Moving to New York at 26 was great for my professional life and temporarily nightmarish for my social life. There were months, maybe years, when a mini panic about my social brokenness seemed one reminder away. A weekend without plans (grim). A cancelled hangout (disappointing). A touching piece of writing about the unique importance of female friendship (a personal attack). Each one was a reminder that my circle didn’t look how I imagined it should, and how that was probably my fault. Today I can scoff at that logic from a comedic distance, but at the time it felt horrible! I felt like the human incarnation of the cigarette cockroach! Ready to party but all alone.
Tired: pizza rat
Wired: cigarette cockroach pic.twitter.com/HPxBLkWstX
— Tom Kretchmar (@tkretchmar) October 18, 2019
I credit a few different things with finally transforming me into the post-spiral pizza rat I am today. One of them is pretty obvious, the second is less obvious than it should be, and the third is a wild card, so don’t touch that dial.
The first thing I did was commit to expanding my network. I know this advice has reached truism status, but it was as much a mental exercise as a practical one for me. It didn’t just mean facilitating hangouts with basically-strangers, it meant being honest with myself and others about my desire to grow my connections in New York (even when it made me feel deeply uncool). The second thing I did was even more important than that: I let time pass. I wish someone had told me how important patience was in the process of making friends. It just takes a while to meet people and build friendships, but it does happen eventually, and usually through random means versus more forced avenues like clubs and mixers, at least in my experience. Given time is a [heretofore] unstoppable force, I think I’d have appreciated knowing it was on my side.
But after those two, I credit one small habit with the solidification of many of my New York friendships: the premature group chat.
This is where things get literal. “Premature group chat” is not a metaphor. I’m talking about a text thread with multiple people, brought together by a vaguely common interest before it may feel logically warranted. When I think about my social network in New York, which has now grown larger than the one I had in San Francisco, I can trace almost all of them back to texting. Isn’t that stupid? I don’t even like to text that much!
Here’s an example: A couple years ago, Harling and I followed these girls Zoe and Paige on Instagram. They worked for Marc Jacobs and they made these weird spoof videos that made us laugh. Like this:
At some point, Harling and I crossed paths with them at a work thing, and all of us decided to get a drink, which turned out to be, as they say, a gas. At this point we still didn’t really know each other, but we started pretending, for some reason, like we did. A group chat followed, along with more plans to hang out, some of which fell through, which led to group chat apologies, which led to “Well, why don’t you come on a trip with us instead?” which led to Harling and I leaving town with them and meeting more of their friends, which led to an even larger group thread, which to this day remains active, as if we’ve known each other forever even though we only met last year. See? Magic.
Naming the thread is important. There are a few ways to do this. You can reference something you all once spoke about together (one of mine is called “99% confidence 1% execution,” based on a single anecdote we all laughed at); you can give your group a sense of collective identity through brute force (I belong to one called “dino team,” for no apparent reason); or you can just choose something unquestionably good (I’m in one with two other women called “racoon queens,” which is a reference to nothing).
If you and some people you like strike up a conversation about loving Bon Appetit’s YouTube channel, then start a text thread called “BA lover ISO same.” If you and a couple friendly acquaintances are all going through breakups, start a thread called “Melodrama by Lorde.” If you and a cohort of your colleagues fight for the Snickers from the kitchen candy bowl (looking at you, Amalie and Crystal), start a thread called “Snickers Freeqs.” There are no rules. It’s just nice to feel part of something.
But beyond feeling less alone, creating a space to talk does a delightful thing in that it actually encourages you to do it. And the dumb, gif-laden vernacular of text lends these conversations an air of casualness, making distant friends feel closer, and new ones feel older. This works with one-to-one texting, too. My friend Laura and I built a real friendship out of manically texting each other before we’d even properly hung out. We just knew we got along, so we used technology to our advantage.
So often our phones are a depressing mixture of needy and addicting and isolating, but I can’t deny how much mine has aided my making friends in New York. Nothing can beat quality face-to-face time, but in between, when schedules are busy and draining and everyone’s considering impulse-buying a farm and chicken coop upstate, texting can offer a little social bridge, and occasionally a shortcut, to something bigger and deeper than you expected.
Graphics by Coco Lashar