How many of us have sheepishly walked into a social event as the “new girl” with our hearts beating out of our chest as we clung to our phones for some semblance of comfort and security?
One of my good friends and I had a conversation recently around this topic of making new friends, and how difficult and awkward it can be. When I moved from my hometown on the East coast four and a half years ago, and drove across the country to build a whole new life in California, I was struck with the reality that I literally knew no one here, and no one knew me.
It was both exhilarating and terrifying.
From moving coast to coast, to the middle of the country in Chicago, to now the south in Nashville, I’ve learned more than I could write in this one article about building and navigating new relationships.
Something I learned recently that I found fascinating was about this idea researchers call “co-burdening.” In a project conducted at a University in Virginia, an individual carrying a heavy backpack was asked to stand alone at the bottom of a hill and then asked to rate the steepness of the hill before venturing to the top. Then the same person, carrying the heavy backpack is accompanied by a friend at the bottom of the hill, and asked again to rate the steepness of the hill.
After surveying numerous people, there was a resounding consensus that when an individual has a trusted friend standing by their side, (even though their friend isn’t even physically helping their friend), the hill was rated to be significantly less steep than when that same individual is standing alone. These results communicated to the researchers that just the mere presence of a faithful companion made the individual carrying the backpack feel that the hill was less steep and more manageable to climb.
Essentially, this is what we are all seeking after—for someone to stand with us in the midst of life’s wins and losses, sadness and joy. Knowing we have someone by our side as we journey through life makes the difficult times that much more manageable and the good times that much more enjoyable.
So, when we consider how to make new friends in a new place, these are some of the main things I’ve learned (and continue to learn):
1. Be Intentional.
If we can imagine ourselves as the person carrying the heavy backpack we quickly realize how important it is to have a trusted friend there by our side. As we’re intentional to seek out those opportunities to extend that type of friendship towards someone else, we’ll find that most will remember the value of our presence and want to be that person for us when we face our own challenging moments.
2. Be Vulnerable.
It’s true that people are drawn to authenticity and vulnerability, and as scary as those are, without them we can never have the rewarding and close relationships we desire. So, invite others in to your life—for the good and the bad. Allow others to go on the journey with you, because if you don’t you unknowingly cheat them of the opportunity to give of themselves—which is the greater gift anyway.
3. Be Consistent.
Consistency makes intentionality and vulnerability believable and trustworthy. When someone’s actions consistently affirm words that have been spoken, that is when true intimacy happens. In other words we could that trust is forged through consistency.
There are so many more things we could add to this short list, but the main thing I’ve learned is that the starting place is me–to become the friend I would want. By this, I’ve found the richest and deepest friendships. Of course, not without their challenges and upsets, but overall I’ve been better for the journey. To become the listening ear I would want, the shoulder to cry on, and the person to celebrate life with. And ultimately, God has a way of bringing the right people into your world at just the right time to give your heart just what it needs, and as the new girl I’ve been so thankful.