The older we get, the harder it is for many of us to make new friends – especially in Cape Town, writes Thando Ndabezitha, who is currently sleepless in Sea Point.
I am a 31-year-old woman who enjoys strolling on the beach promenade, going to the theatre, live-music concerts, bookish events, board-game nights, eating out and the occasional road race or hike.
I enjoy doing these things intermittently between long periods of solitude. If we become friends, expect lots of goofy jokes, regular gifts in the form of home-cooked food, affectionate judgment, finishing off each other’s sentences and turning every other sentence into a song.
I dance when I am happy, and the love languages I speak most fluently are acts of service and words of encouragement. I also like to be given space. Lots of it. We don’t have to hang out every week.
This is how my bio would read if there was a dating app, but for making (platonic) friends in a new city.
Making New Friends
I recently moved to Cape Town from Joburg, and of the myriad challenges, I prepared myself to encounter, making new friends was not one of them – despite many people warning me of the Mother City’s supposedly notorious cliquiness.
There is no secret about it, Cape Town – and here I am speaking about its more affluent parts that are close to the central business district, and along the Atlantic Seaboard – is not exactly a typically South African city.
Consider this: in the recently released Time Out Index, the city was ranked 12th. According to a Times Live report on the survey, “nine out of 10 Capetonians agree that their city is beautiful, with Table Mountain forming one of the most stunning urban backdrops in the world.
Few other cities can offer mountain hiking, lazing [emphasis mine] on a beach, and checking out a vibrant food-and-drink scene all in one day.”
Hmm. Striking views, outdoor living, weekends at the seaside, and a food scene to rival the world’s best. No wonder you are such a self-satisfied bunch, Capetonians. But what about people?
Isn’t sociability important to you? “Well, many of us here tend to hang out with the people we grew up with, and are wary of outsiders,” a local I met recently explains apologetically.
The subtext seems to be that the older you are when you move here, the harder it will be to make friends. But this seems too insular a perspective given the cosmopolitan character of the city.
An Expensive Lifestyle
I have moved around Cape Town nine times in three months – mostly using temporary home-sharing apps – as I hunt for a flat that doesn’t cost not only my own kidney but the kidneys of the next seven generations of my progeny. (A human kidney was valued at about R2 million in 2013, so I am not exaggerating here.)
Life is expensive in the Mother City. Especially if you are trying to gain a foothold in the kinds of spaces that make you one of the nine out of 10.
I too wish to enjoy an active outdoor lifestyle, sample foods from all over the world in one city, enjoy jaw-dropping views – preferably from my own home – and, most importantly, develop a new community of friends with whom to do all these things.
“You should move to the township,” says someone half-helpfully. “You will also feel safer living there because you speak the local language (I don’t, at least not fluently) than in these grand areas. You will find that even the gangsters will begin to be protective of you once they know you.”
I mull over this. Maybe the gangsters will become some of my new friends… But I wonder who I’d need protection from, and if she is speaking from personal experience or just doing some free marketing for the City of Cape Town as a good resident. Mostly, I wonder if she and her township neighbours are among the nine.
A few weeks later, having just checked into yet another Airbnb and spent a singular hour standing in the kitchen chatting up a storm with the host, I feel revivified. It is a wonderful feeling to make an immediate connection that could lead to a friendship with someone.
“Hey! There is an event happening on Friday that I think you would enjoy. You should totally come,” my kindred spirit host says while scrolling through her phone to find the event on Facebook.
“Oh, I don’t know,” I say hesitantly. “I don’t like to go out at night.”