Lots of people struggle to build relationships when they get to new places. In my work as a university chaplain, my main experience is with new college freshmen. But people experience the same challenges when they move to a new town for work or even during significant shifts in their community when they don’t move anywhere (new job, divorce, etc.). Thankfully, watching freshmen succeed and fail at forming new friendships has taught me a lot about what is required to start building new relationships.
- The first thing you need to decide is which of your personal interests are the ones that you’d most like to have friendships built around. In our ministry, religious commitments is a common one. Some persons build relationships around shared professions, justice issues that matter to them, or hobbies. It really doesn’t matter exactly what you pick, but you are much more likely to build relationships with persons that you share interests with. Aristotle called these friendships of “utility.” They aren’t likely to be enduring on their own, but they are easy to form. The deepest relationships can grow out of these. Once you have decided which of your interests are the best place to start, you can move to step 2.
- The second step is to establish a regular time of gathering around that interest where the engagement level is high. A gathering where one person talks and everyone else listens (worship services, lecture classes, etc.) isn’t going to work well on its own. You need a regular gathering where you will have casual conversation. Do a little research into opportunities that involve your interest area. For our religious students this is bible study or prayer groups. For others it may be a regular Saturday bike club ride. A weekly service opportunity may work for others. It should preferably happen at least once a week. If you have multiple options, choose the one that will include the most engagement with others in the group. Those for whom their “interest” is their job, this will be particularly easy. This is why many lasting friendships start there: regular and engaging meetings.
- As relationships form in the regular meeting, begin to invite for time outside those meetings. This may be in the form of lunch with a new friend. It may mean having a party at your house. But the deepest friendships will require more time spent outside the formal context. This meetings signal to both persons that the friendship is not going to be satisfied with an hour per week. This step can often be the hardest because the possibility for rejection is always with you. But take the leap and make an invitation. Don’t wait for them, they are just as unsure as you are.
The steps work. Don’t make excuses about there not being an interest group, or that you didn’t connect with anyone. Have you done the steps for a while? Wait until you have done all three with diligence before you expect to start those new friendships.