I was six years old, watching Sesame Street, when I decided that I would live in New York. The buildings, Statue of Liberty and subway cars all dancing to the jaunty theme song as the credits rolled was so much more exciting than what I knew. I grew up in a small town in California, with five siblings. New York looked fun and fast paced — a city where even the trashcans were weirdly likeable.
The prospect of traveling there alone never scared me, even at that age. Having five siblings makes you take a few things for granted. Needless to say, I was rarely lonely. I knew from watching Friends and later, Sex and the City and How I Met Your Mother, that in New York, your friends just emerge out of brick apartment walls: the lovable slacker, the nerd, the hot one and the dimwit. They share space, coffee mugs, jokes and occasionally, tears. I knew they were actors chosen by a meticulous casting director, but somehow I knew this was New York. I would fit right in.
After earning my Creative Writing degree at a university in New Jersey, I moved into New York to pursue publishing. Many of my friends moved back in with their parents after graduation, or found places to live together in New Jersey. They thought I was crazy for moving to New York alone. “By yourself?” they asked incredulously. I didn’t see what the big deal was.
I moved four times within the first year. First, there were the two guys in Williamsburg. Their girlfriends weren’t thrilled. I spent a lot of that month exploring New York on my own. In the East Village, where I lived with a four-year-old and her mom, my social life was smothered under crayons and princesses. I met a lot of nice girls while I lived in Washington Heights, but they were aspiring Broadway stars and they’d travel, so subletters came through often. Five months went by, and I found myself calling home far too often.
Once some college friends started working in the city, we’d hang out occasionally. I’d never considered myself “needy,” but when those hangouts were sometimes cancelled, I was depressed. Loneliness, which had always been something foreign to me, began to cloud my consciousness and it dimmed my love of adventure.
I was all over New York: babysitting, hostessing, volunteering, going to church, attending random social events and meeting people. In my mind, they were in their own separate categories — I would drop in, say hello, volunteer next to them, then head home and watch the HBO show Girls all night. I was constantly around people, yet never connecting.
I enviously watched people dining al fresco on the Upper West Side. I studied groups at movie theaters and wondered where they found each other. As a kid, I met my best friends at camp. As a teen, I met my best friends in class. In college, I met some of my best friends after accidentally knocking on the wrong door for a movie night.
What was I doing wrong here? Where was the magical spot in New York that friends met?
The current subletter at my Washington Heights apartment, a sweet, aspiring British comedian full of dreams (and enough NYU debt to take down a Macy’s parade float) texted me. Should we get candles? Canned food? That night, we hung out and talked over dinner (somewhat guiltily, our stove still worked — unlike a lot of other city dwellers).
We had a great time. She kept talking about “how glad she was to really connect with someone,” as the wind howled and rattled the window panes. “Is this how it begins?” I thought. Are we friends now? She moved out a few weeks later and we don’t really hang out now, but that moment was significant. For the first time, I was seeing potential friendships in the strangest places.
Just a week later, I met a girl on the street. I complained to her about the bus service, and suddenly we were walking miles together home in the dark, talking about everything from homesickness, to awkward roommate scenarios, to boys. Before leaving for my marimba-music-bombarded apartment, I did something different. I made a deliberate point of asking for her name so I could add her on Facebook. I remember that vague sense of excitement; the one I had as a kid proclaiming to my mom, “I made a friend! I made a friend!”
To this day, we love telling new friends the story of how we met.
Sitcoms may not have taught me how to make new friends in the adult world, but there’s one thing they have absolutely right — you have to invest in friends to grow them. Eventually, my calls home were less frequent. I chose a church home, instead of floating from one to the other. I made plans with new friends, and kept them.
Think about it: how entertaining would it be to watch Chandler lay around drinking beer and texting friends occasionally? Carrie, sending emails from her laptop all day? Robin, taking five dogs out for a walk twice a day and having small talk with acquaintances? Friends don’t just meet each other, chat and then disappear for seasons because they’re “tied up at work.” They’re together in Central Perk, McLaren’s Pub, tiny apartments, diners and ritzy restaurants. They make friends a priority and now, I do too.
The beauty of New York is that there is no casting director picking and choosing my ideal friends. I hang out with the most diverse groups of people — from Long Island to Texas. None of us are sitcom material. That’s just the way I like my friendships: unscripted.