Yes, the ever-elusive ‘how to make friends in London’ situation. It’s funny when you think about it: it’s one of the few things we actually get worse at as we get older. Since university I’ve watched my circle of friends dwindle1 with no signs of it abating. So, when I started writing this post, my first thought was to write “When you figure it out let me know” and then post a bunch of pictures where I actually just photobombed other human beings to make it seem like I have friends. Kidding on the last part.
I thought long and hard about this “friending IRL” thing. If I think about the friends I had in London, there are two that I didn’t live with or go to university with. Both I met through or as an indirect result of this blog. Both were Canadian expats. None of the friends I had were from London except the ones who were my partner’s friends first. While I would go for happy hour drinks with co-workers, I only saw them twice outside of the office.
On second thought, maybe I’m not the best person to be giving advice about this. After all, I avoid small talk like the plague and my friends in London were neither plentiful nor diverse. So why should you listen to me? I don’t know. You should probably ask yourself why you listen to any of the crap you read on the internet…
Are you ready for some tough love? If you want to make friends in London, you should…
Lose the negative attitude.
“Making friends in London is hard!” It’s a common refrain I’ve heard since living there. Recently in a Facebook group for Canadians in the UK (it’s called, appropriately, Canadians in the UK) someone posted about how much of a challenge she’s had in making friends since living in London. The common response being “Me too” and “Yes, it’s really isolating”. I also learned that the UK is one of the main places for Canadian diplomats to ask to come back early from because of a sense of isolation. Damn.
Look. If you go into a situation expecting to fail then you probably will. The fact is it’s hard to make friends everywhere, pretty much any time after the age of 10. The older we get the more set in our ways we become. We surround ourselves with people who are like us, who confirm our world views. So we get stuck in a bubble of doing, saying, and discussing the same shit with different words in different rooms. It’s not just “big cities” like London, New York, or Toronto where it’s hard to make friends and connect with people. Small towns are probably worse because of the desire to maintain the status quo and a limit to open-mindedness. I digress.
It’s not about the place, it’s about us as humans. And the sooner you realize that, the less pressure you will put on yourself to make friends.
Quit the pity party.
Nobody likes a Negative Nancy. If you walk into every meet-up, coffee date, social event, etc. saying things like “Ugh, it’s just so hard to meet people/make friends in London” you do two things:
1) You make yourself look des-per-ate. And if you’ve ever been out with that guy who calls and texts and emails just to make sure you got the request for another date, you’ll know why this is a turn-off — even in friendly relationship-building.
2) You seem really negative, like you’re knocking the place they’re from/live/love. Maybe the person will agree, perhaps they will be incredulous. But they probably won’t want to hang out with your complain-y ass again.
Do you really want to be that person that got a pity invite to the party? Be fun, be friendly. Talk about things you’re passionate about and what they’re passionate about. If you both share an interest in something, ask them how they participate in it and tell them you would love to join them next time they go.
My favourite question? “What are you looking forward to this year?” Their answer can tell you a lot: what gets them excited, what their hobbies are, and so on. It’s a way better question than asking what they do for a living. Because then they say “I’m an actuary” and you’re like “Oh, so you do make-up on dead bodies?”. You look like an idiot and they have to be reminded that their job is boring as hell.
Speaking of passions…
Do something you love.
I write this all the time, usually in relation to moving abroad for love. When I was in London I frequented a meet-up for French speakers; I took dance classes at the Idea Store, Pineapple Studios, and Morley College; I went to meet-ups for twenty-somethings; I went to life drawing classes in community centres and the basement of bars. There were conferences I went to, travel networking nights, and more. There is no shortage of ‘stuff’ to do to help you make friends in London.
I’m a terrible drawer but I found people at the life drawing classes to be really open and friendly. Some were art students, others were like me — new to London and trying to meet people. People in my dance classes were sometimes older (I usually took in day classes) and the drop-in nature of Pineapple Studios meant the people were quite transient. The twenty-somethings meet-up was actually full of socially awkward individuals, but I had a laugh any ways.
At the very least, I was getting out and getting some human interaction. Join a running or cycling club, go to yoga classes. Hate sports? That’s fine, go to a poetry club or a life drawing class. Just get out there and talk to people.
Just say yes!
If you get an invite to go out, just say yes even if you really don’t want to. When you’re early in the friend courtship phase, going out when invited is crucial. One of those friends I mentioned above told me that she agreed to come to that very awkward twenty-something meet-up even though she was quite sick because she knew that if she turned it down I might not invite her out again. She was probably right. It wouldn’t have been malicious of course, I would have just assumed we didn’t have ‘going to forced-fun events for shits and giggles’ in common and left it at that.
What if you really have to say no? Next time you take the initiative and invite them out. Then you’re evens. But you have to make an effort to maintain budding friendships.
Your roommates will be your friends…
If you live with well-chosen flatmates they will probably end up being your friends. I had two experiences. The first: she and I were cordial, friendly even. But we never became friends. I was just subletting for four months and we were two very different people. The second: it took time but eventually we became friends! We went for drinks together, hung out with each others’ friends, talked about boy problems, got Christmas presents for each other… She even sent me a postcard from France last month!
Don’t underestimate the value of living with other people your age when you first move to London.
The point is, you don’t make friends overnight. So many factors are involved in making friends that you can call up to go for a drink or see a movie with. The biggest are typically shared interests or experiences and chemistry (that is, do you “click”?). The longer you’re out of the educational system, the harder it gets to make new friends. It doesn’t matter whether you’re living abroad or not, it’s just a part of life. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try…and try, you must!
1. Many factors are probably involved here: 1) Maybe a lot of those people weren’t “true” friends anyway; 2) I’ve been away for a long time and never stayed anywhere long enough to make new ones; 3) I’m an asocial arsehole and only a few people will put up with me long enough to be my friend.
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