I moved to my small city, home of a large university, fifteen years ago when my husband started grad school. We were surrounded by people doing basically the same thing we were: relocating without friends or much family, working hard with big hopes and dreams, living in crummy apartments. I knew one person in town — an acquaintance who had been on my study abroad semester and who would grow to be a dear friend. But otherwise, no one.
Despite my lack of connections, I made lots of friends in those three years. I attended parties, met people for coffee, went for walks. Dissected breakups, celebrated weddings, processed deaths of friends and family. These are people I still love. But they all moved.
When we decided to stay in town for my turn at grad school, a few of those friends were finishing degrees or sticking around for that first year. I made a few new friends, but didn’t have that all-encompassing circle. When I graduated, those few friends moved.
I made new friends at church. I made a few friends when my kids started school. They moved too.
It sometimes feels like a vicious cycle: I make a friend; they move. I declare that I’m not making any new friends, I get lonely, I meet people with whom I’d like to be friends, and those friends move. Cue “I Got You Babe.” (Yes, that’s a Groundhog Day reference.)
This seems to be the hazard of living in a university town — people come and go. And, truly, this is good. I am lucky to meet interesting people who are kind, who like books and trying new restaurants, who invest in our church or our neighborhood, who happen to have jobs — callings from God even — that involve moving to the work. But making friends gets more complicated as we get older. (See this article, or google “making friends as an adult”.) Are we doomed?
Maybe we are doomed, but friendships are worth slogging through the dismal morass promised by the commentators. Scientific studies show that one of the factors in healthy aging is a wide and robust circle of friends. And, at the heart of it, aren’t friendships the places we grow in faith? Think of the people who first introduced you to Jesus, the people who invited you into their story and helped you listen for the places where the Lord is calling you. Friendships keep us physically healthy; they spiritually form us. These are relationships worth cultivating. Even if your new friend might move.
Knowing that I value friendship, even when it opens me to the possibility of loss, here are four things I remind myself about friendships in a semi-transient community.
1. Stay open to the possibility of new friends. This helps whether you’re the one who stayed or the one who moved. Repeat to yourself: I can make a new friend. It is okay if they’re not my best friend. New, wonderful people come into our orbits, but sometimes I’ve been guilty of being “too busy” or “not interested in new friends.” It is possible that the person sitting behind you at church or next to you at a workout class might be a lifelong friend — or at least a nice person to chat with after you do burpees. Both are good!
2. Say hello. I’ve read the articles, and there is one piece of advice that they all offer: making a new friend means you have to introduce yourself to people. (Fellow introverts, I know! But, it’s an essential step.) If you’re looking for more how to, try this podcast, or this practical and hilarious piece that includes tips like: “When you hear of someone planning on tinkering with something she bought at a mysterious shop in a back alley, nab an invite.” Repeat again: “I can make a new friend,” and then find someone to say hello to.
3. Find a few friends and have the conversation: “You’re not moving any time soon, right?” It helps to have a few people who you know probably won’t go anywhere, even if you are practicing staying open to new friends. When you know you’ll be in one location for the foreseeable future, look around for a few people for whom leaving isn’t inevitable. If needed, seek these people out. You could try a multi-generational women’s group, or volunteering for something (youth group, making coffee, neighborhood engagement) at church. Sometimes you find these friends through a process of elimination: as other friends move, the familiar faces left behind find each other.
4. Figure out how to keep up with your people. I have a friend who lives in another time zone who I talk to just about every week for ten minutes here or there. We text. We knew each other before we had fancy degrees, or kids, or jobs that we hoped to keep for a while.
For a while, I made thrice-yearly work trips to the city where my college roommate lived. She went out of her way to meet me across town and we’d end up sitting in her car talking in hotel drop-off loops until 11 pm.
I have another friend who is on Instagram a lot. So, I see her face and zip happy comments over to her. We don’t talk all the time, but when we do, we can skip over the pretty stuff and get to the stuff that’s not on social media.
I value these friends who have known me for a long time, and who still like me, and who keep knowing me through all the things life brings us. The point is: I don’t text-chat daily with all my friends. You figure out what works in different relationships, and go with it.
Maybe you are preparing to move at the (quickly approaching!) end of the semester, or maybe you are anticipating your dearest friend’s departure. Either way, take courage! There are wonderful people to know in the world, and some of them are — and will be — your friends.