In October 2016, I uprooted my life in Wilbraham, MA and moved to Clarksville, TN — a city where the one person I knew was deployed half a world away. For most army wives, this is no big deal. But for me, it was a huge deal for two main reasons:
First, Aaron and I weren’t married, which means I didn’t receive the same automatic invitation into the army community as wives do. I couldn’t go on post, or to events, or even be in-the-know about where he was or what was going on. So, I was basically taking on all the responsibilities of an army wife, without a single benefit or connection.
Second, I had never really lived away from home. I lived at home during college, and even when I had my own apartment, I found myself sleeping at my parents’ house on a weekly basis. So, moving across the country to a strange place where I didn’t know a soul…that’s kind of a big deal.
However, when I got to Clarksville, I felt excited and positive. I hit a major life milestone. Aaron and I had hit a major milestone. My inner monologue was confident. I was laser-focused on the end-result of a 9-month deployment coming to an end.
But, within my first couple of weeks of living in Clarksville by myself, I had my car vandalized — my windows shattered. It happened on a Friday, so I was stranded at my house for three days until someone could come fix it. And while Aaron had sent me chicken fingers and pizza for days (this is why I married him) to make sure I could survive, I felt so alone, vulnerable, and sad.
And that kicked off a tough couple of months until Aaron came home. I missed my parents, dog, and friends more than ever. And although I was ready to host a weekly pity party every Friday night, I was also coming to the realization that I had to plant roots here (regardless if I wanted to). Some of those roots had already been planted: we built a beautiful home, and Aaron would be home soon. But, one root that was not settled was friendship.
I know that many people face this same obstacle at numerous points in their life — kids who have their parents move, army wives who follow their husbands, significant others who follow each others’ careers, and of course, fearless individuals who follow their own dreams.
And although the ways to make friends may seem like common knowledge, executing them is awkward, clumsy, and sometimes even disappointing and embarrassing.
Since moving to Clarksville in 2016, I’m lucky enough to have made a few friends — lifelong friends. Women I confide in and love, who listen to me, help me, take care of my dog, and bring me to the airport at 2:30am. And of course, women that I would do the same for in a heartbeat (and have).
I think finding friends like that is rare in general, let alone finding them by happenstance in a new place (err…especially in a place like Clarksville).
So, here’s how I made new friends in a new city. And I hope that if you’re in a similar place, or will be soon, that this inspires you to be outgoing, fearless, and self-loving.
First of all, don’t make friends to make friends. Attract who you are.
One of my favorite quotes of all time is from Rocky: “You hang out with coconuts, you get nowhere.”
In short: you are what you surround yourself with. Don’t lower your standards just to have someone to grab dinner in wine with. Find people you have real connections with, that you share hobbies, desires, and lifestyles with.
Don’t Be Afraid to Tell People Your Story
Unfortunately, I didn’t have the easiest way to make friends in a new place: a new job. I kept my job from CT, and worked remotely. This made making friends extremely difficult, as my daily human interaction was with the 16-year old bagger at Publix who carried my groceries to my car.
As a social, outgoing, person, this was extremely difficult and even somewhat depressing.
So, I kept in mind that part of making friends is letting people know that you’re actually trying to make friends. If you don’t tell people your story, they won’t know.
Every new person I met, I shared with them that I was new to the area and my boyfriend was deployed and was looking to, essentially, make some friends. That (weirdly) helped a lot. Maybe it was southern hospitality, but I’ll chalk it up to the fact that there are nice people, everywhere.
My real estate agent Kelly, who was the very first friend I made here, knew my story and introduced me to her friend group, invited me to parties, and made sure I was never alone on a weekend night (even if it meant her and her husband came over and installed light fixtures with me).
Everyone needs a friend like Kelly.
Become Instagram Friends
Prior to moving to Clarksville (and even once I got here), I searched all sorts of hashtags and groups in the hunt of other women who looked like I would have something in common with them. Then, I would vet them via Instagram messenger asking them what they did for a living, how long they’ve been here, what their husbands do, etc.
You know, basically, like dating…but, rather than looking for a spouse, you’re looking for a friend. I’ve heard of some people having good luck with BumbleBFF, but I felt like there was something slightly less weird about doing the process via Insta.
While I still felt a bit…desperate I suppose, this is how I met Whitney and Bethany. Turns out, Whitney is one hell of a photographer (and person), and Bethany is my long lost sister from the PNW.
Get Hobbies if You Don’t Have Any
I’ve never really been a person with a ton of hobbies, so joining a local club or rec league is totally out of my comfort zone. So, I joined Crossfit and became a member of all three yoga studios in the area.
While I didn’t hang out with anyone outside of Yoga or Crossfit, I genuinely looked forward to going there, seeing people there, and chatting with them. It was kind of like having built-in friends that I got to see every day.
One Word: Dogs.
When I moved here, my parents kept Scout. My love. So, it didn’t take too long until we added a dog to the family — Otis. It wasn’t until I had that time without a dog that I realized how important a dog is to your personal happiness and social life.
So, My best advice? Use or dog! And if you don’t have one, get one. Dogs are beautiful in the fact that they help you meet people wherever you go — even if you have nothing in common with that person. You can take them for hikes, to dog-friendly restaurants and bars, to dog parks, and just around the neighborhood.
Plus, they really do make the best friends and companions.
Lastly, be your own best friend.
During the time before having any friends here, I treated myself to trips to Nashville just for an acai berry bowl, unlimited yoga, lots of reading, self-love, and self-care. I grew to enjoy the solitude, and I know I’m a stronger person because of it.
While friends make life better, learning how to be alone is the key to eternal happiness. Whether you’re moving away, someone you love is moving away, or you’re going through a tough transition in your life, being your own best friend and loving yourself is at the very core of it all.