NYC proudly calls itself the greatest city in the world. And having lived here for almost six years, I understand why one would say so. This city has incredible people doing incredible things from all walks of life. There are few places in the world where you can meet as many inspiring people in as short a time as you can in New York City.

However, living here for a while has taught me that New York can also be one of the loneliest cities in the world. I know a lot of amazing human beings that are single and I know a lot of really nice people who feel they have few strong friendships in this city. 

Here is what I have personally learned about building true, genuine and deep relationships in a city that never sleeps and where almost everyone seems to have FOMO, a fear of missing out on something better instead of focusing on one relationship, one friend, one place to be. What can one do to feel less alone in such a nonstop, constantly moving environment? How can we focus on fostering real relationships instead of only surface-level interactions?

In my second year in NYC I realized how I had met a lot of people, but hardly knew anyone very well. How could I make true friends? Somehow I was missing the opportunity for a place and time that allowed for deeper conversations and shared experience. So I thought, what if I could create that place?

I decided to start hosting dinners at my tiny apartment and invite random people that I met and wanted to get to know better. And it turned out to be one of the best ideas of my life. I have met so many of my now closest friends through these dinners. And funny enough, quite a few of my friends have met other (new) friends of theirs, also at one of my dinners. By now I have probably hosted over 100 gatherings and here is what I have learned:

  1. Being the host is easy and very rewardingAt first, I wasn’t sure if anyone would accept my dinner invitations. Would they find it weird? But I found that the opposite to be true. People loved being invited to dinner. It turned out that a lot of people wanted to meet new people just as much as I did and they were grateful for someone to take the initiative.
  2. The more informal the better. (And no, you don’t need a big/nice apartment for that.) At first I was concerned about where to host these dinners. Because I had a tiny apartment with only a tiny table. In fact, at my first apartment, the room was so small that some of the people had to sit on my bed to all fit around the table (that was also my study desk during the day). I contemplated hosting the dinners at a restaurant (but thankfully couldn’t afford that). It turns out that people actually loved the informal atmosphere. It felt more normal, more human, and more real. And welcoming someone into your home gives the relationships a very different feel than if you were meeting them at a restaurant. Also, I began these gatherings by cooking a meal for everyone. At some point, I started to get lazy and turned it into a potluck, asking everyone to bring something. This works fantastically and reduces the work that goes into hosting. (A nice variation of this would be to ask everyone to bring some ingredients and then cook together as a group). So: Have no table? Have only a tiny apartment? Have no chairs? Don’t worry about it, just improvise. People will love it.
  3. Randomness and diversity is greatI didn’t have a structured approach in whom I would invite. If I came across a fascinating person in my daily life that I want to get to know better, I would ask them if they would like to join a dinner. This means, as a result, that the group is usually a wild mixture without any clear thing in common. As it turns out, that can be one of the greatest things about these dinners. When else do you get to talk to and spend several hours with someone who works in a very different area or is from a very different background? It’s a great learning experience that makes for amazing conversation.
  4. Don’t be afraid to be vulnerableI believe that for human beings to connect in a meaningful way, they have to be exactly that: human. In our professional lives and to the outside world, we learn to play roles and wear masks, masks that usually tell great tales of how well everything is going. But the real stories are beneath these masks. And the most powerful connections happen when people take of those masks and show their real, human faces. I have strived to always be myself during these dinners. I’ve found that the simplest way to break the ice has been to bring the whole table together and ask one or several questions that everyone at the table answers. A friend (and dinner guest!) Dan Lack told me about a tradition they have in his family. At yearly gatherings, the family members go through the room and everyone answers three questions: Rose, Bud, Thorn.
  • What’s a rose in your life, or something that is going really well?
  • What’s a bud in your life, something that might become a rose or not go anywhere?
  • What’s a thorn in your life, some pain or sorrow?

The beauty of these questions is how they create a space for complete honesty, and can lead from the nice and great points in our lives to the places where we feel uncertain or afraid. Sharing these answers with one another also shares what makes us human. It shows us, despite the differences within our daily lives, what we have in common, which helps us build deeper and more genuine relationships.

What are some ways you have gotten to know new people? Join the conversation.

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Every month we select at few writers to help us explore what it means to live a life of reflection and intention. Reach out to Helen, our editor at Helen.W@holstee.com to learn more

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