On Being the New Girl

We bought our first house in Indianapolis, Indiana. For two kids who grew up in the rural Midwest, having a Starbucks and a Panera Bread within walking distance blew our minds. Ben and I had always loved exploring big cities together, and finally we were able to call one our own. Because we were in the dual-income no-kids stage of life, much of our free time went to finding new restaurants or enjoying our neighborhood. I thought we were doing a good job settling into our new community—until one Friday when I found myself very alone.

I honestly can’t remember where Ben was that evening—maybe working late at the studio or on a work trip. I have no idea. Either way, he wasn’t there. I got home from work, plopped my purse on the kitchen counter, and glanced at the clock. Dinner time. I had no willpower to fix a meal for myself, so I instinctively picked up my phone to call a friend. I opened my contacts list and just stared: I had no friends, and I didn’t know where to start.

The church we were attending wasn’t in our zip code, and many of my college friends had migrated elsewhere. I was making connections at work, but they hadn’t yet branched beyond a few cubicle drop-bys or run-ins in the coffee break room. I didn’t even have their phone numbers.

I sat there in my new living room, alone with the realization that if I wanted new friends, I was going to have to go out there and get some. No more Friday nights with no one to call.

I spent the rest of the night scouring Facebook for any childhood friends, former college classmates, or even loose acquaintances who lived nearby. And that’s when I found Leslie. My husband Ben and Leslie had attended the same high school and even had the same circle of friends during their freshman year in college. I had met Leslie here and there while Ben and I were dating, and she even attended our wedding. But beyond that, I couldn’t have told you much about her.

But I was desperate. I didn’t have the luxury of waiting around until someone sought me out. Leslie was the closest connection I had in a fifteen-mile radius, so I contacted her. Without much pomp and circumstance, I told Leslie that I was looking for a friend. No “hey, let’s have coffee! I’d like to get to know you better.” No “would you like to come over for dinner sometime?” It was the equivalent of asking her to be my girlfriend before we’d even had a first date. But Leslie was gracious, and I became the beneficiary of her kindness.

She immediately invited me to be a part of a women’s Bible study, a small group of about seven ladies who got together to talk about God and life and eat snacks. I was a little anxious about joining a circle of women who already had history together, who already knew each other, but immediately they embraced me. I looked forward to those late Sunday afternoons when we’d gather at one of our homes, take off our shoes, and sit on the floor around the plate of brownies. I anticipated the connectedness and conversation. And while life since then has scattered us, we remain connected by that season of friendship.

I keep thinking back to that Friday night when I had no one to call. What would have happened if I had shrugged my shoulders and said, “Meh. Maybe someone will just know I’m new around here and knock on my door.”? What if I had just given up that I didn’t need friends or grew bitter because no one ever invited me for a girls night out? I would not only have remained alone, but would have also missed out on doing life alongside some amazing women.

Here’s what I’ve learned: I can’t always expect people to seek me out. I can’t assume they know that I’m new and don’t know anyone—or that I even exist. After moving more times than I’d like to admit, I have found that if I want friends, if I want community outside my four walls, then I have to be willing to make the first move. I have to be the one who calls up almost-strangers and asks, “Will you be my friend?”

I know I got lucky that the first unsuspecting person I called was kind and willing to take me into her fold. Not all attempts at making friends are reciprocated. In fact, when we moved a couple years ago, it took me a full year of failed play dates, awkward conversations, and a church change to track down the women I now call friends.

Finding your people takes considerable time, courage, vulnerability, hospitality, and a willingness to keep trying.

But finding those friends who say “yes,” who choose to stand next to you in the mess and the mire, are worth all the awkward silences and temporary rejection we must endure to find them. We must fight the urge to be the new girl hiding in a corner, hoping that someone will notice our aloneness. Because deep down all of us feel like the new girl much of the time, each of us longing for connectedness, for authentic relationships, for acceptance no matter what. And often, the first step in finding those people is to be one.