What It’s Like Being Lonely in SF
I’ve been living in San Francisco for almost two years now and I’ve made almost no friends. I’ve made some friends at work who I consider close, but I can’t help but think I should have more by now. It’s really easy not to interact with people in the city, so I unintentionally spend a lot of time alone. Most of my day is spent working or riding the bus, which is kind of like a giant silent contest. I live with my boyfriend, but he works late all the time so it’s often just me and my podcasts. I’ve found that I can trick myself into feeling like I’m talking with a friend while I listen to a podcast. The more casual and rambling ones are the most convincing.
I did a pretty good job of not noticing my lack of friends until my first birthday in SF rolled around. My boyfriend was out of the country and the three or so (not that close) friends I texted to hang out with were all busy. I ended up drinking white wine by myself and calling my mom, who I’m not even that close to. A year later, I planned to have people come over for my birthday and a very sweet group did, but there still wasn’t a huge showing like I imagined there would be. I can’t help but compare these birthdays to ones I’ve had in LA where I grew up, when friends would plan the whole thing and take me to Canter’s as a surprise and everything was perfect.
As an adult no one really cares if you eat string cheese by yourself every night.
OK, everything wasn’t perfect, but things were easier when I lived around the people who had known me for most of my life. The loneliness I’ve felt here has been a lot less romantic than I believed it would be. I thought maybe I’d feel more creative here, or I’d understand the world more than other people, but I just feel like a loser. As a kid, parents and teachers kept an eye out for whether or not you were making friends, but as an adult no one really cares if you eat string cheese by yourself every night.
Making friends feels a lot harder than I thought it would be. Maybe there’s a reason it’s called “making new friends” and not “magically finding new friends.” But I don’t think I fully appreciated how much easier it was to forge bonds with all the forced social interactions and free time that all my schooling brought.
Frankly, a lot of people now are busy with things like work or figuring out their romantic relationships, and most people don’t make that many new friends as they get older. That’s why in my darker moments I feel like I accidentally did things out of order. I’ve been passed up for a single-girls’ night out a time or two because I have a boyfriend, and I don’t meet new people under the pretext of dating, so I never make de facto friends that way.
I’m also not from San Francisco and I don’t have any family here, so I don’t have any deep-rooted friendships. Add to that the fact I have almost no hobbies. I’m interested in film photography, but that’s one of the loneliest hobbies of them all. A lot of articles about making friends suggest that you join a sports league, but I hate sports. How do I make friends with the other people who hate sports?
I’m slowly coming to terms with the fact that San Francisco and the potential friends who live here might be too cool for me. Don’t get me wrong, I like the idea of going to beautiful places with beautiful bearded men serving beautiful food just as much as the next yuppie with a Kinfolk subscription. But alas, I’m not actually good at it. That’s not to say that I could never be good at it, but for now I find the fear of trying to be cool and failing to be paralyzing.
I don’t want to be in the same café with people who look like models in case they should judge me, or more likely, I judge myself for not being as perfect as they appear to be.
It’s gotten to the point where I prefer to look at supremely attractive humans in the privacy of my own home on Tumblr or Pinterest. I don’t want to be in the same café with people who look like models in case they should judge me, or more likely, I judge myself for not being as perfect as they appear to be. I find it incredibly difficult to relax around people who have more than 15,000 followers on Instagram. I can’t help but be hyperaware of how aggressively stylish they are and I reject it with my entire being while simultaneously wanting to know and understand it.
On top of all the other challenges of being friendless in San Francisco, this city has to go and have awesome events every night of the week. In a place with pop-ups and cat film festivals competing for people’s attention, who’s going to want to eat pizza on my couch with me?
All this bellyaching has forced me to look at what I’m doing about my lack of companionship now. Even though turning strangers into good friends is harder than I thought, I’m not making it any easier on myself by rarely leaving my apartment or worrying about whether I’m cool enough. I feel a little better even just admitting to more people that I struggle with feeling alone. Loneliness especially sucks because the less you talk about it the more isolated you feel.
I understand now that I may not find the perfectly balanced group of successful and charismatic friends with different hair colors to ride off into the sunset with, and I will come to terms with that eventually.
One of my loneliness management strategies is to call my sister in LA. It’s become a joke (that’s not really a joke) between us that I don’t have any friends, and I think it helps to laugh about it. I’ve also been actively adjusting my expectations of what friendships are really like. So far, adulthood has been one big lesson that life is not like Sex and the City. I understand now that I may not find the perfectly balanced group of successful and charismatic friends with different hair colors to ride off into the sunset with, and I will come to terms with that eventually.
I find it curious that friendship is one of the last domains still largely based on organic connections. There have been a few apps and startups targeting platonic friends, but none have really gotten it right. Since I can’t throw the usual suspects of tech or money at the problem, I sometimes catch myself daydreaming of meet-cutes with a nice lady who works at a cupcake place, but I’m really not sure anyone actually becomes a lifelong friend that way.
After thinking about what’s really important and considering how few people I like, I’ve also decided to double down on the friendships I already have out in the periphery. A few people from high school and college are floating around San Francisco who I never thought I’d be super close to, but I now feel I can have a deeper connection with them since some time has passed and we’re living in the same place (and I’ve reevaluated what makes a good friend).
And to combat the flakiness epidemic, I’ve decided to be way more proactive about making plans with people. When I was younger, I was a pretty popular kid and people were always inviting me places, so I never really knew what it was like to want to go somewhere and not be able to because I couldn’t get any of my friends to go with me. Some time between then and now I started worrying about being vulnerable. I thought I would sound needy if I was too eager to hang out with someone – but fuck it. I do have needs and they involve having conversations about stuff I actually care about with people I trust, just like every other human on the planet.
It might not be easy to make friends as you get older, but I haven’t given up. I actually think owning up to being lonely might have been the hardest part.