friendship

I Tried Every Tip on the Internet for Making Friends

I let Reddit teach me how to make friends and it actually kind of worked.
A life drawing class
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I moved to Melbourne from overseas in February. I’m not in school, I work from home, and nearly everyone I know lives at least 10,000 miles away. I’m lucky to live with my boyfriend, who has friends and family nearby, but I guess I’d just feel better if I had a community of my own on the same continent as me. And so I face the universal question for adults in new cities:

How do I make friends

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I’ve always assumed this task was vaguely impossible without a predetermined structure like work or school, but the internet says adults really can just meet friends out in the wild. In fact, there are approximately a billion podcasts, Reddit threads, and therapy-app-sponsored articles devoted specifically to this problem.

It’s hard to know which suggestions will work, so I decided to just throw it all at the wall and see what stuck. For one month, I’d commit to testing every single piece of advice on the internet to see if I could make a friend.

Take a Class

“Enrol in classes or workshops for activities you're interested in. This could be anything from yoga classes to pottery workshops”.

The first suggestion on nearly every list is to take a class or join a gym. Commenters on Reddit (and my group chat from home) brought up yoga specifically, and I have to ask: Does everyone realize that you’re actually not supposed to speak during yoga? 

Of course, you can chat when you check in at the beginning or pack up at the end, but that gives you about 3 potential friend-making minutes on either side of class. I’m not sure why this is a better place to talk to someone than, say, standing behind them in the grocery line.

But I pushed past my skepticism. Science needs me and I also happen to like yoga. I got the two-week intro deal for my local studio and visited 8 times. The space was lovely and scented, and they seemed to encourage a social environment by offering free tea and illumination cards in the lobby. I drew a Weight of the World card and looked around to see if anyone wanted to analyse this with me. They did not.

Most people just signed in and then walked directly into the classroom where they laid on their backs with their eyes closed. I imagined approaching one of them and saying, “Hi, I’m Ilana,” as I stood above their resting bodies. This became an intrusive thought I wrestled with for the rest of class. What if I tapped someone on the shoulder during tree pose and gave a cheeky wink? What if, during savasana at the end, I turned to the woman beside me and whispered, “Do you have any siblings? I’m a middle child.” 

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I don’t want to be a complete hater about classes as a whole. They could be a good option – seeing the same people over and over is, after all, an essential friend ingredient. But it probably only works if you choose activities where you’re actually allowed to speak. And I was already $50 down. 


Meet people in public settings

“Visit places that align with your interests or hobbies, whether it's a cozy bookstore or a lively bar with live music”.

Nobody would tell me what Revs was. People kept suggesting it when I said I wanted to “make friends in public,” then giggling to each other mysteriously.

On a literal level, I understood that it’s a 24-hour nightclub on Chapel Street, but since it’s not inherently funny to just go out, I figured I was missing something.

u/McSquiggly on Reddit confirmed my suspicion: “One can not simply explain to you what Revs is. You have to go there and experience it for yourself. It is all things, and no things. It is the richest place of culture in Melbourne, while also devoid of any soul at all.”

Whatever that meant, I was in.

One Sunday (which also happened to be Easter), I headed over with my boyfriend and his friend. The bouncer at Revs told us it would cost $40 a person to get in, so we took a second to regroup. We talked to a girl in line who told us the entry fee wasn’t too bad when you frame it as a per-hour cost, since Revs is open so long that maybe you’d just stay for two days straight, which means it’s basically free.

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People stand outside revolver nightclub in Melbourne

It was solid logic, but ultimately, I decided against it. I might not know who my real Melbourne friends are or where they hang out, but in my heart, I hold this one truth: the people I’m meant to be friends with didn’t pay a $40 entry to Revs on Easter Sunday. They just didn’t.

We got a beer next door and sat on the patio with lighters displayed on the table to lure potential friends over, like a trio of terrible witches building houses out of gingerbread. 

A man with a rabbit on his shoulder

It kind of worked. We met a guy who loves crypto as well as this freakishly well-behaved rabbit.

We tried to make friends in Three Monkeys across the street but imagine the bravery it would take to penetrate this conversation. 

Three people sit with their back to the camera

It seemed like everyone had already found their match.

Two men wearing the same clothes walking

Eventually, we introduced ourselves to a group at the table beside ours. They seemed a little uncertain about having their night crashed by a bunch of strangers at first, but soon two of the boys started telling us about their trip to the US. One of their dads had warned them not to go because they’d get shot, and they decided to mess with him.

“We spotted a copper who was doing traffic control and we were like, ‘Hey mate, his dad’s worried about him being in the US, can we get a photo of you arresting him?’”

The cop was enthusiastically in. He asked, “What time is it in Australia? Should I just call him and say you’re in custody?” The three of them dialed the dad and made up a story about how they’d been arrested for disorderly conduct.

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“It was funny at first,” the guy sitting closer to me said, “But then his dad was not okay. Very very upset. Especially because his brother had just died.”

“Wait, his brother had just died?” I asked.

“Yeah, exactly,” he said, straining to be heard over the music, as he zoomed in on a photo of the boys grinning in front of the cop car. “That was the craziest part.”

Volunteer

 “This will help you meet people who share your values while giving back to the community”.

I found a group called “Friends of South Surrey Park,” on GoVolunteer, which meets weekly to plant seedlings, weed, and spread mulch along a creek in Boroondara that feeds into the Yarra. It actually wasn’t that local to me, but I liked the idea of being outside – plus, Friends of South Surrey Park? Sign me up.

It was a breezy Autumn day when I joined them. About 10 of us met outside a scout building, led by a woman named Pam – who, I learned, is an award-winning volunteer and former horticulture teacher. She’s lived in the area her whole life and has been with the group since its early years, 28 years ago. Pam took me around the park to point out what the group had accomplished, which plants were indigenous to the area and which were threats, which grass was good and which very similar looking grass was our enemy.

I was the youngest in the group by a lot, and the majority of members were retired. Many of them were in their 70s and 80s and had been volunteering together for decades. Everyone was really nice when I showed up without gardening gloves and uprooted the wrong plant. After a couple hours, we all got coffee and sat on park benches sharing treats. 

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It wasn’t what I was expecting when I set out on my friend-making mission – these ladies are absolutely never going to Revs with me – but I headed home in a great mood. It turns out that it’s all true: going outside, meeting people, and doing something nice for your neighbourhood – or someone else’s –  feels really good. Yuck!

Utilise social media and apps

“Use social media platforms or apps like Bumble BFF designed for meeting new people in your area”.

Bumble BFF brings out something bad in me. It’s hard to use a swiping app without caving to your most judgmental impulses, but it also seemed like the most efficient way to filter my surroundings for people who I think I’d get along with and who have room for new friendships.

My main gripe is that people can be so boring when they fill out their profiles. They list “self-awareness” in their hobbies section. Everyone wants to go to pilates. Everyone is looking for authentic experiences with someone who values kindness. Same, I guess. Who wouldn’t?

Eventually, I found a few girls I liked and went on two BFF dates. I didn’t completely click with one of them, for reasons I could probably articulate if I spent a few paragraphs pondering it.

The other one, Ally, is a writer who recently moved down from Sydney – and, we later discovered, actually works with my boyfriend. We met up at a wine bar with tiny candles on each table, and it felt extremely like a date. We drank spritzes and talked about roommate lore and hate comments from internet strangers and how it’s difficult to live far away from our families. After a couple hours, my boyfriend texted us from a promotional gummy vitamin event in Collingwood and asked if we wanted to come use a gummy vitamin claw machine with former Bachelor Australia contestants.

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Of course we did.

We arrived and promptly failed the claw game. We were feeling a little giddy and decided to obtain the gummies another way – stealthily, we each slipped a jar of hyaluronic acid vitamins into our bags and began popping them on the balcony, which I actually really recommend as a friendship-making activity. Low-stakes transgression is extremely bonding. It turns out the gummies were free all along, and that this is the “point” of PR events, but who cares? I’ve got a new friend and we love stealing! 

Join social groups or clubs

“Look for clubs, meetups, or social groups in your city that align with your interests”.

I like the idea of MeetUp – an app that connects you with mostly free interest groups. I scrolled through book clubs and D&D games, eventually landing on a group for women who like to knit at local pubs. 

I took two trams to Fitzroy and sat at the same table as an anthropologist and a very chatty woman who was crocheting stuffed animals for her yet-to-be-conceived grandchildren. The chatty woman told the anthropologist that anthropology is a very sexy career to have because it’s like Indiana Jones. The anthropologist kept saying, “No, no, that’s archaeology; anthropologists study culture.” She tried to explain her current job, which I think was related to public housing. The chatty woman shook her head. “You love fossils,” she repeated.

I’ve heard you have to go to a few MeetUps to find the right group, so maybe I’ll try again one day. I didn’t make a friend, but for now, I guess I’m just grateful the group prompted me to start knitting this green bag which I think came out really fun.

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Green bag hanging up

Make a professional connection personal

“Real connections can be made anywhere and don’t have to be constrained by the boundaries of “private life” or “work life.’”

The closest thing I have to “professional connections” or coworkers I regularly chat with are a pair of twin 16-year-old boys in Massachusetts who I tutor over Zoom. Each week, we meet to discuss the components of a good thesis statement and the death of the American Dream. I will never make this connection personal. Next!


Talk to friends-of-friends

“Your current friends may have other friends who you would get along with”. 

I kind of forgot you were allowed to do this until one day, I was lying in bed, swiping through Bumble BFF in a pit of despair when a memory flashed into my mind: a couple weeks before I left for Australia, my friend, Niamh, had mentioned that her friend, Lisa, had just arrived in Melbourne.

I texted her for Lisa’s number and after worrying that Lisa had lots of friends named Niamh with lots of friends named Ilana, sent a bizarrely formal WhatsApp message in which I referred to both myself and our mutual friend by first and last name. We decided to get coffee that week.

When I arrived, I scanned the line for a girl in glasses, which, I suddenly realized, was the only physical detail I actually knew about Lisa (who has minimal social media). Miraculously, we recognized each other on vibe alone and sat out back. Lisa is an architect from Berlin, and honestly, she’s great. We had a lot in common, like that we’re both on Working Holiday Visas but neither of us want to learn how to shuck oysters. 

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After coffee, we walked to an architecture exhibit she knew about in Carlton. I was like, “Speaking of buildings, have you been to MPavillion?” She hadn’t, and also wasn’t insulted by the assumption that she was a “building girl” who just likes all “buildings,” and so the following week we went to the pavilion for an outdoor live drawing workshop.

It was lovely. We walked back to my apartment and sat on my living room floor drinking coffee and chatting. I thought, Yes, this is exactly what friends do. Acquaintances sit on chairs; friends sit on floors.

This is all a bit boring to write about because there’s no natural conflict – I genuinely like Lisa. She’s smart and interesting and really good at finding free, wholesome activities. She isn’t here permanently, but exploring Melbourne is more fun with her around. 

A life drawing class

Making friends is exhausting and expensive. Even though most of my individual attempts failed, overall, I see the experiment as a success. I came out with a hand-knitted bag (from my own hands), a gardening group, and two friends in Melbourne – which is a world of difference from having literally zero. I still miss everyone from home but I’m hopeful about my new life here too.

Using an app and friend nepotism were the only two strategies that legitimately worked for me, but I think it’s largely luck that it happened that way. In another world, I could have ended up in a book club full of people I connected with, or grabbed a drink with a match who turned out to be horrible and annoying. It’s less that specific methods paid off, and more that dragging myself off the couch and throwing my body full force into the experiment opened up new possibilities. 

But I think my quest for adult friends in a new city mostly came down to giving it some time and, well… trying.