Four times. Four different times in my life I moved to a new town on my own. College, law school, and my first two jobs. And I struggled the first three times because making friends is hard to do.
I’ve posted before about ‘failing’ at Campus Life 101 when I barely left my room for the entire first semester. I did better at leaving my apartment when I got to law school and my colleagues in Abilene where I moved for my first job were warm and welcoming, but I was still lonely. It wasn’t until my fourth move that I seemed to have learned how to be on my own.
At the start of each new semester, I hear about students who are lonely and struggling with the fact that they haven’t found new friends. I hear about, sometimes from, their parents who are worried and trying to ‘fix’ things. The parents encourage their students to join a group, but the student doesn’t get selected for membership. Then the parents try to find someone else who can help their children by inviting them to one event or another. It’s all very well-meant and it’s heartbreaking when your child is hurting, but it’s not something that can be fixed by joining a group, or having someone to eat with or go to a football game with though those things help.
When I moved to Abilene and I was lonely, my mom kept encouraging me to join a church. We weren’t really a church-going family, but she thought it would be an easy way to meet people outside of work. A couple of days after that conversation, she called me back to say, ‘I realized after we talked that I’ve never done what you’re doing (meaning moving to a new town completely on my own) and maybe I shouldn’t tell you what’s easy to do.’ I have always appreciated that phone call. I appreciated that my mom realized that this really was a difficult thing to do and her acknowledgement that it was easy to say get out and meet people, but not so easy to find friends and a place in a new community.
The reality is that making friends takes time. Even finding people who are interested in similar activities takes time. Learning to be okay on one’s own takes time. One of the advantages to college is that it is a time to experience this challenge in an environment full of people who are working on the same lessons. It’s not easy to make friends in college, but it’s even more challenging when taking a job in a new town. It wasn’t until I made a fourth move that it felt okay to be alone. And even then, sometimes it was lonely, but by then I knew I could survive being on my own, I could survive being lonely.
If you are working with someone who is lonely or homesick, it’s a bit like talking to someone who has the flu, you can’t make it go away or make them feel better, they just have to live through it. We each have to develop our skills at being alone and being on our own and it just takes time.
I’ll end with two quotes that suggest pathways through to the other side of being alone until you find your friends, your new community.
If you go looking for a friend, you’re going to find they’re very scarce. If you go out to be a friend, you’ll find them everywhere. Zig Ziglar
Learn to be alone and to like it. There is nothing more freeing and empowering than learning to like your own company. Mandy Hale
One last thought, if it gets too hard, don’t be afraid to ask for help, from family, from old friends, from a counselor. If you are in college, know that you are surrounded by people who are working on the same lesson, whether they admit it or not. If you are out in the world, remember that you’ve probably worked on this lesson before and apply what you’ve learned to your new situation. But most of all, remember it’s normal and finding your place takes time.