The first time I moved, I experienced loneliness and pain the likes of which I hadn’t seen since the 7th grade.
Talk about a return to teen angst. I graduated from college and moved to Seattle to intern at a church. On Friday nights, I actually prayed my part-time job would schedule me to work so I wouldn’t have to sit in my room alone.
Back in school we enjoyed forced community. Our classmates were just like us—the same age, same interests and oftentimes the same personality. We naturally built relationships. But once we graduated, our friends moved all over. In the post-college world, we face people from vastly different backgrounds, of different ages and personalities.
Even if you’re the type who loves meeting new people, uprooting and moving to an entirely new place can be challenging.
Since Seattle, I’ve relocated seven more times. It still stinks. It’s hard and it’s lonely, especially for a quiet guy like me. But after eight times, I know how to do it well.
These three steps will guide you into a loving community wherever you go. Remember, community takes time. It’s ok to feel lonely. Just remember, it gets better. Each of these steps require boldness, but I promise, the more you practice, the easier they become.
Step 1: Ask for an introduction
You need a support structure. You may even need a job. You need answers to simple questions like, “Where should I get my hair cut?” “What’s the best gym around here?” or even “Where can I find a job?”
In Seattle, I made the mistake of relying on one or two people to help me through all of these problems. It takes a village.
So before you move, ask for an introduction. If you need a community of Christ followers, ask your current pastor, “Do you know anyone in [destination] who could connect me to followers of Jesus? Or if not, who might know someone?” If you need a job, go to someone in your industry and ask, “Do you know anyone in [destination] who has connections in this industry? If not, who might know someone?” Notice the question doesn’t ask, “Can you give me a job?”
For ages, folks have smoothed transitions through introductions. When Jesus sent out his disciples, he told them to look for a man or woman of goodwill—an ally in a new place. In centuries past, nobility would request a letter of introduction from one mayor, baron or commander to another.
I used this skill before I moved back to California, and it ultimately landed me a job in addition to wonderful friends.
Step 2: Commit to a group or two:
When I moved to Washington, D.C., I visited many churches. As a result, I only experienced the Sunday service. By the time I left D.C. I had the same number of church friends as when I started: zero.
If you skip around to different churches, you’ll spend months on your own, outside of community. So ask your pastor or friends for an introduction, do some research, and then when you arrive, commit.
Attend the same church (or two) for at least a month. After a month, you’ll recognize people and they’ll recognize you. If you fill out the white card in the back of the pew, you might just receive a couple event invitations. It can be scary to dive into a new church, but if you commit for at least a month, you’ll be able to tell if it’s a place you want to stay. And even if it’s not, you’ll probably have made some connections in the process.
When I moved back to California, I dove in to a church as soon as I got here. It’s not a perfect community, but no church is. I would much rather stick with imperfect people than stick to myself.
I also took up a hobby. If you’re a cyclist or want to join a book club, use step one and Google to find meet up groups. If you climb, work out or run, visit a gym or running store and ask about groups you can join.
Step 3: If you’re an introvert, find the other introverts.
While some flourish around strangers, others of us, the introverts who prefer peace and quiet, don’t always do so well.
Whether you’re an introvert or extrovert yourself, seeking introverts can be a good way to find friends if you’re having difficulty in a setting with a large group of people.
Once you join a group, the introverts stick out like sore thumbs. They’re the ones with their mouths shut. They’re the wall flowers, hanging on the outskirts of a crowded room as the extravert dances around chatting with everyone. They tend to carry books under their arms.
This step is hard because introverts can be awkward. Introverts look at you funny when you walk up to them and communicate stand-offish things through body language. Don’t worry, you probably do the same thing, at times. Remember the TV show Lost? “Live together; die alone.” Press on.
As an awkward introvert myself, my best introduction is the horrific, “Hey I just moved here from out of town and have no idea what’s going on. How long have you been a part of [group]?” Please share a better intro in the comments section below.
Even with a lousy intro like mine, people respond. They usually ask the same assortment of exhausting questions you’ll receive dozens of times, “Where did you move from? Why did you move? What do you do?” Now you’re in a conversation, and you might just make a friend.
Even with tips and tricks, relocating remains painful. I miss my friends from Dallas, Seattle and D.C. I have to talk to strangers, and sometimes I’m lonely. But, because of the steps described above, my most recent move has actually been fun.
Give it time, practice the steps, and I promise, everything will be OK. You will make friends. You will find community. And if you ever need a connection in a new place, who knows? I’ve moved enough that I might just know someone.
After relocating eight times, Eric currently lives in Santa Cruz, Calif. He works in the tech industry, lives for adventure and following Jesus, and graduated from Dallas Theological Seminary. You can find him online at ericmcclellan.com.