Forget the cold, forget the weird use of the word ‘pants’, the biggest shock for everyone arriving in London is the sudden and overwhelming lack of friends. After a month or so, when no friends just magically appear out of the pavement, the shocked newbie-expats cry “but how do you make friends in London?”
Yes, turns out that 20 something years of life has not taught us anything about finding friends as grownups. Recently over 100 of you lovely readers filled out my Great Expat Survey. There are a lot of interesting things in there, but the biggest outcry was about being lonely in London. About having no friends and no idea where to start looking for them. So many Kiwis, lonely and desperate for some connection.
So how did the people who took the survey make friends?
|Friends from home moved to London at the same time||32%|
|I was the creeper who made friends at work||16%|
|Oh god I haven’t and I’m so lonely PLEASE HELP||14%|
|Housemates become friends after enough gins||7%|
|I turned native and made friends in the pub||7%|
|Meetups and social media stalking||6%|
|Kiwis in London Facebook group or drinks||4%|
|Went on a tour and all I came back with was these lousy friends||4%|
|What happens on Tinder does not always stay on Tinder||4%|
|Joined a sports team||3%|
|Runawaykiwi kept forcing me to go on strange dining experiences||1%|
A complete mixed bag of attempted friend making. About a third were lucky enough to come over with friends and the rest are just running around London screaming BE MY FRIEND at strangers, scaring pigeons as they go.
We have got to do something about this, just for the sake of the pigeons. So sit the fuck down, take a shot, breath deep and get ready for this Runawaykiwi’s thoughts on making friends in London.
My biggest piece of advice is rather annoyingly an old proverb: make hay while the sun shines. There you are being all independent and badass, rocking London on your own; who needs friends right? I can’t guarantee many things in life, but needing someone to pick you up when you are down is one of them. The problem being, once you are down you are not in a great position to go out of your way to make friends.
While you are excited, well rested or drunk is the best time to try and find some friends. Just think of those confident magnetic people from high school, pretend you are one of them and invite some randoms (aka soon to be best friends) to go and explore London. If you are currently happy you really have nothing to lose, use even the vaguest connections you have and try and spark something. I’m talking that person you knew in primary school, a friend of a friend, your 5th cousin or someone you have only met online or briefly at a meetup. Take that vague connection, mix it with some alcohol or a tourist attraction and see what happens.
If you are down right now and just can’t force yourself to do something as scary as making friends? My top tip would be to book something for next month, or at least two weeks away. It’s distant enough to make booking seem like it will happen to someone else, and by the time it comes around you have no option but to force yourself out of the house and into the arms of a potential BFF.
The other thing you can do if it all feels too much right now and you need some connection is the magic of Twitter. I know Twitter isn’t really a thing in NZ, but over here it is all powerful. Yes there is a whole bunch of weirdness on there (mostly from me), but you just have to find your tribe. Only follow people who bring you joy, comfort and inspiration (with a nice mix between celebrities and plebs) and interact with them – its online so making that first step is less scary than real life. I think this is just an intermediary step though, you do need real life people eventually.
So where do you meet friends anyway? Another proverb to hit you with; your vibe attracts your tribe. I fucking hate hanging out in pubs; cafes are more my scene – so why on god’s green earth did I ever think I would meet people I wanted to hang out with by lingering at a bar? Don’t get me wrong, it’s a great place to meet people if you are into that, I’m just not.
I would start by writing a list of all the things you enjoy. Not what your friends back home enjoy, not what social media says you should want to do on your OE, I’m talking the things that actually make you smile. Mine would go something along the lines of (according to the interest section of my CV):
- Walking in parks
- Jewellery making
- Drinking coffee & gin (not at the same time)
That is a pretty introverted list, all the things I like doing are things I can do by myself and enjoy doing by myself. Yes even the gin drinking. The trick of making friends as an adult is to figure out how to fold other people into your introverted activities. Like reading? Join a book club. Like Sci-Fi? Go to a convention. Like drinking gin? Go to GinStock (yes there really is a gin festival).
None of these are an easy answer. As much as I would like to be able to click my fingers and get you friends I can’t. Every friendship you make as an adult demands some insane bravery and facing the prospect of rejection.
Oh rejection, why are we all so terrified of you? Imagine the worst case scenario of going out and trying to make friends. For me it is something like standing in a corner for an entire night, not talking to anyone and people giving me judging looks. Has that ever happened? Yes. Did it kill me? No. Was there a chance I could meet some friends there? Of course.
The weird thing with this whole making friends malarkey is that the short term awkwardness, the fear, can stop us ever trying or trying more than once. But my god the end goal is worth it, particularly if you are in London by yourself. You NEED a support network, you need someone to be there for the highs and lows, to travel with and drink with, to share the laughs and loves of London with. Being rejected ten times is worth it if you make one good friend out of it. Trust me.
Its not like you are the only one going through this. There are 200,000 kiwis in the UK and the majority of them had to suffer through the indignity of making friends as an adult just like you are. Hell, you are better off than most because in the age of the internet you have access to meet-ups and entire companies dedicated to helping people connect. You just have to think of this as equally as important as finding a job or a flat. Having the right people around you could make or break your London experience.
There is the possibility for a bit of a adulting hack as well. For the 1/3 of you that came over with friends, try riding on their coat tails. Find the one person you know that just does EVERYTHING and tag along. Invite yourself to that weird party they are going to, to the concert or hell even the running club. Use them as your easy buffer to social interaction and once through the door spread yourself through the people there like herpes through teenagers. Go with one friend and leave with two. Keep doing that and you will have a group of London chums in no time.
There is an argument for going outside your comfort zone too, for all I’ve talked about introvert friendly activities. Look into a weekend group tour or a typical Kiwis in London party. Yes it’s not something you are normally into, in fact you might be looking down your nose at it. The truth is that on that smelly bus or hovering on the side of the dance floor there might be another awkward friendless person, just like you. Outside their comfort zone, just like you. They could end up being a huge part of your life, you just have to go out of your way to find those friends.
Friends are worth the scary. Finding friends to share your London experience with are doubly so. Finding people to share your time with over here is not just a temporary focus, it will give you skills and resilience that you will carry with you forever.
It’s ridiculous how much of my time in London was spent wondering how to make friends. Wondering why everyone else found it so easy. But with four years of wisdom under my belt and a circle of friends so amazing they make me cry I can tell you it is worth it. So unbelievably worth it and necessary. Gird your loins, face the awkwardness and fear of rejection head on. Let’s fucking do this.