I’ve been in London for four and a half months. It feels like no time at all (and I guess in the big scheme of things, it really is no time at all). It looks like the old cliché is true and time really does fly when you’re having fun, moving house, getting to grips with a new job and settling in to a new(-ish) city.
And things are going well. There’s just one teeny tiny blip. And it’s a hard one to admit. But I’m going to put it out there because I’ve a feeling that it might be one of those things that happens a lot but often isn’t mentioned because, well, it’s a bit embarrassing. The truth is, after four months in London, I haven’t made any new friends.* Not one. Nobody.
Okay, so let’s just get this possibility out of the way first. Maybe it’s me. Maybe I’m some sort of social pariah, incapable of making friends. But, I’m reassuring myself that this can’t be true because I already have a truly awesome group of friends: friends from school, friends from uni, friends from my year abroad, friends from Cambridge, all sorts of wonderful friends.
Now, admittedly, I’m never going to win a prize for being the most outgoing, talkative person in the room. I’m quite shy and fairly introverted, especially when I meet new people. When you’re shy, sometimes people just dismiss you as being aloof and passive so I’m really not making things easy for myself.
So, if the problem isn’t (totally) me, then why don’t I already have a whole set of new London friends? Well, as it turns out, it’s tricky finding friends when you’re 29 and working full-time in a super-busy city. The simple days of primary school friendships (‘oh, hey, we’re sitting next to each other, you’re my best friend now!) are long gone. I’m even getting slightly nostalgic for my time as a first-year undergrad when everything was geared around meeting new people (Fresher’s Week, Fresher’s Fair, Fresher’s Ball…there are few more intense friendship periods than that first term at uni. By the second term, of course, you’ve realized that most of your flatmates are, in fact, mad and you wonder what on earth you wrote on your application form to put you in the same flat as them!).
Partly, it’s a question of time. I leave for work at 8 in the morning and get home again around 7ish. Some nights I go to the gym or to yoga, so then I’m not home till 9ish. Now, maybe I just have bad time management but getting in at 9 doesn’t leave me with a huge amount of ‘friend-meeting’ time. So, being an industrious sort of woman, I decided to multi-task. Why not turn the hobbies that I already have into opportunities to meet new people? Good plan. And so…
Will you be my friend lovely zen-yoga ladies?
The yogis would be my friends. Right? That’s the whole spirit of yoga, isn’t it? Peace, love and zen-friendship. And I’m in Hampstead, pretty much yoga-central (seriously, if you’re not toting a yoga-mat around the streets of Hampstead you look out of place). I found a lovely class with a great teacher. But…hmmm…it’s sort of tricky to start a conversation in a yoga class. I mean, there’s a friendly-looking girl in front of you and another friendly-looking girl behind you. But you’re all in down dog and so you feel a bit weird talking to the girl in front cause now you’re looking at her butt, and you feel a bit weird talking to the girl behind because she’s looking at your butt (and you’re worrying that your old leggings might be a bit see-through…or maybe that’s just me!).
And, if you do manage a quick hello it’s normally followed by an even quicker “ssshhh…I’m trying to be in the moment,” from some impossibly zen yogi.
The end of class is no good either as everyone else bounds off to pick up Ethel, Mildred and George (their children, not their grandparents! Turns out this year’s big naming craze is ‘pick an Edwardian name, any Edwardian name. Sure, she’ll grow into it by the time she’s seventy!’). Yep, making friends in Hampstead would be a lot easier if I was part of the yummy mummy brigade but that seems like a pretty extreme solution to the friend problem so let’s not go there (plus, the Hampstead yummy mummies scare the life out of me – so toned, so stylish, so bitchy – actually, they probably warrant their own post! That’s one friendship group I don’t want to join!).
Hmmm. If yoga’s no good, what about the gym? So many group classes, so many potential new friends. You name it, I tried it. Boxfit. Aerobiking. Funky Bums and Tums (yes, really). Pilates. Zumba. And many more. In terms of potential friends, the classes were great. Almost all the classes were filled with women just like me: late 20s/early 30s, all very friendly and smiley. But…problem 1: Have you ever tried striking up a conversation in the middle of an aerobics class when you’re mostly knackered and almost out-of-breath? It ain’t easy. In fact, it’s pretty much impossible!
The classes also threw up another problem. Yes, there were lots of potential friends, but often they were attending the class with friends they already had. Sometimes, there just wasn’t room in the group for me. One day, I was having a really nice chat with two other girls who had arrived early for a class. They were lovely. I didn’t want to get ahead of myself but I’d mentioned that I was new to the area and I did think that maybe, just maybe, I could get over my innate shyness and suggest that we meet for coffee. Then, their other friend turned up. She was basically the Hampstead version of me. The sarky pessimist role was already filled in that little group. No vacancies. The three of them set off to zumba and I decided it was a lost cause and went to the gym instead.
Okay, so the whole fitness-friends thing wasn’t working. Maybe it was time to try a different tack. Welcome to the weird world of ‘friendship-dating.’ It’s basically like online dating, only for friends. You sign up to a website (such as citysocialising or meetup), key in your location and interests and up pops a range of socials that you can attend. So, I tried a few, and I went along with an open-mind.
Well. It turns out that the ‘friend-dating’ websites aren’t just sort of like standard dating websites; they basically are dating websites masquerading under the guise of ‘just friends.’ Online dating for people who don’t want to admit they’re online dating (‘Me? A dating website? Noooo. Never. I’m just looking for friends.’). Harumph. I had a few evenings listening to sad middle-aged divorcees droning on and on about ‘that bitch’ before they segued none-to-subtly into trying to find wife number 2. Urgh. So I’ve given up on the whole ‘online-friendship-dating’ thing.
And that’s it for the moment. This turned out to be a strange little post. There’s no happy ending yet. But I love London so I’ll keep trying. Somewhere in this fabulous city there has to be a lovely group wondering how on earth they’re going to fill that sweet but sarky Northern Irish vacancy.
*Non-work friends, obviously, I have awesome – and friendly - colleagues but I don’t think I can really give myself any credit for meeting them – they’re sort of stuck with me for 8 hours a day!