Classified: City dweller seeks community in really big city

Photo by  Warren Wong  on  Unsplash .

Photo by Warren Wong on Unsplash.

Alright everyone, this issue is close to my heart. As a 10-year resident of Washington, D.C., I know what it’s like to live in a big, transient city where you want to form a community. 

And I know it’s hard. 

After all this time I’m still livin’ for the city life, and I can share a bit of what I’ve learned, because I know that sometimes those of us living in the big cities can also feel the most lonely. Even as the world moves around you and touch-points with people seem numerous, the big city can be one of the most socially and emotionally isolating geographies of our time. 

Whether you’ve newly landed in a big city or have been there for years and just find it hard to settle in with your “crew,” be encouraged that community is always possible. You’re not the only one hoping to have edifying, meaningful relationships with people who you interact with every day. In fact, deep in our hearts, most if not all human beings want these kinds of relationships, even if they’re not always aware or open. 

With this in mind, here are some tips on forming community in the big city. 

  1. Do things. This may seem obvious, but I’ve spoken to many people who admit that they don’t have friends because they just don’t like leaving their apartment. To find people who will be in community with you, you’ll need to go out and find those people. Put some thought into what you personally enjoy doing and then find events that attract people with common interests. And take advantage of at least some of the invitations you currently have to spend time with people, because these are also opportunities to meet new people. But what if no one invites you out? Try and go where the people are, strike up some courage, and introduce yourself to someone you don’t know. This will be harder for some than it is for others. Just remember that you are worthy of connection and there are people in the world who need your contribution to their lives!

  2. Change your geography. Contrary to popular belief, cities can be dispersed and spread-out. Traffic, parking, eating-out budgets, many things can make connection more challenging. But there are ways in a large city to use geography to your advantage. One obvious way to change your geography is to change where you live. Moving in with roommates, or into a building known for a strong social environment, can put you in a place to interact daily with potential friends. If you’re in DC, take advantage of the rooftop pool or the gym. Use the internet to discover quality social events, that are sometimes cheap if not free, like jazz or museums.

  3. Go to church. People always get on me for this. But this is the most obvious, organized, and reliable mechanism for finding people willing to delve into quality relationships. Churches. Churches are communities, and they’re typically decent at grafting in new people. Most of my friends in Washington, D.C. came through my church community because at heart, this was a community of people on the same mission. But together we also have extraordinary diversity of opinion and background. Whether you’re ready to get in touch with your faith right now or not, you can probably find someone you can talk to--and take the pressure off yourself. These connections don’t have to be world-changing in the beginning (though you know here at Arrowhead we love changing the world).

  4. Initiate at your workplace. This one may seem obvious, but I want to make sure you know that you’re allowed to make friends at work. Sometimes the environment at a new job or an old job can seem stifling, a place where co-workers can’t be friends. I’ll remind here that work environments are created by the workers, and individual workers who take the initiative can change those environments. If you want to make friends at work, you may need to be the one that ‘goes first’. There’s nothing weird or unprofessional about asking coworkers to casually spend time with you. In fact, it can be healthy for office morale in the first place.

  5. Remind yourself daily that you are worthy of connection. I just listed several practical items, but this is really the most important. Most people who struggle to find community in big cities also struggle with finding their own identity and struggle to remain socially confident as they float from event to event, trying to connect. It’s hard to find your place among so many people, and you’ll feel the pressure to fit in everywhere just to fit in somewhere. But know this: You can be yourself and find your people at the same time. It may take some patience. It may take some time. But it will happen. Each day brings interactions, and each day slowly adds to your network of people, a network from which you’ll eventually find your crew.

Remember that building community in your big city is not only important for yourself, but it’s also important for the city. Our society’s health depends on strong connections with each other. Those people who can build community, and especially those people who build community across socio-economic and cultural divides, are strengthening the social fabric of our cities at the same time. 

Branden S. Polk