it’s not quite as obvious.
Shortly after moving to town, the cultural attaché set the hubs and me up on a double-date with old friends of hers. We’d met them once before very briefly at a concert, and in the warm, fuzzy haze of alcohol, it seemed like we might have a lot in common. Numbers were exchanged and a time to meet for drinks was set. I’ve watched enough romantic comedies and Millionaire Matchmaker over the years to know that an invitation to drinks without a promise of dinner is code for “I’m not really sure this is going to work, so let’s start with something very low commitment, and if I suggest dinner, then you know it’s going well.” The appointed day and time arrived and the hubs and I nervously fussed with our outfits and tried to arrive on time, but, God forbid, not early. We were generally on our best behavior – exuding charm and telling stories to flatter the other. But…there was no suggestion for dinner. Still interested in a second “date,” I sent a casual follow-up email a few days later (hoping to achieve a breezy tone) to say we’d enjoyed drinks and let’s do it again sometime. Crickets. Radio silence. That hint I think we can all interpret no matter how long it has been since we were on the dating scene. So, we did what any girl does after a first date (I can’t speak for the guys) and went to the game tape – analyzing in excruciating detail each bit of the evening to see where we’d gone wrong –what signs we’d missed – all the while wondering why they hadn’t called or texted. All in all, it was pretty neurotic behavior and I’m not proud, but at this point, we really didn’t have any friends in town.
So we went back to the drawing board…. “How did I make friends in school??” Ah ha! Join a club! That’s solid advice that I’d give anyone. We did a bit of research, found a few organizations that fit with our interests, and attended their meetings. Here’s a secret bonus of joining clubs as an adult: most of the “meetings” take place at happy hour. At first this seemed to be going really well – we had built-in topics of conversation, plenty of shared experiences, and future events (ahem, happy hours) on the horizon. So again, cards and phone numbers were exchanged, breezy follow-up emails were sent, and at first…crickets. But, eventually, the emails started flowing in, just maybe not quite in the manner that we’d anticipated. We were now on email distribution lists and the only personal emails we received were requests for volunteer work. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all about civic engagement, but you know, maybe buy a girl dinner first…or at least try to hide the ulterior motive in such outwardly friendly demeanor and save the “ask” for the third “date.”
Not to worry though – we’d been “slow-playing it” with the infamous neighbors of the gift basket, by which I mean we’d begun subtly stalking them – sending notes, making a point to say hi, trying to get their digits – all standard tactics. I was certain that their gesture had been more than just neighborly – that it had been a tacit invitation to friendship. After the requisite texts and waves in the parking lot, we managed to settle on a time for dinner (already it was off to a better start – as this was a “real date,” not just the “let’s have drinks and see about dinner date”). The conversation, along with the wine, flowed freely. We had a startling amount in common – enough shared interests for many future dinner conversations – and except for that first moment of held breath when you knock on the door and wait for someone to answer, there wasn’t an awkward or tense moment the entire evening. Dinner led to more drinks and before we knew it, it was after midnight. This time, the next-day game tape analysis was much easier. Practically giddy with a heady combination, of relief, excitement, and a mild hangover, we were sure that the feelings had been mutual, and that we’d hit the friend jackpot. Months later, these are still our best friends in Frederick – I guess when it’s right, you just know.
Over the weekend, we ran into the couple of the first failed “date” while at a BBQ and it was just as awkward as you might imagine. In a group of only about 15 people, we managed to avoid each other almost the entire time and I was pretty pleased with our façade of coolness. On the way home, the hubs turned to me and said, “Can you believe them?! Just acting like nothing ever happened!”
“Well,” I replied, “when you think about it, nothing really did happen. We had one date, it didn’t really work out, and we’ve each moved on since then. It’s not like we had some torrid affair that they won’t publicly acknowledge.” ….
“Yeah,” he sighed, with a dejected tone, “I guess you’re right.”
But still, I understood where he was coming from. Even when it’s not meant to be and you have much better friends now, rejection stings, and it’s no lie: making friends is hard to do.