What To Do When You Move Away And Don’t Have Any Friends

Making a big life change like moving is exhilarating, but it can also be lonely at first. Paula Lyne offers advice on easing the transition.

Whether you’re moving 50 or 5,000 miles away from home, starting afresh in a new place can be gut-wrenchingly tough. Yes, there’s the promise of new cultures, new places to see, a new job, but there’s also the fact that you’re leaving behind every single thing that’s familiar and comforting in your life.

Jumping right in and thriving when you move somewhere new doesn’t have to be the aim of the game, but it can certainly feel like that. You’ve had the goodbye party (and the goodbye coffees, and the goodbye night out with the work girls, and the final dinner at home), you’ve packed your bags, you’ve said your farewells, and now you’re on your own.

“Before I moved, my biggest fear was failing. I dreaded the thought of coming home without having done anything noteworthy,” recalls Lyndsay McGregor, 29, an Irish writer and editor who moved to New York in 2009 and lived there for seven years. “Looking back now, that was a ridiculous thing to worry about.”

Lyndsay juggled a part-time job with two internships for over a year before landing a staff writer position. Despite her hard graft at work, it was building a social life that proved the biggest challenge for the Kerry native. “My work-life balance was tipped more toward work almost immediately” she says. “I’m a bit of an introvert and mildly paranoid so I’ve always struggled with putting myself out there in social situations.”

Over time, things got easier, but not without some groundwork on Lyndsay’s part. “I was living with my uncle and his family to begin with, and moving out proved to be a game-changer,” she explains. “I started saying yes to every invite for after-work drinks, and drinks eventually turned into non-alcohol-related activities like the cinema or shopping or yoga. The first friend I made in New York is actually one of my best friends today, eight years later.”

Making a conscious decision to focus on the positive is incredibly important when you move somewhere new, as life coach Liz Barron emphasises. “It is all about choosing your attitude,” she says. “If you’re willing to embrace your new location wholeheartedly, dive right in and make social links, that period of initial difficulty will usually pass.”

For project manager Keira Wilson, 27, the toughest part of starting over wasn’t her social skills, but her language skills. After moving to France in 2009 to live with her boyfriend, Keira’s lack of French not only prevented her from finding work, but also from making real and lasting connections with new people.

“My time in France began in a rural town where my job prospects were zero,” she recalls. “I hadn’t even studied French at school and suddenly was surrounded by a town full of people with minimal English. It was definitely total immersion in a new culture. I expected it to be hard, but there were times when I was really, really miserable in the beginning.”

A move to Lyon where there was a bigger Irish community was the catalyst Keira needed to finally feel at home in her new country. “Meeting English-speakers who had been in Lyon for years was a real game-changer, and it was through that group that I finally landed a job in an international organisation with lots of people my age. It was a transformative time,” she says.

We are creatures of habit underneath it all, so don’t beat yourself up if you feel out of sorts in a new location. It’s natural, especially if things aren’t falling into place as you had assumed they would. “Our most fundamental needs are basic food, shelter and security and if we don’t feel that all these things are in place, we can feel unsettled,” explains Liz.

There’s not really a precedent for making friends easily in your adult life once you leave school or college, and I think people can be nervous to put themselves out there in real life

As well as those basic needs, the desire to feel like we belong is a constant motivator, as Elva Carri discovered when she launched Girl Crew in 2014, fresh out of a relationship and bored with her social scene. What started as a personal experiment, using Tinder and Facebook to see if she could find new female friends in Dublin “just to go out for a dance with, really,” soon spiralled into a global network of hundreds of thousands of women.

Girl Crew members can now link into local, city or country-wide Facebook groups in 46 different countries, and sign up for events or arrange their own get-togethers for coffee, drinks or even trips away. “There’s not really a precedent for making friends easily in your adult life once you leave school or college, and I think people can be nervous to put themselves out there in real life,” says Elva of the success of the platform, which she now runs full-time with three others, and which later this year will take most of its admin off Facebook and onto an official app.

“These days there’s such a pressure to do everything at once – exercise, be mindful, be career-minded, eat well – and one of the things that often falls by the wayside is a social life,” she continues. “It’s not that people don’t have time, but maybe when they do have time, nobody else they know is free. Having a big pool of people to call on makes organising social events a lot easier.”

Even if you don’t turn to a network of contacts or fellow expats while settling in to your new home, sometimes just the knowledge that they’re there if you need them is enough. “Tonnes of people gave me contacts, like friends of friends, before I left, but I didn’t end up using most of them,” explains Julie Kavanagh, 29, who moved to Toronto in 2015 with her boyfriend. “It gave me massive peace of mind having those numbers in my back pocket though, because I knew if we got really stuck I’d have someone to call.”

As we move through life, the fear of failing can be almost crippling, and nowhere is that fear more real than when we move somewhere new. If you can embrace those nerves though, and accept them as a natural part of your new beginning, it won’t be long before your new location feels like home.

This article first appeared in the April issue of STELLAR. Our May issue is on shelves now!

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