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Help a loner rejoin the herd!
April 26, 2012 12:46 PM   Subscribe

How do I integrate myself into a social circle when I don't have a social circle?

I'm in my early thirties, and in the past decade have managed to move a few times, cut ties with previous friendships (mainly through neglect), and not make the effort to seek out new friendships. My few close friends in the last several years have been romantic partners. My reluctance to form new friendships has been largely due to depression and social anxiety that I'm currently in therapy for.

Therapy has helped with both and I'd like to build a more active social life, but I'm having a hard time with the fact that I've basically turned into a loner and don't know how to address this with potential friends. In the past, having a social circle has made a natural mingling and cross-pollination of friendships easy, but I feel like I don't have that social capital anymore. Basically, I have no idea how to approach an individual/group socially without feeling that I'm "tagging along" and not bringing anything to the table.

I should note that I'm a bit of an introvert, and am happiest with small, tight-knit groups, and I'm getting to an age where it feels like these groups have already gelled together. I have no idea how to find an "in" without feeling like an imposter/outsider.

If anyone has any experiences and advice that might help make the leap back into an active social life easier, I'd really love to hear about it. Thanks!
posted by a box and a stick and a string and a bear to Human Relations (36 answers total) 87 users marked this as a favorite
 
I might have some ideas. What are your hobbies and interests? Running or exercise partners can be good for meeting people. If you're open to it, churches are really ideal for this kind of thing. Are you in a big city? Knitting/crafting can be a good way to meet people.
posted by the young rope-rider at 12:51 PM on April 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


Yeah, I've been tempted by the churches idea (I'm an agnostic that's rather fond of both Quakers and Buddhist on a theoretical level). I guess a lot of my worry is the idea of showing up and people wanting to get to know me, and having nothing to share that "counts", since my hobbies are all solitary (or at the very least, I've declined to participate in them in a non-solitary way).

I live in PDX, so there are plenty of people/activity groups around. I'm just apprehensive about the idea of needing to reciprocate socially (i.e., if people invite me along for an activity with their group, I feel guilty that there's no way I can do the same for them).

[and yeah, I know the answer to a lot of this is going to be "more therapy"/"get past those fears". I'm just hoping that the hivemind has some tips and tricks that have helped them get past similar issues]
posted by a box and a stick and a string and a bear at 1:07 PM on April 26, 2012


The easiest way is to go take a class, where the class involves socializing, and culminates in a group activity. I always trot out Improv classes at this point, but there are lots of other options. You'll get used to being with people repeatedly again, in an environment where you're all supposed to be there anyway, and perhaps someone will invite people in the class to a party or something, or you'll make a friend.
posted by davejay at 1:09 PM on April 26, 2012


Basically, I have no idea how to approach an individual/group socially without feeling that I'm "tagging along" and not bringing anything to the table.

When I was 21, I moved across the country to a place I didn't know anyone except my girlfriend at the time (who also didn't know anyone.) I had to make myself a social life from scratch. Basically what happened was that girlfriend-at-the-time and the building manager got into a conversation when we just moved there, and she invited us out to dinner with some of her friends.

Said friends were the people I started hanging out. They were all in their late-20s/early-30s and friends since high school. Honestly, at first it did feel like I was the clueless kid brother everyone is tolerating. What helped was to realize that after the history and the in-jokes, we were all just a bunch of good-natured people who liked science fiction and video games and so on. I was as much a person as they; no better, no worse.

Realize that when you're trying to integrate into a social group, you're a shiny new person, with experiences and stories and a perspective. When you feel like you're not bringing anything to the table, that's the depression telling you you're worthless. And if you've been paying attention in therapy, your depression is lying to you.

Go find people and talk to them. Yes, the depression and anxiety makes it hard, but you damn well know being alone all the time is no cakewalk. Like the Rope-Rider suggests, find where people with your interest hang out, and just strike up a conversation. Meetup.com, MetaFilter meetups, whatever. You might get a one-word answer. You might get into a conversation and invited to a party. You don't know, but not trying only leads to one outcome.

Also, as you're a dude (or so your profile icon indicates), I would generally try to strike up these random conversations with other dudes. Mainly because if you're looking for straight-up friends, you don't want to muddy the water by making people try to figure out if you're flirting with them.
posted by griphus at 1:10 PM on April 26, 2012 [18 favorites]


Wow, you are me 8 years ago, to a shocking degree, I will tell you what worked for me, it may or may not be an option for you, in any case you sound like a super person.

I'm in my early thirties, and in the past decade have managed to move a few times, cut ties with previous friendships (mainly through neglect), and not make the effort to seek out new friendships.


Yeah, did that exactly, my own damn fault. My friendships seem to be out of sight, out of mind to me unfortunately.

My few close friends in the last several years have been romantic partners. My reluctance to form new friendships has been largely due to depression and social anxiety that I'm currently in therapy for.

Ditto, I never got the gumption up to get to therapy though, good for you.

In the past, having a social circle has made a natural mingling and cross-pollination of friendships easy, but I feel like I don't have that social capital anymore.

I like "social capital" and will be stealing it, thank you, and I agree.

I should note that I'm a bit of an introvert, and am happiest with small, tight-knit groups, and I'm getting to an age where it feels like these groups have already gelled together.

Me too, I know, it sucks.

If anyone has any experiences and advice that might help make the leap back into an active social life easier, I'd really love to hear about it. Thanks!

Alright, enough agreeing. Here is what I did. After years of way too much alone and falling further and further behind in tending my social garden. I summoned every spec of courage I have and sent an email to every person I had talked to more than once or twice where I work who seemed like decent people. I told them all in the email that The Lord of The Rings was going to be amazing but would be more amazing with a larger group, anyone who wants to should meet at said theatre at said time. I made it sound, casually, as though this was a large group of my friends that I was sort of adding them to. It worked, to my shock. A group of 8-10 ended up meeting at the theatre, seeing said movie, someone else suggested a drink after and BOOM. Eight years later and I am married to one of them and the rest have grown to a group of 10 very close and 30-40 good social friends. I do still neglect from time to time and grow in and out with people but that is the part that I think is normal.
posted by Cosine at 1:15 PM on April 26, 2012 [37 favorites]


(i.e., if people invite me along for an activity with their group, I feel guilty that there's no way I can do the same for them).

Few people (and basically no worthwhile people) keep score like that. The people who invite others over and out do that because they like to. If any of my friendships were contingent on me having to reciprocate by finding things for us to do, or inviting people over to my place to hang out, I'd have exactly no friends.
posted by griphus at 1:16 PM on April 26, 2012 [3 favorites]


Oh, and as to my hobbies/interests: I love nature, film, music, reading, and am curious about diy electronics (I'd like to teach myself some basic programming and arduino-type projects, as well as get involved in electronic music production). I also really like art, the weirder/more conceptual/playful the better. Unfortunately, I'm not really fond of aggressively quirky/zany (Cacaphony Society types sort of drive me crazy. I'm also not fond of overly pretentious/serious art, despite being really fond of hardcore critical theory. Ok, this is starting to make my loner stance seem kind of inevitable...).
posted by a box and a stick and a string and a bear at 1:16 PM on April 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


I just want to say that the above is definitely easiest when you are ALREADY with someone. I always found in awkward when I was new here and making friends and people would be like 'come to this thing. bring a friend'. And I'm like "I don't have any friends!!". Embarassing. (but you will have friends- eventually!)

Definitely easiest is via a class or volunteering and definitely pick ONLY something you are interested in. You don't want a vibe of 'i'm just here to meet people', you want a vibe of "I love this thing! place! activity!". That was you already have something in common and an natural enthusiasm about you and regardless of whether you make long term friends or not, you will still (ideally) enjoy the experience.

Over time you will meet people but it takes time.

PS on preview, Cosine that is awesome.
posted by bquarters at 1:17 PM on April 26, 2012


None of those are really solitary activities. Nature isn't my forte, but going to the movies, or concerts, or to book readings as a group is totally a thing. It's also a great place to talk to people. Maybe not so much the movies, but god knows waiting for the author/band to show up is interminable. If you're into electronics, I am 100% sure Portland has a hackerspace (brief Googling suggests it's here.) Gallery openings are basically public parties with free booze.
posted by griphus at 1:20 PM on April 26, 2012


am curious about diy electronics (I'd like to teach myself some basic programming and arduino-type projects, as well as get involved in electronic music production)

Find a hackerspace! Just show up and say you're interested in messing with arduinos, and just be friendly to people. You'll make all kinds of friends.
posted by showbiz_liz at 1:21 PM on April 26, 2012


You have to accept that no one is doing you a favor by spending time with you. It's mutually beneficial. You don't have to pay them back because you're already even.
posted by the young rope-rider at 1:22 PM on April 26, 2012 [21 favorites]


Yeah, the http://www.pdxhackerspace.com/ page doesn't actually have content, but a quick googling shows some stuff going on there.

Also, community theater groups are a good way to meet people. If you're handy with tools, show up and help build/paint stuff.
posted by rmd1023 at 1:27 PM on April 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


Board games, war games, and pencil and paper role playing games all have fairly large, diverse followings at your local game store that can be (but aren't guaranteed to be) easy to merge into. Usually they have a 'games night' for specific games or groups in a genre.

Seconding (or thirding, at this point) the hackerspace idea.
posted by Slackermagee at 1:42 PM on April 26, 2012


I have found that merely getting out and about and making your face familiar to other people where you live is actually a great way to meet people, if you're open to it. I got so incredibly lonely when I moved to a new town (and I wasn't at all interested in 'workout partner' type friendships or church groups. meh), I decided I would start going out alone to the local cafes, bars, coffee shops... bring a book or source of entertainment. Slowly other faces start to look familiar... try a simple "I've never heard of this band, are you here to see them?" when there is live music, ask your barista "where's a good book store around here?" I don't know how to explain it but simply starting simple conversations with the people in my neighborhood led to "Hey! I gotta show you this dive bar down the street, come join!"
Naturally when you go out and do things you like to do - whether it be going to parks, book stores, coffee shops, live music - it's an opportunity to meet other like-minded individuals if the group-activity clubs aren't your thing. I'm not an extremely extroverted person but have found if you're OPEN to meeting people this way, it's wonderful.
posted by hillabeans at 1:45 PM on April 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


What about going down the "nature" route? I'm not from PDX, but outdoors-y stores usually have outdoors-y events where you can meet people and do fun things too. Win-win.

Also, book clubs? Or book readings, at a library? Concerts are also possible, but I find its hard to actually bond with people as stuff like that.

You don't mention sports, but would that be interesting for you at all? If not, ignore this advice. But, I joined a (very low level, recreational) sport team as a "single", and met a fantastic group of people. We've signed up as a cohesive group for several seasons since and hang on the regular.
posted by Paper rabies at 1:50 PM on April 26, 2012


You implied that you'd be enjoy being invited along for various group activities, but that you'd then feel like you had nothing to offer in return. As griphus says, nobody really keeps score like that, but if it's bugging you, just make something up!! Pick an art exhibit or gallery show at random, say "come with me to this artwalk thing, I know nothing about it and I can't vouch for it's awesomeness, but if we all got together at [pub, cafe, restaurant, martini bar] beforehand it would definitely be awesome". Once you have people to invite, picking something to invite them to isn't that difficult.
posted by aimedwander at 1:56 PM on April 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


PDX alternative to hackerspaces: ADX. Taking a couple classes here and collaborating with people is a really sweet idea.
posted by furnace.heart at 2:00 PM on April 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


I would recommend social outing groups like meetin.org and meetup.com. They are both nice ways to find a group of people with a common interest, strangers and newbies welcome.
Good luck!
posted by browse at 2:10 PM on April 26, 2012


Oh, and I don't know if you've ever checked out IRL, right here on MetaFilter, but Portland currently tops the list of most active cities. There are five proposed events active right this moment.
posted by griphus at 2:17 PM on April 26, 2012


Wow, "take a class" is such an obvious answer to "hackspaces look neat but I really know how to do anything". Thanks, everyone, these are exactly the kind of ideas I was hoping for.

And yes, Mefi meet-ups... It's on my list of eventual goals. Hopefully I'll meet some of you some day :)
posted by a box and a stick and a string and a bear at 2:21 PM on April 26, 2012


For the nature side of things, a lot of REI stores have events through the month - outdoorsy classes, nature clean-ups, that type of thing. There are 4 REIs in the Portland area, maybe check out some of their upcoming activities?
posted by dorey_oh at 2:27 PM on April 26, 2012


Classes, for sure.

Another thought- here in Berkeley/Oakland, anyway, you can volunteer for any number of art projects. You just have to show up and put in your time and eventually friendships usually form, and if not, at least networking. As an added bonus, there are lots of other "loners" who like to do their own thing but in a social setting, so if your interaction is on the minimal side, people won't think it's very out of the ordinary. Does Portland have a Maker Faire? That might be a place to start, and you could likely get in the door with some art or projects around the electronics stuff you like.
posted by small_ruminant at 2:43 PM on April 26, 2012


I'm married with five kids and live in Portland. And I'm 35. I have no social circle because I rarely get free time and when I do, it is unexpected and leaves little time to plan anything. Most free time is spent going to a movie by myself or maybe a book signing or concert.

I just chalk it up to "growing older" and "having kids." I figure I'll get a new circle of friends sometime when the kids move out......

Having said that, if there was some sort of local group of guys that got together to play video games or watch movies for fun, I'd join in a heartbeat. I just might not get to participate very often. Or I'd host events at my house so the kids can run around while we play.
posted by tacodave at 2:51 PM on April 26, 2012


Dude, you sound like an awesome person to know. I say that because it sounds like one of your problems is that you seem to think you have nothing to offer potential friends.

There is absolutely NOTHING wrong with finding yourself in this situation, by which I mean it says nothing bad about you. You've moved around, you're an introvert, these are all legit reasons that you don't have a social circle right now, but they're not things that will keep you from having friends in the future. If you're worried about not being able to reciprocate invites to hang out with groups, don't. That's really not a big deal.

Also, your solitary hobbies don't have to be a disqualifier either. Hell, I have absolutely zero hobbies (unless you count reading and wasting time on the internet) because hobbies aren't my thing, but that's fine because the friendships I've made aren't really oriented around hobbies.

As for practical stuff, you've gotten some great ideas. Since it seems like you do have a lot of hobbies, I would pick maybe 3-5 meetups/classes/etc that you might be interested in, and try one or two a month. That's a pretty low commitment but it will get you moving in the right direction.
posted by lunasol at 3:30 PM on April 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


Singles groups often post events in the local newspapers. Go to one. You have as much to offer as any other single person.

Check out the group Meet-Up for your city and find a group with common interests then just RSVP to one of their events. You might not make lifelong friends or even close ones initially but you're out mingling with like minded folks at that's how it starts.

Above all else remember that it's ok to be a loner and to enjoy being alone. It doesn't necessarily mean you're a misfit or missing out on anything.

Try a church. Many have groups for singles, men, women, and some have activity groups as well. Check out their websites.
posted by july1baby at 8:52 PM on April 26, 2012


I'm just apprehensive about the idea of needing to reciprocate socially (i.e., if people invite me along for an activity with their group, I feel guilty that there's no way I can do the same for them.

Yeah, don't worry about this. If I invite you out with my friends, it's because I want you to join us. It's not because I want to hang out with your friends. I probably wouldn't like them anyway.
posted by salvia at 9:12 PM on April 26, 2012


Or if you're really worried about it, just invite people out one on one to avoid reciprocating. "We should grab lunch the next time you're in the city," that sort of thing.

My comment above was kind of a joke... kind of. I collect friends one by one these days. It's not like some corporate merger where I'm, like, evaluating the team you bring and how they'll complement my team.
posted by salvia at 9:18 PM on April 26, 2012


Yep meetup.com. Though I have to say, as an introvert with not many socially-oriented hobbies, I've been going to social meetups like "hey, let's get drinks" or "hey, let's play board games" and those haven't worked out too well. If you're good at shooting the breeze with just about anybody and pulling things out of thin air to chat about, then you'll be more successful. But I think the way to go is to join meetups that center on an activity you're already really interested in and will have a lot to say and bond with people over. If not, maybe take a class to develop an interest. This is something I've been meaning to do but just haven't found the time to. As much as I want to make friends, I don't want to invite people over to watch reality TV with me in bed in my PJs.

But I will say: at one of the many "social" meetups I attended, one of the guys apparently took an interest to me and added me to a facebook group that consisted of a smaller, more exclusive subsection of the meetup group. Basically, people post activities they want to do, and anyone who wants to go comments and works out the details in that thread. It's like a ready-made friend group. I've not gotten too close with any of them so far, but sometimes if I want to see a movie and don't want to go alone, I'll just post that idea on the wall and usually get a few takers.

That's actually an idea--if you meet some cool people at a meetup event and want to get to know them better, casually mention if you might hit them up on facebook and, if they say yes, add them as friends and maybe create a "fun people doing fun things" facebook group and add people to it. Then, suggest activities to do and encourage others to do the same.
posted by shipsthatburn at 2:27 AM on April 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


Oh, and as to my hobbies/interests: I love nature, film, music, reading, and am curious about diy electronics (I'd like to teach myself some basic programming and arduino-type projects, as well as get involved in electronic music production)

All of the mefites I know in PDX are into at least one of these things. We don't even live in PDX but try to visit at least once a year because metafilter has given us mefites for friends, and some of them live in Portland. Seriously, it's a great bunch of people - get thee to a meetup sooner rather than later. Mefi meetups are kind of perfect in this respect because they're often a mix of people who have been to a bunch of meetups and are already friends and people who have never been to meetups and don't know anyone.
posted by rtha at 7:53 AM on April 27, 2012


OK, this feels like remedial social skills -102: Meet-up protocol, lets say for just a regular meet-up (not something super activity specific). I've seen the pics, and I bet I could ID a gaggle* of MeFites pretty quickly. Do I just walk up to the group, say "hi, I'm Forest/aB&aS&aS&aB, this is my first meet-up. I'm in the right place, yeah?" and find a place to sit, and settle into whatever conversations/activities might be going on?

*There has to be some accepted collective plural for MeFites, no?
posted by a box and a stick and a string and a bear at 8:06 AM on April 27, 2012


At least in NYC, yes. I have no idea how those Portlanders do it (or how they are the most active city, grr)!

Seriously, though, just say hi, and if you can't think of things to say just say "how about that askmefi question. Wild, right?" Someone will say I KNOW! and you'll be off.
posted by the young rope-rider at 8:11 AM on April 27, 2012


being really fond of hardcore critical theory. Ok, this is starting to make my loner stance seem kind of inevitable...

Just wanted to let you know you're totally wrong about critical theory. This is among my areas of expertise, and right now there are actual lonely thirtysomethings in my city begging me to start a Marxian reading group so we can all hang out. These folks are all west coast transplants and doubtless much thicker on the ground in PDX -- my acquaintance there includes hordes of post-Reedies likely to be hella into a critical theory reading group, especially one organized by someone already familiar with the intellectual terrain.

(Others probably know more about how to advertise such a group to prospective members. But feel free to include, in your publicity campaign, memailing it to me to post on facebook.)
posted by feral_goldfish at 8:34 AM on April 27, 2012 [3 favorites]


Poking around the ADX site that furnace.heart linked to, I just discovered that an old friend from Olympia is teaching a textiles class. Rad! I'd love to see her, but taking a class seems so much more natural than emailing a "Hi, I haven't kept in touch for the last five years, but we live in the same town again, lets go get coffee and catch up!".

Thanks, everyone. This is the exact sort of getting the ball rolling that I was hoping for.
posted by a box and a stick and a string and a bear at 8:34 AM on April 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


I've done "Are you from the internet?" and "Hi, are you friends of Matt's?" and "Metafilter?" when trying to figure out which group of geeky-looking people are *my* geeky-looking people.

One time I brought a can of beans to a meetup and put it on the table so that people could (theoretically) tell it was the meetup table.

And yeah, conversational gambits can always be something like "How 'bout that meTa! Crazy!" They usually move on easily to "How was your day?" or "Where do you live in the city?" or "Has anyone seen [new movie/whatever]?" or "Which of these lovely beers should I order first?"
posted by rtha at 8:37 AM on April 27, 2012


Don't open with a joke if you can't follow up after no one gets it.

"Hi, I haven't kept in touch for the last five years, but we live in the same town again, lets go get coffee and catch up!".

This is a completely 100% normal and socially acceptable thing to do. You might not get a 'yes', but it's in no way an unusual request.
posted by griphus at 9:38 AM on April 27, 2012 [2 favorites]


...an old friend from Olympia is teaching a textiles class

As bquarters said upthread, if you take a class, pick something you're interested in. Aside from the "I'm just here to meet people" vibe, the people you meet at a class you're only kind of enthusiastic for will not be as excited about the things you're truly excited about. Of course, I have no idea whether the textiles class would be at all appealing to you if you didn't know the instructor, but if the answer is "not very" I'd be cautious about signing up.

If I were your friend teaching that class, I'd be kind of unnerved if you showed up for class and I got the vibe that you were only peripherally interested in the subject matter and maybe just there to meet up with me. I would, however, be delighted to get an email from you (if you don't have her info, call the class-resource/school/program/etc, and ask if they've got an email address so you can ask the instructor a question) that said
Hey Oldfriend, Holy crap it's been forever, I was hardly aware you lived in town! I'm still/not into [thing you were both into, thing she knows you from, hobby she associates with you, etc] these days and/but I was looking for a (general descriptor) class when I saw your name on the textiles workshop. That's great that you're teaching! Is the textiles the only class you're doing? I'm mostly looking for general ways to stretch my art muscles, which may or may not be textiles specifically, but it sounds pretty cool. Is there a (anything specific you could ask about the class content based on the catalog description and what you're personally interested in)? Maybe I'll see you in class. Either way, I'd love to hear how you're doing these days. Should I give you a call about getting a coffee next time I'm on your side of town?
And she'll email you back and either encourage you to sign up for the class, say something that indicates the content is probably not your bag, agree to general coffee or even suggest a day/time, suggest you come by her office if you're taking any classes in her building, or make some kind of move.
posted by aimedwander at 10:03 AM on April 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


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