When most people think of networking, they think of it in the business sense: Networking to find a job, or a contact within a specific industry, or in the industry they’re already in.
They think large conference rooms full of men in dark suits standing awkwardly in groups, pushing their business cards in one another’s faces, whilst one bald guy in mismatched socks stands shivers in the corner and wonders why nobody will speak to him.
But what if you’re not networking to find business acquaintances? What if you want to find friends? What if you want to put yourself ‘out there’?
*shudder* and cue: floodgates of insecurity opening.
When I moved to Paris 18 months ago, this is exactly what I set out to do. With no friends in a city new to me, I either had to find a way of making new friends, or rot away in my apartment, gorging on chocolate covered Pringles and watching reruns of the Gilmore Girls.
The latter is not an attractive look, you guys.
It took me about 8 months of concerted effort to finally find a group of friends who I absolutely adore. And in true blogging fashion, today I reveal E.V.E.R.Y.T.H.I.N.G that I learned.
First, let’s start with what networking-for-pals isn’t…
What Networking-For-Pals Isn’t
It isn’t a replacement for dating. The intention is to make new friends. If one does become more than a friend, then grab your coat honey ‘cos you’ve scored. But don’t make this your immediate intention. There are services for needs like that. And they don’t involve the kind of websites you’ll be using to network for friends.
It isn’t a desperate cry for help. You’re lonely in a new city? It’s nothing to be embarrassed about, pumpkin. It’s OK to admit it. Acknowledging that will fuel you into action.
And what’s more? There are likely hundreds more just like you in the same city.
It’s your job to find them. Meet then half way. They’re likely to be searching for you too. And yes, when you finally do meet ‘your people’, you’ll be running towards each other in slow motion along the beach, whilst violins play softly in the background.
It isn’t a fleeting fancy. Once you’ve got the talking-to-new-people thing down, you can apply it to other areas of life. It gives you a confidence boost.
- If you’re on holiday/the train/a random mechanical bull and want to talk to the person sat next to you.
- If you’re at the airport waiting for your flight and want to make small talk with your fellow passengers.
- If you’re at a birthday party. And the only person you know is your cousin who invited you out of pity. But she then left you to go party with her friends. So it’s time you mingle with the other guests.
All of these situations become easier because of the people skills you’ve acquired in your venture to make new friends. You’ll be talking to strangers like a non-creepy expert!
What Networking-for-Pals Is
It’s variety. Aside from this being the spice of life, it’s also the spice of finding friends. Make the effort to try lots of different avenues.
Go to meetup.com and sign up to a few groups. If you’re in a new country, don’t shun the ex-pats. There are opportunities to bond a-plenty from the woes of moving your stuff, to mingling with the locals.
At meetup.com join groups for things you love to do (cooking, museums, trying new bars) and those that you have wanted to try. The whole point of this site is to help people be more social. Use it.
If you’re working for a business, ask your colleagues for events you can attend (or make friends with your colleagues and they’ll ask you to parties). Make a habit to say yes to invitations.
I met some great people after a colleague invited me to her birthday party and introduced me to her friends. The locals have an existing social circle. Tapping into it means being a part of it first.
If work isn’t an option, what about your local community? Are there events being held that you can go to? There’s nothing like the city celebrating its history of clay pigeon shooting to gather the locals. Go be part of it.
It’s a consistent effort. Going to a meetup event just once will not bring the friends a-flocking. Random actions bring random results. Or worse, no results [insert something about kissing a few frogs before finding a prince here].
Make the effort to go to one event a week. Every week. That’s manageable. Especially when you’re alone and in a new city. Over time, when you make new friends, you won’t need to keep this up. But in the beginning, invest your time well.
I did this for 2 months before acquaintances became friends. Sometimes going to more than 1 event a week. Not only did I meet some amazing people, I also saw different parts of the city that I may not have ventured to had it not been for the events I attended.
It’s trying new things. You know when you’re in a karaoke bar, and a friend signs you up to sing next, and you get a feeling in the pit of your stomach because you haven’t taken enough shots to pull a full-on Sasha Fierce on stage? That feeling is your comfort zone calling.
It’s saying ‘hey, don’t change – it’s great here! It’s warm. And familiar. And there’s even some hot chocolate on the day’s you’re feeling like a loser. Let’s camp down here togetheeerrrrr!’.
And it’ll say the same thing when you’re trying to meet new people in a new city. Don’t go to the meetup event – it’s dark outside! Don’t go to the meetup event – the new series of Homeland starts tonight! Don’t go to the meetup event – you may not return alive!
Here’s some friendly advice about that comfort zone: DON’T LISTEN TO IT.
Meeting new people can be scary. It’s something new you’re doing. Perhaps for the first time in a long time. And them liking you / vice versa can be a little random.
Because you’re being judged by new people. Those people that haven’t known you for years and so don’t know you have a slight affinity towards marmite-covered Oreos.
Acknowledge the fear and put it aside. Do I now feel nervous when going to a new event? You betcha. Every. Single. Time. The feeling has never gone away. So I ignore it (like with most things that don’t serve me).
It’s following up. Met someone you like? Take their number. And call them. Promised someone you’ll send them an email? Do it.
The friends you’ve had for years? Those relationships took nurturing, and so will these new ones. And it means making an extra effort to be extra friendly.
Most people sit by the phone waiting for others to call. Those people are lonely.
Don’t be most people.
Oh, and before I go, there’s one more ‘isn’t’.
It isn’t a finished game. You’ll never be ‘done’ making friends. The friends you have may move to a different city. Their life may move on – and so may yours. Cater for this. Use the skills you’ve learned consistently to keep good people in your life.
It isn’t a life without them.
Over to you: what advice would you give to someone in a new city looking to expand their network of friends?
Don’t put answers on a post card – add them to them comments instead.