Extra Pulp: The Right Move

Laura Anders Lee shares what it takes to create friendships in a new town.



Davi Vallejo

My parents still live in the same house they bought when I was 5. The classmates I met in elementary school remained my best friends my senior year of high school. And when I joined a sorority in college, I acquired a lifelong group of friends before the first day of class. I always enjoyed a safe haven of sameness and ready-made friends. But since college graduation, I’ve lived in seven places in five states. In 15 years of marriage, my husband, Bryan, and I have moved around—a lot. Here I am in adulthood, finally knowing what it’s like to be the new kid on the block.

Being new can be lonely. I’ve walked into rooms not knowing a soul. I’ve watched cliques of moms gathered at the playground and congregated at the gym happily chatting to one another, oblivious to those standing alone. I’ve seen social media posts of dinner parties where we weren’t invited, of close-knit friends content with their comfortable group. We’ve spent holidays by ourselves, when it seemed everyone else was celebrating with friends and family nearby.

But when we moved with our two sons to Orlando, we discovered it was unlike any place we had lived before. In our neighborhood of Celebration, nobody was native. Instead of families sequestered in their own suburban backyards, residents were out and about, walking downtown and playing in the various green spaces. Meeting people was easy. It is actually against the HOA rules not to have chairs on your front porch—you’re expected to sit outside and greet your neighbors. I met an Animal Kingdom elephant trainer, a mom who converts Disney’s food waste into electricity, a Goodyear Blimp engineer, and a landscape architect for The World of AVATAR—there is no shortage of interesting characters who flock to Orlando for work. Not only were we meeting families brand new to town, many were brand new to the United States.

One evening a friend from France, by way of Disneyland Paris, hosted a dinner party and asked that we all bring something to represent where we were from. She made Swiss Chard casserole; a friend from Denmark prepared Risalamande, an almond rice pudding; a friend from Spain brought tortilla de patatas, a potato omelet; and I cooked some good ol’ Alabama cheese grits.

Inspired by her dinner party, Bryan and I decided to host our own. We invited everyone we had met in town so far: friends from work, a dad from the playground, a mom from the pool, next-door neighbors, families of the boys’ classmates at school, a friend of a friend from college … I was nervous my house wasn’t perfectly put together and worried the random mix of people might be awkward, but the party was a hit. Everyone enjoyed being together and meeting new people.   

Moving around a lot has taught us so much. We’ve learned how to put ourselves out there. Instead of waiting for an invitation, we create our own fun. We’ve learned to include everyone. My children are learning how to adapt, like I never had to. William and Anders are in kindergarten and second grade, and they’ve already attended eight schools in three states.

We’ve moved to each town with unease and uncertainty about what to expect, not knowing where I’d work, who the boys’ teacher would be, or if the grocery store would have our favorite go-to items. We’ve gotten through the tough days together, realizing that home really is where the heart is—with the ones you love most. We’ve bonded so much as a family of four; our love has been the one constant.

Each time we’ve had to say goodbye and move again, we see how much our lives have been enriched by that place—the experiences we’ve had and the relationships we’ve made with amazing friends, people who were willing to take a chance on the new guys in town. We have gained friends from all over the world we never would have met staying in one place.

This year, when you’re making resolutions, I hope you’ll make a simple one to meet someone new. Invite them to lunch, to your book club, your bunco group, your church or your spinning class. Then invite them again. Introduce them to your friends. When someone moves into your neighborhood, bring them brownies or order them a pizza while they’re still buried in moving boxes. If you already have a strong group of friends, know there is always room for one more. Take time to notice the new person in the room and say hello. They might just be your new best friend.

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