Friday, June 13, 2014

How to be a "New Girl"

Confession – this was a blog post I started several months ago, but then my sister Marley (who has been a new girl a few more times than I have) wrote a post on her tips for making friends in a new location. Since many of you read both our blogs, I didn’t want to be redundant  so I held off on finishing and publishing my post.

I've been a new girl several times before in my life...and sometimes I have been better at it than others. Along the way, I have learned a few tips that help you settle in, make friends and feel at home more quickly.  I probably did the "new girl" phase best in Jackson. I hated my first couple months in town (even though I spent most of my growing up years in the big J, most of my friends had since moved) but committed myself to jumping in. Within the year, Jackson was home and I had a great group of pals, a wonderful church home, a fun apartment and roomie and a sense of involvement in the community.  I tried to apply the same "dive in" plan here in DC and it took awhile (maybe a bit longer than Jackson) but I (we) feel at home in DC now.
Jackson, MS

Washington, DC

(PS I had no reason to post these pics except for the fact that they are 
the last two places I moved and made friends...oh, and I think they 
are both very pretty cities, aren't they? Love both my "homes")

8 Tips for Being the New Girl

(1)    Get involved in community immediately and stay involved even when it’s awkward.  Join a running group, charity, church, political group or alum group. Don’t just go to church, but join a Bible Study or Community Group or get involved in a ministry (Becoming involved in church activities is extra beneficial – you are likely growing spiritually, not just socially, and you are not only making friends, but making like minded friends who share your faith and beliefs! Bonus!) Prepare yourself now for the fact that it will be awkward at times– there will be times when it is uncomfortable to walk into church, Bible Study, Young Republicans, Junior League (insert whatever you are involved with here) and mingle. There will be times when you make small talk yet again or sit alone and feel lonely. Keep pressing on. Each time you go, you will likely know one more person. If you try to get involved in a community or group and find that it's not the place for you, then replace that group fairly quickly. Getting plugged in helps you make friends, feel involved and stay busy -- so you don't stay at home lonely!

(2)    Almost always say yes for the first several monthsSeriously, if you are new, you should be saying YES 80-90 percent of the time. if someone invites you to dinner and you don’t have much money, go and order a salad. If someone asks you to come to happy hour and you’re tired, suck it up and go. If you can’t go for some reason, then make sure you apologize, give a reason for not being able to go (work late, previous plans, etc) and make it clear you want to get together another time (and then possibly follow up with an invite….see #3)  Telling you to always accept invitations even when you don’t feel like going may seem harsh, but it is the quickest way to establish friendships.  First of all, people are taking a risk by asking someone they don’t know well to hang out, so you want to respond positively. Second, if you are new, you are not already in any established friend groups. If you say no, there is no guarantee that others will remember to invite you in the future. Finally, if you go to a party or event, you will hopefully leave feeling like you have one or more new friends…friends who you can connect with later for dinner, drinks or a movie; friends who you can invite to hang out and friends who will hopefully continue to reach out and include you. D and I said "yes" to a camping
When I lived in Jackson, I met a girl who was new to town and said she wanted to meet new people. However, every time I invited her to do something, she said she was "tired" or "wanted a night in". (I'm not hating on "nights in", but I think you have to take less of them when you are new to town) Eventually, I quit trying so often.  I wasn’t upset, but I wasn’t going to continue to make an effort if she really wasn’t that interested in my friendship or meeting others. Whether she knew  it or not, she was sending mixed signals about whether she really did want to be included.
So, seriously, try to say yes to as many events as possible. Once you are more settled, you will have the freedom to say no -  when you are tired, busy, not interested – without the possibility of being forgotten. But for now, be prepared to stay busy!

(3)    You do the inviting.  So you met someone at a church event and had a good conversation or a work friend invited you out for happy hour which you enjoyed.... Don’t be afraid to reciprocate and invite that person to do something.  No one wants to feel like he or she has to do all the planning and inviting, so return the favor, reach out. Not only is it nice to be asked to do something, it also clearly shows you enjoyed hanging out the first time if you want to hang out again.

(4)    Find other people who are new new to town, new to church, new to the group. New people are eager for friends too. And, sometimes it is easier to befriend others who are new because they aren’t already established with plans and friends and commitments.

(5)    Don’t go home too often at first.  I had to go home one month after we moved to DC and I swear, the only reason I came back to DC was because I loved my husband. I went home for a week and saw family and friends and packed our stuff up. Seeing all my possessions in a moving van made me realize this wasn’t a summer away, or even a one year adventure, but something that was fairly permanent….and I cried as the Jackson skyline disappeared in the distance. I knew I was coming back to a place where I was not settled yet, had only a few friends and did not yet feel like home.  I had no choice, I had to go to Mississippi to pack, but that week of laughing with my family and nights out with friends made it really hard to come back to DC.  So, if you can avoid it, don't go home a lot at first. Avoiding going home often for the first few months forces you to make your new city into your new home.

Fast forward 6 months.  We didn’t go home again until Christmas (which I wasn’t happy about at first, but it turned out to be a good thing) and although I enjoyed our trip back to the Magnolia state, a part of me was excited to get back to our life in DC – New Years Eve with friends, weekly small group, girls nights.  Being “stuck” in DC for 6 months forced D and me to get involved. Now, I feel free to go to my home state (whenever I can afford plane tickets!) without feeling too attached.  But, I had to put in several months in DC before it felt like my new home.

(6)    Unpack and make your house feel homey! Almost a year later, our house is far from finished. Not every picture is framed and hanging. We still need another dresser. Our bedroom is almost always a little cluttered due to a lack of storage, so the door remains closed when guests come over. But, we did hang a few pieces of art, put down an area rug, add a few of our trinkets and framed photos, buy some couch pillows and arrange and rearrange furniture until we found a good layout. It feels like home to us and it feels cozy enough to invite others over (see #3 again) which we do fairly regularly. Get your home to a point where you feel comfortable hosting others and then you can slowly do the rest.

(7)    Don’t invest too much time in people who don’t want to be your friends.  The luxury with being new is that you don’t have a history with people. I’m extremely loyal so if a friend lets me down or continuously blows me off, I probably still fight for them, show a little grace and hope to salvage things. But, when I’m new and get excluded or rejected or feel I made a connection with someone but no friendship follows, I may be disappointed, but I am free to move on.  Sometimes people are busy or unaware or not interested in adding people to their circle of friends, that’s okay, move on, find others to invest in. 

(8) If you are single, consider living with a roommate. I'm not suggesting finding someone on Craig's List (although that has worked well for people I know) but search church classifieds, live with a friend or a friend of a friend, etc)  Living with someone can give you built in fellowship, access to plans and friendships, etc.

(9) Don't be choosy.  Be open to meeting all types of people. Be open to making all types of friends. It's tempting to only want to hang out with people who are like you (particularly when you are out of your comfort zone...IE, I am immediately drawn to southerners!) Moving is a great opportunity to broaden your horizons, plus you are  more likely to plug in quickly if you don't limit your friendships to those who are similar to you. 

Note: I am not telling you to befriend criminals, just to be  less picky when making friends.

(10) Enjoy your new city! This doesn't help you make new friends, but it does help you feel at home and stay busy while you are in the "transition" process.  Marriage makes things a bit easier -- you get to bring a built in friend to a new city with you, but the reality is that no matter how quickly you dive into your new life, you will have a few months of getting to know people before you have established friends....don't sit at home and feel sorry for yourself, walk through a fun neighborhood, go to a local museum, try a new bakery.  I spent the first two months of married life at home and I thoroughly explored my little neighborhood, looking in stores, walking down side streets, wondering across the bridge into Georgetown, etc.

Being a "New Girl" Married v. Single (or a "New Guy")

I've been the new girl when single and when married, and honestly, being married when you are new is easier.  You have a built in friend for movies, dinners out, happy hour, exploring.  Although so much time together might not quench all your social needs, at least it quenches some!  You don't have to walk in to church alone or spend a Friday evening alone. If you are married, be grateful that you have this built in buddy to help make the transition to a new place a little easier.

However, flip side, I think singles make friends quicker.  They don't have that built in buddy so they jump in and get involved at a faster paced than married women. I've shared before about how I think singles make great friends and this rings true when they are new to town - they make friends more easily and they have the freedom to commit to last minute plans without checking in with spouses. If you are single, take advantage of this freedom and get involved with a church, group, charity immediately.  Busy yourself with plans and get settled in your new city! (PS, you never know when one of these new might turn into a dating relationship, so yet another motivating reason to get involved!)

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