I knew I was lonely when I started cozying up to the disheveled man who always seems to be stationed outside my neighborhood CVS.
“What’s your problem?,” he gruffly asked me as I hustled toward my car one afternoon. I slowed down and stared.
“Do you really want to know?” I asked, coming to a stop. Before he had the chance to say no, I shot off into my diatribe.
“Well, so, I ate some recalled hummus, and I’m pretty sure I have listeria.” He sat in silence while I continued, “But I don’t know what listeria is, and I’m too afraid to Google the side effects.”
“I have crabs,” he responded matter-of-factly.
“Yeah, so, you get it.”
One thing no one tells you about being an adult is how lonely you will be. People tell you about the responsibilities, the hard work in front of you, hell, they even tell you all the possible STDs you can get from unprotected sex. But for some reason, people seem to gloss over the fact that it’s really, really hard to make friends as an adult. And, as a result, a lot of people I know are lonely.
Romantic relationships are arguably easier to find because there’s a physical attraction—or at least the promise of one. People are motivated to find romantic relationships, so they’re more open to talking to strangers in restaurants or at kickball leagues who they find intriguing. But if I’m in a dimly lit bar one Saturday night, and I see a woman my age across the way, and I want to get to know her (strictly on a platonic basis), what do I do? Buy her a drink? Compliment her outfit? Try to get her number?
What do you do when you move to a new city, or all your friends leave your city, or—even worse—all your friends get married and you’re left contemplating whether four cats is one too many?
When I moved to Los Angeles in 2016 with my boyfriend for a new job, at least I had him. And while I love him dearly, my life couldn’t revolve around him. Instead of just taking a risk and putting myself out there, I initially held on tightly to my old friendships from Florida through phone calls, texts, and Gchats, and made zero effort to find new ones. The only social interaction I had (besides talking to my boyfriend) was watching other people’s friendships unfold on television.
“Tamra said the funniest thing today,” I’d tell my boyfriend as we would sit down for dinner, pretending that I wasn’t referring to Tamra Judge, star of The Real Housewives of Orange County. “She and Vicki are in this huge fight right now and sh–”
“Who are these people?” my boyfriend would ask.
“Just some people… ”
“Are these women on TV?”
In a world full of #squadgoals and selfies, it can be hard to admit you’re lonely.
I’ve moved to five different cities in five years for different jobs, often without knowing anyone. I’ve wallowed in my misery; I’ve spent Saturdays in my apartment alone; I’ve even cried to my mom countless times on the phone. She frequently had to cut our conversations short—she was out with her friends.
But what I’ve learned is, despite how uncomfortable and scary it seems, other people want friends too, and most people are more than happy to chat or exchange numbers if you just ask.
I’ve been trying to strip away the fear of being outside my comfort zone and let relationships flow, even when it seems a little strange. I’ve messaged old acquaintances, joined continuing education classes, and stood in bars by myself while checking out a band or a comedian I wanted to see. I’ve struck up conversations with perfect strangers—some of whom actually became really awesome friends—and I’ve shamelessly invited myself to parties, including a time where I ended up at my friend’s family New Year’s Eve celebration and had one of the best meals (and craziest dance parties) of my life.
Mostly, I’ve learned that in order to bring people into your life, you need to be open to receiving them.
Last summer, at my going away party in Fort Lauderdale, it was interesting to look around the room and see all the people standing there. There were friends I met through comedy classes and friends I met after joining a journalism group for women I found online. There were work friends, kickball friends, friends I met through friends, and friends from university. Little by little, in all the cities I’d lived in, I really had managed to (eventually) make friends.
Each and every one of them brought something rich to my life, and as we all got wasted in my pool, the fear of leaving them and moving somewhere new started to slip away.
“You worried about making friends?” a friend asked me before I embarked on my new journey.
“Yeah,” I said. “But I think I’ll be OK.”
It’s just taken me a while to realize that.
This story originally appeared on Cropped, a site that shares personal essays from 20-somethings that explore the experiences often left out of perfectly filtered and curated social media posts.
Kate Jacobson is an editor and writer living in Los Angeles, by way of Chicago, Washington D.C., and Fort Lauderdale, Florida.