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Monday Moment: Feeling left out?

Emma Grey

My home town has a bit of an unfortunate reputation of being ‘clique-ish’ for newcomers. Apparently it’s hard to break into friendships here.

I say ‘apparently’ because, as someone who was born and raised here, and is still living here (albeit just over the border), I haven’t had to worry about finding friends. My oldest friend who lives in Canberra is someone who visited me with his mother when I was born in hospital, when he was about two.

I’m still in touch with friends from pre-school and primary school and with my core best friends from high school, then with uni friends and friends from various jobs. I’ve met a host of new friends via my WorkLifeBliss page, and through HerCanberra. Lots of my friends aren’t from here, too, but many are – so I haven’t had to deal with this particular challenge of ‘breaking in’.

I can imagine it is harder for people moving here. But with this caveat: All of my friendships were ‘made’.

Risks were taken, from pre-school onwards, to reach out and form friendships. And to keep them. There have been some life-changing, deep friendships and some hurtful and disappointing ones. There was some bullying, at school and at work. One of my deepest friendships is with someone I’ve met in person only about five times, and who lives interstate — so we manage nearly all of it by long distance.

I’m on some local Facebook pages. Through those, you see a lot of queries from people about finding friends and having fun. I appreciate that it can be a challenge breaking into any new place. Despite not moving, I have had to break into new places and circles over and over.

Here’s the thing: Sometimes I wonder if people are expecting new friends to drop magically off the back of a truck, the way some teenagers hope a boyfriend or girlfriend will appear (I recall thinking that way myself, back in the day…)

I wonder if, sometimes, people expect this to happen without making an effort to go out and meet people. Or to find hobbies or groups and put in the time and energy. Or take risks.

Then I wonder if people do that, but give up too early:

Sometimes you go out and attempt to meet new people — and it’s a bust. For whatever reason it doesn’t work. They’re not the group for you. You’re not the person for them. The timing isn’t right. Whatever.

I’ve had lots of ‘failures’ like that in the friend stakes over the years, and I try not to take it personally. Taking it personally only gets your back up and makes you seem defensive or resentful.

Other times you meet people and you get along during a particular phase of life, then one or both of you moves on. Again, that’s okay. That happens. It’s natural. I’ve had some really great, close friendships for a short-term, before we simply drifted away.

It’s like launching a new business. Sometimes you have to ‘fail fast’. Sometimes you fail ‘often’. It’s easy, after one or two ‘misses’ to back off and close up. It’s harder to persevere and keep risking failure, emotionally.

I’ve been mulling this over because, on Saturday night at about 10 o’clock, my newest friend moved to Canberra. I’d met her online in a business course and she’s originally from Sydney, via Far North Queensland. We had coffee here once, a few months ago, when she was scoping Canberra out as a possible place to settle. We don’t know each other well at all, but we’ve kept in touch online since.

In the last few days, she and her husband have driven 3,000km to move to their new home, and to establish her business here, without a house to rent yet. It’s a bold move (particularly coming from the gloriously-warm Port Augusta region straight into Canberra’s mid-winter).

As they were driving past Lake George on Saturday night, I watched online as she and my friend (who she’d never met – from the running group I invited her to online) arranged a lift for yesterday morning to our obscure meeting point at Mount Taylor. It got me thinking…

Not 12 hours after she arrived here to live, knowing very few people, no doubt weary from the move and the drive, she was out climbing a mountain in dense fog at ridiculous-o’clock with perfect strangers in minus-something degrees. Every person who walked past her on the trek said hello (bar one, who waved, because she was listening intently to something on her iPod).

It was a pretty warm welcome from a new city on a particularly freezing day. Because she was out in it, asking for that welcome…

Would I do that?

I like to think I would, but I can imagine myself thinking, “Not yet. Let me just get comfortable first…”.

And if that went on for too long, then I might start feeling isolated.

Eventually I might feel resentful. People are closed off. Nobody’s friendly. I might post on social media that Canberra is a hard place to break into…

Last night, I had a message from another new friend (who I met via my WorkLifeBliss page), whose husband has just been posted here (a few months ahead of the family moving at the end of the school year). She’s here for the holidays with their kids and she reached out with a coffee invitation for this week.

The common denominator here is courage. These people, who are good at moving into new circles, take risks. They take initiative. They assume responsibility for forging new connections.

Maybe some of those connections don’t work out, but isn’t that true for all of us? We all take risks when we begin to trust a new person, or group.

I think the key isn’t to look for interesting people or put the ball in their court. It’s to be interesting. Have interests. Join groups (on and offline). See what happens.

My 14-year-old is ‘in the trenches’ of high school. Tonight she said, “I don’t understand why all those movies have all those mean girls… high school is nothing like that.” I suspect that’s partly because there are wonderful people around her, and partly it’s due to her own attitude. It’s probably partly because she’s focusing on the good stuff.

High school is a microcosm of city life. Wherever we live. I’ve experienced ‘Mean Girls’ and I don’t believe that my city is full of them either. I see it as very embracing of new people.

Particularly new people who put their hand up and say “Hello! I’m new! Here I am…”

And, if that doesn’t work, stick their hand up for a second time.

Would you like to make new friends?

Drop us a line at hello@hercanberra.com.au and we’ll organise a dinner or something! Details TBC.

Feature image courtesy of Shutterstock.

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Emma Grey

Emma Grey is the Canberra-based author of ‘Wits’ End Before Breakfast! Confessions of a Working Mum’ and ‘Unrequited: Girl Meets Boy Band’. She’s director of the life-balance consultancy, WorkLifeBliss and co-founder of a fresh approach to time-management, My 15 Minutes. She lives just over the ACT border with her two teen daughters and young son. More about the Author

  • Loved that walk up the mountain! Thanks again so much for having me along! Dee xxx

  • Erin

    Ugh, yes! We moved here for work (living in Jerra) and I’m always too worried about asking people for a catch up incase they see me as the ‘weird one they don’t want to be stuck talking with’!! We’re here permanently now, so best I get to meeting some people!!

    • Alexandra

      Welcome to town Erin! Im a long term Canberra girl and am living in Jerra now. Happy to catch up for a coffee and spill the secrets on canberra.

  • Shell Mcleod

    I hate to say it but I disagree. You do have a valid point that it takes courage and “putting yourself out there” but I am a born a bred Canberra girl- I left at 22 and 15 years later, after living in every major city in Australia (except Darwin), I can honestly say that I now see what people mean by it being hard to break into friendship circles. I know how close those friendships are and I too still remain close and communicate with many friends made growing up, but each time I visit, and I suspect what people notice, is a different level of friendliness and openness.
    My first experience that I will never forget was my first return visit after being away for a year. I smiled at a stranger as I was walking along; this had become normal practice for me after living in sunny Qld. The response? Was a stare that messaged “why are you smiling at me, I don’t know you!” This was unmistakable, I’d seen it before and quickly reminded myself where I was and not to take it personally.
    Over the years it has indeed become not as prominent a response but I sometimes speculate if that is because Canberra is now filled with more outsiders than natives to level the playing field. This is however, just an assumption or maybe the Canberrans got so tired of getting such a bum rap they made a little bit of extra effort to prove a point, because I know deep down most of us are good kind hearted souls who have had to bear many, many below freezing winters that stole their heart warming smile normally offered to strangers.
    Whatever the reason, I have often found myself giving friends and acquaintances the heads up on Canberra and not to expect the same atmosphere they may be familiar with. This is often taken with a grain of salt but every time and I mean EVERY time, I get the same response, that it’s great when they first get there but 12 months in I hear the familiar “we know what you’re talking about now. ”
    They’re are just subtle differences about the nature of a true native A.C.T personality that can be hard to pin point exactly what or where it exposes itself and its definitely not to say that it is replicated the exact same way in each of us.
    We do have a uniqueness that is hard to see, but given the opportunity to gain perspective from a distance and for some time now, I can immediately pick a Canberran in a group before they even get the chance to tell me. Even more strange is the slight accent in the way we speak and pronounce certain words.
    So, I know, I’m only one opinion, but I’m clearly not alone in my view.
    I do like to think I’m fairly judging my little home town (but my, how she’s grown over the years) and don’t blame the people but more the extremes in weather, the 6 degrees of seperation between everyone and a city that was created like no other.

  • Corinne Wallis

    Great to hear! I’m moving to Canberra at the end of next month and love the events section of this website. It’ll be nice to live in a city with so much going on.

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