As you know, I recently got married, began a new job, and moved to a new city. It’s been change, change, change in every single way.
I’m notoriously change-averse, holding onto old things and crying like a baby as my fingers are peeled away one by one. And so with expectations being low, I’ve been exceeding them quite nicely, adapting to the new rhythms, challenges, and joys of these new aspects of our life.
But the one thing I am lacking – and yes, it’s only one, if you can believe it – is friends.
I have friends, I tell you, almost indignantly. I have great friends, they just happen to be scattered all over the country, with very few of them living in the Nashville area.
There are a few – friends who lived here before we arrived, or friends who feel more like sisters who moved here shortly before we did.
But for the most part, by and large, my community is not based in Nashville.
And this is tough! If you haven’t guessed, I’m a community person. I’m a “why do anything by yourself when you can do it together?” kind of person. My community has shaped me, built me, and made me who I am. I love them, and you’ll hear me say it over and over again.
But they’re not in Nashville, and that leaves me feeling like it’s freshman year all over again.
When I moved up to college, I felt a bit like I do now. I had a few friends, there would be a few familiar faces in the crowd. But the crowd was large, kind of like it is now, and for all intents and purposes, I was starting this friendship thing from scratch.
Hearing about my nerves, a friend of mine – a few years ahead of me in school – gave me this advice: for the first several months of school, keep the door to your dorm room open as often as possible.
By keeping your door open, you’re inviting people to poke their heads in and say hi, you’re declaring, loud and clear, that you’re open to drop-ins, quick hellos, and new friends, however they may come.
I used this advice, and I have to say, it worked.
I left the door to my dorm room open as often as I could (whenever I was actually in there, of course), and made lots of friends this way. My open door communicated that I was friendly, that I wasn’t closed off, that I was interested in meeting new people and making new friends. And I was. And so I did.
And so as the new kid on the Nashville campus, I’ve been considering that advice all over again. What would it mean to leave my door open as often as possible?
Living in the real world (and having a bit more than a school-owned mini fridge to my name), leaving my physical door open isn’t quite an option. But there are other types of doors I’m struggling to keep open, and those are the more important ones.
Making friends feels remarkably like a first date. I’ve gone to coffee a few times recently with girls I’ve just met, and I was nervous like I was getting ready for a date! What do I say? Where do I put my hands (in my pockets, outside of my pockets, what if I don’t have pockets?!) What if I run out of things to talk about? It’s an uncomfortable thing, making new friends. You’re essentially getting back out into the dating world after years of comfortable, secure relationships.
And the uncertainty of it – the vulnerability, and the hard work of trying to find a new community in a new place – makes me want to shut my door and hide until it’s over.
But that’s just the thing: Friends don’t just appear – they must be made. And if we’re hiding behind a closed door, nobody’s going to know we’re in here.
We have some friends of friends here in Nashville, and everyone’s been so great to set us up with their friends. And their friends have been even greater, inviting us to things, including us, and having us over for dinner. But even though they’re offering us friendship on a platter, we still have a part to play.
We have to say yes, and we have to show up.
And that’s the hardest part.
When I’m offered an invitation, the safest thing for me to do is to back out. Nothing bad can happen that way, I don’t have to be uncomfortable, I don’t have to feel vulnerable. But friendship isn’t made by backing out. It’s made by showing up. And so that’s what we’ve been trying to do.
Carl and I have done our best to accept every invitation that’s come our way. We’ve shown up in the physical way and in a deeper way, accepting people’s invitations into who they are, and inviting them back in in return. And it hasn’t been easy.
Just like ending an old, familiar relationship and getting back out there, it’s the worst kind of vulnerability and discomfort. But it leads to connection.
That’s what Carl and I are trying to do here in Nashville these days. We’re trying to keep our proverbial doors open as often as possible, accepting invitations into other people’s homes, and extending them as well.
Because even though it’s hard work, and even though it’s scary and uncomfortable and it would be easier to hide behind the safety of our front door, it’s important. Friendship, connectedness, and community won’t happen without it – wont happen unless you open your door and let some people in.
Have you ever moved to a new town where you didn’t know anyone? What helped you make friends?