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How to Navigate Unexpected Challenges When Moving to a New City

By Jessica Goodman

Moving to a new city can be one of the most exciting adventures: New restaurants! New parks! New people! New everything! But it can also be a time of surprising stress, especially if things don’t go as smoothly as you would like. You may find yourself lonely and missing some of the aspects of your life you left in a different part of the world. Ahead, here are some of the unexpected challenges you might face when moving to a new city and how to push through to make your new home your happy place.

Unexpected challenge: You don’t find real connections right away

It can be really hard to find meaningful connections straight off the bat. But don’t be discouraged by lukewarm or so-so friendships, says Dr. Marisa G. Franco, psychologist and author of Platonic: How the Science of Attachment Can Help You Make-and-Keep Friends. “When you’re new to an environment, you don’t need to put pressure on yourself to find quality connections,” she says. “That happens over time.” It’s unlikely that you’ll find your best friend on day one in a new place, so instead stick with the people who you feel might have potential. “Just conversing with people decreases loneliness,” says Dr. Franco. Plus, those folks might introduce you to friends you connect with even more. In the meantime, try putting yourself out there and being open to just about anyone, even if you aren’t feeling that connection right away. You can also try Bumble’s friend-finding mode, Bumble BFF, if you haven’t yet.

Unexpected challenge: You find yourself without much to do

Without your usual hangouts and routines, it can be difficult to figure out how to fill your free time, especially if you don’t know what your new city has to offer just yet. “Bring the habits and activities that served you in your old city with you,” recommends therapist Whitney McSparran. “If running keeps you grounded, find a route you love. If picking up a cup of coffee helps you start your day on the right foot, explore coffee shops and cafes until you find your new favorite place.” In addition to filling your time with activities you know you like, McSparran also suggests trying new ones and building new habits, which will help you fill out your calendar and build a connection to your new city. 

Unexpected challenge: You’re single and only making friends with people in relationships 

When you’re the only unattached person in the group, fifth wheeling can get old really quickly. If this sounds familiar, Dr. Melanie Ross Mills, a relationship and friendship expert and therapist, advises making a concerted effort to seek out single people by networking as if you were trying to find a new job. “Organize a dinner and encourage your single friends to invite some of their single friends,” she suggests. Or fire up Bumble BFF and look for others in your situation. (You can use Advanced Filters to only see people who listed their relationship status as single.) This way, you can find new friends you might be able to relate to when it comes to dating. Also, don’t assume that everyone in a relationship only wants friends who are also coupled up, says Dr. Franco. If you connect with a new friend who’s partnered up, make an effort to see them one-on-one.

Unexpected challenge: You don’t think you fit in

It can be so easy to fall into the “no one wants to be my friend” trap, especially if you’re moving to a region that’s totally unlike your last hometown. But take Dr. Franco’s advice: “Assume people like you.” She says that there’s a phenomenon called the “liking gap” that suggests that when you assume people like you, it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. They end up liking you more because you seem more open and engaged. “People who assume they’ll be rejected tend to be more cold and distant and then actually get rejected,” she says. So by being friendly and initiating conversations while also letting your true personality shine, you might actually find that people like you way more than you think. Also, give yourself some time to find where you fit in, says McSparren: “It may take a while to re-establish a sense of community. If it isn’t happening as fast as you hoped, try not to take it personally. You’re still the same person you were in your old city, strengths and all.” 

Unexpected challenge: You get drained easily  

Moving to a new place may seem like one big adventure, but in reality, it’s an extremely exhausting and draining experience. You have to find a new everything: new lunch spot, new pharmacy, new coffee shops. You might also still be figuring out how the public transportation system works or the best route to work, and it all takes more energy than you’d usually use to accomplish everyday tasks. Don’t be hard on yourself, and accept that big adjustments take time and a lot of effort. Remind yourself that it’s okay to take a step back and relax instead of jumping into doing everything all at once. “Make an effort to create the surroundings that bring you comfort, whether this is lighting your favorite candles or curling up with a good book,” says Dr. Mills. Call a parent or your best friend back home. This will free you up to have more energy when you do decide to go out and explore.

Overall, give yourself some time to settle into your new city and be proud of the courage it took to make the move in the first place. You’ve got this.