I don’t take the riches of friendship lightly. I never assumed that building a group of friends – from scratch! in a new city! – would be easy.
Years ago, I moved from Tokyo to Portland and I was incredibly lonely. I’d left a vibrant community in Tokyo; left family and friends and colleagues; and in this new city I knew exactly three people. Who all worked nights and didn’t have kids.
I found a place to live and made a new life here, slowly but surely. I got a driver’s license, hired a babysitter, got insurance, bought a car, outfitted my home. I even put flowers on my table.
But I was lonely down deep in my bones.
I took my girl to the park and read my book on a bench. I went to coffeeshops and wrote in my journal. I lay in my new bathtub and read all the Anne of Green Gable books again, start to finish.
I was okay. But I was solitary.
Fast forward three years and I became so blessed with funny, loving, honest, brilliant friends that I quite literally am getting teary as I type this.
So how did that happen? Some of it was luck, sure, but I want to tell you the one thing I did that nurtured and fostered these relationships more than anything else.
It isn’t glamorous or mystical. It might even strike you as mechanical, awkward, or artificial.
Here’s what I did to build a group of friends: I put us all on a schedule.
What the whaaat?!?!? I know, isn’t that the unsexiest thing ever?
But at this point in my life, the women I find most interesting and with whom I have the most in common are BUSY. Like, saturated-up-to-their-eyeballs busy. We will never, but never, call each other up and say, Hey, it’s 1pm on a Thursday, want to do lunch? Or Hey, it’s Friday evening at 6pm– want to magically find babysitters and get a reservation somewhere?
Same thing with my fellow entrepreneurs: when we were getting started, we might chat on a whim about the intricacies of setting up a website, or muse on an impromptu skype call about this great new book we’d just read on social media.
Now? Our days are full to the brim with client calls, appointments, meetings, email, and dedicated project time.
It can feel like no one has time for each other, but that’s not the case. It’s just that we live according to our calendars now, and so the trick is to proactively put the people we care about into our calendars– ideally on a recurring basis.
This means that our book club meets the first Friday of every month at 5pm, no exceptions. If someone is out of town, they’re shit out of luck. (And yes they WILL miss some amazing gossip.)
If we had to go back and forth every month about what day worked for who, and tried not to leave anyone out, you know what would happen? We would never, ever drink our wine. I mean talk about the book.
My business mastermind talks every single Friday by phone. We call into the same conference line. Not everyone can make it every time, but we forge ahead anyway. We follow a simple structure: 2-minute updates from everyone, then dive into whatever conundrums are on the table that day, one at a time. No emails back and forth, no scheduling hassles, just a repeating appointment on all our electronic calendars.
I wanted to catch up with two old friends last week, and we put a time on the calendar– just to chat!!– which might seem cold, but what that means is that instead of playing voicemail tag, we actually DID get to talk, and it was lovely.
If you travel a lot, or you run a business or a large team, or you have kids or even house plants, I bet your life is really busy. It might seem counterintuitive, but putting your favorite people on the calendar in some organically recurring fashion might be the simplest way to keep those relationships humming along.
You can do this with play dates, supper clubs, crafting afternoons, game nights, annual trips to Vegas– whatever floats your boat. Having a recurring time to meet gives your group momentum, structure, and even a sense of safety; no one has to be the one who’s always making the calls and getting everyone together.
Step 1: Think of something you like to do in the presence of other people.
Salsa dancing, budgeting, competitive marbles, Settlers of Cataan– hey, I don’t judge.
Step 2: Find two people whose company you enjoy and ask them if they’d like to do this thing
Ask them if they’d like to get together every month– say every second Thursday. Stand there with your heart pounding while they say yes or no; or, as my beloved friend first responded when I invited her to book club, “Well….what kind of books do you read?” (I told her we read the Twilight books, but luckily she came anyway. And no we don’t read Twilight.)
Then, see if each of them knows one cool kindred spirit non-annoying non-drama-queen friend they’d like to invite to join you. And boom. You’ve just planted the seeds of a community.
Easy peasy, lemon squeezy. But those seeds? They just might flower into something beautiful.