How to Make Friends in London (and Other Big Cities)
Jul 24, 2023, 8 min read
Friendships are incredibly important. While many people might prioritise their romantic relationships and family, it is important to invest some time and energy into fostering strong friendships, particularly if you live far away from family or are single.
Living in big cities like London can make finding friends difficult, let alone finding people who align with your values, match your sense of humour, are free around your weekly schedule, and are a great fit for you in a hundred more nuanced ways.
Here, we are looking at the importance of friendship for mental health, why it’s often more difficult to make friends when living in a big city, how to meet people safely, and how to make friends to improve your wellbeing, even if you’re an introvert.
At Augmentive, we aim to provide holistic, tailored mental health support to everyone so they can live their life to the fullest, so if you have questions about friendships and mental health, we’re here to help.
Why is making friends important for your mental health?
Friendships are beneficial for everyone, as they offer a chance to celebrate positive things together, gain support during difficult times, and avoid feeling isolated or lonely. As it turns out, having fulfilling friendships is not just important for your mental health, it is actually important for your health in general.
A meta-analysis done at Brigham Young University found having a handful of close friendships was actually more important for our health outcomes than diet or exercise, helping to maintain healthy blood pressure, and avoid heart disease, depression, cancer and more. In fact, a 2017 study found those who did weekly group exercise classes experienced much lower stress levels than those who did the same amount of exercise by themselves.
The people we spend the most time with in life can hugely influence our wellbeing and mental health. Research shows when people feel more connected and less lonely, they are less likely to experience depression or anxiety. Having healthy friendships helps to give us a sense of belonging and tackle feelings of loneliness and isolation, which contribute to poor mental health.
In fact, research from the University of Virginia has discovered our friendships during adolescence could predict our future mental health, with those who display stronger friendships in adolescence having less social anxiety, less depression and a greater sense of self-worth later in life.
“Research suggests that evolution has continually selected for increasing social connection with social interaction and networks playing a major role in the survival of people. According to this framework, our ancestors formed social connections — working together, sharing food, and otherwise helping each other — to feel safe and protected.” - Dr. Scott Kaiser, a geriatrician and director of Geriatric Cognitive Health for the Pacific Neuroscience Institute at Providence Saint John’s Health Centre
And don’t forget, happiness is contagious! One study found people who were depressed were twice as likely to recover if the friends around them were happy, so it helps to maintain a positive attitude in your friendships.
Why is it harder to make friends in cities?
Living in a big city can sometimes mean being a little more isolated than those living in more rural areas. While it might seem like you are surrounded by more people, small towns and villages make it more likely you will run into the same people often. Even if you would not refer to them as friends, they are part of your wider community, and this feeling can be lost when living in a busy city.
28% of people living in rural areas say they know all or most of their neighbours, while only 24% of those living in urban areas say the same.
A survey by YouGov found 51% of British people admit they find it hard to make new friends — it is clear living in cities can sometimes make this more difficult.
How can you meet new people safely in cities like London?
If you are on a mission to meet new people with the aim of developing new friendships, there are a number of ways you can do this, but you should always aim to engage with strangers in the safest way possible.
In our modern age, meeting people online is often the first step, so if you are meeting someone you don’t already know (especially if it’s someone you have only met online previously), it is best to suggest a public location for your first meetup so you are always around others.
Some dating experts recommend doing a video meet-up first, and this is another great safety tip if you are meeting a friend for the first time so there are no surprises. A video meet-up also means you can keep the initial meeting short so there is no lull in conversation.
If you suffer from low self-esteem or tend to worry about meeting new people, and want to protect your mental health, scheduling short meetups can be a great way to take the pressure off. This could be something like going for a quick coffee somewhere, or walking around your local park together. These options are easy to get out of quickly if you feel uncomfortable for any reason.
Meeting in a neutral place is also a good idea to avoid being in one person’s ‘territory’, as often this can make people feel uncomfortable leaving, or pressure to entertain. A neutral place means you both will feel equal and able to focus on developing a possible friendship.
Are friendships as important as dating?
Although we do not need a high number of close friends to reap the benefits of friendships, having friendships in our lives can be of similar or higher importance than romantic relationships, despite many of us prioritising the latter.
Multiple studies have shown quality of friendships to be a key predictor of wellbeing, and it has even been found that single people enjoy, on average, more social connection than those who are married.
“I think we think that romantic love is the number one thing in our life when, actually, there are so many other aspects that are as important. So it’s not just romantic love, it’s the love for your friends and your family and the love that you have for yourself.” - Dolly Alderton, journalist and author of Everything I Know About Love
In fact, a 2019 study found the quality of your friendships in adolescence (specifically with people of the same gender) can directly impact your romantic relationships later in life in terms of their success and happiness.
Another study found that while people tend to focus too much of their time and energy investment into romantic love, they can feel just as loved by their friends as they can by their romantic partners.
What is the best way to make friends in cities like London?
Making friends as an adult can be tough, especially if you suffer from mental health issues that make it difficult to engage with new people. In any case, putting yourself out there to make new friends can feel awkward and embarrassing — but the reward is a potential boost in happiness, health and mental health. Here are some ways to make friends as an adult when you live in a big city, like London:
- Join local in-person groups, like an exercise group or running club, a book club, a craft class or knitting circle, or something else. Most places — whether you live in a small village or a big city — will have at least a few community classes or groups available to join.
- Make use of online groups. Like with dating, many of us feel matching with people online isn’t as magical as in real life, but it can be a great way to check if your values align before you invest time and money in the relationship. For example, groups like The London Lonely Girls Club can be helpful for finding people with common interests, and many UK cities have similar groups.
- Start your own group if you don’t find what you’re looking for. Sometimes it can be difficult to find your specific interests, especially if it’s something more niche, so don't be afraid to start your own thing and reach out to people yourself.
- Focus on friendships based on location. Often finding people that live or work close to you means it is easier to sustain the relationship because you are more likely to be in the same place at the same time.
- Reach out to connections that have weakened or become dormant over the years, and work on revitalising those friendships. Unless there is a specific reason you distanced yourself from the person, you could try rekindling this old relationship rather than trying to start a new one.
- If you are moving somewhere new, ask your existing friends and acquaintances who they might know in this area. Having a mutual friend gives you an instant connection with that person so you have a reason to reach out to them.
- Accept invitations to try new things, even if they’re not what you would usually do. It is perfectly OK to want to hold out for the ‘perfect’ new friend for you, but often it takes a long time to find this person, or you may never. Instead, be open to trying new things and embracing friends that are different from you.
- Explore relationships with other people in your life you may not have considered being friends with. This might be your neighbours, your colleagues at work, other parents at the school your kids go to, or someone else. Start with these common-ground connections and see if a friendship develops from there.
What if you are an introvert?
An introvert is someone who becomes energised through time alone, and tends to feel drained after a long stint of social interaction. As an example, an introvert might prefer a quiet night watching TV to a busy party.
An introvert is different from a shy person, however in both cases, making friends can be difficult. Whether you are too shy to approach people, or your introversion makes it hard to find people who match your energy and like the same activities, there are ways to work around this.
The above tips will be helpful for you. However, it can be useful to focus on speaking to people online first and doing short meet-ups initially until you establish some bonds. You can also let the other person know up front you are an introvert and the kinds of activities you enjoy. This may help you find other introverts who enjoy similar things to you, which can help streamline the friend-making process.
If you are struggling with loneliness or isolation, or you need help making or developing friendships, know that there is nothing to be ashamed of and many other people are in the same position. You may find it helpful to speak to a therapist with experience in this area who can help discuss your challenges openly and offer some personally tailored advice.
Whether you’re feeling off-kilter or want to shake up your routine, our state-of-the-art mental wellbeing platform gives you quick and seamless access to world-class support on your terms, from private mental health assessments and reviews, to finding qualified and approved mental health professionals for the support you need.
If you have a question about mental health, like how going for a walk can help you to process thoughts - we’re here to assist on your journey. Our free 15 minute consultation can guide you to the most relevant specialists to answer your questions and discuss next steps.