The Second City Factor

When I tell people, specifically women, about my search, they usually say one of two things: “That’s the story of my life!” or “That’s so funny!” The distinguishing trait between these two groups is what I’ve come to call the Second City Factor.

It was my friend Kate—who now lives in San Francisco, but who I met in New York during our first post-college summer—who first proposed this theory. It’s in the second city you move to after college, she explained, where people start to face the BFF conundrum. As soon as she said it, I knew she was right.

When young 20-somethings first leave college for the big city—be it New York, Chicago, Boston, DC, San Francisco, wherever—they’re surrounded by other post-grads in the same boat. Everyone’s new to the workforce, looking for buddies to drink, gossip, and go to the movies with. They’re all relatively new to the city (even if you’re back in your hometown, chances are you’ve been away the last four years). They’re first-timers in the full-time workforce, unfettered by college classes or midterm papers, in that doe-eyed conquer-the-world mindset. Making friends in this environment is easy, as everyone is more or less looking for the same thing. Even after moving to Chicago, I’m still in touch with plenty of friends who I met in Manhattan during that first crucial post-Northwestern year.

The decision to move to the second post-college city, however, is usually made independent of friends. Whenever it happens, and no matter if you do it for love, career, family, or school, the second move is on your own terms. You’re not guaranteed a sea of new-in-town friend prospects this time around. Plenty of the buddies you’re looking for have lived there for years and have already filled their BFF quota. So my friends, like Kate, who’ve found themselves in towns where they’d never imagined setting up shop tell me my story rings true. Suddenly, they’re floundering in the search for that certain someone, despite having been surrounded by plenty of perfect someones all their lives. (Two students at the Stanford Graduate School of Business created an adorable video about this, which stars a really sweet, nerdy-in-the-best-way, boy.  Oh, and MC Hammer’s in it too.)

Anyone who’s ever relocated can relate to my quest. But then there are the people who left college for New York or Chicago or what have you, and have stayed put. When I tell them my plan to actively seek out a BFF using whatever means necessary, they say “That’s hilarious,” with a tone that’s two parts pity, one part “atta boy!” and one part “you’re kind of a loser.”  They don’t know the awkward pain of leaving a friend-date unsure if you’re supposed to hug or handshake (hug!), the frustration of having no one to drag along to a wedding dress fitting at the very last minute, or just how not-the-same it is to talk on the phone once a week to the BFF with whom you used to grab a bite almost daily.

Now that I’ve indentified the Second City factor, it’s remarkable to see how dead-on a predictor it really is. Think of your own reaction to my search… do you prove the theory? Or do Kate and I have it all wrong? Is friend-finding more about age and life stage than how many zip codes you’ve called home? And should this alone be enough to scare people off from ever moving?


Filed under The Search

11 responses to “The Second City Factor

  1. You’ve considered an important point when you ask if friendship is more about age and life stage. Even if we stay in one locale, we do grow and move in our lives, entering new phases, new choices as we go. With each new “place” we might leave behind a friend or two, and connect with new ones in the same “place” we’re now in. The parameters can change …

  2. I love this idea! Love it. I wrote last fall about how certain times in life are particularly fertile for friendships:
    I see that geography defines your search. I guess I was looking retrospectively and see how life stages had provided contours to my female friendships.
    I am glad to have found your blog.

  3. Your theory is spot on! I am in my third-city and man, have my friendships suffered. I do love Skype though!

  4. Rachel, I experienced the second city factor a few years ago moving from the bay area to Seattle. Looking back, that experience was one of the inspirations for Kristianne and me to start the New Graduate Network, as I told her my story and she had exactly the same experience. We talked to more friends and they all felt that way. It’s so true and often seems an ignored problem.
    By the way, thank you so much for referring to our little video 🙂 -Beatrice

  5. Zach

    Great post! I’m still in my first post-college city but have friends that are going through SCS (second city syndrome) and have had similar experiences. It’s interesting because if I think about moving to another city, I will only go somewhere where I currently have a good friend living.

  6. Jenny

    As someone who has stayed put the problem I face is that almost all of my post-college friends have moved on to their “second-city” leaving me to look for new friends now 10 years post college. As my last close grad school friend moved away last October I have been wondering where to find a new BFF. Enjoying your blog.

  7. Emily

    Just wanted to say that it’s good to know that it’s just not me and that there is actually a name for it. I am soooo living with second city syndrome. After college I moved to one city pretty far away from where I am from, had a blast, made lots of close friends, and married my husband. We decided to move closer to my husband’s home but still far enough away where we can’t see his friends regularly. I did not anticipate the friendship issue…I just always made close friends wherever I had gone before. The problems are that everyone already has family and friends here and don’t really need more, my husband’s family moved to Florida, and we live outside of NYC which means anyone we meet could live in Brooklyn, New Jersey, Long Island, etc. After saying all that I just want to include that I love your post and I am rooting for you…which is encouraging me to stop wasting time with certain people that aren’t reciprocating the friendship and find other(s) that are in it for the long haul.

    • You’re not alone! Though Second City Syndrome (SCS?) isn’t an official term, it should be. If there’s one thing I have learned so far it’s that so many women are in our shoes… Making friends later in life is harder, which I too did not anticipate, and I was also thrilled to learn it wasn’t just that I was silly and awkward. So keep looking, I think people are more open to being ‘found’ than let on.

  8. Hi, new to your blog here, by way of Embracing the Detour. I’m also a fellow Chicagoan – welcome (to Chicago and the blogosphere!).

    My experiences in Chicago (pretty much my only post-graduate city) have run the gamut from tons of post-graduates looking to have a good time to being one of the few single somethings in a sea of marrieds.

    Regardless of my personal situation in terms of meeting new people, I’ve never really felt weird or awkward or displaced. I always have done what I feel appropriate. That means, if I want to hug someone because I’ve bonded with them, then I do. And if I’m just not feeling that kind of energy, I don’t. I’m pretty practical about it.

  9. TJ

    I just checked out your blog b/c Gretchen Rubin mentioned it, and I’m soooo relieved that I’m not the only crazy person out there friend-searching. I was beginning to think I had just suddenly gotten incredibly dorky or something, but (thank goodness!) it turns out I’m just a newbie in a second city! Yay! and Ugh! at the same time.

    Thanks for the thoughtful discussion!

  10. Ana

    Just found your blog. Its awesome, and I think something more people can relate to than they care to admit. I love the “Second City” theory, I am in my second city (Philly) & I was just thinking this weekend about finding a new BFF when I had some downtime and noone to go get a pedicure with!
    If you lived here, we could totally hang out, we seem to have to same taste in TV! (and love for NPH)

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