How do I build a social life at 30?
February 14, 2009 7:53 PM   Subscribe

How do I build a social life at 30? Or how do I get better at building/maintaining casual relationships?

So, I've been meaning to ask this for a while. I've concluded that I suck at making friends. I'm also pretty sure that I suck at keeping friends. I want to change this. It's seems like a gyroscope, tough to get started but a lot easier to keep going once it's going already.

It can't be as hard as I'm making it as most everyone seem to be doing it just fine. It seems to be effortless for most people.


-Work full-time in a very challenging job (lots of interaction is necessary and good communication skills are vital, by the way) and I'm good at it

-Live in a conservative area. Most people are married in their early 20s here, part of the culture. Lots of very religious people here (the majority) who are generally inclusive. I'm not religious, at all. I think it's a limiting belief to say that I can't be friends with them, but there are some real, widely known difficulties with doing so. My experience is mixed.

-College full-time, at night, 4 days a week. Will finally be done at the end of the semester. Have been doing this for 6 years straight (not always full-time). Class has not provided few social opportunities as people don't generally converse much. It's a commuter campus. It's also at night, so by 9pm when we get out, everyone is beat and just want to get home, including me. My energy is gone at this point.

-Generally outgoing, tons of acquaintances, but few friends and seem to be unable to turn acquaintances into friends. Lack of trying, lack of know-how, and fear of rejection play into this, although I do try sometimes

-Getting very few invites. Sit home most weekends. Don't like it.

-As a kid, I always had a few close friends, or a best friend. Not popular, didn't care, never tried to be, didn't know how to be, although I wish I knew how now

-I'm very friendly in-person but since I'm so busy, it's like if someone isn't in front of me, they don't get any mindshare. I know I'm bad at keeping friends. I don't call them often, if hardly ever. Feel weird calling dudes to see how they are doing anyway. :) I don't invite people to do things, partly because I like I don't have time, partly because I don't have a crew to do things with, and partly because none of my hobbies are social ones.

-Everybody seems to be into sports. They're only attractive to me for social reasons. I'm 30 and I don't know how to play most of them. It would be weird to join some team or league or something and not know what I'm doing at all.

-I don't stink, am attractive, fashionable, have some disposable income, confident, etc. I actually smell good, haha.

-I'm not creepy or a perv or antisocial. I might be a little weird or quirky, but who isn't?

-After searching the net, everybody always seems to say "go do what you love" or "find some hobbies". Easier said than done. I have lots of hobbies, I just have little time for them, and none of them are really social, nor are they very conducive to meet people I would consider similar to me. I'm learning to play the drums, play video games, learning to snowboard, produce dance music. I workout, random times and frequency, equipment at home. Would be into camping, hiking, biking, roadtrips, clubbing, traveling, etc if I actually had people to do those things with. I also am into entrepreneurship and startups. Most of my 20s was spent in a few startups of my own (like the bootstrapping sort where you are locked away trying to get things off the ground with minimal overhead), which left me with little, if any, time to socialize.

-The friends I have now are few and far between. There's one here, there's one there. Most are married and doing that whole thing. Not really interested in living it up like a single person, going out, etc. I'll see them occasionally, go to lunch or dinner or something. If I'm lucky, I'll get them to party a little.

-I'm not on facebook. I don't really want to be, but I'm starting to feel like I need to be. I did myspace a few years ago, I guess I'm over it. I don't like the time it sucks up. I don't like how it tends to replace real social interaction, to whatever degree.

-Have had an average number of girlfriends. These type of relationships come a lot easier to me. But I have yet to maintain a girlfriend and have an active social circle at the same time.


-Would like a small crew of somewhat like-minded people to run with. Do activities, go out, hit the bars, try new things, etc.

-I would prefer that they were similar to me, outgoing, attractive, into similar things, have goals in life, going somewhere, etc. But I realize you can't necessarily choose your friends..or can you?

-Want to know how to turn acquaintances into actual friends. I must have missed learning how somewhere along the way, because I suck at it, girls and guys.

-Want to get invited, be included by others. There is nothing quite like the sting of not being included. Don't want to invite myself...tried it once, really awkward, haha.

-Want to meet new, preferably cool people. Don't know how or where. I could re-join the dominant religion and take advantage of that. Lots of people similar to me there, except with a magical worldview that conflicts with a lot of things, like the simple pleasures of imbibing and being vulgar/non-PC occasionally. :) There are always a zillion church activities going on, plenty of people my age, although mostly married.
Not an option because I think the religion is bogus and intrusive, but it's there. I've heard about It seems to cater to an older crowd than me. Singles or mixer-type events seem to be freakshows around here. Tried those a couple of times anyway.

-Having friends creates more opportunities to meet girls, too. Always good. I can make it happen anyway, but it would help. Plus I would assume girls think it's a bit odd that I don't have a group of friends..
posted by runflats to Human Relations (22 answers total) 50 users marked this as a favorite
perhaps this isn't an option for you, but have you considered relocating after graduation? the way you describe yourself, it seems to me you would fit better in a place like NYC or any big city for that matter. New York is full of single, career driven people in their 30s who aren't into sports.
Again, maybe you can't move because of your job, but if you can't feel fulfilled where you are right now maybe you should reevaluate your priorities in life and take the plunge.
posted by spacefire at 8:13 PM on February 14, 2009

It sounds like you're in Utah. Some of the most fun I've had in my life was in Utah, and some of the nicest people, but it is a totally impenetrable social scene beyond the shallowest level if you are not a mormon, and even mormon friends say that not being married is a huge social liability.

Some groups are just like that.

One thing to be realistic about is that it is very hard to make real friends once you are an adult (and at 30, you're 3-4 years into that territory).

Lot's of people on ask are going to disagree with me on that, but people have different definitions of "friends" -- some people list everyone they've ever met as "a friend" even if that person would barely remember them, and some people consider friends to be people they'd trust with things that make them vulnerable: money, with SO, etc. Some people simply aren't choosy -- but most people are, despite their online posing. Understand where you are on the spectrum and what you're looking for.

Many people are on their guard against being used, and frankly, the singles inside couples simply do not make actual friendships very often, and when they do, those friendships become more acquaintances once the kids start showing up.

Why do you care if your friends are attractive? What does "going somewhere" mean to you?
posted by rr at 8:15 PM on February 14, 2009 [1 favorite]

I have a friend who always said she had trouble finding people to hang out with, but after moving to another city she's meeting tons of people. So environment definitely has a huge impact. She actually found a bunch of activities by looking online and finding clubs and whatnot.
posted by delmoi at 8:17 PM on February 14, 2009

There's no way you can have this if you don't give up some of your time. You want to be invited, but even the useless motivational books will tell you that you must reciprocate, which will cost you more time.

Throw parties for no reason ("winter solstice"). Compete. Powerlifting (see: Megan non-McArdle of Rhubarb Pie); ultimate frisbee is a sport that has some staying power through the ages (they can also be jerks...). Guess how many fun people actually like running? Guess how many summer programs at which I went running to meet new friends?

You have decided that you want to be around people more, but your hobbies do not reflect this. Find hobbies you are okay with that incorporate people, or that require interaction. Take dancing lessons. Salsa is hot these days.

Join an atheism group, or rational thinkers coffee club. I have noticed the same city effect. Take your momentum and enthusiasm at graduation and either build on it or move it to another city.

*Find some reason to have forced social meetings. Start a dinner club with your classmates, ensuring that even if you are not capable of organizing a gathering once a week, you can make yourself make time for it once a month (and enjoy it yourself, on the off-weeks). With effortless, regular, encouraged events, your bond with friends will be a little stronger/easier.

I'm sorry this isn't all on topic, but there are a few that address the theme.
posted by gensubuser at 8:43 PM on February 14, 2009 [1 favorite]

I am 33, and I have trouble finding like-minded friends who aren't married, in a long-term-relationship, or busy all the time with some job or project. And I live in Los Angeles. I think getting older and being single is a challenge, especially in a conservative area.

I wish I knew an easy answer, but if I did I would be using it myself. That said, moving somewhere else might really help a lot. But basically I just wanted to reassure you it's hard for lots of people and I'm almost 100% sure it's nothing you're doing wrong.
posted by drjimmy11 at 9:10 PM on February 14, 2009

Welcome to MetaFilter. Try a meetup! Going off the same assumption as above (and taking it one further), the last SLC meetup was almost a year ago. Attendance wasn't the best, but there was interest. I can testify based on my experience in LA that MeFi meetups are good fun with new, interesting, cool people.

I don't buy your excuse about not using facebook. Sure, there's opportunity to sink a lot of time into it, what with all that crapp available, but it's a great way to network and keep in touch with those guys it's so darn awkward to call. Look up everyone you know, check it once or twice a day (it'll tell you when someone's planning an event, having a birthday, etc.), and make sure you check the 'attending' box.
posted by carsonb at 9:17 PM on February 14, 2009

rr: bingo :)
posted by runflats at 9:26 PM on February 14, 2009

Beyond being in a conservative area, it's not clear how big the area is. That aside, Nthing the thought that there's only so much time in the day; challenging job + lotsa school means it stands to reason that you've little energy and time for things social... and it does take time, in the most direct sense if you find an activity you like and trying different ones.
Seems like there's gotta be some group of like-minded people in your area, though the challenge can be in finding them.

That said, it's worth doing a search for your city/area and Hash House Harriers. Suffice to say they are not a conservative bunch of people.... With things like having a go at a bowling league, a darts league, most times people are okay with people who aren't so good at the activity. Things like softball leagues usually have different divisions in the leagues for different levels of skill, seriousness.
posted by ambient2 at 9:31 PM on February 14, 2009

One bit of constructive advice: we do a boardgame night, and we also do a shit movie night now and then -- this helps keep not-really-friends acquaintances in our lives.

I would say move out of Utah, though. But I suspect you'd find the scene in the Bay Area quite similar -- but instead of religion, it's introverts.
posted by rr at 9:47 PM on February 14, 2009

FACEBOOK! Seriously, my mom is on Facebook - it's basically ubiquitous for almost anyone under 50 these days. Search for people in your local area - wherever that happens to be - and you'll be pleasantly surprised. Send messages. Even something as simple as 'hi, you're kinda cute, let's hang out sometime' is a decent icebreaker.

For the record, I've heard that thirty is the new twenty - it would stand to reason that the thirtysomething is the new twentysomething. Best of luck :)
posted by chrisinseoul at 9:23 AM on February 15, 2009

Facebook is the perfect way to simulate friendships without the actual pluses or minuses of actually having friends. It's like "The Sims" but as an MMORPG.
posted by rr at 9:55 AM on February 15, 2009 [2 favorites]

Location makes a huge difference. Just having more people in the area who have a similar lifestyle ups your odds of making friends considerably. But assuming you're in a situation where you can't just pick up and move...

I also am into entrepreneurship and startups. Most of my 20s was spent in a few startups of my own (like the bootstrapping sort where you are locked away trying to get things off the ground with minimal overhead), which left me with little, if any, time to socialize.

Think about how much you want these friendships. Do you want them in an abstract sort of way, like "Hey, it would be pretty boss to have a bunch of guys to hang out with"? Or do you really want it? If you have the experience of being part of a startup, think about how much effort you had to put in to get those businesses off the ground. Would they have succeeded in the same way if you had gone home at 5? So if you really want to jumpstart the whole friendship thing, you have to make space for it in your life, and put effort into it commensurate to its importance. In a different location with more young, non-religious singles you wouldn't have to work as hard at it, but if you're committed to staying where you're at now it sounds like you'll have to up your efforts.
posted by MsMolly at 9:58 AM on February 15, 2009

I'm very friendly in-person but since I'm so busy, it's like if someone isn't in front of me, they don't get any mindshare. I know I'm bad at keeping friends. I don't call them often, if hardly ever.

You don´t put in the work and wonder why you aren´t keeping friends. It looks effortless for others to keep friends because you are not seeing them doing the work of staying in touch with people. Would you expect results without effort running a startup or getting your degree?

By your own admission, you suck at keeping friends because you don´t bother to contact them. Put it on your to do list and do it. If it´s not important enough to make a priority, I guess you have other goals that are more important. Either accept that or change it.

Oh, and some of my best friends aren´t similar to me in most ways. If you insist on similarity you greatly limit your pool of potential friends. Those dissimilar people might even end up introducing you to other people you would like.
posted by yohko at 10:39 AM on February 15, 2009 [1 favorite]

I think you need to delete "predominantly single" from your friend candidate group "must have" list. The kind of people who are sufficiently sociable and engaged with life to still be making new friends in their 30s are mostly married or equivalently-partnered -- because that's a primary expression of being that sociable and engaged with life. You need to figure out how to integrate yourself with that kind of social set, rather than pursue an illusory set of single friends.
posted by MattD at 12:12 PM on February 15, 2009

If you were in a hip coastal city instead of Utah, I'd suggest volunteering at an 826. The Seattle 826 is where I found a small fun social group after moving here (and as a bonus, I got warm fuzzies from helping kids with their homework). Presumably there's some simulacra of that where you live; hopefully at least one of said simulacra isn't associated with the church.

But, yeah. When you're in school, building social groups comes easy. When you're not in school, volunteer groups are good stand-ins for school.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 1:09 PM on February 15, 2009

There is
posted by P.o.B. at 1:25 PM on February 15, 2009

SLC? Learn to snowboard (dude). You'll definitely meet party people that way in the winter.
posted by salvia at 3:45 PM on February 15, 2009

I moved cross country to a place where I knew barely anyone and have been using an online dating website (OKCupid) to meet people to hang out with. You take some quizzes and it matches you with people who have similar interests. It's like Facebook, except instead of connecting with people you already know you are expected to message and eventually meet strangers (I am on Facebook also and I think it would be weird or assume it was spam if someone I didn't know messaged me because that is not how people normally use it).

A lot of people are on OKCupid because they are bored / want to expand their social circle / other reasons not related to dating. I'm straight, but when I have a weekend where all my friends are busy I will look for guys who have similar interests as me and send them a "not to be weird or anything, but I just moved here and also like X, Y, and Z want to check out This Cool Thing next week?"

I have made several friends this way and have found other freelancers to go get coffee with during the work week when everyone else is at their 9-to-5.
posted by bradbane at 4:32 PM on February 15, 2009

One thing to be realistic about is that it is very hard to make real friends once you are an adult

I don't believe this and if you do, it will become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

It's simple, but not easy. The best way to have a friend is to be a friend. Reach out to people. Look for someone who seems lonely and start a conversation, get to know them. Dale Carnegie really was right about a lot of things.

It's hard to get the ball rolling since you're already feeling lonely and therefore not very likely to reach out, but you really have to change your attitude and stop focusing on yourself and your loneliness.

Keep in mind that there are a lot of people feeling exactly like you are right now. Just look at how many people ask this exact question on this website. If everyone is sitting at home, lonely, hoping for invitations, waiting, how can anyone make any friends?
posted by Flying Squirrel at 11:54 PM on February 15, 2009

As someone who lives in NYC but is spending the winter in SLC to ski, I can offer a little big of vague advice here. SLC (and I'm sure Utah in general) is definitely a harder place to make friends than other place I've spent time. That said, the people who are out here are here for two reasons: (1) they're Mormon, or (2) they loooooove the mountains. Ski or ride in the winter, mountain bike or hike in the summer, and you will *definitely* meet cool people who aren't religious (though they will likely be married). has already been mentioned, but there are also definitely some decent groups in the greater SLC area. You could also start one -- a singles skiing or hiking Meetup would probably do really well. I'd join. ;)

Also seconding the OKCupid suggestion. I know a lot of people who've made some decent friends via that website.
posted by rachelv at 9:23 AM on February 16, 2009

"I think you need to delete "predominantly single" from your friend candidate group "must have" list. The kind of people who are sufficiently sociable and engaged with life to still be making new friends in their 30s are mostly married or equivalently-partnered -- because that's a primary expression of being that sociable and engaged with life. You need to figure out how to integrate yourself with that kind of social set, rather than pursue an illusory set of single friends."

Wow, I don't agree with this at all. I'm 30 and single, and I'd say that 85% of my friends are either (a) 25 and under or (b) 40+. (What can I say, it's an odd distribution in my town.) Why? Because the ones my age (with the exception of a few similarly nerdy high school friends) are all married and they want "couple friends." I don't come with a playmate for "their man", so they won't socialize with me. I think it's entirely reasonable for him to say he wants single friends, mostly because a lot of young married couples won't take you as you are.

That said, I wouldn't necessarily rule out married/partnered people entirely as friends, but young married couples seem to be into the "must travel in pairs" thing a LOT more than my 40+ friends who have been married umpteen years and are totally comfortable with socializing without their partner, or having a single person around them and their partner so you can make friends with both, and they don't automatically assume I'm a man-stealer or some crap like that. I highly recommend 'em.

Really, I'd just say that the poster needs to expand his friend grouping potentials instead of trying to only search around his age range. 30 and single is socially awkward where he's at, most likely, so he may need to widen the potential pools.

I have friends through various hobby groups, btw, for what that's worth.
posted by jenfullmoon at 3:59 PM on February 17, 2009

Don't go hard on yourself over having a limited social circle, especially while working full time *and* full time school. After the school's done - congratulations! - give yourself two years to get where you want to be socially; it takes awhile to become someone's friend, and a set of friends doesn't materialize overnight.

If you think it's hard to make friends as an adult, you're perhaps doomed. Don't mistake "this takes a long, long time" for "this cannot happen".

Pick activities you like that involve running into other people. Group bicycle rides, outdoors clubs, knitting groups, mountain climbing, extreme full-contact golf, whatever floats your boat. Pick something that you actually enjoy, or think you might enjoy. You have some of these hobbies, make them more social. Find other folks who produce electronic music locally - the internet Wins This Game - and bullshit with them online. Invite folks over to collaborate. It's music, which is easy to make social. Join a gym for a month or two.

Say hello to people. Make opportunities. Invite your soon-to-be-graduating class out to get a beer, or some coffee, or play a round of mini-golf.

And last but not least, remember the awesome tool of the internet. Any odds works where you are?
posted by talldean at 7:36 PM on February 18, 2009

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