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I moved back to my hometown after deciding to take a gap year from college and it’s devoid of other townsfolk my age but full of kids who moved solely to attend the colleges here. How exactly do I make new friends, especially queer ones? This is the first time I’ve been not-in-school for a long time. I’m shy but desperate for social contact outside of work. Suggestions?”
Hi friend! First off, congratulations for recognizing that what’s best for you is a gap year. I feel like many of us forget that we’re whole people that don’t have a rigid linear prescription for growth. So kudos!
I hear your complaint a lot from all different kinds of people, gay or straight, male or female or neither or both: making friends as an adult is hard. Making friends as an adult out of school is harder. That’s because, growing up, we’ve learned to rely on one thing above all when figuring out our friendships, and that’s proximity. You get thrown together with someone randomly in a homeroom and two months later, you’re best friends forever. It’s so easy! But also how many people have you been BFFs with that you’ve lost track of over the years? Perhaps you’re like me and you’ve been extremely lucky with proximity—my wedding party is made up mostly of people I’ve known since second grade, and we’ve grown together with similar interests and tastes and opinions. But even for the lucky ones, for every best friend that makes it through to adulthood, there’s a bunch of friends who don’t. That’s because proximity is, frankly, not the best indicator of whether two or more people make good friends. All it means is that you’re close to each other, not that you have anything in common or even actually like each other.
I like to tell people, and now you, that making friends in adulthood needs reframing. Instead of talking about how hard it is, we should instead talk about how this is an opportunity to be free from proximity defining friendships. That’s huge! Finding friends in this new era of your life where you have a ton more agency to move around and select people, instead of just trying to survive the cafeteria, is actually really fun! So before you embark on your friend quest, think of it like a treasure hunt where the treasure is your new bestie. Here are a few tips to help you in your quest.
Be Your Own Coolest Friend
I’ve found that the best way to find anyone, romantic partners or friends, is to be the person you wish you were with—this is two-fold advice, because often the people we wish we were with are also the people we wish we were more like. So sit down and make a list of what you want—do you want friends who are as into books as you? Who are queer activists? Who have an interest in glass blowing or circus arts? Put everything in a list. Once you’re done that, pick the thing that sounds so fucking rad you can’t even stand it and give it a Google. What spaces are around in your town or city that afford opportunities for participating in that thing? Is there a book club that meets at the local feminist bookstore? A Stitch N’ Bitch at the yarn shop? An ice skating rink or a beginner’s hiking group or a social justice hub at the LGBT Center or a volunteer program at the aquarium or or or? Putting yourself in spaces where you are your own coolest friend is a great way to meet people who are their own coolest friend. Then you can be cool friends together AND it’s not just about proximity. You know you have something in common because you’ve been participating in some of the same activities.
When you’re doing this, I wouldn’t worry so much about the queer factor. That’s because if you want to learn how to do a thing or like doing a thing, and you’re queer, then chances are there are other queers who are going to be in that space as well. Sometimes I speak to people who get hung up on entering queer spaces to find queer friends, and it’s great if you have them in your town or city. But if you’re not a bar person, going to the nearest gay bar isn’t going to yield you friends no matter how many gays are in that bar—you’ll be uncomfortable and around people who like to go to bars, whereas you don’t! If a space looks appealing to you, go try it. I tell all the people who are like but there’s no gay group for that about the time I wanted to learn a little bit more about acrobatics, so I looked up a bunch of spaces and got a recommendation from an OKCupid Date and took a class…only to find out that it was half queer women anyhow. If you look at a space and you’re interested, you likely won’t be the only one.
Structured Activities Are Good For Shyness
Taking classes, by the way, is a great way to overcome shyness—and you mentioned that you were shy. A more structured activity gives your brain and hands something to do, and often requires teamwork. That means you have to talk to people, but you don’t necessarily have to do all the work of coming up with how to talk to them, or about what. Any sort of class, formalized discussion group or sports team is really good for this. In fact, if you’re a sports person, joining a league is FABULOUS for friend-making.
Don’t Mind the Age Gap
You also mention in your question people your age specifically. Well I’m here to tell you that some of the coolest people I’ve met and become friends with out in the world are one or more age brackets above me. There’s no reason your friends can’t be older than you—that’s the beauty of being an adult. You’re all adults now. You’ll probably find that you have more things in common with people ten years older than you than you have with people even two years younger. Time is wibbly like that, just trust me.
Use The Internet
Hey, look at where you are right now. On a website full of queer adults, some of which could be in your area! We actually have a whole directory of Unofficial Autostraddle Meet-Up Groups from all over. We even have a series on how to be the meet-up you want to see in the world and an events portal! Heck, I bet this comment section is going to blow up with adults looking to make friends (fingers crossed!). If you can’t find an Autostraddle group in the directory or meet-ups you like, start them! Start ones that are good for introverts!
Aside from using this very website, you can also list for friends on sites like OKCupid. Like, that’s actually a thing. It’s actually a thing that people do and sometimes it works!
Say You Wanna Be Friends!
This next bit is actually a piece of advice that Forever Intern Grace gave out at A-Camp and IT TOTALLY WORKS. Like, I have tried it. A few times, actually, and it works without fail. Ready? Walk up to the person you’ve been hanging out with or hanging in the same space with and say, “hey, you’re the coolest and I really want to be friends with you.” BAM. No bullshit. No mistaking it for a date. Just saying exactly what you want. It. Works. So practice that in the mirror because life is short and you should have the friends you want.
Fuck Proximity—Distance is FINE
As you’re going through this journey to find new friends as an adult, don’t forget the ones you already have that are important to you—where are they now? While it may not feel as satisfying to communicate long distance, it can still be really awesome—and a good compliment to your new quest. Make a Telegram or Slack group of the childhood friends you still talk to; Snapchat silly selfies to your second grade bestie. It feels even more satisfying to send letters, postcards, doodles and hardcopy photos, so get everyone’s mailing address and make a once-weekly ritual of mailing things out. Maintaining your distance friends can be just as rewarding as finding new ones close to you—I highly recommend doing both.
So go forth and jam, friend! And hey, all y’all readers out there who are doing this very same thing, chime in with your suggestions below.