What I Learned From Trying To Make Friends In A New City

They were perfect. Both of them. Exactly what I was looking for.

I sat, pretending to work on my computer. Listening to what they were saying. Trying not to laugh out loud at their jokes. Stealing glances when I could.

The two girls seemed to have known each other a while. As far as I could gather, one was some sort of designer or artist. The other worked for a non-profit. They were lefties, like me. They both dressed really well.

Picking up my mug to sip, I daydreamed. Imagine if I was brave enough to do what I really wanted to? I’d get up from my rustic chair, stroll across the cafe to their table, and stand above them.

Excuse me”, I’d smile. “Sorry to interupt. I’ve been over there, listening to bits of your conversation. You both seem great. I love your clothes and you’re both really funny. Would either of you like to hang out sometime? I don’t mind which one. I’m new in town and looking for friends. Do you fancy being one of mine?”.

Obviously, I didn’t actually do this. I’ve taught myself how to be brave with strangers – but not that brave.

Why I was so spellbound

I moved from London to Toronto in my early 30s. My oldest friend was here, and my sweetheart and I have a lot of fun hanging out together. But I knew I needed more. I was determined not just to latch on to either of their friendship groups.

But making friends when you…

  • are not 21 and out on the lash all the time
  • have a job that involves you working mostly alone in your bedroom, and
  • are so excited to be finally with your long-distance love, that you want to spend at least five nights a week together…

…is HARD.

When I lived in London, I had friends. I’d ask people out for coffee all the time. But there, I had two major advantages:

(1) by working at a well-known radio station, I had this big, very public advertisement that suggested that I both probably already have some friends and probably wasn’t an axe murderer. I would email people I’d never met but admired (artists, authors) and see if they wanted to hang out. The credibility of my job made me appealing to strangers.

(2) Because I did have so many friends, the stakes weren’t high. I could ask someone out without really being that bothered whether or not they said yes.

But in Toronto, the only jobs I had were for UK companies that people here had never heard of.

More unseen obstacles

Sometimes at parties with the Oldest Friend, I’d meet someone I got on well with, then ask them out on a friend date. I’d be SO nervous.   

What if they say no?, I’d worry. What if they want to say no, but know that I don’t have any friends, so feel they can’t say no? What if they think I’m coming onto them?

Even when they said yes – and we had fun together – I’d agonise afterwards.

I think they a good time”, I’d tell The Sweetheart. “I mean, they acted like they were having a good time. Is it ok to text them tonight to tell them I had a good time? Or does that seem too keen? Maybe I should wait until tomorrow. Can you please read this text I’ve just composed?”

The moment it turned around

A year and a half in, I met Chris. Chris was my Gateway Friend.

I’d seen him tell a story at a show I’d gone to [alone, feeling like a big weirdo, taking  v e r y   s l o w  trips to the washrooms during the intermission]. A few days later, I saw him in my local cafe. He recognised me from that audience, smiled and said Hi.

Feeling emboldened by being on home turf – and by having a compliment to give him – I walked up to his table.

I keep telling people about your story, I thought it was so interesting. How do you know about that stuff?”

We started talking about the storytelling scene in Toronto. Conversation felt easy, in that magical way it does when you bump souls with someone. I mentioned another show I was going to that weekend, and we arranged to meet there. After that show, we planned another hang out. I had a friend.

He wasn’t my first. In the previous year and a half, I’d been on other friend dates, had some nice lunches and dinners. But Chris was the first one that felt easy – and the first person that I’d approached as a stranger. Looking back now I can see that making friends with him was the catalyst to the way I am now.

Now, I have friends. Now, I ask people out for coffees ALL THE TIME. The stakes aren’t high. I can ask someone out without really being that bothered whether or not they say yes.

Here’s what I’ve discovered:

(1) It’s all about attitude. And numbers.
I suspect that all the PUA, ‘How To Pull Girls’ books say this too:

If you are desperate, you’ll exude an air of desperation. No one likes to be around that. You’ll also be so crushed by a knock-back, that you won’t ask as many people out. The fewer people you ask out – the fewer will say yes. The fewer who say yes – the more desperate you’ll feel.

(2) It takes TIME. And energy. 
Even when you find someone you click with, you’ll be spending time getting to know each other – which tends to feel very high-octane. Even when your souls bump – there will be a lot of dates before you get to ‘flopping in front of the TV’-level easy friendship. That’s ok. Keep going.

(3) At the beginning, you have to do more of the chasing.
You will put more effort in than your new friend. They’ve been in that city for YEARS. They’ve built their friendship groups. However awesome you are, you need them more than they need you. This is ok. Keep at it.

Why am I telling you this?

Because everything I learned from this also applies to networking. (Remember how Networking is just Making Industry Friends?). Let’s revisit:

(1) It’s all about attitude. And numbers.
I’m not saying that quality is more important than quantity when it comes to Making Industry Friends. But the more people you attempt friendships with – so, in networking terms, the more ‘nice to meet you’ emails you send, the more people you add value to – the more likely you are to build a network of actual friends, who know, like and trust you And who will happily do you favours.

(2) It takes TIME. And energy.
Recently, I did a radio interview, where I was explaining about sending ‘nice to meet you’ emails, adding value, keeping on people’s radars. The interviewer said, “Doesn’t this all take a lot of effort?”. “Yes!”, I said. “That’s why most people don’t do it – and why if you do, it’ll fast-track your career”.

Networking takes time and energy, so most people don’t bother. If you DO, it’ll fast-track your career

Click here to tweet that!

(3) At the beginning, you have to do more of the chasing. You will put more effort in than your new friend. chasing
If you’re trying to build a relationship with someone who you know can help you – and you’re sensible enough to realise you need to add value, long before you ever ask for anythingthey are the higher status person in this situation. You need them more than they need you. You will put more effort into building this relationship than they will. This is ok. Keep at it.

Over To You

Have you ever had to be brave and make friends from scratch as a grown-up? How did you find it? Let me know in the comments below!

Thanks so much for being here. If you can think of someone that would be into this post, you can share it with them using one of the round buttons below. It would make me (and hopefully, them) very happy if you did.

You rule!

xx (Yes Yes) Marsha


PS want to know my best-ever client secret – and get even more advice, tips, plus stories that I won’t put on the internet? Come and join the Yes Yes Family – it’s free! Just pop your details in below:

Photo credits:  D.Boyarrin, Andrew Feinberg, Chris Halderman and The JH Photography, all via Compfight cc


  • Catriona

    Reply Reply April 18, 2014

    I’m going to send this to my friend, Kim, who I met on a blind-date of friendship, and it worked out really well!!! Love your writing style! It is so friendly :)

    • Marsha (Yes Yes Marsha)

      Marsha Shandur

      Reply Reply April 18, 2014

      Thanks, Catriona! I hope Kim likes it. Love a blind-friendship-date!

  • Olga

    Reply Reply April 18, 2014

    I just wanted to point out that having a credible job doesn’t mean one couldn’t be an axe (or any other kind of home improvement tool) murderer! Thank you for another great article, Marsha. I’ll remember all that when I look for new friends in your ex-hometown! :D

    • Marsha (Yes Yes Marsha)

      Marsha Shandur

      Reply Reply April 18, 2014

      TOTALLY dude. But they *would know where to send the police if they survived.

      Do remember all this, especially in London! It’s hard at first, but then it gets easy!

      • Olga

        Reply Reply April 18, 2014

        I have read horrible things about English people in that regard! How they prefer to err on the side of no eye contact and it’s impossible to make friends with them in under twenty years.

        I am also wondering if I should adopt this “dude” thing. Is it a thing?

        • Marsha (Yes Yes Marsha)

          Marsha Shandur

          Reply Reply April 18, 2014

          They ARE reserved, but you can totally push through. You just have to make a lot of effort.

          And “dude” – DON’T!!! It’s not really a British thing, and tons of my friends HATE it! But after I read the Mötley Crüe‎ autobiography, it stuck and I’ve never managed to shake it!!

  • Jen Bardall

    Reply Reply April 18, 2014

    Once again, you are ridiculously helpful and informative!!! :)

  • jegraef

    Reply Reply April 18, 2014

    I am just so damned charmed by this blog. It’s my #1 favorite. And I learn something every time!

    • Marsha (Yes Yes Marsha)

      Marsha Shandur

      Reply Reply April 18, 2014

      jegraef! What the what, you say such lovely things, thank you!

  • Jennifer Kennedy

    Reply Reply April 18, 2014

    Love this post, Marsha!!

    One of the things I’ve been failing at is putting in the effort to keep relationships going! I don’t know why I always feel that it has to be a two way street. Hey, sometimes it feels great to be the one pursued! But, I realize, that yes, in fact, I’m the one who needs and/or wants the relationship and have to work to build that!

    How do you keep track of who you need to reach out to and when? I’ve thought of creating a spreadsheet, but not sure how to use it!

    • Marsha (Yes Yes Marsha)

      Marsha Shandur

      Reply Reply April 18, 2014

      Spreadsheet spreadsheet spreadsheet! There are various programs, but I still think a spreadsheet is best. Then every Thursday, think, “Who shall I email with a little value-add today?”, look on your spreadsheet and send one to someone you’ve not spoken with for a couple of months.

      Thanks for the comment! And, yes, it feels nice to be pursued FOR SURE – and you will be! – but sometimes you need to put the pursuing legwork in first!

  • John Gallagher

    Reply Reply April 19, 2014

    Wow. Brilliant. Thanks or another great list Marsha! It sometimes seems like people just magically “make friends” automatically. But the reality is that yes, it does take time and effort. I’ve found throwing parties to be pretty effective once you’ve got to know someone at least a little. But the direct approach still works best – “would you like to hang out next week?” Also I’ve found being direct, honest and specific is helpful. “I think we have a lot in common. Would you like to go for drinks next Thursday?” Also – give people an out. “If you’re busy, no worries!” It’s a good way of not forcing oneself onto people, I’ve found.

    Thanks again for another great blog post Marsha! X

    • Marsha (Yes Yes Marsha)

      Marsha Shandur

      Reply Reply April 26, 2014

      Dude, you’re so right about being direct and giving people an out! I think I’m still trying to perfect how to make that clear without sounding too “It’s totally fine if you don’t want to, I mean, probably not”. I think maybe it’s in just being direct. Anyway, GREAT ideas in your comment!

      Also, please may I just tell you that I first mis-read what you wrote as,

      “I’ve found throwing panties to be pretty effective”

      Which made me think of Tom Jones.


  • Farideh Ceaser

    Reply Reply April 25, 2014

    Oh! Best intro ever. I HAD to read more!!! My heart was racing reading the intro.

    You are the queen.

    • Marsha (Yes Yes Marsha)

      Marsha Shandur

      Reply Reply April 26, 2014

      Farideh! I cannot begin to tell you what a HUGE compliment that is, and how much it thrills me. And from such great heights!!

      Thank you so much!

  • she

    Reply Reply June 6, 2014

    Marsha! It’s Nikki from Alex’s workshop. ;) I had a similar experience with my own “Chris.” As you know, I’m a musical theatre performer which means I’m attracted to performers of any kind. We understand one another on a level others don’t. Anyway, I was in Dave & Busters, a restaurant/video game place, on a Fri night with friends (in my early 20s) having dinner. There was a guy around my age that was doing magic tricks for tables. He came around to my table and I was heckling him a bit (good-naturedly) – I like to do that to fellow performers to see if they’ll hold character – which he did. At the end, he gave out his business cards. I thought about him for the next couple of days – not in a creepy way – but in a “we could be friends and have a lot to talk about” way. I ended up being brave and emailed him. We started hanging out and are friends to this day, first discussing the performance industry, then just being friends. I guess what I’m saying is, Marsha is right, people! Take a chance!

    • Marsha (Yes Yes Marsha)

      Marsha Shandur

      Reply Reply June 18, 2014

      That’s awesome! Everyone needs a “Chris” in their life.

      Thanks, Nikki!

  • Nicole Baute

    Reply Reply July 20, 2014

    Hi Marsha! My first time reading your blog and I have to say, you’ve charmed me! I just left Toronto for Vancouver, where I am making or trying to make new friends, so I get where you’re coming from on a few levels.

    I was really shy as a child, and I’m still an introvert, but my experience working as a journalist (mostly in Toronto) forced me to be outgoing about meeting strangers. I have met up with so many random people, and approached so many strangers cold—on the streets, for example, asking them a personal question and then asking them for their name, age, and photo—that I now have no fear of rejection at all. Most of the time I can win people over and if not? Whateves. It doesn’t feel personal, somehow. I’m not a journalist anymore, but I’ve found this learned skill invaluable in the following scenarios: selling extra concert tickets (which I actually have to do today), bachelorette parties with ridiculous “find the following strangers in this bar” T-shirts, all networking events, coffee dates with anyone or their dog, consults with clients, asking store clerks if the outfit I just tried on looks stupid…etc. It’s pretty awesome! And it definitely helps with making friends.

    My world would be so much smaller if I hadn’t developed this skill…thanks for getting me thinking about it!

    • Marsha (Yes Yes Marsha)

      Marsha Shandur

      Reply Reply November 21, 2014

      Hi fellow (onetime) Torontonian!

      I loved reading this story! It’s so true that journalism teaches you to be fearless! An ex of mine was PAINFULLY shy as a teenager, but then in his early twenties, fell into doing door-to-door sales (the thought of which brings me out in fear hives) and it totally changed his life.

      Thanks so much for taking the time to come and comment!

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