How to make friends in New Westminster

There is a science of friendship dating back to the '50s and holding up through the new millennium. In New Westminster, we are lucky. We are very good at creating the conditions that help friendships to form and grow.

Friends gather together to watch The Princess Bride at Summerfest In Grimston Park
Friends gather together to watch The Princess Bride at Summerfest In Grimston Park

It’s hard to make new friends as an adult.

You make friends in the places where you spend your time. Because most adults lose track of hobbies, spending their days at the office and their nights and weekends with spouses and immediate family, we spend time in only a few places: home, the office, the mall, the grocery store, the movie theatre, maybe a favourite restaurant or two.

It’s not like it was in your teens and twenties when your social calendar was very busy and your obligations were few. As a result, friendship researchers find most people find and make their lifelong friends in college or high school. When shopping, watching movies or eating at restaurants you pass by a lot of people, but you usually talk to very few. At the office, people change jobs frequently, which can limit the number of repeated interactions. Sensitivities to competition, income differences and job pressures make the office a poor setting to let your guard down and share intimate confidences with cubicle pals.

We are lucky in New Westminster. The community here is very good at creating the conditions that help friendships form and grow.

There is a science of friendship dating back to the ’50s and holding up through the new millennium. The elements of friendship are these:

  • Proximity
  • Repeated, unplanned interactions
  • A setting that encourages people to let their guard down and confide in each other

Proximity

We tend to underestimate the role of proximity in making new friends. As a parent, it’s obvious that it makes a difference in my kids’ friendships: neighbours, the kids of my friends and classmates become ‘best’ friends, while those who attend different schools or live even a few blocks farther away tend to be farther away from their hearts. But as adults, we assume that friendship has more to do with shared interest than how physically close we are to a person.

You can walk New Westminster from end to end in about an hour. Our six square miles is dotted with bus stops and SkyTrain stations that make it easy to leave the car at home when you go out and our tree-shaded boulevards are a pleasure to walk. The simple fact that we live in a smallish town within the larger Metro Vancouver district provides us with the physical closeness to neighbours that helps make friends.

Repeated, unplanned interactions
Our retail districts are concentrated in just a few areas, so if you work or shop locally, you find yourself in the same haunts again and again. Once you become connected with the New West community through social media, parties and events, schools or involvement in one of the many local organizations, you start seeing the same people all around town – particularly in hot spots like River Market, the Uptown nexus of Sixth and Sixth and coffee shops all around town.

Many New West folk park on the street instead of garages, and even this simple act brings us closer. And, in many of our neighbourhoods yards are not just decorative; families gather with neighbours in yards as common spaces. In New Westminster, we actually see our neighbours, and over time, in many neighbourhoods, neighbours become friends.

A setting that encourages people to let their guard down and confide in each other
This is the trickiest factor to overcome. Aside from the political social scene, in which a certain amount of gossip and backbiting is sadly to be expected, I have found the New West social scene to be very welcoming and open. Most people here still suffer from the cultural reticence to ask for help or admit to vulnerable feelings, but with the first two ingredients in place (proximity and repeated interaction) we can gradually become comfortable enough with people to open up a little. When that goes well, a little can quickly turn into a lot.

What of shared interests?
What you don’t see in here is connections based on shared interests. As I mentioned, people tend to assume friends will be people who share their taste in music, film, activities or other interests. This isn’t wrong, exactly, but it doesn’t work the way people think. It isn’t the shared interests that bring people together. Rather, the share interests provide a reason to interact on a regular basis, and a starting point to open conversations that can build trust over time. I see this happen in two ways in New Westminster:

  1. People gather together in activities related to shared interests: wine tastings, the Farmers Market, foodie events, board game nights, curling club, artists’ organizations, and more. When the same people consistently attend these events, they develop a rapport that opens the door to trust. Over time, they transition from smalltalk to conversation about ideas, opinions and feelings, and from there they may become friends.
  2. Friends who first gathered together because of proximity (neighbours, local Twitterati, or NEXT New West social club members) uncover shared interests through conversation and develop new hobbies and activities together. A number of friends who met via Tenth to the Fraser activity, tweetups or other local activities have taken up new hobbies (archery, canning, beer and wine-making, and more) and participating in these events provides them with new opportunities to get to know each other better, deepening trust and friendship.

We here a lot about how our modern society can be very isolating, and when you look at the elements of friendship it’s no wonder:

  • We isolate ourselves in our cars, reducing opportunities to interact with neighbours. We spend too much of our limited leisure time in front of the television, further limiting the number of people we interact with in a day.
  • We over-schedule and, feeling exhausted from the 9-5 grind, spend time at home or with existing friends instead of in places where we can encounter new friends.
  • Flimsy friendships based on fleeting encounters, often in socially charged situations (such as at the office), don’t inspire sharing deep thoughts or feelings. We stick to smalltalk and feel unsatisfied with these interactions as a result.

If you are looking to make new friends in New West, the conditions are all there to support you.

If you want to make new friends, here’s what you need to do:

  • Be out in the community, in person and online. Shake hands, introduce yourself and show up to the same events over and over so you can get to know the regulars, and they can get to know you. The first key to friendship is showing up. You won’t meet anyone new in front of your TV.
  • Spend time in your yard and walking around the neighbourhood. Shop and eat locally. You’ll be surprised how often you’ll see acquaintances out and about around town. Go up to them, say hi and see if they have time to join you for an unplanned coffee chat.
  • Talk about things that matter. Ask questions, debate issues, share feelings. Invite friends to try new experiences: go to an event, learn a new skill, or go somewhere you’ve never been before. In my experience, participating in doing something together can really open up a friendship.

Ultimately, what you want to do is move from people who inhabit the same space, to people who do things together, to people who trust and care for each other.  In other words, to become friends.

Briana Tomkinson

Briana Tomkinson is a Montreal-based writer and original founder of Tenth to the Fraser. She really likes to write letters by hand.

Briana Tomkinson is a really valued member of the Tenth to the Fraser community. Interested in joining our pool of writers? Please see these submission guidelines.

7 comments

  1. From 1960s to late 80s, I lived in a very multicultural East Vancouver neighbourhood where new immigrants from variety ethnic backgrounds quickly bonded and we all same similarities rather than differences. (As an example, I'll never forget my Indian grandmother and our neighbour's Croatian grandmother spending days walking through Central Park together even though neither one spoke a word of english. Somehow they communicated with each other!). Although none of the families continue to live in the same Vancouver neighbourhood, my family and I remain good friends with many of these families to this day and consider them to be extended family.

    In my young adulthood I moved away to later live in Burnaby and then Surrey. I never thought I would find the same neighbourhood feel again, until we moved to New Westminster 8 years ago. When we bought our Sapperton home I was three months pregnant and had just started a new job, needless to say, was exhausted everyday so didn’t have much energy to get to know the City, much less really get to know our neighbours during the dark fall and winter months. When our daughter was born, somehow news spread all over the neighbourhood and neighbours we had never met were dropping of gifts. To this day, we continue to get hand-me-down toys, books, clothing etc and it just doesn’t end. I have been overwhelmed by the gestures of friendship in this City. It is a wonderful place to raise a family and I am forever grateful we found it.

  2. From 1960s to late 80s, I lived in a very multicultural East Vancouver neighbourhood where new immigrants from variety ethnic backgrounds quickly bonded and we all same similarities rather than differences. (As an example, I'll never forget my Indian grandmother and our neighbour's Croatian grandmother spending days walking through Central Park together even though neither one spoke a word of english. Somehow they communicated with each other!). Although none of the families continue to live in the same Vancouver neighbourhood, my family and I remain good friends with many of these families to this day and consider them to be extended family. In my young adulthood I moved away to later live in Burnaby and then Surrey. I never thought I would find the same neighbourhood feel again, until we moved to New Westminster 8 years ago. When we moved into our Sapperton home I was three months pregnant and had just started a new job, needless to say, was exhausted everyday so didn’t have much energy to get to know the City, much less really get to know our neighbours during the dark fall and winter months. When our daughter was born, somehow news spread all over the neighbourhood and neighbours we had never met were dropping of gifts. To this day, we continue to get hand-me-down toys, books, clothing etc and it just doesn’t end. I have been overwhelmed by the gestures of friendship in this City. It is a wonderful place to raise a family and I am forever grateful we found it.

  3. Third time's the charm … An aspect that sometimes doesn't get mentioned is showing an interest in the other person. Too frequently we talk about ourselves when what really engages another person is a chance to tell someone about the life they're living and who they are to someone who wants to hear about them.

    My closest friends these days are people I've met in Fredericton and I've only been here five or six years. Some of it is due to it being the Maritimes (which basically means not as urban as larger places – more of a rural sensibility even in the larger centres). But it's proximity and frequency too. I think setting comes after the first two.
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  4. Great post – I totally think you nailed it. I have lived in New Westminster from 1995 (with a year long vacation in Vancouver around 2002-2003) and it wasn't until I decided I wanted to be involved in the community that I starting making new friends. Before that I just moved THROUGH this city rather than IN the city.

  5. I love this town for that. You can't really leave the house without seeing at least someone you recognize, if not know well. Being able to leave the car at home really helps matters…hard to wave to someone through tinted glass.

    Getting involved in community is also key to developing relationships. Too often people expect it to "just happen", without putting any effort into it. This is true for larger cities or smaller ones like New Westminster; if you don't leave the house, no one is gonna come knocking. I find those who get involved in community events or organizations also tend to be more sociable.

  6. I am very proud of being born and raised in New West. I am able to enjoy telling my kids (10 and 16) to be good in the community as there is always a chance of someone you know seeing you out and about. Our community has a great spirit and you have lots of friends of multiple ages. I would never leave.

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