I’m sitting in the front seat of a Honda Civic with a girl on my lap. I met her ten minutes ago. The girl driving is laughing and winding the engine in first gear, burning through the clutch in the shift to second. Her seat is inches from the steering wheel to make room for the six people crammed in the backseat, one of whom is my brand new roommate, all screaming and laughing.
This is what growing up looks like: you move away for eight years, you move back into your parents’ house, then you move out again, alone, with three close friends whom you met on Craigslist.
I am the proud renter of a bedroom and bathroom in Somerville. You search for a “one-bedroom in Somerville,” and for price, you type, “less than a thousand bagillion dollars” and you get already-formed houses looking for a roommate. That’s how I found these people.
I went for an interview, and stood in the doorway as Kate, Davide, and I talked about whether or not the three of us would be right for each other. Interviewing to be a roommate is somewhere in between a first date and a job interview: you want to be confident. You want to be normal. You want to put out a strong, “I won’t kill you” vibe. You don’t want to talk too much about the future because what if they don’t offer the position? You don’t want to talk about the past because the past is the past and this is just the first date. You don’t want to talk about your night screams because they didn’t specifically ask if you scream in the night.
I have never lived with people I don’t know, but what’s the worst that could happen? Because this is Craigslist, the worst that could happen is probably murder. Am I going to wake up dead? In three different trash bags? So far, still alive. So far, havin’ a ball.
On a recent trip to New York, I spoke with a friend who moved to Brooklyn. We talked about how making friends is hard. “You should write about that,” she said.
So here I am, many months later, writing about how making friends is hard, at a cafe in Somerville. Weeks back, in the cafe, I met a girl who moved here from Detroit. “How do you like your Microsoft Surface?” (Look out, ladies. Guy’s got lines.) She went on to tell me about how hard the change has been, and how trying to find friends is hard and how things aren’t like she thought they would be.
When I started this piece, I had just moved into my place in Somerville, I was feeling lonely, and my roommates made me feel at home. Since then, my roommate Caroline has moved out, and we put ad on Craiglist for a replacement. I was on the other side now, I was asking the questions. There was a young French man, living in Lowell with a Chinese family. A woman who just ended a long relationship with her live-in-boyfriend was looking. A girl who moved from Ireland. And so on, and so forth.
What do we do with all these new people?
We ignore them. They ignore us. Everyone ignores everyone and we’re all happy to be ignored and left alone and then we complain about being alone. Everyone was new at some point, and at some point, you’re not new anymore. It’s this crazy thing that just happens—there’s no formula, no magic number of days or months or years that it takes to feel comfortable. You walk into your new place and you don’t feel like you have to apologize for being alive. I’ve heard people say “It takes about two years” to really make a place your home. If that’s the number, it’s a long time.
Move once and you know the disorientation that follows: your routine breaks down. You change jobs, homes, you have new friends or no friends, and your eyes scan for anything that you know, because you want context. “That house looks like my grandmother’s house,” “This restaurant reminds me of a place I used to go to in Michigan.” You don’t even realize that you’re doing it, but you are.
When you start to recognize people and places, and you start to be recognized, you start to feel home. Re-cognize—from the Latin cognoscere, “to know.” To re-know, or to know again. After a while of being in a new place, you are known again. You are known in a different way than you were at the place you just left, because settings and time change you, but that’s okay.
It used to be the responsibility of the locals to welcome new people. That’s why folks would bring cake or pie over when someone moved into the neighborhood. Welcome to town. We’re glad you’re here. Here’s my face, recognize me, see ya later. We’ve become so suspicious of new people, though, and usually because of self-consciousness. They probably don’t want to talk to me anyway. It might be awkward. What if my nose starts bleeding.
Orientation Boston was last weekend. It was a two-pub crawl for new people to meet friends. It was poorly organized and well attended and a lot of fun. The event was up on Facebook, Craigslist, and Eventbrite, and a bunch of people who didn’t know each other came and got to know each other. It was so easy, I don’t know why we don’t do it more, so we’re going to do it more. Because two years is too long to feel recognized.