“Make the best use of what is in your power and take the rest as it happens.” ~ Epictetus
Do you know that feeling when you are completely alone?
I don’t mean in a calm, solitary, I-choose-to-be-on-my-own kinda way.
It’s the alone that inflates with silence that makes your ears ring. It’s the ache in the pit of your gut that boils the insecurities and needless feelings of rejection. It’s the push of desperate pain that wells in your eyes and stains your cheeks.
You know, that kind of alone?
I never intended to feel this way. When I first moved to Paris, the images of hope and “my future starts here” were bursting from every pore.
As I whizzed around daily life, getting to know my new colleagues, digging into shiny new work projects and exploring the jewels of this amazing city, I was so engulfed in the newness of it all that I made no time to stop and think about the long term.
And there was no need to. I was embarking on an exciting new phase of my life. There was no time to stop and think!
But then the newness faded. My colleagues became familiar to me. My job was less about discovery and more about delivery. My apartment was decorated. I was done being “new.”
And that’s when reality finally sunk in.
It was time for normality. Routine. Familiarity.
But nothing in Paris was like my old life. I didn’t have any real friends here; nobody I could call and say “hey, let’s hang out together today.” Family were in a completely different country too.
The emptiness was explosive.
Humans are naturally social creatures, and I am not just gregarious; my energy comes from connecting with others. Taking this option away from me was like stripping my identity bare.
I didn’t descend into a depression. Neither did I go out nor have wild, cocktail-soaked nights. In fact, there was no defining moment when a flare of inspiration transformed me from the no-friends-alone-on-the-weekends person to a blossoming social butterfly.
As with anything I had in my life, friendship would take time to achieve. And even then, there was no end game, no one event that signified completion.
Building a life filled with what I wanted would not swiftly appear through chanting a few affirmations or signing up to a list. I would have to define it for myself. It would be an evolutionary process. The difference was made using two words: what and how.
What did I actually want? It was simple. I wanted to have someone I could call and spend some time with. But more than ever, I just wanted engagement, conversation, a spark of chemistry and shared experiences.
I didn’t want acquaintances. I wanted real friends—the ones where we shared a mutual respect and just had each others’ back. Simple!
How to get there started with letting go of preconceptions and insecurities, like:
- Everyone already has a circle of friends. Why would they want to befriend me?
- I don’t speak the language yet, so how can I engage with new people?
- The French are notoriously unfriendly, so the odds are against me anyway.
Thoughts like this alone could have been strong enough to keep me routed in my own self-doubt. But my security did not come from removing the doubts, but choosing to take action in spite of them.
My journey to finding new friends began with two main themes: the people I knew already, and the things I was interested in doing.
I decided I would first ask a few colleagues to have lunch with me. These conversations revealed shared interests, so I asked one colleague to join me at a couture class where we learned to sew dresses. Another colleague and I went indoor-wall climbing.
Mingled with this was using the desire to learn French to also engage with people outside of the office. I joined an online group and began meeting people who wanted to learn English and in turn they taught me French. This created a reason to meet and some common ground to work from.
Some of these people have become irreplaceable friends and some I will probably never see again. But I found simple joy during this process. Would I ever have encountered these people if I had not made the effort to do so in the first place?
And that is perhaps the most fundamental lesson from this experience. If I wanted friends, I had to ask for them. It was my responsibility to make the first move. There was no magic pill, no secret formula—just discovering the what and the how.
What changes have you made to feel less lonely? What has this taught you about yourself?
Happy kids image via Shutterstock