Kristin and I sat in our usual booth stirring swirls of cream into our coffee cups. The background noise of the diner receded to a low murmur and I made my move.
“Kristin, I’ve accepted the job at Riverside and I’m moving to New York City.”
My eyes grew hot with tears as I futilely tried to lock my trembling lips in place to give off the appearance of courage and resolve.
Kristin’s eyes began to water with kindness as they held me gently in a consolatory gaze.
“Don’t cry,” she said, “It’ll be okay. It’ll be fine.”
And that’s how I told one of my best friends that I was leaving Washington D.C. and moving away from our shared city, our Saturday breakfasts at The Coupe, and our leisurely walks around the city discussing everything from our latest hopes for the future to our most recent insight about heartbreaks from the past.
As we parted ways outside of the diner, Kristin enveloped me in a generous embrace and said, “I love you, Kev.” “I love you, too.” I responded. I walked back to my car with two thoughts crossing my mind. The first thought was that I was going to miss Kristin terribly after I moved. The second thought was much more primal and went something like this, “I’m going to have to make new friends now. Sh*t.
When you move into a new city it can feel like you’ve arrived at a party several hours late and all of the guests have already moved off into their own circles around the room. You’re the odd person out and the best you can hope for is that someone might say a polite, “hello” as they walk past you on their way to the punchbowl.
It helps if you’re outgoing or naturally adept at socializing with people. Good looks certainly won’t hurt but being an introvert won’t make it any easier. It’s like you’re the new kid at school who just moved in from out of town and now you have to find a table to sit at during lunch or risk eating your PB&J alone in the corner by yourself.
When I moved to NYC, a friend told me to say “yes” to every invitation offered to me as a way of meeting new friends and making connections. I tried this for the first three months of living in NYC and by the fourth month, I was exhausted as hell. Between working long hours learning the ropes at a new job and then spending what precious free time I had throwing myself out into the world of Manhattan socializing, I began to feel as if I was turning into a ravenous zombie mindlessly lumbering from one party to the next in search of company and companionship.
The truth is making friends as an adult is hard. You can do all the right things — go to happy hours, look for co-workers, join a gym or sports league — and still find your only conversation with another human on a Saturday night consisting of telling the pizza delivery guy to “keep the change.”
The older we get, the more set in our ways we become after spending decades curating our lives to suit our particular tastes and interests. Starting over at ground zero just doesn’t seem all that appealing and so it’s easier to close your life off from others rather than run the risk of upsetting your well-manicured world.
There’s no magic incantation, no secret recipe, and no silver bullet to whisk you through the process. Making friends as an adult requires the hard work of transparency, vulnerability, and a willingness to share your story with others at the risk of it being rejected or ignored. Each of us have stories full of compelling worth and value. While not interesting to everyone, they are interesting to someone. The trick is having the courage to continue looking for the people with whom your story syncs up even if you are met with rejection throughout the search.
The process also involves a healthy dose of humility — that is the acceptance that my life, as developed and mature as it may be, still has room to grow and flourish through the introduction of new individuals whose unique gifts and graces enhance the depth and dimension of my story. I don’t have my life put together nearly as much as I might think and so I look to others to enrich my life with their lack-of-togetherness as well.
One year into this NYC pilgrimage, I can look back over the past twelve months and reflect on the ways that I’ve met the people I’m now honored to call my friends. The common theme running through each new friendship is a piercing vulnerability that leads one to show up in the present ready to accept the gift of friendship in exchange for reciprocated openness and availability.
None of these people can replace a person like Kristin (don’t worry, we still see each ridiculously often for living in two different cities) but they don’t have to. Each person brings a wealth of value and purpose to my life that I would not have otherwise.
So you showed up late to the party. Now are you going to stand by the punchbowl all night or head over to that group in the corner that looks like they’re having a good time?
Kevin Wright is a United Methodist Elder serving as the Minister of Education at The Riverside Church in the City of New York.