The scariest thing about moving to Chester at twenty-nine wasn’t navigating the local transport system, it wasn’t the possibility of not being able to replace my cherished Fulham wine and cheese bar. It wasn’t even my new status as a full-time homeworker. Truth is, the scariest thing was that for the first time in my life, I had no friends.
Okay sure, I’d moved with my husband. And yes, I’m not forgetting the good ones I’d already managed to make, scattered across the UK. I’m talking about the kind that are a short drive away, ready to flick the kettle on at a moment’s notice. The impromptu Sunday lunch ones. The ‘get a bottle in the fridge this day’s been horrific’ ones.
I didn’t want to start again. I had enough friends, they just didn’t happen to live anywhere near me. And they were all organic, easy friendships, with people who I couldn’t remember any early day awkwardness with. Worse still, I had no natural avenues for gaining new friends. I wasn’t starting a new job, but continuing in my old one, at home, without a colleague in sight. I wasn’t in education anymore, nor embarking on a new qualification. And I wasn’t moving in with strangers. So I waved goodbye to the usual routes. Then I become a bit of a social hermit. But as the weeks rolled into months, and I hadn’t managed to become accidental besties with anyone, I decided to bite the contrived bullet.
There was only one thing for it, an uncomfortable reality, I was going to have to try to get new mates. It was going to require planning, and effort and initially, a considerable volume of small talk.
I joined the MeetUp group ‘Young Professionals in Chester’, picked an event, and quickly made my first mistake in this new game of friendship dating, I took my husband with me. His presence meant that I took the leap and showed up, but once there, I leapt no further, by which I mean, I stayed very firmly glued to his side. After a few nights of this, I may have strengthened the quality of my marriage, but had made absolutely no progress whatsoever with my wider circle.
Cue mistake number two. When I did finally develop the courage to brave it alone, I assumed that I would get on with almost everyone brilliantly, and we would have loads in common, and pretty soon, I would find myself overdosing on high quality friends. Surprise, surprise, I was wrong. What actually happened was a mix of over-sharing and under-sharing, an overwhelming failure at just being myself, tiny moments of potential bashed to death by inane comments on the weather. At times, I wondered if I’d ever had a real conversation before, so badly was I wielding the English Language.
I missed my friends, my real established friends; the ones that got my sarcasm and joined in; the ones that knew my backstory, my insecurities, my inability to establish control over my gin intake. This felt a lot like hard work. And when was the last time a friendship burst forth from that?
Mistake number 3 – Assuming that the only friends worth having are the ones you love straight away.
After a 18 months in Chester, I now (thanks to MeetUp) have one close friend, and (thanks to putting myself out there) a smattering of people I really like in the city. The age range is unexpected. Some of them are decades older, because, outside of work and education, the most likely reason to be thrown together is a shared interest, and those are rarely age restricted. But I’m glad of that. It’s taught me a lot about what a friendship can look like.
My advice is to be patient (with yourself and your would-be mates). Friendship date nerves are a thing and it might not be friends-at-first-sight. Invite people to activities and events; it’s easier to form a bond distracted than it is over intense face-to-face drinks. Trying new and bizarre things together (even if they don’t work out as planned or you hate it) forms stories. Stories form relationships.
Just like with those well travelled friendships from my youth, stretching from school and early jobs, I can’t pinpoint when exactly it started to feel natural. It’s like trying to remember the exact moment you fall in love with someone, an elusive quest. What matters is that at some point you weren’t looking and it happened. At some point I found myself relaxing, and trusting that the right words would come out, and that magical sign that you really get on appeared, crying with laughter.
The small talk blossomed into genuine conversation. We took the time to get to know one another. We started to care. We played pool, and danced in my kitchen, and walked dogs and confessed a few secrets along the way (not all at the same time). And voila; friendships in adulthood are born. Albeit they can take a little longer to cook than what we’re used to.