When Jessica Painter (09) moved to Calgary, Canada, in 2016 she found herself far away from home with a much, much smaller social circle. It was a huge change, to say the least.

“I made the move and left everything I knew behind and transitioned from doing a corporate job to where I saw people every day and had roommates to working a job from home,” Painter said. “The only person I knew was my husband, him and my dog, and I didn’t really have any avenues to meet people.”

While naturally making friends throughout her time at PLNU and during her first job after graduating, for the first time in her life the friendships weren’t coming so naturally. So, she joined a gym and attempted to meet people with a shared interest in fitness.

A photo of Painter smiling.
Initially, Painter struggled with developing a community after moving.

“I joined a gym and I would try to talk to people after a class or something, but people responded as if I was a weirdo because people didn’t normally talk to someone after a spin class,” Painter said. 

She also tried to meet people at business networking events, but similar to her experience in the fitness world, it seemed that her desire to make friends — and not just corporate contacts — caught many off guard. Having just moved to a new city (in a new country), she was finding it exceedingly difficult to meet people and form a new circle of friends. To her, it seemed that most people she encountered were closed off to forming new relationships.

Painter has some theories as to why this was the case.

“We are the most connected generation through the internet and social media but we are also super isolated. If you don’t want to talk to anyone you can just turn to your phone. People are constantly checking for ‘Likes’ to get that dopamine hit and forget about real-life experiences,” Painter explained. “Another thing that contributes is that so many of us, because travel is so much easier, live really far from where we grew up. Not that long ago you were born in the town you died in and people you knew were always around helping you raise your kids. You had this family and community all nearby.”

Painter struggled with feelings of deep depression and severe loneliness, especially those first few months in Canada. But she didn’t lose heart and eventually did find a group of friends through a fitness meetup group. She threw herself into it and before long was the one leading the group and organizing workouts.

“Through that, I learned that I enjoyed planning events and connecting women and making them feel comfortable. But because it was so fitness heavy, a lot of women I talked to about it were intimidated to come because they didn’t think they were the right age or body type,” Painter said. “So, I took a break from leading it and that is when the idea for In Her Circle came to me. I wanted to create a community open to all women no matter what you look like and one that does more fun women’s events, not just 30-minute cardio sessions.”

Painter realized that many women are feeling lonely and isolated much like she was. For many, it can be difficult to form relationships as an adult, especially since it requires a willingness to be vulnerable and admit to feeling lonely.

“I think admitting that you are lonely and that you are struggling to make friends is embarrassing. But I feel that at some point in life everyone struggles with it,” Painter shared.

Related Story: Understand loneliness triggers and learn simple ways we can help those who are lonely.

This group focuses on workshops that bond those who attend the events they host.

Painter began In Her Circle in September of 2018, and using both her social media and in-person networking, got the word out about it. According to its mission statement, the organization seeks to “welcome all women who are looking to create genuine, authentic friendships through social gatherings and workshops.”

The organization holds fun group events for women where they can come together to not only meet new people but enjoy some fun activity as well. Painter keeps the events somewhat limited (between 20 to 25 women) to foster deeper connections. And many of the events they host are centered around something creative, such as bracelet-making or vision board-making.

“I think the magic happens when you push yourself outside of your comfort zone … Eventually, you can start building relationships from within those communities.” 

“I’ve learned through trial and error that the women who attend these events don’t really love to go to something where they just sit down and listen to a speaker. They want to be doing something creative. We are doing a vision board workshop soon and next month I have a local hairstylist doing a hair tutorial, which will be interactive,” Painter said.

In Her Circle has helped many women form new friendships and find a sense of community. And Painter’s experience with it has also confirmed that many women are seeking deeper connections and more meaningful friendships.

“I didn’t expect to get so many real messages, and people share really hard things with me quite a bit and so, on the one hand, I’m happy that they feel comfortable sharing it with me because it is an honor. But then, on the other hand, it has been a learning process to figure out how to navigate those conversations in a healthy way. Many of these women just want to be seen and heard,” Painter shared.

Painter and other girls hanging out together.
Painter wants to expand this group to reach even more women eventually.

In Her Circle is only limited to Calgary right now, but Painter hopes to expand it to other Canadian cities and, eventually, the rest of North America. While she works a full-time job in addition to the planning and management of In Her Circle, she hopes to eventually be able to do it full-time.

For women struggling to make friends (and who don’t have the benefit of living in Calgary and attending an In Her Circle event), Painter has acquired some valuable advice based on personal experience.

“I think the magic happens when you push yourself outside of your comfort zone. I spent months pushing myself out of my comfort zone to meet people and to finally find that core group of people who were willing to accept me. But it took trial and error, and so doing things like making a list of what your hobbies are and seeking communities doing those things, be that pottery-making or indoor rock climbing, is helpful. Eventually, you can start building relationships from within those communities.”

You can visit In Her Circle’s website to learn more about Jessica Painter’s work.

Related Story: One of the most common worries for recent PLNU college grads is how to develop and maintain friendships outside of the PLNU community.

Christopher Hazell is a writer and editor. He is the author of Ends in Mind, a newsletter about culture, technology, Christian spirituality, the arts, and more.