Moving Away and Finding Your Tribe After 25

If you don’t already know this, I’m a Toronto transplant. As an adult, I’ve lived in 3 different major cities in Canada. I am from Edmonton originally and moved to Vancouver in 2012 when I was 25. After that I moved to Toronto in 2014 at the ripe old age of 27.

If you’ve never moved away from home — and by “away” I mean far enough that you have to get on a plane to go home, then I want to speak candidly with you about my story and some of the challenges that came with moving away, particularly after a certain age.

Let’s start with Vancouver. I had already been living on my own for about a year before I left Edmonton, so the reality of adulting was not foreign to me. What I didn’t expect was the reality of living in a city where I had very few friends/connections and where it rained 24-7. To be fair, I had four friends there that I knew from my Edmonton days, and my uncle. In total, I knew 5 people, 3 of whom were more acquaintance based friends rather than A1s. If I’m keeping it 100, I was SOOO excited to move away and go to school and crush life. I am naturally a confident person, so I was never afraid of moving or what came with that. My first winter in Vancouver was rough, and one of the most surprising reasons it was so difficult was because of the weather. At this point you might be rolling your eyes and thinking “Mmmkay Cleo, it doesn’t snow there and it’s beautiful, so STFU.

Bruh… let me tell you something right now, I come from the deep freeze. Edmonton is a city where we plug in our cars at night and have to start them 20 minutes before you even think about going anywhere because it gets down to -40 in the winter. I know about shit weather. But I am not lying when I tell you that I would take that cold ass snow any day of the week over dreary rain and misery.

ANY. EFFING. DAY.

I never believed in SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) until I moved to Vancouver and experienced it myself (self diagnosed but still). I’m naturally a happy and bright person — but the rain and dreary weather impacted me in a way I cannot describe. I was taking vitamin D drops every single day AND tanning 2x a week — I worked at a tanning salon because the job market was trash, but that’s a story for another day. If you know me, you know I have an intense fear of melanoma and believe you me, I laid in that damn bed for 10 minutes 2x a week with sunscreen on because the UV lights made me feel better. Then I took a step further and got an actual sun-lamp for my house.

This is an accurate description of how I felt on a regular basis.

However, the weather was only one part of the problem. The other part was trying to make friends at the age of 25, in a city where you have very few relationships, and that is boujee as all hell. I lived there for two years and in that time I made three friends that I didn’t already have — one from the tanning salon I worked at, another from school and another who was a friend of a friend. I was really lonely during this time and I really struggled with that. I spent a ton of time on the phone with my family and friends in Edmonton. This is something that’s actually carried over to my life now. I have one girlfriend, who on one Saturday every month I would have a 4-5 hour phone call with. Her rule is she gives her kids anything they want so we can have talk time. My saving grace during the time I lived in Vancouver was a girlfriend who had recently became a new mom. I would go to her house several times a week and hang out with her and the baby and she would feed me. She even did my laundry for me when my washing machine broke down. She took care of me, and to this day she is one of my A1s.

The crazy thing is, I am a super friendly person and it’s reallllly hard not to be my friend. I’m also very persistent, but I had so much trouble making friends there. Vancouver is clicky AF. Legit there is no other way to explain it. It’s a really weird city and it’s not very diverse ethnically, which was really difficult for me. I came from Northside Edmonton where my friends group was literally the United Colours of Benetton — all of my friends are a different ethnicity. Moving to a place that was not as ethnically diverse as where I grew up was shocking. When the time came for me to abandon ship, I WAS READY. I chucked the deuces up and moved to Toronto. To be fair, Vancouver wasn’t all bad. It’s insanely beautiful, clean and environmentally conscious.

Now on to Toronto…This was a whole different story for me. Toronto is my city. I love this place and it is now home. But please know that finding my tribe has not come easily either. Even after 4 years here, it’s still challenging. Here’s the thing: breaking into already established friends groups at the age of 27 is hard and when I moved to this city I knew ONE person, my girlfriend who lives in Guelph.

No family. No friends. No support system. Nada.

Luckily for me, I did one thing that really set the tone for almost every relationship I have in this city. The first week I moved here, I volunteered with NKPR for their IT Gifting Lounge and toured celebrities. Remember the part where I said I make friends easily? Here’s where that comes in.

I can humbly say that people like me because I like them. I really really like people. I like talking, I like connecting and I like laughing. So when I started working with NK, I connected with Bunmi, the VP of the company almost instantly (#blackgirlmagic) and she kept giving me things to do and introducing me to people. She took the time to literally pluck me out of a conversation one day while I was volunteering, and introduced me to Winy Bernard. That moment opened the door to meeting my now business partner for LUXELIFE SOUND Lissa and that’s how I met and began interning for Coco. It was the moment that led me to 95% of the relationships I have in Toronto today, many of which have turned into genuine friendships. I can trace this entire thing all the way back to that day. Crazy right?

I chalk my good fortune here up to three really important things:

  1. Good timing (10%)
  2. Initiative (60%)
  3. Likeability (30%).

None of this could have happened without these three pieces creating the perfect storm. But it all started with me taking the initiative and sourcing the PR firm I wanted to volunteer at so that I could meet people. The fact that I was on-site and present at the right time to meet these people is definitely a consequence of good timing (thanks universe) and because Bunmi liked me and I liked her, she was inclined to make the connections. So my life in Toronto began.

All of this said, living in a city with no family, no friends with a shared history and trying to find your tribe at 27 years old has not been an easy road. I spend more time alone now than I ever have in my life because I’m still not part of that group where everyone invites you to family parties and hang out sessions automatically. You know the ones I mean — where you text your BFF and they say come by for drinks because everyone is hanging out watching the game or whatever it might be. Now, don’t get me wrong, it’s not because those people don’t like me or are being purposely exclusive, but rather I think it’s a consequence of not being top of mind like your A1s are. I’m still the new kid on the block, and that’s okay. Because of this, I’ve learned to be okay with being alone, I actually like myself. Too much alone time makes me nutty, but I’ve found a good balance.

The other really difficult thing is not having any family within arms’ reach. I am really tight with my family and while they drive me out of my ever loving mind sometimes, I would give anything to have them closer. Most people take for granted how meaningful and important it is to go to your parents or siblings place and just chill TF out. We forget how nice it is to have someone cook for you or even just to have someone to sit with in silence who really knows you. For me, if I don’t feed myself, I starve. I have no one who ever takes care of me — and I don’t mean that in a petulant spoiled way, I mean it in the way that family does.

To put this in perspective, I spent Christmas morning at a my friend’s house in Guelph and the remainder of the day I laid on my couch and ate pizza. For the entire holiday season I literally did nothing because everyone was with their families; don’t feel too bad for me, my family doesn’t actually celebrate Christmas, but we do hang out, eat and spend time together (no gifts, no tree). Honestly friends, you don’t realize how incredibly valuable those small things are until you don’t have access to them.

I promise you that it’s not all sad. I am finally settling into a few pockets and friends groups here and while it’s taken some time, it’s been worth it. Here are a few tips for those of you embarking on a new journey in life and moving away from home:

  1. Get comfortable with alone time. Use it as time to develop yourself and fall in love with YOU.
  2. The phone is your friend, so use it. Make time for calls with the people you love and make it a date — I actually put this ish in my Google Calendar, because if it’s not in there, it’s not real. I get drunk as a skunk with a few girlfriends every other month on FaceTime and catch up on all that I’m missing living across the country.
  3. Take the initiative to try and make friends. For those of you who are introverted or who aren’t good at networking, here is my advice: people like people who like them. So when you talk to people, just be nice and actually care about the conversation you’re having with the other person. I promise you, it works. When you show people how awesome you are, it’s really hard for them to resist LOL.
  4. Be persistent but authentic. Sometimes people just need a reminder that you’re there, so text, call and engage often and authentically. Go for coffee or lunch. Maybe go to an exercise class. Start a book club.

Let me know in the comments what some of your experiences are with moving away and finding your tribe.

Until we meet again my loves,

Cleo