Bhumika Choudhary, 24, knew that moving during the pandemic wouldn’t be easy, but she figured she would be able to make friends with her co-workers at the Boston office of the law firm where she recently started a new job. Or maybe she could meet a neighbor or two in her large apartment building in downtown Boston.
But since she arrived in September from Hartford, Conn., after finishing graduate school, nothing has panned out. Her co-workers go straight home after work because what else is there to do when the state’s stay-at-home order now includes a 10 p.m. curfew? Her neighbors can’t even share an elevator with her because of social distancing rules, let alone have a chat.
“It just feels lonely. There isn’t anyone I can message after work and say, ‘Hey, do you want to go for a walk and get some fresh air?” Ms. Choudhary said. “I come home and the day ends.”
In the best of times, moving is stressful and exhausting. Under pandemic conditions, the transition to a new home can be deeply disorienting and isolating.
Gone are the ways you would typically get to know an area. The coffee shop where you could linger in the hopes of striking up a conversation is off limits. Sign up for a dance class and odds are it’s on Zoom. Visit an independent bookstore and not only are the live events canceled, your interactions are reduced to curbside pickups.
It seems like the worst possible time to pack up and go, but this period has been a surprisingly transient one. Job losses, school closures and fear of infection have driven millions of people to start over elsewhere. Others have taken this moment, untethered from an office for the foreseeable future, to try out a new location, preferably with more space and better weather.
Nearly 16 million Americans filed change-of-address requests between February and July, according to an analysis of United Postal Service data by Mymove, a data and technology company that partners with the Postal Service. A survey by Pew Research Center found that 22 percent of people moved or knew someone who had moved because of the pandemic.
And so, millions of Americans have found themselves in a lonely boat, paddling through our collective isolation in a place where they know no one and have few opportunities to change that.
“One of the ways we make friends is through proximity,” said Shasta Nelson, a friendship expert and author of “The Business of Friendship: Making the Most of Our Relationships Where We Spend Most of Our Time.” That option “is definitely complicated by the fact that for so many of us, proximity doesn’t look the same anymore.”
It’s even hard to explore a new city. In Boston, with museums, galleries, shops and restaurants closed or offering limited hours, Ms. Choudhary hasn’t found any of those favorite spots that make a place feel like home. “It’s a beautiful city. You can go by the harbor, you can walk. There is open space,” she said. But aside from the grocery store, she has yet to create any rituals. “Where are the cool places? If I ever have a friend visit, where would I take them? I don’t know.”
Ms. Nelson, who moved from San Francisco to Napa in October, suggests doubling down on social media, at least for now. Announce your upcoming move on your social platforms, asking friends to introduce you to people they may know in your new town. Join local Facebook groups in your new community, and engage in the forums. Look for friends on apps like Bumble BFF. Look for hiking, cycling or jogging meet-ups.
Or you could make a general shout-out on social media, like Eliza Petersen did. In October, the unlikely TikTok influencer known for her viral video about God and an angel discussing the demise of the dinosaurs, offered a heartfelt plea to her 300,000 followers, telling them that after her move to a new house in a new neighborhood, she was “having a lot of trouble feeling very isolated and it’s just getting a little too hard to deal.” Offering a P.O. box address near Salt Lake City as a way to connect offline, she said, “If anyone would like to be friends, even just a virtual friend, we can write letters, exchange recipes, or crafting ideas, or talk about dinosaurs.”
Move to a new place, and it’s easy to feel like you’re on the outside looking in. Joe Esposito, 40, was standing on Abbot Kinney Boulevard near Venice Beach in Los Angeles with his girlfriend, Laura Snell, 35, soon after the TV networks announced that Joe Biden had won the election. The street had a festive block-party vibe as locals celebrated the news. But for the couple, who have been living in the city since July, the moment felt wistful. They wanted to join in, but how?
“We were roaming around town and people were celebrating and we didn’t know anybody, you’re sort of observing,” said Mr. Esposito, a content strategist for a bank who had lived in the New York City area his whole life before driving across country with his girlfriend. Ms. Snell, a remote teacher and actress, is originally from Southern California, but hadn’t lived in the state for a decade.
As hard as it may be to meet new people during this pandemic, Miriam Kirmayer, a clinical psychologist and friendship expert points out that there is an upside to looking for friends right now: Lots of people are feeling pretty lonely.
“People are more open about the experience of loneliness and more aware of and open about their desire to make new connections,” she said. This could be a time to “put ourselves out there and to be transparent about our desire to make new connections.”
A few weeks ago, Mr. Esposito and Ms. Snell were walking their dog along the beach when another couple with a dog approached them. They were as eager and friendly as their pet. “Long story short, they were from Chicago,” Mr. Esposito said, and also in need of conversation.
The two couples exchanged numbers and a few days later met on the beach and shared a bottle of champagne. “It was nice enough to sit and let our dogs run around. It was nice to talk about politics. You want someone to share life with,” he said.
The double date went so well that they made plans to meet up again, giving Mr. Esposito hope that after four months in California, he might finally have made a friend.
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