Moving to a new city isn’t easy. Though it’s exciting, it’s intimidating as well. Not only do you deal with unfamiliar surroundings, but your social life hits the reset button, too.
Rob Lawless knows what it’s like to start from scratch somewhere new. A couple years ago, he made a temporary move from Philadelphia to Los Angeles, and lived there for three months. When he settled in LA, he knew only one person – an old college buddy from Penn State.
But even though Rob’s social life faced a total reboot, starting over in this new city didn’t phase him. That’s because Rob already had plenty of practice under his belt in the art of making new friends.
In 2015, Rob embarked on an ambitious project rooted in the spirit of human connection. He began a mission to meet 10,000 people, one-on-one, for an hour each. What started as a side project has morphed into a full-time quest. So far, he’s a little more than a quarter of the way through to his goal.
“Going from (Penn State), a place where I felt very familiar with the people around me, to the real world where I just felt like I knew no one, I think was a hard transition,” Rob says. “This project was kind of born out of my desire to recapture that kind of community. But, also my desire to not sit at an office for the next 30 years of my life. I always point to those two things as the reason why I started this.”
If you’ve moved to a new city, you don’t need a mission like Rob’s to make friends. But, there are a few important lessons he’s learned that can help you along the way.
How Meeting New People Can Change You for the Better
Human beings are social animals. Despite our individual urges, we still also seek communal experiences. That’s why there’s more positive than negative that comes as a result of meeting new people.
Below are three core benefits that Rob’s discovered about making new friends.
A Wider Perspective on Life
So often these days, we talk about our differences rather than our similarities. When you make the effort to meet someone new, you’ll learn that you have more in common with others than you realize.
For example, Rob has found that the subject of anxiety often gets brought up during his hangouts. Because he’s had hundreds of conversations about the topic, he no longer associates shame when he has it himself.
“I don’t have anxiety much,” Rob says. “I’ll get it sometimes, but I’ve talked about it with so many people, that to me, it’s such a common thing. Now, I never feel like there’s anything wrong with me (if I have it). Whereas before when I would feel it, I would think that I was only person in the world feeling that way. And that there was something wrong with what I was doing and how I was living.”
Improved Communication Skills
Making new friends will change how you communicate. You’ll become a better storyteller as a result. Through meeting new people, Rob has learned how to share his own story in a fascinating yet concise way. His project has taught him how to distill the important from the irrelevant.
You’ll also gain confidence in your capacity to hold conversations with anyone. These days, Rob has little problem getting past small talk. The hours he’s invested making new friends has improved his ability to relate with others.
New Relationships That Lead to New Opportunities
It’s not what you know, but whom you know.
By expanding your social circle, you’ll develop a network that could help you long term. For example, say you’re looking for a new job. That new friend you make might have an inside tip on an opportunity that could change your life.
Making new friends also increases your feeling of community in your new city. For Rob, roaming around Philadelphia and Los Angeles feels more communal now. There’s always a chance he’ll run into someone he knows when he’s out and about.
What You Should Expect Before Making New Friends
Your beliefs about socializing will influence your experience. Thus, it’s important to set reasonable expectations beforehand. Here’s some advice from Rob on how to approach the process.
Know That Some People Will Cancel Last Minute
These days, Rob doesn’t have much trouble getting publicity for his project. He’s built a big following on Instagram, and doesn’t need much outreach to plan new meetings. But despite all his momentum, some people don’t show for scheduled meetups.
When making new friends, Rob suggests baking in the expectation that this will happen to you. Don’t take it personal if someone flakes. It’s not productive to think someone’s cancellation has something to do with you. In doing so, you’ll feel less affected when it occurs.
“You need to control the controllables,” Rob says. “And someone cancelling on you last minute is not something you can control. You shouldn’t feel guilty about not meeting at that particular time.”
There’s unlimited upside to meeting new people. But at the same time, nothing might happen as well. Rob suggests not getting discouraged or excited with what follows. Remember to be present instead.
When Rob meets someone new, he doesn’t think much about what he might get out of of it. The chance to hang out is his only measure of success. He encourages everyone to remember that being in the company of others is enough.
Seek to Understand Before Being Understood
Through his project, Rob has made many friends across a diverse spectrum. Some have had different spiritual beliefs, while others have had different political views.
But regardless of what they believe, Rob gets along with most everyone he meets. He credits this to his practice of empathy.
Being empathetic with someone doesn’t mean you have to agree with them. What it does mean is that you keep listening. Be interested in the experiences that shaped someone into the person they’ve become. Rob encourages everyone to practice a willingness to learn rather than preach.
“Be a consumer of opinions rather than a provider,” Rob says.
Embrace Your Vulnerability
One of hardest parts about making new friends is getting past small talk. Oftentimes, we get stuck in a holding pattern where we’re discussing nothing of substance.
But according to Rob, the best way to break through that is by embracing vulnerability. Be willing to share stories about yourself that might seem uncomfortable. Don’t wait for the other person to take the leap, either. Rob has found it’s imperative to make the first move yourself.
“I believe vulnerability is important in building connections with others because it creates trust between each person,” Rob says. “And I think that trust is necessary for the foundation of a bond to be formed. When people are vulnerable with each other, they become more comfortable with sharing their past experiences without any fear of judgment.”
In doing so, you’ll find that vulnerability breeds vulnerability. By opening up, that other person may return the favor.
Making friends in a new city brings jitters and rattles nerves. But, Rob has found that this is normal, and you shouldn’t feel ashamed about it. Acknowledge the feeling rather than suppressing it, and trust that things will improve.
The more people you meet, the better you’ll become at handling awkwardness. From Rob’s experience, he’s found that it takes practice to figure out what’s comfortable. When you do, you can double down on tactics that work.
“It’s a matter of doing it, but not expecting to be perfect at it the first time because I think that’s discouraging,” Rob says. “I think that if you build in that expectation of awkwardness until you feel more comfortable, you lift a little bit of the pressure off of yourself.”
Listen With Curiosity
When I first met Rob, I noticed that he listened much more than he spoke. He never tried to force the conversation. Instead, he let me carry most of it.
Rob credits his affinity for listening with being a “reserved extrovert.” He hasn’t had trouble being sociable most of his life. But rather than taking command of a conversation, he observes it before chiming in.
“I tend to try to speak only when I think it’s valuable,” Rob says.
Genuine curiosity enhances Rob’s ability to listen. Most of our discomfort when we meet someone new stems from the fear of running out of things to say. But armed with a desire to learn, you’ll find that the conversation will often take care of itself.
“I’ve always just been in awe of other people, and it’s cool to see how much depth humans have to their lives,” Rob says.
Ways to Meet New People
Now that we’ve established the rules of engagement, it’s time to put them in practice. If you don’t know where to start, this might seem overwhelming. But, there are some specific solutions Rob recommends you focus on.
Friends of Friends
Even if you’re moving to a brand new city, don’t discount your existing network. Someone you already know might have a friend in the city where you’re moving.
For Rob, some of his most unexpected friendships came from warm introductions. When he first moved to LA, Rob tapped into his social circle in Philadelphia for connections. He had met quite a few people who had either lived in California before or had friends there.
Rob’s Philly friends were more than happy to connect him once he settled. In fact, one connection led to increased awareness around his project. Rob met Rozette Rago, a staff writer at TimeOut LA, thanks to Dave Rosenblum, friend No. 210. Rozette became friend No. 1,062 and wrote a story about Rob that kickstarted momentum for his project in LA.
These days, we spend more time engaging with others online than in person. But, you can make a mindful choice to do the opposite. Here’s how Rob uses a few popular applications to enhance his offline social network.
- Instagram: Besides chronicling friends’ stories, Rob uses Instagram for finding people to meet. He’s had no reservations about direct messaging interesting people out of the blue. Some might find it awkward or intrusive to do so, but Rob doesn’t. He’s not offended either if he doesn’t receive a response. Rob’s also found people on Instagram who want to interact offline, too. A few of his friendships came through connecting with Philadelphia’s photography community.
- Reddit: Rob has also turned to Reddit to make new friends. When he first arrived in LA, he invited members of its subreddit to connect, and met around 20 people as a result. Rob also noticed that the LA subreddit organized in-person meetups. If you’re an active Reddit user, look for the subreddit of your new city and see if it has any similar events. If it doesn’t, then consider organizing one yourself.
- Email: Like Instagram, Rob sometimes reaches out to people through cold emails. When he first started his project, he’d Google search artists in Philadelphia. He’d email artists whose work he found most fascinating about meeting. What do you have to lose by doing the same? The worst that might happen is someone says no or doesn’t respond.
- Shapr: Like LinkedIn, this app caters more toward professionals. But, Rob sees no harm in trying it. In September 2018, Rob partnered with Shapr and met 20 new people for his project.
Why Rob Doesn’t Use Dating Apps to Find Friends
Rob passes on Tinder, Hinge, or Bumble Date to meet new people. He stays away because he believes most people on them are seeking more than friendship.
“I have not used those to do platonic hangouts because I feel like their nature is such that they’re there for dating,” Rob says.
Though he doesn’t use them, Rob won’t discourage you from trying. He knows plenty of people who’ve had success finding new friends through dating apps.
Activities and Hobbies
Long before Rob began his project, he met people the old-fashioned way – through his interests.
Rob has played soccer throughout his life, and he’s used his love of the game to build relationships. Playing in recreational leagues is one way he’d find new friends.
Rob believes shared hobbies is a better way to meet new people than barhopping. Nightlife can be fun, but it’s harder to connect with someone you might not remember tomorrow.
Take a moment to examine what you enjoy doing in your free time. You might discover that those activities lead you to new connections.
How to Keep in Touch With New Friends
When it comes to maintaining new friendships, Rob keeps it simple. He roots his approach in being proactive.
To stay in touch with new friends, Rob believes it’s important to follow up. Don’t play the waiting game, expecting others to engage. “Control the controllables”, as he suggests, and take the lead in maintaining contact.
But at the same time, be mindful of how you reach out. Often the line between reasonable and excessive follow-up is blurry. If you pay close attention to the feedback you receive, you’ll have a better idea when you’ve crossed it.
There’s a subtle balance about following up you’ll have to discover for yourself. And it won’t be the same for every person you meet. Detaching good or bad emotions to the kind of feedback you receive can bring you peace of mind.
Rebuilding your social circle from scratch in a brand new city isn’t easy. But if you practice patience, the task won’t seem too tall.
Time is one of the most important ingredients for any kind of relationship. Invest in others and you’ll reap the rewards. The greatest friendships are always worth the wait.