First of all - Welcome to Vancouver :-)
It seems Vancouver has it all - big city life, quiet cozy neighborhoods, diversity, culture, kilometers of beautiful beaches, and spectacular mountains and wildlife. You moved here full of excitement and anticipation, eager to get to know real Vancouverites (“Go Canucks Go”), but somehow this is more challenging than expected. You have been here for a month, half a year, even two years or longer and still haven’t found “your people”? You feel lonely and you ask yourself if this is your fault?
Here are 10 steps you need to take right now to improve your well-being and to prepare yourself for true connections in the city of Vancouver.
Step 1: Accept that what you are experiencing is very common
Vancouver has a reputation for not being an open and friendly city and a lot of people struggle with finding new friends and making real connections. According to a survey by the Vancouver Foundation, 1 in 7 Metro Vancouver residents feels lonely and 53% of participants said it is difficult to make new friends here. This survey was carried out before the Covid-19 pandemic, so you can imagine that numbers are more than likely even higher right now. Don’t be too hard on yourself and remember that it takes a bit more time and effort to meet people in Vancouver than in other cities.
Step 2: Don’t be ashamed because you feel lonely
Many of us feel ashamed for being single, for having only one friend or for not having friends at all. The social norm tells us that being in relationships is “normal” and we are afraid of the potential judgment if we are not.
“The less you talk about it, the more you got it. Shame needs three things to grow exponentially in our lives: secrecy, silence, and judgment.” (Shame and vulnerability researcher Dr. Brené Brown)
Try talking openly about your experiences: “I’ve lived in Vancouver for … months/years, and I find it really hard to make friends here.” Firstly, you will find out that you are by far not the only one who feels that way, and secondly, you will immediately reduce the heavy feeling of shame that you may be carrying. If you find it difficult to talk about it in person, you might want to try writing about it in online forums, such as on Facebook groups.
Step 3: Find out about your interests and passions
What is it that you are passionate about? What are your interests? What kind of sports or activities do you enjoy? Hiking, wine tasting, watching movies, board game evenings, volunteering, doing craftwork, cultural events, kayaking, watching sports...? If you do some Google research you will find countless classes, workshops, and meetup or Facebook groups for all kinds of topics and activities in Vancouver. By focusing on common interests it’s easier to build up friendships in a relaxed way and it doesn’t feel so much like “dating”.
Step 4: Live for the moment, not for the future
Join meetups, hikes, book clubs, coffee, or language meetings without any expectations. Don’t go with the intention of finding your partner for life or your new best friend; just enjoy some light and interesting conversations, be curious about who you are going to meet, ask questions, and try to have a good time. It’s okay if you never hear anything from those people again. At least you had a nice experience, maybe you learned something new and you didn’t spend the evening alone watching Netflix (not that there's anything wrong with that!).
Step 5: Be intentional about being a part of a group and focus on others
Sometimes we take part in groups but we still feel like an outsider, like we are tolerated but not fully accepted. First of all, this is normal and a lot of people experience the same thing. The only problem is that subconsciously we also act that way and make others feel like we don’t want to be a part of their circle (classic self-fulfilling prophecy). The longer we feel lonely, the more desperate we become to build up connections, but the more critical we become of those connections.
“Filtered through the lens of lonely social cognition, other people may appear more critical, competitive, denigrating, or otherwise unwelcoming.” (John T. Cacioppo & William Patrick. Loneliness.)
We tend to over-interpret others' reactions, facial expressions, and body language as a threat because we are afraid of rejection. Train yourself to shift your focus from those negative thoughts to the people around you. Be intentional in being part of a group, tell yourself “I have every right to be here, and I want to be part of this.” If you notice the feeling of disconnection coming up, just breathe, try to relax, remember that it’s just in your head, and then focus on the other person instead of yourself. Ask questions, be curious, give.
Step 6: Be kind and helpful
We feel better when we are helpful to others so think about one thing a day that you can do to spread some joy. Thanking the cleaning lady in your building for doing a tremendous job. Having a nice conversation with the cashier at your supermarket. Smiling at a stranger at the bus stop. Asking “How are you today?” every time you meet somebody in the elevator. These random acts of kindness and little connections will make other people feel good about themselves (often we don’t realize how big of an impact this can have) and most importantly, they make us feel good about ourselves. We mustn’t forget that we all are actually the city we live in, so let’s make this city the way we want it to be.
Are you looking for more ways to find balance in your life or create meaningful and emotional connections? I am here for you. In my private practice as a Registered Social Worker I offer counselling for women in BC and ON. Visit my website for more information and to book a free 15-min consultation call. Let's chat :-)
Step 7: Be open to the people that show up in your life
Sometimes we have certain images in the mind of what a partner or friend should ideally be like: I only want to meet people with an academic degree; I only want to meet friends from my own culture and country of origin; I only want to meet people between the age of this and that; I only want to meet people who live within a 5 mile radius of me.
Be open to new experiences and don’t let your prejudices prevent you from meeting people outside your bubble and comfort zone. Maybe there are already people in your life with whom you get along well but you haven’t considered taking the relationship seriously?
Step 8: Give it time
Building up meaningful relationships takes time. It’s not enough to join a group once or twice or to meet for a coffee every couple of months. You have to see the same person again and again and again. Think back to your best childhood friend. How many hours have you spent with each other, how many adventures have you had? You can only build up trust and a deep connection over time and with common experiences. This can be a bit of a challenge because Vancouverites have a reputation for being “flakey” when it comes to meeting new people. Don’t take it personally if you hear an enthusiastic, “That was awesome, let’s meet up again soon!” and then you never hear back from them. Instead, be brave, reach out, make suggestions, and show your interest. If you still don’t hear back from them you can move on and find people who are genuinely interested in getting to know you.
Step 9: Find strategies for times when loneliness hits
It is completely normal to feel lonely from time to time: when you want to do something over the weekend but your contacts don’t reply to your messages; when you come home after a long workday and all you want to do is cuddle with somebody else on the couch; when you are in a new meet-up and somehow you don’t “click” with anyone. It’s easy to fall into negative thinking patterns such as,“Of course I don’t have any friends, I’m just too boring”, or, “Nobody will ever love me”.
Don’t beat yourself up! Instead, acknowledge that you feel hurt, lonely, and sad and listen to what it is you need right now. Maybe you need to cry, go for a walk, distract yourself with a book or TV show, call a good friend or family member, eat some chocolate, invite yourself to the movies, treat yourself to a massage or new haircut, write about your feelings, hug yourself, or whatever it is that feels right for you. Treat yourself with kindness and respect.
Step 10: Acknowledge all the steps you take
You are doing great! Moving to a new city and certainly to a new country isn’t easy and you need to acknowledge that. It’s challenging and scary to put yourself out there, to meet new people, to step into the unknown, especially when we experience huge life changes. We need to take extra good care of our mental well-being, so, let’s start behaving like a really good friend to ourself first! I would like to invite you to complete a small exercise, which can help you increase your self-appreciation and self-love.
Write down your answers to the following questions at the end of every day:
What did I accomplish today?
What did I do today just for me?
Where do I need to be kinder to myself?
What am I grateful for today?
Take good care by being an awesome friend to yourself and to others, and remember that Vancouver is full of people who are also looking for meaningful connections just like you. I am convinced that you will find each other!
All the best,
John T. Cacioppo & William Patrick. Loneliness. Human Nature and the Need for Social Connection.