In my 35 years, I’ve found and lost dozens of friends to relocation, marriage, kids, changing interests and, yes, even a few instances of clichéd girl drama. Though it wasn’t until my little black book of friends shrunk to zero after a recent move to Nashville that I learned just how hard it is to make friends as a grown-up.
Music City, unlike my previous addresses in Chicago, Los Angeles and Miami, is a happy, noisy place with a lot to offer tourists and even more for the plugged-in locals. As urban gypsies — he’s a touring roadie, I’m a freelance writer — my husband and I have always had the luxury of living (and moving) according to our whims. It didn’t take long after settling into Nashville for me to realize how bored and lonely I might be as a result of not knowing anyone in town. I’d always had friends in our previous zip codes — Kathleen and Jennifer in Chicago, Vanessa and Melissa in Miami, Maggie and Lori in L.A. — and had taken them all for granted, never giving a thought to the way I’d experience a city without a pal by my side. I couldn’t even count on my husband to be both friend and family since he travels frequently as a concert lighting designer. My options seemed bleak. Either I could explore the city on my own or I could bite the bullet and try to make new friends that could introduce me to Nashville’s many restaurants, events and activities. My choice was clear.
Hundreds of self-help books and advice gurus have weighed in on the subject of making friends at every age from grade school to adulthood. Never one to turn down expert advice, I skimmed my share of those helpful tomes searching for words of wisdom, but something about them rang false. Smile at everyone? Always be open to new experiences? Had these people ever actually tried getting a new friendship started? If they had, they’d have known that making friends as a full-fledged adult is like dating — it’s awkward, humiliating and you’re probably going to end up doing things you never thought you’d do with people you never wanted to do them with. Simply smiling wasn’t going to get the job done.
As a freelance writer, I work from home, not a traditional office. While I’m lucky enough to do my job in my sweats, I don’t have the advantage of meeting people at work. I also don’t have kids, so bonding at Mommy and Me is not in my future. Obviously, I was going to have to get creative.
The Internet has long been my go-to source for entertainment, advice and information. Could it also be a source of friendship? Without any better ideas, I decided to explore Craigslist in search of new friends. Despite the fact that I was browsing in the Strictly Platonic W4W section — that’s women looking for women to the uninitiated — the first listing evoked a creepy sexuality one step away from a low budget girl-on-girl porno.
The second wasn’t much better.
I was losing faith until I clicked on this.
I was in need of a pedicure. I could be a girly friend. Could this mysterious stranger be the girl I was looking for?
Feeling thrillingly creepy, I met with Diana more like a pathetic loser than a vivacious new friend. Meeting girls on Craigslist was not my idea of a successful social life so I was almost relieved when it became clear that our pleasant chat over coffee would be the beginning and end of our relationship. What would we have said when people asked us how we met? Strike one for Craigslist.
I wasn’t ready to take my search offline. Instead, I turned to Meetup, a national organization that facilitates local special interest groups. Since Nashville is known for singers and songwriters there were plenty of promising looking Meetup groups for talented artists, but the only singing I do is in the shower so I settled for joining a handful of other groups that promised members with similar interests. Taking the bull by the horns was so empowering I was inspired to ride it a little farther. A glass of wine and three clicks later I was entering my credit card number to pay the $20 host fee required to start and run “Downtown Social Residents,” my very own Meetup group promising boozy fun and outings with other people who lived in downtown Nashville.
When group membership swelled to 41 I felt as proud as a sorority house mother. I was no longer alone. Forty-one people were interested in joining my group. Sure, most of the other Meetups had upwards of 200 members, but I was thrilled with my cozy group of 41 potential new friends.
By all accounts, my first official group event was a flop. Ten members RSVP’d and four people showed up. The bar was almost empty. The drinks were pricey. It would have been a complete loss if I hadn’t met Heather and Lesly, both new in town and searching for friends.
On my next try I attended an event (happily) hosted by a different Meetup group. Feeling shy, I walked in searching for a group of strangers and walked out four hours later with three new phone numbers from Angela, Polly and Kandyce. I made the mental note that making friends is easier with cocktails, but would they call me next weekend?
Thankfully they did and after a few more outings together these new friendships started to feel like more than one night stands. Unfortunately, we were all still new in town and learning the ins and outs of Nashville together. I was on a mission to find friends that were already plugged into the local scene, not just other newbies. Strike two for Meetup.
Making new friends was clearly a numbers game. I gave the Internet one last chance at redemption and it delivered in the form of a volunteer sign-up site for the Nashville Film Festival. Everyone knows that volunteering is a great way to meet men…er, women. Not being particularly altruistic, I’d never considered it an option until I found out I could work the big party as an event staffer.
While it was a good idea in theory, my fellow volunteers were of retirement age so I didn’t envision all of us meeting for drinks and pedicures anytime soon. I was only the help; destined to watch from the sidelines as young and happy festival-goers fluttered past me, secure in their collective friendships. That night I had a threesome with Ben & Jerry. Strike three for volunteering. The Internet was out. It was time to take this search offline. Besides, too many nights of eating my feelings were starting to affect my waistline.
The next day, a weepy phone call to my mother found her sitting poolside in Arizona at a margarita party with 12 of her closest friends (et tu, mother?), from which she helpfully pointed out that I’d always been interested in theater. Could my future BFF be found waiting in the wings?
Nashville is known as Music City, not Theater City, for a reason. The only audition I could find was at a small community theater, 30 minutes away — a daunting drive but I had my eye on the ball. The audition itself went well, but when my scene partner turned to me during a break and asked if I’m a wiccan (that’s a witch) I knew it didn’t matter if I was cast or not. These were not my people.
Nashville might not be a theater town, but it is the setting for a hit TV show by the same name. Maybe my instincts were right but the venue was wrong. Was my future best friend to be found on a sound stage instead? While living in Miami, I’d met dozens of friends working as an extra in that city’s bustling movie industry. Extra work is demeaning, boring and low paying, but it is a good place to meet girls. Something about sitting around waiting to stand — silent — in the background of a scene is extremely bonding. I was sure I was on the right track.
It didn’t take much to locate the show’s production company and submit my resume and headshot. Before I knew it, I was booked for extra work on Nashville the very next day. Usually, a day on the set lasts approximately eight to twelve hours — plenty of time to get to know someone. That day, the extras were dismissed after a record four hours.
Good thing I work quickly. I’d been chatting with Amy, an aspiring singer-songwriter, since I’d sat down with my cup of craft service coffee. She was holding the latest Elle magazine and I recognized her as a kindred spirit. We quickly bonded over our shared background in Florida, our love of Nashville’s creative spirit and our mutual employment as freelancers. I left the show with a paycheck, her phone number and a promise to meet again soon.
Out of ideas and bar money, the moment had come to evaluate my progress thus far. I’d started my friendship quest to find people who could hand me an invitation to the Nashville not seen by tourists and new-in-towns like me. What I found instead was a group of girls who invited me to explore our new city alongside them. Together we discovered the bars we liked because the happy hours were great, made memories in the restaurants we closed after hours of laughing and talking and downloaded songs from the artists we discovered. As it turned out, I didn’t find friends that could show me their Nashville, but a group of girls that invited me to create our Nashville together.
Maybe my destiny in this city would have been different if I’d made friends with those plugged in people I’d been looking for — more exciting, more glamorous — but, to paraphrase the immortal words of the Rolling Stones: We don’t always find the friends we want, we find the friends we need.