I recently move to Asheville, North Carolina after living in Atlanta for most of my life.
When you live in one city for a long time, you establish a lot of friends and acquaintances. I had friends in Atlanta that I'd known since high school, and others I've known for twenty or more years.
You take for granted how effortless friendships are that have so much time and history. You know one another really well, you know what to expect from each other, and even if you don't see your friends every day, you know they are there for you.
Even my new-ish friends in Atlanta had some connection to my long history in the city. In addition to a circle of really close friends, I had an extended group of neighbors, work associates, parents of my kids' friends, and service providers (hairdresser, grocery clerks, etc.) with whom I connected on a regular basis.
You don't realize how these concentric circles of people in your life create a familiarity that feels safe and comforting. They are the mesh netting that holds life in place and gives you a sense of belonging.
I knew before I moved to Asheville that I would miss my friendships, but the excitement of a new adventure to a cool, new city quelled my concerns. The first six months felt like an extended vacation, but as winter set in and the novelty wore off, I began to miss my friends in earnest.
The last time I had to extend myself in the friendship department was nearly 30 years ago when I spent a couple of years in New York City. When you're in your twenties, meeting new people doesn't seem so daunting. I had a full-time corporate job in big city, and there were plenty of opportunities and fun places to meet new people.
But now I work from home in a small town, and I'm past the point of hanging out at clubs or bars to find friends. I've had to stretch myself to find a new tribe of people in my new home town.
Finding new friends isn't always easy and comfortable. Sometimes, as much as you want to have friendships, you'd just rather curl up with a book than attend some social gathering or meet-up with a group of strangers. Especially for introverts, it takes a lot of emotional energy to put yourself out there.
But you can't belly up and remain a hermit forever. You have to find a way to connect with people.
Here are 30 painless ways to meet new people and develop friendships:
1. Take a hike.
This is how Ron and I met our new best buddies here in Asheville. There are tons of beautiful hikes nearby, and we spotted a couple on the path of one long hike who were sociable and about our age.
When you're on the trail with someone, it's easy to strike up an authentic conversation without the distractions of daily life. When you're surrounded by the beauty of nature, it inspires connection.
If you enjoy hiking, meeting someone on a trail means you've found a friend who shares your passion for the great outdoors. That's one point in their favor already. Just remember, before you go your separate ways to suggest getting together again.
2. Get involved in a sport or activity club.
If you don't meet someone on the trail by yourself, join a hiking club where you hike with others. If hiking isn't your thing, you can join a running or biking group, a softball team, or a tennis league.
Find a group who shares a physical activity you enjoy and become a regular. Strike up conversations with other members and suggest meeting for coffee, wine, or beer after an event or meeting.
If you love books, a book club is a wonderful way to meet new people with a similar interest. You can find book clubs through your local book store, online, or through Meetup.com.
It's taken me a few tries with different book clubs before I found the right “fit” with a group who shares my taste in books and socializing. If you don't find the right fit for you, start your own club and invite other members to join.
There are so many fun opportunities for volunteering with large groups of people where you might find your tribe.
Volunteer in areas that are meaningful and interesting to you. You can volunteer as a coach, for a cultural event, or for a local art show.
If you're not sure what the volunteer opportunities are in your hometown, check out VolunteerMatch.org, Idealist.org, and HandsOn Network to match you with an organization who would love to have a little of your time and energy.
5. Join a MeetUp.
Whatever kind of group activity interests you, you'll find it at MeetUp.com. Scroll through the various events in your city to find something that lights your fire, or type in your interest and see what's available.
I've found book clubs, networking groups, and social groups through MeetUp.
6. Talk to your neighbors.
Sometimes the people we're looking for are in our own back yards. Have you reached out to your neighbors lately?
If you see your neighbor working in the yard, walk over and offer to help. Or make a little extra soup or an extra dozen cookies and walk them to the family down the street.
By extending yourself just a little, you might meet some wonderful new friends within a short walk of your home.
7. Strike up conversations.
Wherever you happen to be — in line at the post office, at the grocery store, or at a concert, start a conversation with someone around you.
Have a few conversation starters handy so you always have something to say to kick off a conversation.
Yes, this might be uncomfortable at first, but if the other person is friendly and responsive, it might be the beginning of an interesting connection.
8. Walk your dog.
Ron and I have a beautiful white collie named Scotch. He's unusual because he's white (collies are usually black and tan), and he really is a handsome guy. When we take him on a walk, we get stopped by nearly everyone we pass.
Taking your dog for a walk gives people a reason to stop and talk to you. Other dogs will be naturally curious and drag their owners over to say hello (in doggie language).
If there's a dog park in your community, take a ball or frisbee and have an outing with your pet. The odds are good you'll meet a fellow dog lover.
9. Sit at community tables.
Find restaurants that have community dinner tables or bar tables. Rather than isolating yourself at a two-top, sit at the community table and get to know the people seated nearby.
10. Reach out on Facebook or other social media.
When I first moved to Asheville, I looked on Facebook for other Ashevillians. I reached out to a few and have met up for coffee. Through Facebook, you may discover some old friends or acquaintances that you didn't know lived nearby.
11. Host a party.
Host your own casual dinner party or open house and invite your neighbors, people from work, or acquaintances you've bumped into along the way.
Invite them to bring a friend along so you expand your potential circle of new connections. You don't have to do anything elaborate. Make a pot of soup or order a few pizzas. The point is to simply bring people together and expand your circles.
12. Find a business association.
Are there groups or associations related to your career? Research local business events and attend them so you can network professionally and personally.
13. Go to a cultural event.
Become an annual member of the symphony, local theater, or ballet. Attend the performances as well as the fundraising and member events. Strike up conversations with other attendees who are there because they appreciate the arts just like you.
If you prefer visual art, visit your local galleries, talk with the owners or managers, and discuss the art with other guests.
14. Join the gym.
One of the best ways to meet people is in a class at the gym. But if classes aren't your thing, spend time in the weight room when it's busy so you can converse with other gym rats.
If there's a cafe or juice bar at your gym, hang out for a bit after your workout and connect with other members.
15. Ask for introductions.
If you have a couple of friends or acquaintances who have a larger circle of friends, ask them to introduce you to new people. If you've moved to a new city like I have, maybe your existing friends know people in your new city. Ask them to make an email connection and then follow up yourself to suggest a get-together.
16. Participate in Toastmasters or another speaking club.
Public speaking isn't fun for most people, but when you're thrown in a setting where everyone shares the same fears and learning curve, it can quickly break the ice.
Speaking clubs not only give you the confidence to make presentations, but they also give you the chance to meet a variety of new and interesting people.
17. Go on a wine or beer tour.
I live in a city with dozens of local breweries, and brew tours are common occurrences here. If you have wineries nearby or even restaurants that offer wine tastings, join in the fun and meet other connoisseurs. Beer, wine, and socializing always seem to pair well together.
18. Take a dance class.
Ballroom dancing is a great way to get up close and personal with potential new friends or romantic partners. But you don't have to stick with ballroom dance.
Take a jazz class, Zumba, or Salsa dancing. It's great exercise, and you'll meet fun people who enjoy kicking up their heels.
19. Find a church or religious community.
If you're a spiritual person or have a strong faith, your church, synagogue or other religious community is the perfect place to meet supportive, likeminded friends.
20. Go to seminars, book signings, or speaking events.
Look in your local community guide to see what happenings and events are coming up in your area. Attend some of these events and try to sit next to someone who might be looking for a new friend too.
21. Hang out at a jazz or music club.
Do you enjoy jazz or some other music genre that works well in a smaller venue and allows for conversation?
Find a cool, low key club where you can listen to great music and start up an interesting conversation.
22. Take your book or computer to a coffee house.
When I start to feel house-bound working from home, I go to a local Starbucks or indie coffee house to work.
It's easy to keep your head down in your computer or book, but look up every now and then and survey the landscape.
Strike up a conversation with the person at the table next to you. You never know who you might meet.
23. Hang out at the local museum.
Get thee to a museum!
Do you like art? Natural history? Science? Most cities have one or several museums devoted to something that interests you.
You'll have no shortage of things to talk about if you chat it up with another museum-goer.
24. Take an art class (or any class).
Taking a class automatically throws you into a group of likeminded people.
Try to enroll in a more hands-on class rather than a lecture course, which will allow you to talk with other students. Some kind of art class generally allows for more conversation.
Make a point to introduce yourself to other students and initiate conversation with those around you.
25. Join the board of a charity.
Do you have a cause that's particularly meaningful to you? If so, get really involved by becoming a board member or key player for the organization.
As a leader/decision-maker in the non-profit world, you'll be exposed to a variety of interesting people who support your cause.
26. Get a part-time job working with people you like.
If you work from home or in an environment that isn't conducive to meeting new people, then consider a part-time job working in a more social environment.
Working just a few hours a week as a host/hostess at a restaurant, in a coffee shop, or as a bartender will give you the chance to meet hundreds of the different people.
27. Eat dinner at the bar of your favorite restaurant.
It can be intimidating to go to a restaurant by yourself, but try dining out and sitting at the bar instead. Chat up the bartender (if he/she isn't too busy) and make conversation with the people around you.
Whatever you do, don't put your head in a book or your iPhone. Try to appear approachable and friendly.
28. Visit your local farmer's market.
Farmer's markets are so much fun, especially if you enjoy cooking and healthy eating. If you do, you'll find plenty of other people who share your food values, so make a morning of it.
Talk to the farmer's, ask questions, and invite conversation with other shoppers. These events often have a festive, sociable atmosphere, so make the most of it.
29. Join sites for women to meet new women friends.
If you are a woman, and you haven't met your soulmate friend yet, maybe it's time to take some serious action.
There are new sites online similar to the Match.com concept — but rather than matching romantic partners, they match potential friends. (I haven't run across any sites like this for men, so sorry guys!)
30. Accept invitations.
If you want to meet new people, don't turn down invitations to social events.
Even if you think the event might not be your thing, take a chance and go anyway. You never know who you'll meet or what connections you might make.
You can always leave if you're having a bad time, but if you don't go — you'll never know!
As you practice some of these ideas for meeting new people, remember that you'll have to push through some discomfort as you put yourself out there.
You'll need to step up and introduce yourself, initiate a conversation, or suggest meeting up, and even so, it may take some time to discover your tribe of new friends who feel comfortable and supportive.
You can't develop a friendship with someone unless you go through the “developing” stage, which can be a little stiff and awkward at first. Building trust, closeness, and camaraderie will be a work in progress, but that doesn't mean you can't enjoy a great social life in the meantime.
The more you put yourself in social settings, the better the odds are that you'll meet interesting, fun new people who will improve your life, even if they don't ultimately become your best friends.