I’ve asked Google many a thing – “how do you bake chicken” “which one is cabbage and which is lettuce” “what does an eclipse mean.” But perhaps the most humbling thing I’ve ever thrown out to the universe was what I typed into that search bar a few moons ago – “How do you make friends in a new city in your thirties?”
I could have thought up a few answers on my own. I would have said ‘join a sports team/volunteer somewhere/wander a farmers market/bookstore for hours waiting for a
hot guy oops this is about friends cool person to talk to you because it happens in movies’ and a million other things. But generally I think many of us are wondering how to make solid friendships these days.
Because for a million reasons, your Thirties are different. It seemed effortless to make friends in college. Especially going to UCSB, where I lived within a beach cruiser square mile of everyone I knew and life was seriously magical. Waiting tables post-college provided an endless stream of friendships and entertainment.
But as I’ve gotten older, it seems like people marry off and then produce offspring and its GREAT for them and I love being Auntie Rachie. And it’s not their fault but we seemed to have slowly grown out of our friendships, or just cant find time to hang out. When we do hang out, our lives are in different places and it’s not as easy to talk about things.
And in normal daily life, I’ve got headphones in and I walk fast and I’m already so easily entertained with a Netflix binge (BLACK MIRROR IS EVERYTHING RIGHT NOW) or sometimes I just need a day holed up in the apartment ordering delivery and rereading my favorite books, taking breaks to scroll twitter to watch the world end. All without a bra on for the win.
It probably does not help my “I want to make more friends” situation that I keep skipping town/state/country/continent for one reason or another. But Hong Kong looks like it might be some version of ‘home’ for the next few years and I was feeling lonely and awkward and I joined some online groups and bit my fingernails and covered my eyes and hit “RSVP” to a wine and pizza dinner for a group of girls who are living abroad in Hong Kong.
Of course, it came down to the evening of and I got a bad case of the “but i dont wanna.” I was cold and I didn’t want to shower and it was already dark out. I walked through a hundred different scenarios in my head about how it could go wrong. “I’m not cool! People are going to find out I’m not cool if I go!” I screamed into the void. I opened my closet and stared at all the clothes inside and loudly declared to no one that I had nothing to wear. I drank a glass of liquid courage and texted my besties for advice and virtual encouragement.
Then I looked in my fridge and saw the lack of food. And I’ve never said ‘no’ to a pizza. So I applied a liberal amount of eyeliner and dry shampoo, hopped on a bus and I went.
It was like going on a first date with about fifty people at once. SO intimidating. These were all intelligent, employed, internationally-minded women who take risks and are game-changers. With really cool names and accents. I met women from Russia, Papua New Guinea, Germany, and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. And I had not received the memo that we were all dressing in black and looking really good.
But you know what? We went for it. We chatted. There is so much mileage in being someone interested in new places and new people, because there is always a story and it reminds you of another story. It was especially fun to connect with women who were also teachers, or also Americans, or had only been in HK for a little while. I spent about 30 minutes in sympathetic convo with someone over the nonsense that is opening a bank account for Americans in HK. We all have a built-in understanding of each other that no one else on earth could possibly have. It was magic. It was therapeutic.
And then it was funny-not-funny, because after the pizza party, we all wanted to go out for a drink, and I realized belatedly that I had grabbed some vouchers instead of dollar bills like I had thought (the money is all different colors here). Which left me with enough money to get one drink, but then no cab ride home . . . curses! I decided to have the one drink, as it was only 9:30pm, and then mosey home (about a 40 minute walk, but HK is blessedly safe) at my leisure.
But then the good times just kept rolling, and all of a sudden it was 2am and I was dancing at our fourth location for the evening. It was just good clean fun and I was having the best time chatting and complimenting and being complimented, as women are wont to do. There is no friendship like the one you make with strangers while applying lip gloss in the bathroom at a bar.
This is where the story turns sour. We were in a circle, and I was up against the deejay booth and enjoying the heck out of life, dancing away to top 40’s nonsense and late nights I never intended to be a part of. Then a middle-aged man, who had been lurking outside our circle, reached through it and groped my breast pretty roughly in front of the entire circle. Shamelessly. I can’t even really remember how I reacted immediately, if I hit his hand or what, I just remember saying “get the f— out of here” and pointing towards the door. But then one of the women with me asked if I wanted him out of the club, and I thought that if he would do that to me, blatantly in front of everyone, when I’m sober and not small and not young, who knows what else he was capable of with all the other beautiful women in there. So my new shero went and got security to remove him, and my new friends encouraged me to stay and dance his memory away. It worked until I realized I had no money and would now have to walk home in the wee hours wondering if he was hiding behind the next anything.
So #metoo. Not for the first time. Not even the second or fifth or tenth time. And probably not the last.
The good news is I walked home safely, woke up safely, was able to talk to some friends about it. I went to church, and it was beautiful and challenging, and then spent the afternoon with my dearest friend in Hong Kong, wandering about and finding Brazilian food (yay!) and Western beauty products (yay!) and the perfect present for someone’s birthday, which is my favorite thing to do.
Good news is despite encounter with asshat, I have really turned a corner here in Hong Kong – I’m happier than I’ve been, I feel space to be more creative, I’m enjoying the projects at my job, I get to teach adorable kids, i LOVE being more social and doing different things. Last weekend was full with roomie date night, church, bestie Sundays, and a wee fiesta for Groundhog’s Day! One of my fav holidays!
Other tiny blessings – the new Xfiles season is messy but good, a zero-waste store opened on my street, I’ve been picking up my guitar more, Chinese New Year is coming and Hong Kong is looking AMAZING. I’m going to the Philippines next week for ten days of next to nothing in the sun. I can’t stop watching “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” with roomie, my song on repeat at the moment is “Sun Comes Up” by James Arthur and Rudimental. I have friends coming to visit in June and am going home in July. And I know I’ll be happy to return in August. These are all good things.
So – how do you make friends in your thirties? I still don’t know. A lot of us from that night are now texting back and forth, making half-baked plans to hang out, liking photos on instagram, and looking forward to the next big event.
It felt like friendships began that night, memories were certainly made that brought us all together and we can talk about next time we meet. I think the best thing that came out of that night was that I felt brave for going, and encouraged by how easy it was to make friends, to have a good time. With no expectations, you can be so pleasantly surprised. So my advice – if you want it, go for it. Trying might be hard, but it doesn’t hurt.
Alright. I am off to bake cookies, drink wine, and scroll Tinder. Yes, Tinder. That is a whole nother hot mess blog coming up. This is 33, folks. And I kinda love it.
If you haven’t heard it yet today, and you need to, drink more water. It’s good for your healthy. It just helps with almost everything. And also you are great.