How Making Friends is Like Dating

making friends.jpgI hate being single.  I’m referring to being friendless, not romantic attachments.   Having a few close friends is one of the key factors that determines how happy I am in a new place.  I took having friends for granted when I lived in Canada, only learning how important it was after living in  S. Korea, Thailand and now Germany, where I started off completely friendless and learned that I need friends in order to Live the Good Life Abroad,  I’ve also learned that meeting new people and establishing a circle of acquaintances is easy through 6 Tips for Coping with Loneliness When Living Abroad, but finding close friends?  Not so easy.  It’s like dating – full of high and lows, anticipation – will she call me,? disappointment – I thought we really had potential,  and when you’re really lucky – you make a genuine friend.

Making new friends can be awkward – My Awkward Social Encounters in GermanyYou meet somebody, they have “friend potential”, things are looking good, you have a good feeling about this one.  Just like when dating, your first friend date is casual, perhaps at a coffee shop – you’re eager not too appear too overeager.   It goes swimmingly well – for the first 10 minutes.  You start taking more frequent sips of your coffee to fill in the increasingly longer awkward pauses.  Have you really just run out of things to talk about after just 10 minutes?  It appeared that you had so much in common when you first met.  Or perhaps, you really didn’t, but you just wanted to find something in common since she seemed so nice – You’re favorite color is purple too?  You had high hopes for this relationship.  You know you shouldn’t have, but just like so many times in the dating world, you have mapped out your future together in your head.  But instead of planning romantic getaways in B&Bs, your plans include double-dating, exchanging books, weekly lunch dates and even vacationing together. So what went wrong?

You try again – relationships of any type take work.  Perhaps you and your soon to be new best friend just had an off-day.  You always hear stories from couples (well maybe only occasionally, but still these stories do exist) about how their first date went horribly wrong, but now they’re happily married.  You try again, waiting the appropriate number of days to send a “it was so nice to meet you, do you want to do it again” email.  Your heart is racing as you push send.  Will she respond or just ignore your email?  Or perhaps she’ll brush you off with a “Sorry, but I’m really busy right now and don’t have so much time,” email.  Code for “I don’t want to be your friend and the idea of vacationing with you repulses me.” You can’t decide whether you would prefer the brush off or the no-response, which still leaves hope that perhaps she never received your email.

The second friend date – She responds – affirmatively and suggests a museum visit.  You breathe a huge sigh of relief as you fist pump your arms in the air “YES!”  A museum visit is perfect.  There’s built in conversation around the exhibits.  Why hadn’t you thought of this for your first friend date?  Never mind, you will really shine this time.  Not wanting to be late, you arrive early, way to early, but decide that looks desperate so you walk around the block 3 times, appearing to arrive at a fashionable two minutes after the agreed meeting time – while silently praying that she hasn’t witnessed you circling the block.  You air kiss – that’s a good sign, right?  An hour later you find yourself in a nearby café – alone and lonelier than ever.   You’ve blown it, despite sharing your self-deprecating stories that everybody else seems to find amusing she is gone.  Perhaps you talked too much, or not enough.  You purposely asked her questions about herself to show your interest.  Perhaps you asked too many questions.  Either way she is goneYou are still alone and friendless.  When you’re looking for companionship – romantic or otherwise, being single sucks!

But there is hope – Every once in a while you meet someone who just “gets you”, just like you do in the dating world.  Oh you have three cats?  I have two.  Yes, I would like to come with you next week to see where you buy that found-nowhere-else brand of cat food.  Why, yes my husband and I are free next Saturday night for a game of Settlers of Catan.  You’ve wanted to check out the Potato Museum as well?  Great, let’s do it next week.  And yes, I am free to meet for lunch beforehand. After your long, lonely search, you’ve found it – that elusive true friend!

What has been your experience making friends when moving someplace new?

Laurel Robbins is the founder of Monkeys and Mountains, an adventure travel blog and company that helps people plan their active holidays in a sustainable way. Although Canadian, she lives in Germany. You can find her in the mountains on most weekends.



  1. Italian Notes March 5, 2012 at 11:47 am - Reply

    I really like your approach to making friends. I’m sure it works:)

  2. Frau Dietz March 5, 2012 at 11:53 am - Reply

    Right on, Laurel! 🙂

    Though I love meeting new people, the idea of having to make a whole new set of friends when I moved to Germany was a bit of a shock: I have the most awesome group of mates back in London and I kind of thought, well, I’m never going to find any more friends like those ones… So I simply decided not to try to find replacements for them; I thought instead, why not meet a whole load of new people that I have this new thing in common with, and hang out with the sort of people I’d never usually get to meet… and so I threw myself straight away into going to expat meetups, hanging out with people from my German classes; I made friends with friends of friends (both German and expat) and I’ve ended up knowing a really lovely bunch of people that I love to hang out with.

    I think you’re right, it’s important to keep working at it (at individual relationships as well as at meeting new people) and I also think it’s really important to embrace meeting all kinds of people that you wouldn’t necessarily think you’d get on with. Of course you’re not going to click with everyone you meet, and sometimes it’s exasperating feeling like you still don’t have the same sort of friendships as you have with people you’ve know for ten years, but although it’s hard work, the hunt for friends can be really fun – and of course it’s hugely rewarding in the end 🙂

  3. Laurel March 5, 2012 at 11:59 am - Reply

    @Italian Notes – Thanks Mette. Making friends in Munich has been much easier than other places I’ve lived. I think a lot of it depends on the place and the opportunities that present themselves to make friends.

    @Christie – I love your attitude about not replacing your friends from home, but from finding new friends in Germany that you have something in common with. I think that has helped me too and I find myself connecting most with other expats who have a German partner or with Germans who have lived abroad – traits that I wouldn’t have looked for in a friend back home. With your positivity, I’m sure you have no trouble making friends.

  4. amandapoverseas March 5, 2012 at 12:39 pm - Reply

    When I moved to FL (not an overseas move but still over a 1000 miles from north to south), most of the friends I made were from work. The rest I met by braving up to randomly go out to any concert or music event I could find. The first, I have kept in touch with an average number of people. The second, I only keep in touch with a couple. I guess you could say most of the latter were “single serving friends” for the concert night, similar to the airplane friends the narrator of Fight Club talks of. I really should have been better about venturing out even more than I did but too late now.

    Now that I’m in Germany, I’m still working on what to do. So far I’ve only made “couples friends”, couples my husband knew at least one of through work that we have gone out with or over to each other’s apartments for dinner. While that has had it’s fun points, and it takes some of the pressure off since it’s a group, I haven’t gotten especially close to any of them such that I feel I could call them friends individually. I plan to take some exercise classes soon and see if I can find some events on post to attend and maybe join some of the organized trips when we can afford to. Once I brave up a little more I may see if there are things I can join in the local area that would help me branch out. Most of the time it doesn’t actually bother me not having friends outside my husband because it’s easy for me to entertain myself or for us to entertain ourselves, but sometimes it would be nice to be around other people too, so I’ll have to work on that. Even if few people turn into friends, at least it’ll get me out doing something new.

  5. Laurel March 5, 2012 at 1:08 pm - Reply

    @Amanda – I’m impressed that you just approached people that takes guts. Meeting people through work is a great idea, but being self employed in Germany, that didn’t work for me as it had in other locations I’ve lived in. It sounds like you’ve got a great strategy in German, I found events where I saw the same people each week (i.e. playing badminton, hiking club, book club) have been great ways to meet people and as you said, even if you don’t it’s fun to try something new.

  6. Claire March 5, 2012 at 3:21 pm - Reply

    Great advice! I laughed at the “You want to go to the Potato Museum…” One of my good friends we met by bonding over both wanting to go to the Torrington Gopher Museum, after the long drive there and back we’ve been good friends ever since!

  7. Laurel March 5, 2012 at 4:13 pm - Reply

    @Claire – I’ve heard about the Gopher Museum. It looks so bizarre, but I’m a sucker for the off-beat museums. It’s amazing how they can bring people together.

  8. Anke March 5, 2012 at 4:56 pm - Reply

    Thanks for your posts, Lauren. I have recently discovered them and being in the opposite position (I am German who moved to the US for love) and your blogs give me a lot of insight about my own culture and people.

    I find it very difficult to make friends where I live in the US (small town in the Midwest) and find myself mostly clicking with other foreigners or people originally not from here. Motherhood (and continuing to work) has brought on a whole new set of loniless (can’t socialize like before anymore and don’t have time to do the “Mommy and me things” since I am working).

    Not sure how to solve it – I guess other Moms with kids the age of mine is the answer but to make Mommy friends is at least as challenging …

    • Susan March 6, 2012 at 4:12 am - Reply

      I feel for you. My children are adults now but I was in exactly the same position when I moved to Texas from England. Is your child in daycare or school? Find out if he/she has a special friend, then suggest meeting at a park or play place at the weekend.

      Laurel’s suggestion of meeting up with expats is a good one. They may be able to give you advice based on their experiences.

      Depending on where you work, you may be able to express your loneliness to a sympathetic coworker.

      Many cities have newcomer clubs and plan social activities based on your lifestyle and interests.

      Things may have changed since I lived in the U.S.A but at the time I found the lack of knowledge regarding other cultures and countries frustrating and, fortunately,funny. Like being shown how to use the phone in case I wasn’t familiar with the process, having ketchup explained to me, and being surprised I knew what snow was.

      Time will help.

  9. Sabrina March 5, 2012 at 9:46 pm - Reply

    So true! Making new friends can be such an awkward experience – especially, and even more so, when you throw cultural differences in the mix. Yikes! For the first 3-4 years I don’t think I had any female American friends… it just didn’t click and I was sure it was me. Luckily there were always other foreigners, so that helped a lot. I think it took me a long, long time to begin understanding how the whole American-girl-friendship system works. And I do think that girls here tend to be much meaner than in Germany…

    Also… staying with your dating analogy… one of my best friends from college lives in Munich. Want me to try and set up a blind date for you? 🙂

  10. Sue March 5, 2012 at 11:44 pm - Reply

    Ah yes, the friend dating experience- not so easy. I am finding it more difficult as I get older- or maybe I’m less motivated this move. When you are not sure how long you are staying in a place it sometimes seems like a lot of work for what will be a long distance friend.

    That being said- I agree for me too it impacts how I feel about a place.

  11. Andrea March 6, 2012 at 3:40 am - Reply

    I find that I’m most often meeting other foreigners and expats, but that could also be because I was living in Melbourne the last few years. I’ve met some of my closest girlfriends while travelling or living as an expat – one of my girlfriends in Melbourne is like a sister to me.

  12. Christy @ Technosyncratic March 6, 2012 at 5:37 am - Reply

    This is so true!! Kali and I like to have a few close friends (rather than a large group of casual acquaintances), and meeting new potential friends is totally like dating. There has to be chemistry and the ability to click on a deeper level. Obviously it takes time to see where that potential will go, but the process of getting there (and vetting new people) is a lot like dating!

  13. Sophie March 6, 2012 at 11:29 am - Reply

    Enjoyed this, Laurel.

    At home, I have the same friends I’ve had since pre-school. When we lived in New Zealand, I found it hard to meet new friends, at least local friends. Fortunately, the place was full of recent immigrants (mostly from the UK) who had the same problem. It’s been nine years, but I still hear from them occasionally – some of them still haven’t got any local friends…

  14. Shannon March 6, 2012 at 3:27 pm - Reply

    As I promised 🙂

    The dating analogy is interesting, not one I would particularly use but I can see how it relates.

    With any friendship or relationship (if you want to stay with the dating concept) people have too much expectations IMO, and if you don’t behave exactly other human beings, then you’re not worth being friends with (according to some) or maybe you have big blue things hanging over your ears (that’s me wearing hearing aids) they’d rather not talk to you because it would be hard to communicate with (and the truth is, its not that difficult really).

    I now only have one good friend really, I met him in person for the first time last week in 15 years as we have known each other online all these years so the expectations haven’t changed much at all; in fact he wants me to come back and visit again as I am pretty much his only friend as well.

    I have some pretty good friends, but not like this guy and most of the people are mostly acquaintances or people I used to hang out with but they are just people I know; not necessarily friends.

    I don’t know anything about making foreign friends, except you can’t let yourself expect too high of them and really why should you? I’d like to have another good friend someday, not just people I know or are just mere friends with.

  15. eileen ludwig March 6, 2012 at 5:51 pm - Reply

    Love your descriptions. They are so full and not needy sounding but logical. Yes I am at that friendless stage. Long distant friend who gets me but nothing close. I try many different approaches and each time with hopes that my overtures will be match but they are not.

    Was thinking about this the other day. Work friends never really worked out for me. People you thought were your friends were not but only playing politics.

    Needs more work on my part. I go deep fast and that is too intense for many. Finding someone where that works and how good that feels makes it harder to try the cocktail version which is not my best side.

    Love that you get out and go places

  16. Abby March 6, 2012 at 6:56 pm - Reply

    Soo true! When I move, which is often, I often find myself clinging to which ever friend or friends I meet first — even if they’re not really someone who’s a “match” (to use your dating comparisons!). This leads to awkwardness later. I hope that makes sense! Making friends is so, so important. And hard!

  17. Laurel March 7, 2012 at 5:36 pm - Reply

    @Anke – Welcome Anke! Thank you for your comment. I learned a lot about being Canadian, moving to Germany, so I can relate to your comment. Most of my friends in the beginning where also foreigners, but I now have a couple of German friends. I can see how having children wouldn’t leave you with a lot of time to make friends, it really does take time, especially in the beginning. Best of luck with making friends, I hope you find a way to do it.

    @Susan – Thank you for your advice. I have found that expat groups and my sports groups have been a great way to meet people and have met some great friends from them.

    @Sabrina – It takes a while to figure out how the locals work. My husband still thinks I say too many personal things, even though I’m saying things which I don’t consider personal. Regarding your friend in Munich, sure, why not, as long as she is up for meeting me. Thank you for your offer, that is really thoughtful.

    @Sue – I have definitely gotten pickier as I’ve gotten older as well and it’s tough if you don’t think you will be in a place for very long.

    @Andrea – Great to hear that you’ve had such a positive experience. I find when I click with another expat, I really click, since we have so much in common.

    @Christy – I hear you, I would rather have a few close friends as well, rather than a large group of acquaintances.

    @Sophie – It’s great having expat friends, but sad that some of your expat friends, still don’t have local friends. It can definitely take a while and cultural differences add another challenge.

    @Shannon – Thank you for your comment. I think you’re right about not having too high of expectations, but I think when you’re lonely, it’s easy to have unrealistic expectations. I’m sorry to hear that you’ve found it difficult to meet friends – you’re online personality is lovely! Glad to hear you’ve found a wonderful friend though. I find I don’t need many friends, just a few close ones.

    @Eileen – Thanks, but I will admit that at times I’ve come on too strong and been needy. Once I have one friend, I become more normal, but until I have that first friend, I’m sure I come across as desperate, which doesn’t help things since no one wants to be friends with someone who is desperate. Best of luck with your continued friend making efforts, you’re right it does take a lot of effort. Being self employed, I don’t have the option of work friends, but I agree, even when you do have the option, it can be trickier.

    @Abby – Yes, that makes total sense and I’ve done the same thing!

  18. Zhu March 8, 2012 at 1:42 am - Reply

    My experience? It took time. A lot of time. I still don’t have that many very close friends in Canada, and I’ve been there for a while!

    I think you also have to accept that it’s harder to find common points with people who grew up in a different culture. By that, I mean friendship abroad may not be the same kind of high school type of friendship where you share everything.

  19. Sabrina March 8, 2012 at 7:45 pm - Reply

    I agree, sometimes it just takes time. Even after years and years of living in Texas I sometimes wonder how certain conversations are expected to go, how certain cultural events are celebrated, etc. So much potential to piss people off… on the other hand, those who aren’t willing to cut you any slack are probably not the ones you want as friends anyways 😉 I’ll send my friend an email with your email address and a link to your blog.

  20. Jenna March 9, 2012 at 3:26 pm - Reply

    This really made me laugh and reminded me of a friendship that I worked on a few years ago– I really wanted to be her friend and it felt much more like the anticipation of a new boyfriend than a new friend! LOL. And finding those friends that you just click with and love to do whatever with is fortunately something I can relate to, too. Anyway, I think the best thing with making new friends is giving it time, being persistent with people you feel you might connect with, and not being afraid of being honest (saying that you are new there and would like to meet some new people). When I lived in the Czech Republic, I was very fortunate that I made friends with a lot of Czechs and some expats as well. I still have maintained many of those friendships.

  21. Shiv March 10, 2012 at 9:45 pm - Reply

    I kept thinking “that is exactly how it was!” as I was reading your post, so thank you 🙂 . It’s unfortunate that you can be in some of the best places on earth and you won’t enjoy it if you’re super lonely.

    I never had problems making friends in my hometown, but it’s really hard making friends when living abroad! Meeting people is easy, but as you said, getting past that awkward barrier and not coming off so needy (even though you’re dying to connect quickly) is just so difficult.

    Why is it that much harder abroad?

  22. Heather March 11, 2012 at 12:10 am - Reply

    It is a strange beast, isn’t it? You never think that it would be so difficult to meet people outside of work or school, but it really can be. I love the idea of the “friend date,” it is oh so true. And really, what does anyone want but a nice little group to play Settlers of Catan with on a Sunday afternoon?

  23. cheryl March 25, 2012 at 8:51 pm - Reply

    It’s so hard to meet new friends when you move abroad … but you seem to have done a wonderful job! Very funny article. 🙂

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