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If you're young, new friends just fly to you? My ass! (Symbolic image)

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In August 2022, shortly after graduating from high school, I moved from my home village on Lake Constance to Leipzig. Months before, I had been looking forward to the new city – especially to the people I would meet there. In my imagination, everyone in Leipzig was alternative and cool, very different from the rather conservative village where I grew up. Perfect conditions for new friendships.

But then many things turned out differently. The time, which I long thought would be the most exciting of my life, was surprisingly lonely. In retrospect, I would even say that it has never been so difficult for me to make friends as in this supposedly best of all stages of life. It's naïve to think that a new city will automatically bring new people to my door.

Loneliness is a feeling that hardly anyone talks about, but that many people know. According to a study by the "Competence Network Loneliness", a project of the Institute for Social Work and Social Pedagogy Frankfurt am Main, 2021.42 percent of Germans suffered from it in 3. Young people were particularly affected. So my feelings and I are no exception.

But I wasn't just lonely after my move. Without my familiar environment, I suddenly had to deal with a fear that many other adolescents and young adults apparently also feel. The hashtag "#socialanxiety" has over two billion views on TikTok. "Social anxiety" is the irrational fear of being judged negatively by strangers; it can lead to feelings of inferiority and shame.

After years of isolation due to the pandemic, I also found it more difficult to get into conversation with others. I really wanted to make new friends, but I couldn't manage to talk to strangers.

A gap year for friendship

I had moved to Leipzig especially early to arrive, to settle in, to make friends. To take a gap year for friendship, so to speak. I hadn't gotten the place I had hoped for in political science, the numerus clausus was too high. Nevertheless, I decided to move as planned and wait for my next chance on site.

So, with a backpack and an air mattress in my luggage, I boarded the train in southern Germany in August 2022. Eight hours later, I arrived at my new shared flat in the east of Leipzig, which I had only known from pictures until then. It quickly turned out that I had ended up in a purpose-built shared apartment. And since the start of my studies had been postponed by at least a year, there were no classic freshman events for me.

So, in short, I was pretty much on my own. Throughout my life, new friendships had developed without me having to make any effort. In my structured everyday life during my school days, I always had people around me that I liked. It was difficult for me to admit to myself now that things were different in Leipzig. Actively looking for friends? Felt weird.

At home, I had been to the bouldering hall several times a week, often with friends, but also alone. I knew most of them there, the scene was small. The Leipzig bouldering hall intimidated me, it was huge and full of people who could climb much better than me. There it was, the »social anxiety«.

And I also noticed that there are hardly any public places where young people can meet informally and, in the best case, free of charge. We are too old for playgrounds, we don't have the money for restaurants.

To alleviate my loneliness a bit, I started doing weird things: writing emails to former teachers to hear how everyday school life is going. Or shopping every day to have a reason to go out the door.

Find friends via dating app

At some point, however, I felt so lonely that I actively searched for new friendships. Many now use online dating platforms for this. On Bumble, for example, there is the function "BFF", short for "Best Friends Forever", a term that no one in my generation uses. So I used Tinder and wrote in my profile that I was looking for friends, nothing else.

In my first months in Leipzig, I arranged to meet about a dozen friendship dates. With most of them, I quickly knew that we would not meet again. On the other hand, I got along so well with a date that he became not just a friend, but my partner. And in the end it helped me to make friends: His circle of friends is now largely mine.

Soon I'll be living in Leipzig for a year, and I've learned one thing: making friends in a new city as a young person is hard. Above all, I needed a lot of time for this, which I only had thanks to my gap year. Time that I used for many meetings. Time that I needed to overcome my »social anxiety« and recover from the consequences of the pandemic. Time that is not even provided for in a classic CV.

Because the closer the individual stages of life follow each other, the faster you jump from high school to university to your first job, the less room there is for friendships. That's why I want to do a lot with my new friends before I start studying in the fall. And enjoy my gap year for friendship to the fullest.