I’ve been living in the “adult world” for all of five years now, if you don’t count college (you shouldn’t), and I can attest that one of the most commonly asked questions by people over the age of 22 is, “Why is it so hard to make friends as an adult?”
When you step off your college campus and into reality, you’re instantly weighed down by student loan debt, paralyzing anxiety, and the thing no one warns you about – loneliness.
Moving to a new city where you know no one is what I always imagined starting a new school would feel like. With school, though, you see the same people every day in the same environment. Moving to Portland was different – it’s the biggest place I’ve ever lived, and there was no community to naturally fall into and join. I realized meeting people and finding a sense of belonging would take some serious effort on my part.
I wish I could tell you I put myself out there and went to networking events and made plans with people I met while volunteering. Instead, I spent my time bingeing “Gilmore Girls” for the 12th time while eating $1 pasta in bed. I know that paints a really sad image, but making new friends has always made me nervous.
I made the bulk of my friends between the ages of 5 and 8, and they are still some of my very best friends. Starting middle school and then high school added a lot more peers to my life, but not many new friends. College, unfortunately, brought more of the same. I can count my college friends on one hand, including the ones from whom I’ve drifted apart.
When I got to Portland and realized how alone I was, I took a chance and reached out to a woman from South Portland who’d been on the college newspaper with me. She’d only joined our senior year and we barely knew each other, but she always seemed fun, so fueled by loneliness and cheap pasta, I asked her on a friend date.
I expected it to be awkward as hell, but the universe proved me wrong. Now 5 1/2 years later, she’s one of my best friends. The pieces continued to come together when she introduced me to her lifelong friend, and one of my college friends moved here. The four of us became the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants. (Not really. But if we were, I’d 1,000 percent be Lena.)
As fate would have it, though, they’ve all moved away. Getting together as a group now requires months of planning. So, when the new year came and I started thinking of all the ways I could magically transform myself into a perfect human, I set a goal I’m determined to keep. I wrote it down on cute paper and stuck it above my desk, so it might as well be a legally binding document: I want to find my place in Portland. I want to develop stronger friendships and find a community where I truly belong.
I know this is easier said than done, but fortunately I’m not the only one thinking this way.
A year and a half ago I made a friend online (thank God for networking newsletters) who had just moved to Portland, and I swear, if we weren’t friends, I’d hire her to be my life coach. Anyway, we were getting coffee a couple weeks ago when she asked if I’d be interested in monthly get togethers with her and some other young women who were new to the Portland area.
A tear may have come to my eye as I affirmed that, yes, I would very much like that.
When I found myself in my friend’s apartment drinking red wine with four strangers, I had to keep reminding myself to be myself. I didn’t want to be that over-eager person who laughed at everything. If I was going to make new friends, I wanted them to actually know who I am, which I’ve learned requires taking down some walls and actually letting people in. I left that night excited to see these women again next month.
Trusting that people will actually like me for me has been a struggle. But when I think about the friends I’ve had for 20 years, I realize they know me better than most people and have chosen to stick around. And as for the women I met the other night? Well, I warned them about this column, so if they read this and still want to hang out, I think I’ll be fine.
Kate Gardner is a Portland-based freelance writer whose work has appeared in The Washington Post, Teen Vogue, SELF, and Bustle. You can follow her on Twitter @katevgardner.