Lonely and Alone: Tribeless in a New City

I spent last evening in the company of two incredibly smart, kind women. We drank wine, ate fancy sushi, talked about our families and politics and laughed about our lives. These women are supportive. They are kind. They are funny and silly and successful and encouraging. Their friendships have been a lifeline to me, a way to step away from my normal life as a full-time mom and wife.

It wasn’t always this way. I know, lonely reader, what is feels like to be alone. I know what it feels like to have no friends. I know what it feels like to go to movies alone, sneaking in after the lights turn off and escaping as soon as the credits roll. I know what it’s like to have to really dig deep to find “friends” to go out for dinner with or to decide NOT to have a birthday party for your little one because you don’t have anyone to invite. I know what it feels like to have your best friends live in a different state and your family scattered across the country. It’s hard to be a transplant, to live somewhere and start from scratch, and even harder to make friends when you are a mom.

It’s been 6 years since my husband and I lived in Germany, a stint that literally changed our lives forever and brought us to Madison two years later. Those years abroad were wonderful in SO many ways – we traveled, of course, and had our first child there. We were resourceful, navigating a new city and learning a new language. We became a stronger couple, and I relied closely on my husband to be it all for me – my best friend/family/spouse in a foreign land. There were a million amazing things about living in Germany, and I would never complain or regret that experience. But without a doubt, the one thing it lacked, was a strong sense of friendship and community. I was bitterly homesick for my friends and family, particularly when I found out I was expecting my first child. All I wanted was to have my mom come to my doctor’s appointments or to plan my nursery with my best friend.

The friends I made in Germany were sweet and fun and kind, but they were a part of the same Graduate program my husband was in and that meant they were always busy at the same times. For whatever reason, I never felt like I had a tribe of girlfriends that I could rely on, which was tough since I was so far away from everyone I loved.

When we moved back to the US in 2012, I felt like it was finally my chance to cultivate the sense of community I had missed so much while living in Germany. We were moving to Madison, a new city that seemed full of life and the outdoors and young people and excitement. I joined Meetup groups and local playgroups and visited different parks and local jaunts to try to meet other moms. It was mostly a failure. Not that the women I met weren’t great, just that I never seemed able to make the jump from “first date” to “long term relationship” with anyone.

Well, except for one.

And that, my friends, is how I got to this point.

One friend changed everything for me. We met at the Children’s museum, me, a hot mess, frantically trying to keep an eye on my wild and wandering 2 year old, and her, holding her sweet-not-even-walking-yet baby girl. I’m sure she thought I was nuts that first day, as I could only talk to her in 10 second intervals as I chased my kiddo up and down stairs and around the room.


She said hi. She gave me a chance. And somehow we just clicked. We both admitted to feeling alone, that finding friends in Madison had been harder than we expected. We both knew what it was like to be a newcomer to a city and the unique struggles of staying home when you don’t know anyone or anything to do. We had playdates and dinner dates and shopping dates. We babysat each other’s kids and celebrated when we both got pregnant within months of each other.

One friend led to another to another to another to another and now, NOW, I finally have the community of people I had missed for so long.

Here’s the thing. Sometimes being alone feels fine. Sometimes it’s what you want and what you need to take care of your soul and refresh your body. Sometimes it feels good to curl inside yourself. But when it doesn’t, when you feel like everyone already has all the friends they want, when it feels like you are somehow too late to the party, it can feel so, so lonely.

It’s hard to make friends as an adult. It’s hard when you are too tired to drag your body out the door for a dinner date or put on a happy face to head to a Meetup event with people you don’t know. It’s hard when your kid is naughty to have a playdate with other kids. It’s hard to find people that parent similarly and that you genuinely like outside of being parents. Finding friends as a mom is Just. Plain. Tough.

So. If you have ever felt alone, if you’ve been wishing and hoping to find just ONE person you connect with….just remember:

All it takes is one ordinary day, a simple trip to a familiar place, and you may randomly meet someone new. Someone that simply says, “Hi”. And that, friends, will make all the difference.

Betsy is a mom to two sassy, spunky and spirited kiddos and wife to an adventurous, soccer-loving Chemist named Noah. She is originally from the Chicago suburbs but has bounced around the world with her husband before landing (hopefully permanently!) in Madison. Her first child, Jackson, was born in Germany during their two years living abroad. Betsy loves exploring new cities, donuts (any kind, anywhere) and being a stay at home mom. She is currently in school with plans to become an Occupational Therapist.


  1. This post resonates with me so much! My husband and I have moved around from Illinois, Florida, back to Illinois and now to Madison since being together in 2008. And I’m not even from any of those states- I’m from Iowa! Adding frequent moves and having children into the mix makes it SO hard to maintain long-distance friendships. And there’s something to be said for having friends that are close- you can meet for quick coffee dates when you just need a break, you can have play dates w/ your kids that are really more time for you, and you can rely on each other when you need someone! Thanks for being so honest in this post and being willing to acknowledge things that are hard for some of us to put out there!

  2. Thanks for sharing this! I am in a phase/location where I don’t have a tribe and this is a great reminder that maybe someday I’ll find that group again. It is so hard when you have had “your people” during past seasons and know what you’re missing. Thanks for reminding me to keep trying and to be that person who says “hi”…

  3. This gives me so much hope! I’m a new transplant and I am so worried I’ll just always be alone here. Thank you for sharing your story!

  4. I’ve discovered you don’t need to be a transplant to find yourself alone as a new parent. I’m a Madison native but since having our first child, our childless friends have been quietly drifting away. It’s been a struggle to find social outlets. I use to be fairly outgoing but it’s like I’ve forgotten how to have adult conversations!

  5. I’m right there with you Ellen!! I had a tribe in high school and college but none that really “stuck”. I have friends sure but no “squad” to speak of and barely talk to my best friend now after having my son. I suspected our friendship would change but didn’t realize just how swiftly we’d drift apart. It is indeed lonely. Even as an “outgoing” person…

    • I really think that Alicia, Ellen, Kelley and Ally V should arrange a play-date/coffee meetup! I would love to join but we moved from Madison to Sweden. This being our third country of residence I totally relate to the text…


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