Loneliness, as defined by Hawkley and Cacioppo (2010), is a distressing feeling that accompanies the perception that one’s social needs are not being met by the quantity or especially the quality of one’s social relationships. In a place like NYC, there’s a myth that you can’t experience loneliness just based on the amount of people you can see on a Manhattan street at any given time.
In fact, the 2020 US Census reported that New York City was the most populated city in the country, with approximately 8.5 million people packed into the five boroughs. However, if we are not actively fulfilling our human need for social connection, the island of Manhattan can feel as isolating as being stranded on a deserted island, despite the millions of people among us.
Luckily, NYC also has the resources to help survive loneliness via some direct and indirect avenues of connection that are sure to help you shake that distress and make friends in a way that feels most comfortable and natural for you.
Take a look at the list below outlining 10 ways to make friends in NYC, and reach out to one of our qualified New York Behavioral Health (NYBH) clinicians if you want to further explore your loneliness and related symptoms.
1. Join a Club
As one of the more obvious options on the list, joining a club is a great way to make friends while also committing to something you enjoy. The options span from outdoors clubs, to coffee clubs, to theater clubs and pretty much any non-competitive leisure activity in-between.
The beauty of being in NYC is that gathering groups together for special interests is a common trend. Connection is often bred through shared commonalities; joining a group of like-minded individuals through a medium that also sparks joy inside of you is a great first option to help beat loneliness and make friends in NYC.
2. Join a League
For the more competitive crowd, joining a league is also a great option for helping to combat feelings of loneliness and expand your friendship network. A league, in comparison to a club, will likely put you on a team where regularly scheduled games/matches/tournaments will bring structure to the environment and entice you to tap into your competitive side.
The comradery of team activities, be it a sport, a league, or a high-stakes game, naturally invites friendship to the table, where competition breeds the element of teamwork and unites a group in a friendly “us versus them” environment.
3. Join a Friend Networking Site
As an option for those who are looking to make direct connections and build their inner circle, joining a friendship network or using features of already existing social networks that you are a part of, could be a fit for you. In NYC, social networking apps have emerged for this specific purpose: making friends, and, in theory, combating loneliness in the process.
Phone applications like “Meetup” for example, curate groups based on shared interests, and you can also search based on demographics like age to find the niche group for you. If you are less inclined to build a new profile, social networking sites like Facebook (or now, Meta) have capitalized on “groups” where simply searching for a NYC group that shares similar interests is as simple as a few clicks away.
4. Take a Class or Start a Course
Bonding through a familiar interest or learning something new is also a great way to make friends in NYC or wherever you’re located. Is there something you’ve been wanting to try? Take a class! Or you’re looking to master something that might be new to you right now? Start a course! There will likely be others in a similar frame-of-mind looking to expand their interests and capitalize on their learning.
This is a great option for those who find intellectual conversations most stimulating in connection – where using your physical body is less likely to be needed (as opposed to a league and maybe a club) and friendship can be more naturally stimulated through conversation. A class or a course also helps to expand who you are, and connecting to yourself on a deeper level is also a major player in combating loneliness.
5. Leverage Common Interests
If you aren’t looking to deviate from your well established day-to-day, leveraging your own interests is a great way to spark new connections with others. Do you regularly work out at a gym or health facility? The others you see there likely share your health and fitness mindset. Or do you have a dog who you take to a dog park daily? I bet the other dog owners might have a thing or two in common with your pet-parenting responsibilities.
Making new friends in the city doesn’t have to be “putting yourself out there” in any way that deviates from what you’re already doing, it just has to take the step beyond the standard “Hi how are you?” exchange that is likely taking place at these shared spaces anyway.
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6. Get Involved in Community or Volunteer Work
For those of you who are the philanthropic type, and giving back is a core feature of your being, getting involved in community or volunteer work might be the perfect fit for making friends while making a difference.
Checking with the local parks and recreation department, getting involved with local community organizations, or finding opportunities through libraries, community centers, and religious facilities are all some ways to give back, get involved, and find others who like to make a difference like you along the way. There are also organizations like “NYCares” (newyorkcares.org), that provide dozens of projects, opportunities, and ways to get involved – all perfect for sparking new friendships while also being of service to something that matters to you.
7. Go to A NYC Park
In the battle to combat loneliness, just stepping outside of your apartment can be a healthy first step toward change. Behavioral activation (BA), a common cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) skill used in our NYBH practice, is essentially exactly as it sounds: a practice to activate our behaviors. According to Kanter et al. (2010) behavioral activation seeks to encourage engagement in behaviors that influence positive emotions.
In individuals who are diagnosed, or have symptoms of depression (with loneliness being a common feature), BA reverses the cycle of our mood affecting our behavior (i.e. low/lonely mood causing someone to stay in bed), and employs that behavior can also affect mood (i.e. going outside to increase feelings of a pleasant mood).
BA eliminates our human tendency to wait for feelings of motivation to wash over us, and instead allows us to arrive at the feelings we are hoping for through our actions. In NYC, the parks department prides itself on the well-kept green spaces peppered throughout the concrete jungle, and taking advantage of them is the perfect way to decrease feelings of loneliness simply by being outside, in nature, with others.
The leisurely atmosphere of the NYC green spaces is also prime real estate for engaging in casual conversation on a park bench or other park lounge spaces. Nike was on to something when they said “Just do it;” just getting up and out could be exactly what you’re looking for to feel more connected and maybe make some acquaintances, or friends, in the process.
8. Spend Time at Places Where You’d Want to Find “Your People”
Similar to the BA technique, spending time in places where you would want to meet and hang out with friends is a great way to actually meet these potential friendships. If you’re big into live music, going to concert or music halls during leisure time is a great way to interact with others who share this interest.
Or if you’re into fine arts, museums are sure to house other fine-arts enthusiasts who might be looking at a piece just waiting for you to come and engage in a philosophical conversation with them. The key here is not to be afraid to go out on your own, with the intent of meeting others along the way.
9. Leverage Your Network
Another great way to make new friends in NYC and reduce your feelings of loneliness is to leverage your networks. The city houses hundreds (if not thousands) of alumni organizations, from past colleges and universities, and greek life organizations, among others. There are also professional network organizations in most fields of work which you can join.
If a formal network isn’t for you, you can also take the informal route and connect with friends of friends, friends of family, former or current colleagues, or that one person you met years ago who continues to pop up on your social media feed. Friendships can stem from just about anywhere in your personal and professional network; leverage your community and see just how many new connections will come your way.
A less obvious suggestion but important to round out this list is to allow yourself the opportunity to find your community. This looks like taking out the headphones, putting your phone away, and really being present in the public spaces you find yourself in. There are hundreds of missed opportunities to connect simply because we are not present enough to make eye contact, lend a hand, or smile at the person sitting across from us on the train.
With the obvious possibility to spark a friendship just by these simple gestures, the less obvious but possibly more important outcome here is to truly realize that we are not alone. The isolating tendencies our devices have imparted on us can lead to harrowing feelings of loneliness simply because we are more accustomed to connect to a screen than a human being. So unplug and look up, it could lead to a lifelong connection.
A Quick Recap
Surviving loneliness and making friends in NYC can feel like a daunting task – sometimes it can seem easier to sit home alone in our feelings because the effort to put ourselves out there with no guarantee is a level of vulnerability that can make us squirm. But making friends and eliminating that isolating feeling can be as simple as stepping outside, doing something fun, learning something new, or leveraging the communities you are already a part of.
You have all the tools you need to make your experience in NYC an enjoyable one, and having friends to share the experience with is something everyone deserves. Connection is a human need, but it is also what brings color to our world and dynamics to our existence. If you’re struggling with feelings of loneliness and are looking for support in your journey, our NYBH team is here to help you enhance your skills and navigate your next steps in the process.
Have questions or want to schedule an appointment?
Hawkley, L. C., & Cacioppo, J. T. (2010). Loneliness matters: A theoretical and empirical review
of consequences and mechanisms. Annals of Behavioral Medicine, 40(2), 218–227.
Kanter, J. W., Manos, R. C., Bowe, W. M., Baruch, D. E., Busch, A. M., & Rusch, L. C. (2010).
What is behavioral activation?: A review of the empirical literature. Clinical Psychology
Review, 30(6). 608-620. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cpr.2010.04.001
New York Cares: https://www.newyorkcares.org/
U.S. Census Bureau (2020). United States City Populations. Retrieved from