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I’ve moved many times in my life.
Many, many times.
So many times that when people ask the reason for all these moves, I deadpan, “Well. When you’re in the Witness Protection Program….”
It usually takes a count of three before they get the joke. Then we all have a good laugh.
Having twenty addresses during my thirty-seven years of marriage really has made me something of an expert on moving. Especially for women, who are so relationship oriented, moving can be a hugely stressful and emotionally wrenching life event.
At one point I taught a class at church, specifically for young women who had moved within the previous year. Having been there and done that so many times, I wanted to serve as a support for young wives and moms who might be feeling untethered after a move.
Going through a move myself recently has reminded me of how difficult moving is, at any age. But moving in the years beyond fifty is a unique challenge.
Changes in career and finances sometimes precipitate a post-50 move. So can the preparation for retirement. Very often, an emptying of the family nest is the reason for a move. That’s part of the reason moving can be so difficult later in life.
When I had children still at home, making friends in a new community was easier. I met most of my friends through my children’s school or extracurricular activities. Lacking the natural connections that come from having school age children can make moving more difficult.
Even so, my recent experiences have shown me that the principles I shared with those young moms back at my church all those years ago still apply.
Here’s what you need to remember when you’re trying to fit in and make friends in a new community.
GET OUT THERE.
While it is possible that new neighbors will come knocking on the door with a bundt cake and a warm welcome after your move, I wouldn’t count on it.
The lack of a cake and an introduction doesn’t necessarily mean your new neighborhood isn’t friendly. People are so busy these days that it might take quite some time for them to get around to meeting the new neighbors. Also, people in your new community might be more reserved or have different ideas about the need for privacy than your old one.
There are good people everywhere. But you might have to go looking for them.
Do an online search for newcomers clubs in your area. Often, newcomers clubs will have activities for singles and couples – everything from book groups and field trips to progressive dinners – that make it easier to get to know other people.
If you’ve ever had or wanted a hobby, now is the time to lean into it. Join a quilt guild, knitting circle, or book club. Take a painting class or see if your town has a running or biking club. Finding people with common interests can pave the way to making new friends.
If your spiritual inclinations trend that direction, don’t delay the search for a new church, synagogue, or faith community. Finding a church that feels like a good fit can take a few weeks so start visiting as soon as the boxes are unloaded.
Wherever you go, mingle. Take the initiative and introduce yourself to people, tell them you’ve just moved. Be sure to ask them questions about themselves, too.
Introducing yourself to strangers can feel awkward but people probably won’t be able to tell you’re new just by looking. Once they do, chances are they’ll be eager to welcome you.
GET INVOLVED. BUT NOT TOO INVOLVED.
It might take a little while but if you get out there and make an effort, chances are you’ll find an interest group and people you like before long.
Once you do, get to know the members by participating in the group’s activities or perhaps even volunteering. Doing things together, side by side with others, is crucial to making connections. Don’t shy away from getting involved, even if you’re new to the group.
However, sometimes people can be so anxious to make new friends that they get too involved, too fast.
Take your time. Join one club. Or two. Not five.
Sign up to sew charity quilts at your guild? Yes. Volunteer as a substitute in the nursery at the church? Absolutely.
But if the guild needs a quilt show chair or the church is recruiting a new Sunday school superintendent, sit on your hands. At least for now. Give yourself time to settle in before completely filling (or overfilling) your dance card.
IF AT FIRST YOU DON’T SUCEED…WELL, YOU KNOW THE REST
When you’re new, you might run into someone you’d really like to know better and make overtures toward friendship, only to find they are ignored.
That can hurt. I know. It can hurt so much that you might feel discouraged from ever trying to reach out to someone new again. But if you ever hope to fit into your new community, you’ve got to shake it off.
Here’s the thing…
Most people only have time and room in their lives for a certain number of close relationships. Maybe ten. Maybe even only five. It’s different for everybody.
If someone ignores your overtures of friendship, it probably has nothing to do with them not liking you. (After all, they’d need to know you to dislike you, right?) The probable cause is that they have all the relationships they can handle and simply aren’t taking applications for new ones.
Shake it off, move on, and continue the search. Your new best friend is out there somewhere; you just have to keep looking.
KEEP YOUR EYES OFF THE REARVIEW MIRROR
Sometimes, it’s tempting to look back and compare your old community with the new one.
Nothing will spoil your chances of ever feeling at home in a new place like comparing it with the old place. I know from experience.
In 1995, my family and I moved to Cuernavaca, Mexico. Talk about culture shock! Everything was different – the food, the language, the music, the plumbing – everything.
I consider myself a reasonably adventurous traveler and I’m sure I’d have loved visiting Cuernavaca, but living there was a whole different thing. I was miserable.
For months, I thought everything about Mexico was hideous and everything about the US was heaven.
Neither, of course, was true.
Finally, I realized I had to snap out of it. I got out my gold paint pen, decorated a piece of paper with little leaves and vines, wrote “Good Things About Mexico” at the top of the page, and started making a list.
In a few weeks, that piece of paper was full and my attitude toward my new home had turned around completely. The more good things I looked for, the more good things I found. (Funny how that works, right?)
Four years later, when it came time for us to leave Mexico, I was genuinely sorry to go.
GIVE IT TIME
For most of us, inserting ourselves into a new town or neighborhood can feel a lot like putting on a new pair of shoes – uncomfortable, painful, and just plain wrong.
Be patient with your new town, and yourself. The shoe isn’t going to conform to your foot (or your foot to the shoe) overnight. Take a tip for a recently moved writer friend of mine who, when I asked if she liked her new town said, “No. But I will.”
Give it time. Big life changes aren’t easy and moving is one of the biggest.
But if you keep at it, one day you’ll find that your new community is as comfortable as the old, though perhaps in a different way.