Platonic Dating: On Making Friends in a New City

"Hey! Want to hang out sometime?"

After I sent this intentionally vague and open-ended text, I sat cross-legged on my yoga mat and stared at my phone, willing those little staccato dots that indicate someone is typing to appear. The recipient of my text was not the object of my affection (which would be my husband or my dog, depending on the day), but rather a woman with whom I was hoping to form a friendship. We had met in the elevator in our apartment building a few days earlier and bonded over my dog. As it turned out, she was looking for a job too, and had as much time on her hands as I did.

Not wanting to seem clingy or over-enthusiastic about our first rendez-vous, lest I scare her off, I waited a few days before sending the oh-so-casual text at 10:37am (she'd be up, right?). After a solid 15 minutes of scrolling through emails and pointedly ignoring the message app I resolved to set down my phone and focus on other things. Like getting out of my bathrobe.

Welcome to the world of friendship dating.

I'm not a complete newbie when it comes to making friends in an entirely new environment. In college I buddied up with fellow denizens of the dorm I lived in and joined a sorority. I lived abroad in Singapore for two years and had managed to form more than a few casual acquaintances, as well as a friendship with one woman I consider a lifelong girlfriend. As an introvert, forming new friendships is never easy, per se, but it does get easier with practice.

My husband and I had moved to Richmond a few months before that fateful day I willed my phone to christen me with that coveted indicator that I was worthy of someone else's time. At that time I was searching for a job and candidates for joint dog walks, happy hours, and, if I was lucky, conversations during which I would laugh so hard I farted.

It can be challenging to form a friendship with someone you don't see on a regular basis. I met one woman to learn more about a job at the company where she worked. She wore cute clothing, was at a similar stage of life (no kids yet), and I felt like we had some chemistry during our coffee chat. After I had thanked her for her time, I sent a follow-up text to see if she was interested in going to one of the restaurants she had mentioned during our conversation. We ended up bonding over a mutual bewilderment of people who own AK-47s (my property manager had casually dropped this nugget when were shooting the breeze one morning – no pun intended) and a love of books. Over the next few weeks, we traded book recommendations via text and arranged to go to a movie. The day of the movie she cancelled, saying she had to pick her boyfriend up at the airport. This didn't bother me, and we agreed to reschedule. However, she never responded to the few texts I sent to plan a new date. Ghosted. I saw her at a networking event a few months later and avoided all eye contact. Better to think that she had moved/died rather than that she had rejected me.

Another woman I was pursuing was one of my husband's work colleagues. She and I shared a deadpan sense of humor and a love of dogs with large heads. After a successful lunch we promised to get together again soon. Alas, her full-time job doesn't afford her much free time and I've only been able to see her a handful of times in the past six months. She's a wonderful woman, but life gets in the way.

One of my more promising friendships has been with a woman whose husband I met as part of my ongoing networking for a job. He was unexpectedly funny and I thought he had potential as a friend for my husband. (You may be wondering why I dismissed him as a possible friend for me. While I have male friends, the friendship has always blossomed because we see each other on a regular, platonic basis—usually at work. I had zero desire to send any mixed signals, hence my pivot to pass him onto my husband.) I suggested we bring our significant others to meet for drinks, and it turned his wife was charming and bubbly. She and I have gone to happy hour a few times since our first double-date, and she is as funny as her husband. No farting yet, but I have high hopes.

I've had a handful of first dates that fizzled. One woman seemed promising but ignored my follow-up attempt at planning another outing. A few others have been nice…but no spark. A few awkward pauses are normal, but when I find my mind wandering to what I need to buy at Trader Joe's later that day during our conversation, I politely tell her it was great to meet her and make my exit as gracefully as possible.

Without a full-time job to keep me occupied for most of my time, I find that making the effort to nurture budding friendships—as scary as it is to risk rejection—helps break up the monotony and gives me a reason to put on real pants. (Although nothing is wrong with rocking active-wear 24/7 amiright?) I'll never forget what my mother told me when I was studying abroad and was intimidated by meeting new people: "Right now, these people are strangers. But as soon as you meet them they'll no longer be strangers and they might become your friends." Simple, yet practical. This reassurance quelled my social anxiety and allowed me to put on a brave face and introduce myself to strangers who would indeed later become my friends.

I've been in Richmond for six months now and have a small but burgeoning number of independent friends. While making friends can be anxiety inducing, it is also incredibly rewarding to connect with someone new. I'm not going to bring up that old Girl Scout song here but you get my drift.

In case you're wondering what happened with the woman whose response I was so desperate to receive a few short months ago. She did respond that day, but after she got a job she started ignoring my texts and her phone number has been subsequently deleted from my phone. If there's one thing I've learned over the years it's to treat yourself with the respect you treat others. The more kindness you show yourself, the better your life will be.

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