Adult Life Can Be Lonely, so Here’s How I Build Community as an Introvert

Like many introverts, I struggled to reach out to old friends or welcome new friends into my life.

Every introvert knows they have found a true friend when he or she tell us, “There is no way you’re an introvert — you’re so talkative!” When this happens, it reminds me of how lucky I am to have found a true confidant, someone with whom I have such a connection, so much that we can talk for hours. It’s a gift and a relief to find friends who I trust enough to open up my vast inner world — something that feels difficult to share with most people.

I often forget that it takes time to cultivate friendships like these, and close friends don’t just drop out of thin air. I recently moved away from college to a big city. I thought it would be the most liberating experience of my life to be free from classes, and do whatever I wanted in the great wide world.

Instead I found myself missing my old life more and more each day. I wondered how that could be, because I had finally escaped the academic stress I’d felt almost every day of college. I questioned why I felt so lonely, despite the number of good people in my life.

Everyone told me how lucky I’d been to move to the city, because there were many people from my school moving there. But as an introvert, no matter how many new people I saw or new places I went, I found myself craving the comfort of my best friends, the ones I could really be myself around.

I missed people even though they were right there, because I wanted long conversations that were now reduced to short or meaningless interactions. Like many introverts, I was not good at reaching out to people, and I struggled with welcoming new people into my life. When I felt lonely, my tendency as an introvert was to crawl into my own head and self-soothe, because coordinating social events seemed too daunting.

But keeping to myself produced the exact opposite of what I needed — so I decided to figure out why I was missing the past so deeply.

Surprisingly, College Had Become My Introvert Paradise

When I really stopped to think about why I missed college, I realized I didn’t miss the parties or the club activities. What I missed was talking with my roommate for hours sitting on our beds. I missed studying with close friends until 2 a.m. in the library on a Tuesday. I missed coffee dates at cafes with my school club “family.”

In college, my schedule had been built around seeing my best friends and sharing a lifestyle with them. College had slowly become an introvert paradise for me because I could see my friends without having to make an overwhelming social situation out of it.

So even though moving to the city and having complete independence and privacy seemed like an introvert’s dream, it made me feel isolated. I missed the easy, built-in interactions of my college life.

What I’ve Learned About Rebuilding Community

I knew I needed to find some ways to make it feel like I still had the community I had built in college, and to take steps to find my own tribe in a new city. Here are seven things I’ve learned so far as an introvert about maintaining and rebuilding a community:

1. Reach out to your friends more often than you naturally think to.

As an introvert, it’s not a natural tendency of mine to initiate conversations. I accidentally tend to wait until a friend texts me first because I get so lost in my own head. But the times I have made a purposeful decision to reach out first, I have never regretted it, and I always feel better after. If it helps, try setting a calendar notification to remind yourself to reach out to someone this week.

2. Invite your friends to do specific things.

Vague social situations can sometimes seem daunting to introverts. If you have an idea for an activity that you think a certain friend or friends would be interested in, invite them to it — for example, a concert, museum exhibit, or cultural event. It can be easier to arrange meeting up for certain events than following up on a, “We should hang out sometime!” message.

3. Do not be scared to overlap friend groups.

When I first moved, I noticed my tendency to only hang out with friends one-on-one and being bitter about not having any friend groups all in the same place anymore. It was scary for me to invite friends from different places to hang out together, but I realized how irrational that thought was. Chances are, your friends will be delighted to meet new people, and this is how you develop new friend groups.

4. Have bonding sessions with your friends.

In adult life, there will be less time where you and your friends are just constantly together. So be sure to make time for catching up and staying close, like going on long walks together or having them over for dinner. 

5. Go out into the world, even if there’s no one else by your side.

Whenever I’m feeling lonely, going out, especially to a very populated area, always makes me feel better. It reminds me that I am not alone in the world, and there are so many people around me also just figuring out their lives. It can help to simply feel out and about, living the human experience. If crowded spaces aren’t your thing, opt for a walk in nature or a more intimate venue, like a bookstore or cafe.

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6. Stay in touch with friends who are not close in proximity.

I often tend to count the number of people in my life as the ones who are directly accessible, but this is obviously not the case. Checking in on my friends and family who are currently far away reminds me that I have a wide circle of people who I know and care about. They might not be near you at the moment, but remind yourself that they are still your friend and are still there for you.

7. Be patient with yourself.

In a moment of reflection about college, I realized the part I was really glamorizing was the last year or so. I actually felt pretty lonely in my first year, because I didn’t have many friends. It always takes time to build up friendships and a state of comfort — so be patient with yourself. You may feel completely different (in a good way) about the state of your friendships in a year or so.

I am still learning to adopt these rules, getting used to reaching out more often, and getting used to this new way of life. It will take time to recreate a community for myself, and I will add more tips I learn along the road of adulthood to my list. I know that eventually I will find the best ways to still feel connected to the people I love, and introduce more meaningful friendships into my life.

I hope the same for you, too.

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Maggie Donaldson is an engineer whose biggest passion and area of study is Cognitive Science, a crossover of all studies of the human mind. Her favorite thing to do is spend hours at San Francisco parks with her closest friends. She also loves playing the piano, playing with her dog, and making terrible puns.