The number one question people asked when I told them we were moving to England was “won’t you be lonely?”
The answer is yes and no.
Yes, of course I’m lonely sometimes. But there is a huge difference between being alone and lonely – I’m one of those lucky souls who enjoys my own company. But even with that gift, I love hanging out with amazing people and feel like I’ve already made some progress at seeking out new members of my tribe.
I must stress that this would have been much, much more difficult without the internet. Not impossible – in my early Toronto days I met friends in classes, invited work mates out for coffee or after-work drinks, took people at their word when they suggested grabbing lunch and actually made a plan to do so. The internet certainly has made things easier here – beyond obvious things like social media, I’ve been experimenting with meetup.com and recently organized a meetup of Metafilter members who live in or near Leeds (and I’m so very glad I did). But mostly, making friends in a new city comes down to stamping down that shyness, being a bit vulnerable and willing to make the first move.
Being new in town also comes with a fair amount of social security – the fact that you don’t have any friends yet makes perfect sense to everyone. There’s no need to be embarrassed or apologetic for having a tiny or non-existent local network. In fact, once people realize this they are even more willing to help any way they can. I suppose that would evaporate quickly if I were mean, said horrible things, had pungent body odour or made people uncomfortable in some subtle, unconscious way, thank goodness I seem to appear normal enough to keep up my side of the conversation without putting people off! (I hope 😬)
It’s definitely something that requires practice. Sometimes I don’t want to go to events because Netflix and the cat don’t require sparkling wit and articulate soundbites of current events. And it’s raining. But I make myself go anyway.
Trust me, there are times when I have felt the “flight” half of fight-or-flight so strongly my entire body tingled with wanting to be anywhere but there. I will share one, because I haven’t been this proud of myself for a while, and there’s a lesson in it for everyone who hears the aphorism “feel the fear and do it anyway”.
I joined a monthly cheese tasting club and bought a ticket online for the November event. I don’t know quite what I was thinking but I assumed it would be a small event, maybe 20 people tops, a situation that I’d be comfortable walking in by myself and making a wee bit of small talk. Ok, I realise that even that scenario would make a true introvert uncomfortable, but I’m somewhere on the spectrum between introvert and extrovert. But reader – I arrived, and there were at least 80 people there. And they had all arrived in groups of three or four. It was more like walking into a buzzy restaurant during a dinner rush and asking for a table for one. I walked around looking at the tables laden with cheese, but not really seeing them as I tried to keep the tears from smarting in my eyes.
What the fuck had I been thinking? Why hadn’t I roped Jeff or one of my new acquaintances into joining me? Right. I was going to leave. Who cares that I’d paid £10 for the event?
But then a little voice said, “talk to the organizer and see what happens. If it’s not positive, you can leave. But you have to talk to her first.” So I did.
She was fantastic, full of understanding, and immediately steered me toward a table of three people who were happy to have me as a fourth. In my nervousness I’m sure I talked too much and I don’t remember much of the cheese I barely tasted, but they were lovely and kind and we had a great time. I can’t thank them enough for turning the evening around for me.
I have other examples, too many to recount here really, but what they all have in common is the wonderful-ness of the people involved. Thanks everyone, near and far, for being so great. Whether you’re back in Canada “liking” one of my posts on Facebook or someone here in Leeds remembering to invite me to something, please know that it means so much to me.