Asking For a Friend: Try a Little Awkwardness

Dear Olive,

I just graduated from college and moved to a new city. I went from a house with my best friends to living on my own. I work at a very small company, mostly from home, so I rarely see my coworkers. I have a few friends here, and I like my neighbors a lot, but if I forget to seek it out I can spend days without talking to people I know. I’m not used to the amount of effort I have to put in to live a social life. What should I do?

-Home Alone

 

Dear Alone,

You have a pretty special opportunity right now, one that’s easy to let slip by when you’re surrounded by roommates and routines and have no reason to question any of them: you get to decide what this next phase of your life will look like.

Usually, we don’t get to do much but respond. We trundle along the tracks in front of us until something throws us off them and into a panicked mid-air decision about how to get back on solid ground. But in the middle of this big and bewildering transition, you get to choose. That means that the life you’ve lived so far might not be the template for what comes next.

It’s up to you, of course. You ask what you should do, but the answer (annoyingly, I know) is to think about where you’re trying to go. Do you crave an echo of what you had with your roommates? Invite your neighbors over for Taco Tuesday and sit around eating ice cream on the floor after. Do you wonder about pals who’ll try odd hobbies with you after work? Go alone to trapeze class and say hi to someone friendly. Do you want more access to professional circles? Join your colleagues for Friday happy hours, even if you’ve been working alone in your pajamas all day.

In all these scenarios, you’re likely to do a lot of the initiating. You’re new, you’re the one without tracks laid out ahead of you just yet; you’ve got to reach out first. If you’re like, uh, some people I know, that might call up old injured feelings of getting abandoned alone on the playground or hiding out in the library (so that you wouldn’t be abandoned alone on the playground). But the thing kids forget, which grown-ups get to discover, is that being bold enough to make a first move is powerful, not weak. You’re not a loser for reaching out to make connections with other people. You’re not one if you choose not to, either. But that’s the point: you get to choose.

You might also get tired of having to. The easy camaraderie and familiar habits that colored your friendships for the last few years are special. Losing them — even if what you get in exchange is your own apartment and a kick-ass job in a new city — is worth grieving. And though it might involve occasional crying at the same sad movie you’ve watched eight times already and keeping a stash of cat videos queued up in your bookmarks, that sadness is special, too. Feeling the weight of what you no longer have lets you imagine a future from scratch instead of from memory.

The next months — hell, probably the next year — might be lonely. Pry open the cracks in that loneliness, forge relationships with the people you can imagine inviting to Taco Tuesdays, try a trapeze class. Do whatever it takes to build a new track under your feet, heading to wherever you want to go. But as you’re building, take a few moments to notice the vast, thrilling wonder of having no road at all to limit you.

Love,
Olive

 

For a little unprofessional advice in these uncertain times, send your questions to yourfriendolive@gmail.com or to our anonymous portal. We want it all: the embarrassing, the baffling, the epistemological. Check back in two weeks from now for another dose of aggressively earnest advice, next time on Asking For a Friend.

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