“What if no one comes?”
When I decided to host a Christmas open-house, I was nervous. I’m still relatively new to PEI. I now count two dozen people here as friends and acquaintances but would they want to attend?
When I shared my fears with my closest local friend, an outgoing Islander named Ken, he said in his typical supportive way, “Why would you think that? Everybody likes you.”
I nodded, but couldn’t help think, “Yeah but…”
Making friends as a single, childfree adult in a new place isn’t always easy.
It requires proximity, repeated contact and a shared common interest.
Workplaces used to be a natural environment for this but with COVID, many of us, including myself, spend most of our workdays online where talk is limited to the business at hand.
Instead, a deliberate friendship strategy requires returning to the same place week after week. And this, in turn, requires not only knowing what lights you up, but sticking to it.
In Toronto, with its plethora of choices, it was easy to jump from interest to interest; constantly attending different meetups, clubs and classes. It was also just as easy to feel so overwhelmed by choice that I simply stayed home.
I met a lot of people but every time I changed life direction or dedicated my time to a new passion, I’d lose the connections with the people from the last one.
One of the things that attracted me to living in a smaller place was to stop this pattern.
I wanted to plant deeper roots in a place with less choice and fewer people.
Charlottetown has been perfect for this.
While Toronto may have 10 musical open mics, Charlottetown and neighbouring Stratford have just two. Instead of multiple improv schools, there’s just Laurie Murphy’s class.
There are no weekly salsa nights but once a month, there’s a swing dance that’s as much fun.
Like any great city, Charlottetown boasts year-round concerts, plays, festivals and a repertoire cinema (the only place to watch films in town since Hurricane Fiona damaged the Cineplex).
There is always something to do; just less of it.
Nine months ago, I arrived here by myself knowing just one person, and then only virtually.
So, I’ve been exploring and committing to those things I enjoy.
Each week, I’ve attended and improv class and a musical open mic. Barring illness, these things have been non-negotiable for me.
I’ve also made friends through other friends, by striking up conversations at events I’ve attended on my own, initiating my own events (including a short-lived drum jam in the summer), and generally saying yes to any opportunity to gather with a group of women.
That I even knew 24 people I wanted to invite to a party was a victory in itself.
But would they come?
Four days before the party, I’d received about 10 RSVPs. In my head, however, that didn’t count for much.
In Toronto, people are busy: making plans often requires coordinating your calendars a month or more in advance. Many, including myself, say yes to everything; then, feeling burnt out from doing too much, bail at the last minute. (Not a good habit, I know.)
Islanders, on the other hand, take a more laid-back approach to socializing.
Here people drop by for a visit.
(When I was without power after Hurricane Fiona, my lovely neighbours Richard and Joyce introduced themselves by showing up at my door with a warm bowl of macaroni and cheese made with the help of their generator. They then invited me to drop for tea at any time.
When I took them up on that offer, I wasn’t sure how I’d be welcome. Would they be busy? Would I be interrupting something? Instead, I was invited in with open arms.
A similar thing happened at my friend Ken’s house when the mayor (the mayor!) was in the neighbourhood and simply dropped by.)
Although, I can imagine some Torontonians who’ve lived in their neighbourhoods for a long time may have people drop by, in my life there, this was unheard of.
Social mores are simply different in PEI.
When Islanders make plans, it’s often the week or even the day of the event. And, often, if they aren’t busy (and many Islanders are busy with family and social obligations), they say yes.
The party started with a trickle…
For the first 45 minutes it was just me and a friend from an open mic.
Then more musicians showed up and the live music started… then improv friends, a friend I’d met through a Toronto friend, a friend I’d met through a workshop and her partner, and so on until my little house was filled with people connecting and my heart was swelling with happiness.
For someone who just months earlier had been lonely AF, it was a milestone. And not one I take for granted.
But I can’t attribute it entirely to geography. The truth is…
I wasn’t the most consistent friend in Toronto
I didn’t keep up with people. I let friendships fall by the wayside whenever I got involved with a new man. And, as already mentioned, I bailed on friends far too often.
To protect myself from energy vampires, I’ve also been super selective about who I let into my inner circle. Perhaps because I’ve developed stronger trust in myself, I no longer feel the need to keep my guard up as much.
In doing so, I’ve learned that friendship doesn’t have an age-limit – I’ve made friends with people ranging from their mid-20s to their mid-70s – nor does it need to be gender specific.
I’ve also met people I’d love to be friends with but who simply don’t have the time or capacity for me and that’s okay: I’ve made two close friends here who I both love hanging out with and whose shoulders are there when I need them.
But, I also realize that to keep these friendships, they need to be nurtured. It’s up to me to keep the connections going.
As an ambivert who would, many days, rather stay home with a good book, I’m learning to balance my energy because if you want a friend, you must be a friend first.
That takes consistency, and that takes time.
Here in PEI, I have plenty of both.