Is it possible to build or join a tight knit group of friends after you're out of your young 20's, etc?
July 23, 2009 10:55 AM   Subscribe

Watching this video should have made me smile. Instead it has brought me to the sad and striking realization that I'm getting older, and have lost a lot of the meaningful connections I had through my younger 20's. Is it possible to get that sort of thing back in your 30s?

Back in college, I had a tight knit group of friends - lots of them. Of course college is a fantastic place to facilitate the existence of such groups, but we've since all grown / moved apart.

Now, I just have a decent number of acquaintances. I don't have good friends I hang out with on any sort of a regular basis, and as a 31 year old single guy, this video made me really sad about these facts. I'm sure I'll get married some day, and I can't even think of anyone I'd consider to be my "best man", let alone have a cool enough group of friends to pull something this awesome and fun off.

I really don't have a "best friend" or anyone I'd go to in an emergency, etc, aside from my oldest brother.

Is it possible for someone my age to rebuild his life in such a way that these kinds of friendships are found again? I feel like I've aged past my ability to do that, but maybe I'm wrong. I do live in Chicago, which has tons of social outlets, but I'm some sort of weird amalgam of part-time introvert, part-time socially outgoing friendly guy, and I find it difficult to "get out there and meet people."
posted by twiggy to Society & Culture (22 answers total) 26 users marked this as a favorite
part-time introvert, part-time socially outgoing friendly guy

You just described virtually everyone I met at the Chicago meetup.
posted by desjardins at 10:59 AM on July 23, 2009 [3 favorites] I bet people organize all sorts of events in a big city like Chicago. My friend made lots of new friends in Montreal, a city she didn't know anyone in, by going out to some random meetups. Going to the MetaFilter meetup would have been a good idea, since you'd meet people you might already vaguely know via the web site.

I'm 2 years younger than you. I meet new people all the time. I steal my friends friends. I meet people on from the interwebs who comment on my website. I've met people in my neighbourhood by joining a community group. There are lots of places to find new people to hang out with.

It's also helpful to meet people who are full on extroverts, and know lots of people. Though again, i'm not sure how you go about meeting such people.
posted by chunking express at 11:09 AM on July 23, 2009

You absolutely can build such a group of friends, but before you set out to do so it might be worth noting:

1. ...That you have no real idea what the nature of the connections between the people in that video are.
2. ...That arbitrary standards like "do I have someone who'd be my best man?" are more likely to hinder than help. (I feel like I have a very strong group of really close friends, but I'm not entirely sure there's a best man among them. For a start, most of them are women.)
3. ...That it's probably making things hard for yourself to insist on trying to form a "tight-knit group" rather than just to acquire several deep friendships. It's not crucial, even if it's fun, for your close friends to be close friends with each other. Indeed, it's possible that focusing on creating such a group might actually lead you to more superficial random-bunch-of-guys-at-the-sports-bar friendships. And nobody likes to think you're befriending them as part of some "group" masterplan.
posted by game warden to the events rhino at 11:15 AM on July 23, 2009 [3 favorites]

And I know several people whose best man was their brother. It's normal in many parts of the world. It's not a bad idea. Singling out one of my close male friends from the others for this job would seem invidious...
posted by game warden to the events rhino at 11:22 AM on July 23, 2009

One of the easiest ways to get yourself into a position to form a tight-knit group of friends is to join a large group that, much like college, will facilitate that kind of friendship.

I happen to love Gilbert and Sullivan operetta, so I joined a theater group here in New York (it has something like 500 members) that performs G&S, and, lo and behold, after months of working together to put on a show, I've got a really close group of 6 or 7 friends that I spend a ridiculous amount of time with. One of those friends is so close to me that we consider each other sisters.

By putting myself into such a large group of people, I pretty much guaranteed that there would be someone I'd get along with really well, and it sort of followed naturally from there.

(My experience with Metafilter and meetups is, on a smaller scale, very similar.)
posted by ocherdraco at 11:24 AM on July 23, 2009

You might ask yourself if you are really suited towards having a large group of close-knit friends. It's a lot of work, and a lot of politics. Besides, the group you linked to in the YT video look like they probably go to the same church. And when you enter your thirties, things like career and family take over (although I suppose you have to get married first to have a family).

Volunteering with something you are passionate about - basically joining a 'community' - will help you develop the social network you crave.
posted by KokuRyu at 11:49 AM on July 23, 2009 [1 favorite]

First (speaking as someone precisely fitting the desjardins summing up (and hi!)) I would work on getting over your own self-consciousness and some potentially hurtful assumptions. You don't need to have a big group of friends like, well, Friends. That in fact is something of a generational thing and there were a lot of articles written about "tribes" and other voluntary social groupings formed to replace family and other connections perceived lacking in modern life. You only need as many friends as you need. Don't create an artificial standard. It looks like fun, but by the same token, you may be seeing the end result of someone who has always been a widely social person, like a cheerleader or whomever, and who spent college diligently pursuing the goal of having a wide network of friends. There's nothing wrong with that, but it isn't necessarily for everyone, and society does a disservice by giving that experience privilege as an ideal.

My own experience, with MetaFilter and other things such as the social/volunteer club Rotaract (when I was in the age range, which is supposed to top out at 30), suggests that diving into something wholeheartedly is going to reap rewards. Think about the social interactions you have with those acquaintances. Are they loose and low-risk, like hanging out at a bar? Well, you will get some social value from that, but in the long run not much, unless you make the bar your life like Cheers. Maybe it's following a band or style of music. That might be a little more effective.

For a lot of people (continuing the TV sitcom theme) work provides a kind of family -- more than they would like to admit -- as in (say) The Mary Tyler Moore Show or whatnot. That's always been a challenge for me in that I don't groove on sports the way most guys do so the average coworker and I will have little to talk about. But if you flip it around and realize that sports is a mundane conversation topic that replaces or underlies a lot of otherwise unfruitful social activity, it's just another coping tactic. Maybe these guys have nothing else to talk about because they're not very interesting.

So think about what is important to you, what's interesting to you, and pursue that. By all means stop creating artificial scenarios that you must strive for if they will only depress you.

I had a pretty miserable 20s. My 30s were made a little less miserable through a small but high-value circle of friends. My 40s have been blown to kingdom come by a family crisis that I'm just now getting out of. I lost a lot of those connections, and I lost the opportunity for a probably really rewarding relationship. The sense of mortality that has hit me in the last year, without delving into any of these complications, has really obliterated a lot of the fears and worries I used to have about what other people were thinking of me. I'm now looking forward, at 45, to starting things over, possibly in a new city. I suppose there are ways in which I could say that my life has not measured up to my hopes, but I'm less concerned about that now than I was when I was younger -- when it would have been nice not to be burdened with that. You're still young to me. You can do what you want with your life. Figure it out and make it happen. The more you're focused on that, the less these concerns will matter to you.
posted by dhartung at 11:59 AM on July 23, 2009 [2 favorites]

I came to the same wistful conclusion a few years ago and have been pondering this dilemma ever since. I reckon it takes something more than just proximity; I've been working in the same place for 4 years and my coworkers and I, though friendly, have not become friends, largely due to the fact that the job involves almost no teamwork. I think close bonds are forged not just by being around the same group of people a lot but by participation in a shared project (the more intense the better) or shared suffering.

Experiences in my life and those of my friends that have created or contributed to meaningful friendships:

- volunteering as stage crew at a community theater (deadlines, budget constraints, emotional and literal drama, sexual imbroglios, the constant possibility of public disaster)
- working in an independent bookstore (low wages, common enemies, staff with untapped creative potential to burn, array of conveniently located nearby bars for post-work bitching and karaoke)
- shooting a no-budget but still fairly ambitious hobby film (cast of 35, clandestine shoots in unauthorized locations, thrift-shop costume missions)
- training in a group for a half-marathon

Getting out there and meeting people is a great start, but if you want to find your best man, make sure you're pursuing social activities that have a common purpose.
posted by stuck on an island at 12:28 PM on July 23, 2009 [1 favorite]

do you like beer? Start brewing beer. Join a beer brewing group. They hang out all the time, leisurely drinking and brewing beer. Fun!

Like God? Go to church. That's a good place to meet people. Not everyone's cup of tea, but a good place to meet friendly people.

Like music? Volunteer at a local radio station. Volunteering is a really good way to meet people with similar interests.

These all seem like things a somewhat introverted guy could do comfortably.
posted by fyrebelley at 1:36 PM on July 23, 2009

The common theme seems to be volunteering / interest groups...

I spent 7 years of my life running an organization dedicated to promoting independent music... I guess it was different as a leader vs. just a member, but as a leader, I didn't really make close friends through it.. I made tons of acquaintances... some "buddies"... but mostly acquaintances who wanted things from the organization (often not in a greedy, jerkish way.. though sometimes for sure)...

I suppose maybe I need to get out there with a hobby, though... seems like a decent option to start with...

Thanks for the responses thus far...
posted by twiggy at 1:45 PM on July 23, 2009

It certainly is possible. People who know me now have a hard time believing me when I say I had pretty much no friends in my 20s. The only friend who came to my wedding was the one friend I asked to be in it. My wife and I would have parties, and no one I knew would show up.

My 10-year highschool reunion set off an early mid-life crisis for me, when I realized that the fun, friendly guy I had been at 18 had gotten lost somewhere along the way. My 30s were spent rebuilding my social group, and I did a pretty good job. Frankly, getting divorced was a big part of it. I got lucky, somewhat, finding some good folks at work, glomming onto their friends, and building from there, but it did take a concerted effort to put myself out there, to take risks, to pursue certain people and set up social outings and invite guys to movies and all that--just like with dating, I had to expose myself to rejection in order to meet anyone. And there was rejection, and hurt, and guys (and gals, too, of course) thinking I was flat-out weird, but it paid off with good, solid relationships, guys who I would ask to be best man, guys who did ask me to be best man.

As my 30-something friends have gotten married and had kids, things have settled down a bit, but as older relationships fade out, others are fading in. It does take work, going out sometimes when I don't really want to, again, putting myself out there and exposing myself to hurt, being vulnerable, but it's the only way, I think.

Seriously, MetaFilter meetups are a great way to meet like-minded folks; that's where I met some of the people who I consider my best friends now.
posted by MrMoonPie at 2:43 PM on July 23, 2009

I got bored silly with that cute wedding video. Friends? I will be 80 in two weeks. I have a zillion people I know but after some time you usually have but a very few close friends...and at my age they die. My two best male friends both died fairly recently. So now I have no friends. Women live longer so I can find friends among them but, alas, they are not what does the trick (so to speak).
FaceLift (aka FaceBook) people post as many friends as they gather and then discover they care for but a very few, really.

Marriage of course complicates friendship. And then divorce often further complicates.
What is the lesson from all this rambling? Friends come and go. They move. They cut you out. They die. Answer: keep looking, trying, joining groups (as noted)...
and, dare I say this? why do we want, seek friends? what need for them?
posted by Postroad at 2:59 PM on July 23, 2009 [7 favorites]

The common theme seems to be volunteering / interest groups...

Use these as stepping stones to hang out with individual people that you click with the most. "Hey, let's get together for coffee/a movie!" Something that doesn't involve the interest or hobby. It's BORING to only have, I don't know, kite-flying to talk about.
posted by desjardins at 3:04 PM on July 23, 2009

I can't believe anyone hasn't mentioned book clubs. They're great for introverts because the entire topic revolves around something you do BY YOURSELF. Also, creative writing circles.
posted by desjardins at 3:09 PM on July 23, 2009 [2 favorites]

Might it be easier to re-connect with those old college buddies that you pine for, rather than starting out anew? Sometimes it's a LOT of work to rebuild those bridges, but at least you can count on the fact that they know you and that you're a great don't have to prove that stuff all over again!
posted by Pomo at 4:09 PM on July 23, 2009

You're pretty much detailing my current life as well. I had a ton of friends I'd see almost daily in my 20s and gradually we all drifted and moved apart. Some of it was some friends getting mad at other friends, some of it was marriage and kids, most of it was just apathy.

I don't have a great suggestion to solve this. Just my commiserations. I'll be watching here for suggested solutions however.
posted by Kickstart70 at 4:37 PM on July 23, 2009

I'm a firm believer in "going opposite." That is, take stock of the things you do right now and then very deliberately do something else.

* Hate the outdoors? Take a rock climbing class.
* Don't know how to cook? Take a cooking class.
* Unathletic? Rowing team.
* Can't dance? Swing lessons.
* You like comic books? Become a raving Chicago Bears fan.

Comfort zones suck.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 5:38 PM on July 23, 2009

A few years ago, some old friends of mine who are journalists came up with an idea. They were sick of only writing to deadlines, and wanted to create an event that would encourage them to write more personal essays. We got together, and each person brought something that they had done. Some people read short essays, other people played songs, and a few folks even showed a short video they had produced. We didn't want it to be a scary or overly serious atmosphere, so it wasn't a critique--just a showcase. If people wanted comments later, they did that on their own time. Folks brought food and drinks and it turned into a party.

We did it monthly for over a year, and it just snowballed. We rotated hosts and houses. People would bring friends that other people didn't know to lurk or participate, and it turned out to be a great way to quickly break the ice. It was averaging 20-25 people or more.

We ended up moving away, but as far as I know, they're still doing it. The thing that makes it tough to start, however, is that I feel like you need a small core group of folks (4 in our case) that are comfortable enough with each other to take that first leap. Once they set the tone, everyone else followed.

The spoken rules were that you were only allowed one disclaimer before you read/performed (no belittling your own stuff!) and that it isn't a critique. The unspoken rule was that your performance should only last as long as 2 hours divided by the number of people present. Generally, 5-7 minutes tops (Yeah, I'm talking to you, dr. boludo).
posted by umbรบ at 7:36 PM on July 23, 2009 [1 favorite]

Once I moved to Chicago, I met friends through livejournal, Metafilter (hi, desjardins!) and from going back to school. God love the internet.

What about taking classes at the Old Town School? My friends who take classes loooove going there.
posted by sugarfish at 8:49 PM on July 23, 2009

My husband and I talk a lot about this same thing. Although being married helps, we still feel lonely sometimes. In college days and for a few years after life was an endless stream of friends, new friends and fun times. But people move away, they get married, they have kids or they get mad about the person their friend married and had kids with.

My observation is that people just get different as they get older. They become a more intense version of the person they always were. They don't always stay friend material. As an "adult" in the work world, it's hard to make new friends. It can be done but it's just not as easy. Plus, as kids you needed each other. Everyday was a crisis or a new exciting event, you pulled together to get through it and it bonded you. But as you get older you don't need others as much.

I remember once a good friend was describing losing a friend of hers. I said "What happened?" and she said "I guess she just didn't need me anymore." That made me sad and I realized there's a lot of truth to it. My friend wasn't angry though and I think that's right. Being a friend is just as much about letting go. You accept that people will flow in and out of your life as they need you or don't. A few will always be around.

I don't really have any suggestions that haven't already been listed. Just wanted to sympathize and nth that you aren't alone. And to say that not long we saw "I Love You Man" and it struck a chord with both of us because it's a great look at male friendships. It might cheer you up a little and make you laugh.
posted by i_love_squirrels at 2:36 AM on July 24, 2009 [1 favorite]

A pleasant surprise for me in making friends has been my success with Facebook. At first it seemed so meaningless as I added people to my friend list that were mere acquaintances, friend of friends or people I knew years ago that I never thought I'd see again. But what has been nice for me is that through Facebook activity, I can see that I had more in common with some of these people than I thought, and because of that we have been able to develop a friendship that maybe we would have been too shy or dismissive of in "real life." It has allowed me to reconnect or form new kinds of connections with people I never expected to have a solid adult friendship with.

Other than that, I have been fortunate in that I have been able to make good friends through work. I'm still close friends with people from places I worked at years ago. My spouse also came with built-in friends that I was able to adopt over time. Common interests, meetups, and hobbies are great ways, as others have mentioned, of bringing people together. The Internet makes finding these people even easier.

People do come and go, though, and it's always just been a part of life. I suspect that will slowly change, however, as the Internet transforms our social lives into social networks and we all become more interconnected. Who knows? In ten years, you might need a whole different strategy to find new friends. We'll see.
posted by bristolcat at 8:01 AM on July 24, 2009 [1 favorite]

I know to some extent where you're coming from, and one thing that has helped me is being intentional about getting to know others. I often felt that I could be a great friend to someone else if I could get to the point where I was out of my self-created shell. Unfortunately, I was making the mistake of waiting until someone else made me feel comfortable enough to come out of that shell. Once I realized that I needed to take that first step by introducing myself to others and taking an interested in their lives, I was able to develop deeper friendships.

Try being intentional about meeting other people and getting to know them. Put yourself out there. As someone who is definitely an introvert, I know that can be difficult...very difficult. But keep in mind that others who you'd probably get along with may very well be introverts as well. Someone has to take the first step.
posted by sciencemandan at 1:19 PM on July 24, 2009

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