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How to Meet Friends in a New City

How to Meet Friends in a New City

Kelly and I from a Barbour shoot on the lakefront two years ago. We called these “our engagement photos” 😂 You can see the full post here! 

Hi guys!

Happy Thursday! Today’s blog post is one that I’ve actually been working on all week and I’m really excited about–mostly because I know YOU will be excited about it!

A common question I often receive relates to how I’ve personally handled moving so many places throughout my life, especially when it comes to resettling in Chicago!

How did I adjust? Do I like change? Was it scary? How did I meet new friends? Do I still keep in touch with my childhood friends since I’ve moved so many times? How many people did I know when I moved here? How long does it take to feel “normal” and “settled”?

I know so many of you go through this at one point or another. It’s especially common when we’re in our twenties and even our thirties. Some of you have recently made a big move. Others are embarking on one soon and are worried about how to prepare.

If this is you, I can assure you–the news is all good.

Moving to new cities and experiencing new beginnings over and OVER (and over) throughout my 29 years is probably one of the most impactful things I have ever done in my life.

I truly believe putting yourself in uncomfortable and new surroundings is the #1 way to grow as a person. (It also can be one of the most FUN things you ever do for yourself, even if it doesn’t seem like it at first.)

That being said, it can also be one of the scariest experiences in life, especially if you’re doing it alone.

So today, I wanted to get a little personal and share my own experience with you guys. Then, even better, share YOUR amazing words of wisdom (provided via Insta stories, of course) on the topic of moving to a new city and how to best meet friends in new places.

(This is kind of a long post, so it’s best accompanied with coffee or wine–just as a heads up.)

Ready? Got your beverage of choice? Let’s jump in!

My personal experience with moving around, resettling, and adjustment:

Until I settled in Chicago, I was basically a professional mover throughout my entire life. I was born in a small town called Corbett, Oregon, just outside Portland, where we lived until I was 8.  Then, we moved to Arizona, mostly because my parents wanted to put me in better schools, and also likely because we had been starved of sunshine for our entire existence. I spent summers in Kentucky, then I went to college in Indiana, and finally, ended up in Chicago.

To this day, if you ask me where I’m from–I hesitate. I never know what to say. It was a lot, but looking back, it was probably the best thing that could’ve happened to me! If you’re curious, I’ll share more about each stage of my life, where I lived, and why. (I never originally intended to share this much, but I always get asked about my background, where I’m from, etc–so I figured this was a good opportunity to get a little more personal!)

If not, that’s okay too–I won’t blame you if you skip to the bottom for the quick tips ?

Oregon to Arizona: 

Starting 5th grade, I didn’t know a soul. I was so different from the other kids and it was hard to fit in. I still played with dolls, made forts, and played in the creek with my neighbors in my small town outside of Portland. In Scottsdale, the girls only cared about clothes, makeup, and boys. They all wore bras, and they all had their periods, and I was a 65 pound shrimp (honestly, I’m not exaggerating) who still loved American Girl dolls. It was NOT GOOD. Not to mention, school was HARD. I had one hour of free time to have a snack and maybe watch an episode of cartoons after school. After that, I had to do homework until it was time to go to bed. Even my mom was exhausted. I hated it, but I stuck with it and had to adapt.

Fast forward three years, by the time I had finally become acclimated, we learned that my school was closing and the campus was being turned into a Catholic school. My parents didn’t think this was a good option for me. They weren’t happy with any of the other middle school options in the area either. However, we did find a public high school that we really liked. So the decision was made to home-school me for 8th grade.

My mom had big plans for us–she wanted to take me to see the world and for this to be a huge year of travel. But then 9/11 happened. Anddd we only went to San Francisco.

Then came freshman year, where I started over again, this time in public high-school of 2,000 kids not knowing one single soul. I found myself AGAIN I was still the outsider that had no boobs, still hadn’t gotten her period, and was still a small sack of bones, but I made friends pretty easily and ended up having the most amazing high school experience.

Jess Keys shares how to meet new friends in a new city

My best friend and Maid of Honor, Tasha, who I met through riding 

Summers in Kentucky: 

I haven’t yet mentioned, at this point, that from the age of 9 years old on, I was a competitive horseback rider. (I was extremely fortunate to have a privileged upbringing and hardworking parents that provided me with the opportunity to do this.) I was never into team sports (I still have nightmares about how horrible middle school Gym class was. Truly scarring. I still cringe at the thought of playing competitive sports) but was very into riding. My mom has always been into horses and even bred and raised horses on our farm in Oregon, so it was an easy thing to get into.

We met my horse trainers through my mom’s best friend, and I attended a summer riding camp where they lived in Salinas, California. I was totally hooked. Not long after, they ended up moving to Kentucky, which meant that I was flying back and forth from Arizona to Kentucky every month from age 9-17, and I would live with my trainers in the summers to ride. (This sounds crazy, but there are a lot of girls that do this, I promise, haha! This is how I met my best friend Tasha–who also rode with the same trainers! We all had our own bunk bed room!)

My trainers, Nancy and Bill are my second parents. So much of them is in me and I don’t know who I would be today if not for their influence and the lessons that riding taught me. But that’s a story for another day.

Bringing this full circle–this was another “moving around the country and adapting on the fly” type of situation. At age 11 I was constantly flying across the country from Arizona or Oregon to Kentucky by myself.

I was fully capable and comfortable navigating through the airport alone. Upon checking in, my mom and I actually used to lie at the counter and say I was 12 (again, pre 9/11) so I could get around the “unaccompanied minor” rule so I didn’t have to be “babysat” by a flight attendant and go into the “Kiddie den” during airport connections. (This is also the only instance that my mother has ever told a lie, to my knowledge.)

Arizona to Indiana: 

By the time it was time to apply for college, I knew I wanted to go somewhere out of state–preferably in the Midwest–pretty college town, big greek system, the whole shebang. When we settled on Indiana, I wasn’t worried about making new friends, because I had already had to do it so many times. I knew one other girl going to Indiana through a friend of a friend, and we decided to room together–it was the best decision and we totally hit it off, and had so much fun. (Her name is Chelsea, she’s an incredible human, and you can read her breast cancer story here.)

Had I known other friends going to Indiana, I never would’ve roomed with Chelsea, I probably would’ve ended up on a different floor, and would’ve had a completely different college experience, and therefore, a different life than I have today.

On that thought, I never would’ve met one of my closest friends, Kai, who lived on my dorm floor. Had I not met Kai, I never would’ve ended up becoming her roommate after college, becoming close with two of my now best friends, Kate and Melissa.

Do you see where I’m going here? What starts out being a scary, unknown experience snowballs into one that completely shapes the path of your life.

What I’m saying is, this proves, again, that moving to a place where you know nobody is potentially the best decision you could ever make.

Indiana to LA: 

The summer after Sophomore year, my best friend, Alex and I scored an internship together at an LA PR company. We barely knew anyone in LA at the time (because Alex was 18 and I was 20) and we were both so young but it ended up being one of the best summers of my life.

We didn’t know anyone there, but we reached out to a lot of friends of friends and ended up scrapping together a couple different crews who were all SO much fun. I wrote more about my experience in LA in my post “5 Things I’m Really Glad I Did in My Twenties,” if you care to read.

Indiana to Florence, Italy: 

Then, in Junior year, I did a study abroad program in Florence, where I only had one friend along with me on my program. (Love you, Mags!) The rest were friends of friends I hadn’t known previously. Again, we ended up with a very fun crew. Not only did I have to make new friends, but I had to deal with learning a new city and a new language on top of it! It was such a huge period of growth for me as a person.

I also learned how to navigate in foreign countries where nobody spoke English, learn how to stay calm in somewhat scary situations where things were out of my control, how to have fun but be responsible and alert at the same time, and generally, just learn to be OK going with the flow.

If you are in college reading this and take nothing else away from this post, PLEASE. PLEASE. GO ABROAD. It’s the best thing you can ever do to grow as a young person.

which activities can help you meet people in new cities

All my girls at my bachelorette party in Milwaukee 

Indiana to Chicago: 

Fast forward to my last and final big move–from college to Chicago.

I was definitely toying with the idea of LA or New York, but ended up deciding on Chicago. Most of my college girlfriends were from the Chicago suburbs, so I couldn’t count on any of them becoming my roommates in the city as they were moving home to save money–so I ended up rooming with two other girls from school who were in different sororities. One of them I was friends with (we had become close because of the guys we were dating) but the other one I didn’t really know at all–but she ended up becoming one of my best friends! (Fun fact: We actually didn’t become close until we moved out–we were awful roommates together, haha! I was a disaster and she was a clean freak–but 7 years later, she was in my wedding!) Love you, Liz!

So, yes, all my best friends from college were technically in “Chicago,” but because they all lived at home, I wasn’t seeing them every day or even every weekend–and yet again, I had to start over and make a lot of new friends–there ended up being a motley crew of us “direct to city movers”–all from out of state. None none of us knew each other that well, but we all ended up becoming really close because of it, and that led my to my forming my best ride or die friendships.

I also met a lot of people at work (advertising is a GREAT profession to be in to make new friends. Even if you aren’t in advertising, if you’re looking to meet new people, you should find a friend in advertising and hang out with their work friends. OR volunteer with an organization that the ad industry is really involved in–like Off The Street Club, here in Chicago. I swear, Advertising people are the most fun people!)

Then, I started blogging, and met some of my very best friends through it!

Everyone always asks how I met Kelly, Blair, and Shaheen, and they’re surprised when I say we actually met through blogging, we didn’t know each other before! Finding friends through a hobby is always a great way to go, because you already have so much in common!

top lifestyle bloggers in Chicago

Don’t know where I’d be without these three! Shaheen, Blair, and Kelly–my blogger BFFs–taken at Shaheen’s baby shower in Louisville! 

So, with all that being said–now that you know my nomadic background. Here is why I think moving to a new city is so important for your well-being as a human being.

Why you should say “YES” to moving to a new city:

Independence feeds confidence

Moving to a new city forces you to adapt and learn how to do a lot of things you may have relied on others for–both emotionally and physically. While this can be an uncomfortable period of growth, this is a GOOD thing. Know what happens when you become incredibly self-sufficient? You gain confidence. And being truly confident in life allows you be your best, happiest self.

You become comfortable with uncertainty

So many people waste years, even their entire lives worrying about the “what ifs” or trying to plan where they’re going to end up 5, 10, 15 years down the road. Of course, you want to set yourself up for success. Save your money. Work hard for what you want. Be responsible. Don’t go into debt.

Yes–we get this. But you can’t predict the future. So wringing your hands worrying about your 5 year plan isn’t going to change ANYTHING about that 5 year plan. Chances are, you’re going to end up in a way different place than that “plan” said–good, or bad.

When you get good at adjusting to new situations and you learn that you will be 100% fine to matter what life throws at you, you get really comfortable with uncertainty. This teaches you how to let go of what you can’t control. It makes you a much happier person as a result.

You learn to be comfortable being alone

This might sound weird, but there is a lot of comfort in being comfortable being alone. Moving to a new city where you don’t know a lot of people teaches you to not just be self-sufficient, but how to enjoy being alone.

Now, this does not mean that you should become so comfortable being along that you become a hermit, but being able to rely on just yourself to make you happy is a very powerful thing.

At the end of the day, you don’t ever want to be dependent upon someone else to make you happy–this isn’t just unhealthy personally, it’s unhealthy for relationships, too!

You become more cultured, well-rounded, and accepting

Life becomes so much richer when you’re constantly exposed to new people from different backgrounds. It makes you more empathetic, cultured, and accepting. This definitely isn’t something I noticed happening in real time, but looking back, living in new places has really opened up my eyes to seeing the world in a different, more positive way.

How to make life long friends in a new city

One of my favorite candid shots of some of my bridesmaids taking a selfie at our wedding–Courtney, Kate, Ally, Courtney, Melissa, and Maura, my sister in law! 

How to meet friends in a new city

OKAY, have I convinced you that moving to a new city is a GREAT thing yet? Good! Now we’ve come to the part you’ve all been waiting for–the fun part! Here are the best ways to make new friends in a new city.

Proactively seek out friends of friends

This is probably my #1 tip, it’s one of the most effective, and often, most under-utilized!

You’ve heard of the 6 degrees of separation, right? Well, there is a HIGH liklihood that you have a lot of friends of friends in your new city. Post on Facebook that you’re moving and ask if anyone has any friends of friends there!

Fun fact: This is how I met Kelly! Our blogger friend Krista (who I only recently met in person!) tagged me in one of her Instagram comments and said, “you two need to be friends when Kelly moves to Chicago!” The rest is history!

Always say “yes”

It’s really easy to make excuses, right? You’re exhausted and don’t want to go to happy hour. A gym membership is expensive–but when you’re trying to make new friends, ALWAYS say yes! You never know who you’re going to meet! Making friends often takes more work than you realize–so keep at it, don’t give up!

Join a gym and go consistently at the same times:

A lot of readers recommended this one! People have had great luck with places like Equinox, or even Class Pass. The point is to pick something that people of your age group use often. A few readers also said they’ve met lot’s of friends at places like Soho House, or Midtown Athletic club–which are more than just gyms–they’re lifestyle destinations!

Join an intramural league

Another popular reader suggestion, join an intramural league! If you’re saying, “I don’t have a group of people to join with”–don’t worry, that’s the point! A lot of people sign up as individuals and get assigned to a team! Kickball and Volleyball are the most popular. A quick google search will send you to the right place to sign up. There are always post-game happy hours involved at the end too. Which is a really easy way to get to know new people.

Use apps like Bumble BFF

It’s normal to meet your spouse online these days, so why not your new best friend!? Many of you have had good luck with BumbleBFF!

Get a new hobby

Netflix doesn’t count as a hobby!

A hobby is extremely beneficial for your mental well-being, but it’s also a really great way to meet new people! Again, my blog started as a hobby, and I made SO many new friends I never would’ve met otherwise. (Some of them are friends for life!)

Start by picking out something that is of interest to you–maybe you’ve always wanted to try calligraphy or photography or knitting or boxing or whatever–sign up for a class! I guarantee you’ll make some friends, and you might even find a new passion while you’re at it.

how to make new friends in a new city

My blogger friend Ali and I at a blogging conference in Dallas. (Fun fact: She’s actually my high school friend too, but we both started blogs after college and have re-connected because of blogging!)  

Take advantage of meetups, groups, and clubs

Several readers said that is a great resource (they have meet-ups for SO may different kinds of interests and activities!), as well as Facebook groups. For example, if you type in “Chicago Women” in Facebook and click the “groups” tab, there are so many cool groups to join! You can find groups of women in your own profession. Groups who just want to meet up for coffee. Or even groups for moms–whatever!

Hang out at alumni bars

I had never thought of this one and thought it was so genius when one reader, Stacia, suggested it. Look up alumni bars from your alma mater in your area. Then make a habit of going there to watch games! You’ll meet so many alumni from your school. Chances are you’ll likely have lot’s of mutual friends in common, too!

Volunteer with an organization that a lot of young professionals are involved in

So many of you messaged me on Instagram and said that you met all your best friends through organizations like Junior League, Junior Council, or Chicago Young Professionals! Any group that a lot of people your age are involved in is a great place to start.

Get a dog

This was one I wasn’t expecting, haha! Many of you said that getting a dog makes it easy to make friends–everyone stops to talk to you and pet your dog, and you make a lot of friends at the park!

Genuinely be open to meeting you people everywhere you go

This is more of a loose piece of advice, but it really does help. It’s really easy to be nervous, insecure, and closed-off when you’re in an unfamiliar place and you don’t know a soul. So remember to take a deep breath and adjust your attitude. If you have closed-off energy, you aren’t approachable. Therefore, you aren’t going to attract new friends like someone who has an easy-going, “I’m excited to meet new people” attitude.

If you actually made it to the bottom of this post, THANK YOU! I’m really impressed! I hope this was helpful, and if you have any more tips, I’d love for you to share them below!