I’m in a bar in Bengaluru with several new girlfriends. They’re an eclectic bunch—much like my regular circle back in Mumbai, where I lived for pretty much the past 30 years. There’s a lawyer, a financial analyst, someone who works for a start-up, and a girl in PR. Vodka, lime and sodas are flying, and I feel at ease. These girls are like my old squad back in Mumbai, I think, sighing with relief. Interesting, intelligent and culturally switched on, and likely to be the first ones on the dance floor as soon as Drake comes on.
A couple of drinks later, and I’m doing what all my friends at home know me to do on every night out, without fail. I’m up with the DJ, tipsily begging them to play This Is What You Came For and for a moment, forgetting all about the night—and my friends—in hand.
While my mates back home know that all I want is for the DJ to play a bit of Calvin Harris for me and then I’ll leave him alone, these new girls don’t seem quite so impressed with my impressive music-wrangling skills. Do they think I’m pathetic? Immature? A little too hyper, or worse, that I’m trying to be cute?
The formation of an entirely new friendship circle, I have learnt, is harder than I first thought. The girls at home would know that, underneath, I’m really quite lovely and easygoing. This lot look like they’ve already written me off as ‘too much effort’.
When I moved to Bengaluru six months ago, knowing precisely one person (not well), I knew I’d be out of my comfort zone. Gone were the lunches with women I have known for 20 years. Gone, too, were the monthly nights out with the girls I went to the school with, the drinks and events with my college crowd, my book-club dinner parties, and the fact that every single weekend my days and nights are mapped out for me, from Friday-night birthdays all the way through to a walk, and lunch at a cosy restaurant on Sunday. For the first time in my life, the very foundations of my existence had crumbled. I was forced to confront who I was on my own.
There have been countless studies about Generation Y and friendship. Suffice to say, it’s not an entirely positive upshot. A recent study by Robin Dunbar, professor of evolutionary psychology at Oxford University, found that the average person has 150 casual friends, but only 14 of them would express any concern if something bad happened. Generation Y fares even worse in the true-friendship stakes. In the feminist digital age, 20- and 30-something women often claim that their friends mean more to them than anything, and yet many of us predominantly make time for each other via WhatsApp and Instagram.
And yet, paradoxically, the act of making friends has never been easier with social media infiltrating our work space, letting us be ‘friends’ with people we barely know. The suggestion is that many women embark on new stages of their lives, whether that be a move, travel or career change, and all you need to do to find a squad is break your personality down into the series of traits (Sporty? Check. Into fashion? Check. Loves dogs? Check.), and find people with similar interests.
Despite all the social media and a degree of confidence, the difficulty of finding a new group is certainly something 28-year-old Shruti* identifies with.
“I moved to Dubai the day after my 27th birthday, entirely on a whim after landing a job,” she says. “Within a week of arriving, I was at the F1, on a private yacht, watching Jay Z perform, getting champagne spilt all over my shoes. Being in a completely new country with no friends, and no obligations bar work, meant that I had a lot of free time to kill, so I became a yes person. Luckily, Dubai is a very transient place so new arrivals are a regular occurrence, and people were so kind and generous with invitations to new events. I’d go on ‘friend dates’ to restaurants and cinemas, as well as be actively looking to meet new people at pre-drinks before a night out. I was lucky as almost everyone had been the ‘new one’ once, so there was a lot of understanding about my situation… But that didn’t stop me from feeling sad and lonely because my friend circle was so small, when back at home it had been so big.”
“The formation of an entirely new friend circle is harder than I first thought.”
I know the feeling all too well of turning up to a relative stranger’s house for drinks before a night out, on the off chance I might strike gold and meet my new BF, in the same way that I know what it feels like to say yes to anything, and to promise myself I won’t get upset about having no plans on a Saturday night while all my friends in Mumbai are together on a ladies night.
From trying to befriend the yogis in my gym class, to tagging along to a colleague’s book group, I’ve tried everything. For some reason, before I arrived in Bengaluru, I thought that meeting and making new, great girlfriends would be easy—despite the fact that I’ve never actively had to seek out new friends in the past.
“Humans are social animals—we’re designed to attach to other humans,” explains clinical psychologist Gemma Cribb. “When we feel well-attached and comfortable that we have people around us who care about us and want to share their time with us, we experience increased well-being, self-esteem, life satisfaction and a sense of meaning or purpose. And conversely, if we lose friends, we can often feel disconnected, alone and alienated. Friendships are so essential to a well-balanced life.”
After six months of blind friend dates, adding near-strangers on Facebook, turning up to every party I get invited to, and actively looking to befriend any female I speak to, I have learnt a great many things.
Firstly, that there are women out there who want to be my friend as much as I want to be theirs. And while you do run the risk of being rejected by putting yourself out there, it’s clear that I’m not the only one who feels lonely, for whatever reason. On the whole, it is possible to meet new people, even in your 30s when friendships seem long-established and already set firmly in stone. You just have to work a little harder for it.
Secondly, women are way more difficult to befriend than men are. While men, on the whole, are pretty straight to the point, a woman will simply fob you off with platitudes and niceties, even if she has no real intention of following up on those drinks or dinner. All-female groups are the most impenetrable of all. After all, with their in-jokes and years of shared experiences, why would they even want—or need—a new member?
But lastly, weirdly enough, I feel more relaxed than I’ve ever felt. I now revel in the fact that I no longer have to squash seeing two million people into my dairy each and every week, and I don’t have to go to some drinks thing just because I ought to. I’ve rediscovered that the journalist in me likes meeting new people, craves hearing about different experiences, and finds it easy to make new friends now that I’m truly being myself without the pressure I lumped onto a friend-finding mission as soon as I landed. I’m less tense, less obsessive about being perceived as this über-busy, über-popular Superwoman, and if all that doesn’t make me radiate #SqaudGoals to other women when they meet me, then, quite frankly I don’t know what will.
By SOPHIE HASLETT; Photograph: ASHISH SHAH ■