When Lisa Harveys fiance left her, she found herself swimming in a sea of couples. She explains how she built a whole new gang
Will you be my friend? asked no grownup ever until I did, to a stranger called Natalie in 2017. I had moved to New York from Beaconsfield in Buckinghamshire, and was there on my own, for three months, without a plan. Natalie was a friend of a friend of someone I knew in the UK, and I was completely out of my comfort zone when I sent an email asking if she wanted to meet for a drink. But I have been feeling the benefits of sticking my neck out to make new friends ever since.
Before I went to New York, I had been anticipating a different future: marriage. In June 2015, 12 weeks before our wedding, my partner of 12 years walked out on me, suddenly and I never saw him again. The shock floored me, but what helped were the other relationships that had brought me love and happiness, including the golden friends from school, university and work who became more sacred as time has passed.
But as I learned to embrace my single life, I realised that I was swimming solo in a sea of couples; at 32, all my friends were in serious relationships. I knew my best friends and I wouldnt drift apart; we share an unspoken oath to stay close no matter how different our lives become. And of course, I was excited to see my mates go through special moments in their relationships: moving in together, engagement, baby announcements. But it was becoming less simple to see one another as often as we wanted. I realised that part of starting over meant meeting other people who were walking a similar path.
Which is where Natalie came in. She had moved to New York from London for work. For me, New York was a sabbatical. I had never travelled alone and was ready for new experiences. Heading for my first friend date felt more nerve-racking than going on a romantic one, but, after that initial margarita, we were soon swapping single-life adventure stories.
Ours became a friendship forged on huge chats. Over the next few months, we took road trips upstate, stumbled upon hidden jazz bars, had countless brunches. I even gatecrashed her work socials. Natalie was a lifeline; by the time she threw me a friendsgiving dinner at Thanksgiving, I knew it was no fling. (She has since returned to London, where the brunches and city exploring have continued as has the closeness of our bond.)
Meeting Natalie gave me the courage to seek out other people. I felt less self-conscious about showing up to events alone, or striking up conversations with strangers something I had never done back home. Looking for a place to live, I met Seneca through a Facebook group. In her cosy apartment we would talk for hours about boys, books and the joys of being an auntie. When I cheered her on at the New York marathon, it was as if she had been in my life from the start. Now I am back in the UK, there are 3,400 miles between us, but social media keeps our connection going. It has taught me to value a friend irrespective of proximity or convenience (something we dont do, perhaps, when we are younger).
But making new friends as a grownup isnt always easy. Some of my friend requests went unanswered. One potential friendship fizzled out when we realised we just didnt click (a mutual ghosting). Things felt harder after I came home because, lets face it, busy schedules aside, some people arent looking for new friends. Still, I kept putting myself out there.
Enter Grace, Ava and Vicky, AKA the Brissies, all from London. We met on a trip to Brisbane and, within a day, our chemistry and shared humour shone through. We were soon opening up to each other. As Ava said, the week felt like a crash course in meeting friends and how to be there for one another from saving a seat and intuitively buying four drinks at the bar to sharing our fears and funniest stories (singing badly at the top of our lungs on the motorway was a highlight). We became a crew, at ease with being ourselves.
Fast forward a year and we are each others biggest cheerleaders, guaranteed to work through any life drama over WhatsApp or dinner, and to get any dancefloor started.
Sometimes an opportunity to make a new friend can literally turn up on your doorstep. Cristabel (Tink) moved next door to me, with her friend Lucas, six months ago. We met when she was putting the bins out, and within 15 minutes were swapping life histories. Were the same person! she said as it became clear how much we had in common.
I have lived alone for the past four years. While it gives me a sense of freedom, there have been lonely moments. Tink has transformed that coming home feeling. We are in and out of each others homes, grabbing groceries for one another and giving lifts to the station. She will automatically lay an extra dinner place for me, leave out just because flowers or send a message to check I got home OK after a night out and I fall a little bit more in friendship-love each time.
I have also learned that there are really great people right under our noses. I met Radhika and Alex, separately, through freelance jobs and we found common ground talking shop. What started as brainstorming sessions, sharing contacts and opening up about the highs and lows of working freelance, soon turned into long lunches and late nights out. They are smart and supportive, and I knew we had become proper friends when I found myself ringing Alex in tears after a hard day, and Rad shared her deepest insecurities.
How do my friends, old and new, get on? At my recent birthday gathering, they all came together and I saw connections being made. That is important: meeting new people doesnt mean replacing or spending less time with old friends; it is simply a different relationship. And, thanks to these new bonds, you get to see each other and yourself through fresh eyes.
Friendly relations: how to reboot your social circle
Put yourself out there Push past the fear of rejection, whether that is swiping right on a friend-finding app such as Bumble BFF, or starting a conversation with a stranger in a queue (not as embarrassing as we tend to think). From there, it is about maintaining that hint of a connection, if there is one. Not everyone is going to end up a best friend, but it may lead to something fun and, if you are lucky, meaningful.
Reconnect with old pals Since leaving a job, I have become close to a group of five former colleagues. Before, we rarely socialised; now that we have all left, we make an effort to hang out regularly. We are rooted by office nostalgia, but this fab five know my backstory and bring wine, gossip and empathy in equal measure.
Explore your social network Sometimes it is worth tapping up your friends friends. When Tink invited me out with her mates the day after I met her, I said yes though I was nervous. That night led to Wine Wednesdays and three brilliant people. You could also ask friends to introduce you to someone they think you might click with via a group chat as my friend Alex did for me.
Join a group Yes, we hear this advice a lot, but it works. Visit the website Meetup or search groups on social media based on something you love: I found a weekly long-reads journalism group (like a book club, but with articles). The key is to keep turning up, though it is hard for a friendship to develop if your attendance is patchy.
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