How do you keep your friends?
February 8, 2005 5:55 AM   Subscribe

How do you keep your friends? [more inside]

I'm almost 30, and I've got maybe a handful of friends, scattered across the country and overseas. I have maybe one close friend in the city I live in, and a few that are a little more distant (emotionally, rather than distance-wise). Over time, I've made lots of friends, depending on where I was, but over time we've lost touch for various reasons and I'm just kind of blown away by the fact that I'm this age and can count the number of people who I consider close on one hand. Is this normal? Is there any way to keep close with people that don't live near you?
posted by Big Fat Tycoon to Human Relations (30 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
normal for me.
posted by andrew cooke at 6:02 AM on February 8, 2005

You might find that you have better luck actually keeping reasonably close with those far away. My parents have often noted that the only college friends they keep close with are some that lived in California, and so we made a habit of visiting them when on vacation and ties got renewed. Meanwhile, they just figured people who lived 20 minutes to an hour and a half away were people they'd visit sometime or another... 20 years pass...

Rings somewhat true for me, too. Anyone who drops out of my life without dropping out of the state rarely stays a friend.
posted by weston at 6:11 AM on February 8, 2005

A lot of my friends have seemed to come in groups (Uni friends, friends from a particular job in my past, etc.) and I find it easier to keep in touch with them than individual friends: Firstly because you can get them all together at once every now and again and thus create a 'reason' for meeting up again; Secondly because the ones you know best also keep you up to date with what's going on for some of those you are less close to. It only takes a quick drink with one of them to feel like you've still got 10 friends out there who you can call on and know that they're still up to date with you too.

With individual friends all the onus is on you to make contact each time, so you can lose track of each others' lives much quicker if you let it slide.

One thing I've noticed as I get older is that I feel like I'm making fewer new friendships that will stand the test of time. With friends I grew up with from infancy, I know I can lose touch for a couple of years, then practically turn up on their doorstep for a holiday and pick right up again. I can't help thinking that in a few decades' time, that won't be the case for most people I am meeting now.

Maybe you move more towards quality than quantity as you get older.
posted by penguin pie at 6:37 AM on February 8, 2005

Very few of those old friends whom I have looked up worked out. Kinda like sex with old girlfriends.

Probably something to do with the time-space continuum.
posted by mischief at 6:39 AM on February 8, 2005

normal for me as well ...

The way I stay close with those that don't live near me is the obvious way, email, phone, IM, and web pages (photos and stuff). It seems to work for me ... YMMV
posted by forforf at 6:42 AM on February 8, 2005

Normal for me too. Sad ain't it? I am really, really bad at staying in touch as well.
posted by xammerboy at 7:15 AM on February 8, 2005

I noticed this happening in my 30s as well. Maybe it's just a natural part of the transition out of the 20s. Work on cultivating the few that you feel really close to.
posted by matildaben at 7:20 AM on February 8, 2005

If you want to let your far-off friends know they matter to you, go visit them in person every now and again. In my experience, a phone call seems to say "I'm bored -- talk to me," but a visit in person says "No, I really do want to stay in touch."

Then again, most of my friends have settled in pretty boring places. Maybe if you live in NYC or San Francisco, a visit in person just says "I'm too cheap to pay for a hotel room."
posted by nebulawindphone at 7:24 AM on February 8, 2005

I have a similar experience, Tycoon. And there are times where I feel frustrated and disappointed by it. But it seems to me that this is normal for adults. When I think back, my parents only had a couple of friends that they saw regularly and whom were fairly constant though my growing up.

I think part of it is that its tough to find time for a lot of other people once you have a job, a home, and those responsibilities. You only have so much time and energy. And if you have kids - ! - these pressures increase exponentially.

Thinking about this recently convinced me that it was time to let go of those 'friends' that I never really liked that I just kinda got stuck with. I realized I don't want to spend my time with people I didn't value. So I've re-concentrated my limited 'spare time' on the people that are most important to me.
posted by raedyn at 7:26 AM on February 8, 2005

I recall my parents, and maybe the parents of some of my friends, transitioning their social life sometime in their 30s. When I was young, my parents were late-20s. They would often go out with friends their age or go visit friends in nearby towns, sometimes taking us along. When they got older this was replaced with more structured social activities, like bridge club, book clubs, etc. These seemed satisfying to them and to some extent I can see why. If you like some of the people in your club, then it fights the tendency that many people have to not hang out with their friends enough. If your club meets every thursday night at someone's house, then you will regularly see most of those folks. If you don't like them...

I'm kind of making this transition myself. I still have a few close friends in town but that's about it. I've recently started a few (more) hobbies and these ones tend to be a bit more social, so I have joined a club or two and hang out with some of these guys. Most of them are waaaaay older than me and so I don't know that I'll fit in but we'll see.
posted by RustyBrooks at 7:41 AM on February 8, 2005

Oh, and actually, I have a large cast of people that I was once great face-to-face friends with, whom I have not seen for 3-10 years, but that I keep in close contact with via the internet. I don't know what that's worth (yet). I do occaisonally meet up with these people and it's often fun. It's about the only way that I would keep in weekly contact with most of these people. They are in far flung corners of the world, I Don't Do Phones, and I have little time to travel.

Almost all of my friends are people I met in college, people my wife met in college, or spouses, girlfriends, boyfriends of the same. Something about that period of your life and others makes it easier to make friends, I often worry about what I'd do to make friends without such structures.
posted by RustyBrooks at 7:44 AM on February 8, 2005

I've always thought that being single was the easiest way to make friends. There's only one relationship to worry about. Add SOs to both sides of the equations, and now there's 4 relationships that all have to go well for things to continue nicely.

Add a kid on each side, now you've got 9. 2 kids = 16 relationships that need to work out well enough for everyone to get along.

Add to this the pressures of time job, house maintenance, kids, etc. It gets tought to manage and make time for people. Just like Raedyn said.
posted by Irontom at 7:47 AM on February 8, 2005

I have wondered if this isn't mostly an American thing. When I lived abroad maintaining friends wasn't nearly this difficult, and it didn't seem that my foreign friends had exactly this problem. My opinion is that American culture is not very conducive to maintaining relationships with people outside the nuclear family -- we have almost no pub or cafe culture, there's no public squares where families hang out, there's very little hanging out in general. "Hanging out" is something you do in your teens and twenties, and that's when you have most of your friendships.

Does anyone from outside America think that this is so? I have been strongly considering a move back outside the country for just this reason -- America seems incredibly isolating, even more than it used to.

But then again, maybe the reason I have this problem is because I keep leaving the stupid country.
posted by jennyjenny at 8:15 AM on February 8, 2005 [2 favorites]

To offer you a somewhat younger perspective, I left my closest group of friends when I was 13 to go to a boarding school 2 hours away. We kept in touch through occasional phone calls and seeing each other when I would visit on breaks. I spent four years at my boarding school(The McCallie School for anyone curious) and made several close friends there and at it's sister school. After graduating, I'm now going to college a good 8 hours away from my high school and younger friends there, and my friends of the same age are scattered across the country.

Over christmas break I had the opportunity to see many of them again, and we all had a lot to talk about still. I think the key to keeping friends is making whatever time you can spend together true quality time. Keeping in touch helps(I'm making it a goal of mine to write more regularly to some of my more distant friends), but it's interaction that makes most people friends in the first place, so it makes sense that interaction will keep you friends.

It's still possible to stay close with people who you can't physically get to because of distance or whatever other reason. The key then is to find something you can work on or do together. I'm closest with several of my online friends when we're all actively working on a group project involving a hobby we share, and I stay close with some of my friends because we all blog on the same service regularly.

I hope that gives you some ideas, if you want more details about any of the above just e-mail me.
posted by ElfWord at 9:08 AM on February 8, 2005

Usually in a cage or on ice, depending on their resiliance...
otherwise, they get away.
posted by hellbient at 9:09 AM on February 8, 2005

I have been strongly considering a move back outside the country for just this reason -- America seems incredibly isolating, even more than it used to.

Now more than ever. Cafe and pub culture in America has been replaced by television. Here all but the adultescents are home by 6 or 7 in the evening and sitting in front of the tube. We are a nation of Liebniz's windowless monads. In the case of the young, windowless gonads.
posted by y2karl at 9:10 AM on February 8, 2005 [1 favorite]

I think part of it is also making new friends, something that gets harder as you get older. I consider myself a very social person, and live in New York, yet I hardly meet anyone nowadays. Or at least, no one I end up hanging out with (this is also very much a New York thing). I'd say in your 30s, people become more focused with their interests, be it their kid or their music, so it's harder to come across people with those interests. Likewise, the friends you have that don't go your way tend to drop off.
posted by hellbient at 9:23 AM on February 8, 2005

I am trying hard to stay in touch with my friends, but their lives and preferences seem to keep things limited. 90% of my friends will only go out on a Saturday night. Even if they are childless, get home from work at 5:30 and don't go to bed till 10:30 and don't have a gym schedule, they will still not even consider meeting up on a Thursday. With all that competition for Saturdays (which are also needed for travel, holidays, parties, big home projects), it gets hard to connect with people in person for the length of time that is necessary for the relationship to grow.
posted by xo at 9:49 AM on February 8, 2005

It isn't just television that isolates Americans from each other. There also seems to be more moving around than in the past. They say that the average person will hold 6 or 7 (or more) jobs in their career, and often that involves a move to another city. When you get to that other city, you are very anonymous.

I think also that Americans are the people who weren't content with the status quo, so they came across the Atlantic. Then they weren't content with the status quo, so they moved to the frontier. Then they weren't satisfied with the status quo, so they moved west... etc. See the pattern? Americans are those who couldn't fit in and kept having to move to get away from things. (Incidentally, I think the Eagles song The Last Resort captures this trend perfectly.)
posted by Doohickie at 9:58 AM on February 8, 2005

I find that the older I get the lower my position on the priority list of my friends and family. They're married and having babies, and they work, so they don't have much time for me. I don't really blame them, but it does suck when I'm single and they're my only emotional life. What I end up doing is concentrating on those who seem the most committed to finding time for me and relying on email to keep in touch. The great thing about email is it's so self-paced that you don't feel like you're being a nuisance - they'll answer as they have the time and inclination. One of my closest friends is someone I only see two or three times a year, but we know every detail about each other's lives because we keep up an exhaustive email correspondence.

I also go out as often as I can and try to stay open to meeting new friends. It's amazing how often I find myself becoming friends with the most unlikely people after making a slight effort to be friendly.
posted by orange swan at 10:54 AM on February 8, 2005

I have wondered if this isn't mostly an American thing.
jennyjenny at 8:15 AM PST on February 8

It's not just an American thing. I can only speak for myself, but I've noticed the same thing here in Finland too. But we have never had a pub or cafe culture. It's starting to appear in big cities, but it's nothing compared to more southern parts of the continent. The climate here isn't really very conductive for that. But we do visit each other in our homes quite actively.

I've found that it's easy to have a lot of friends when you are in school or university. Then everybody graduates and goes on to have a life that's completely separate from your every day life. It takes more of an effort to keep your friends at that point. And sometimes you notice that either you or your friends are not really willing to make that effort.

I think that mostly it is a matter of effort. You keep the friendships you are willing to work for. I lost some friends when I was very ill for a long time and didn't have the energy to keep in contact with all my friends. I also found that apparently I had been the one mostly carrying those friendships and when I couldn't anymore, the whole thing faded. But the friends that stayed are also the ones that are also willing to work to keep in touch with me, so it wasn't an entirely bad experience. I feel that those friendships are now stronger than before.

I have made a deal with my two best friends from university: we have agreed to meet at least a couple of times a year face to face and have a nice weekend together (we don't live in same city). Also, two of us are godmothers to a third friend's son, so that makes us almost like relatives and gives us an extra reason to keep in constant touch. That's very nice. I'm also godmother to a school friend's daughter so maybe that is my method for keeping my friends, or at least the ones with children. (spellcheck not working, apologies for any/many mistakes)
posted by severiina at 12:21 PM on February 8, 2005

A friend is another self...
When you are in school, you share the ups and downs of the other students. You are all in the same boat and in almost daily contact. Then after graduation the diaspora: some marry, some don't, some move away, some stay, some are wildly successful, some aren't. The social scene is altered so that the old familiarity fades, even disappears.

How to make new friends? Depending on work mates can become awkward. For someone past school age, joining a club of some kind is a possible answer. Like MetaFilter, only real... There are professional groups, church groups, service groups like Elks, Lions, Rotary, AAUW, Big Sister/Brother. I attended a meeting last night that celebrated the group's 50th year of existence. Past presidents who were able to attend agreed that they were all reluctant to take on the presidency, but found it an experience they are now grateful for. In other words, in service, you may find fulfillment and deep and lasting friendships.
posted by Cranberry at 1:03 PM on February 8, 2005

Maybe it's just a natural part of the transition out of the 20s.

No, I think it's a part of the modern age - moving around is super easy now; you can apply for jobs ahead of time in another city or country; you can hear about 'great' things going on elsewhere, you can visit other places fairly cheaply and quickly, so we just all move around a lot more. And when the group is broken up, it is harder to maintain contact with the few individuals who are still around - if one 'central' figure moves to another city, you might sort of lose touch with a whole group.

Also, a lot of people don't have interests and careers that are fully intertwined. If you work in something you love, you will probably befriend many of those who due to similar interests work with you. If your job is just a way to pay the bills, you'll often be fairly uninterested (in my experience) in spending all that much time with coworkers.

setting up regular meetings at your place, if you have the space, can be a good way to form stronger bonds - ie, once a week is reading group, or poker night, or even watch a movie/good tv show together night... it can be hard to keep those things up, but when you do, it can be a lot of fun.

But yeah, you're not weird. Remember that book "Bowling Alone"?
posted by mdn at 1:41 PM on February 8, 2005

I'm terrible at keeping in touch with people, and so are most of my friends. Since everyone moves around so much, this means a lot of friends have fallen by the wayside. The ones I've kept are those I have a deep enough connection to that it really doesn't matter how long it's been since we talked.

For example, one of my closest friends lives on another continent. We never call or IM, rarely email, and see each other once a year if we're lucky, but when we do meet it's like I saw him yesterday. To have one friend like that is worth more to me than six good friends in my town.
posted by cali at 1:55 PM on February 8, 2005

When I moved from California to Montana in 1981 (at the start of high school), I tried to keep in touch with my childhood friends. Only one lasted for a year or two, and I began to realize that I was the only one making the effort to keep in touch. In retrospect our fading friendship was more subject to our differing, maturing personalities than to the distances involved. It was only natural to grow apart.

Like you, today my best friend that I've known for over 20 years lives down the street from me, I have a few friends here I think highly of and enjoy spending time with, and many acquaintences - some "friends of friends" and some met through work.

But I also have many friends from college scattered about the country. I can go for months without contact with this group, but when either of us call, we pick right back up again where we left off. I don't know if that's still true friendship or just prolonging the inevitable break, but I attribute this staying power over distances to the fact that these friendships were established (or in one case, renewed) in adulthood.

Now don't even get me started on how, as a 37YO single guy, my friends start ignoring me after they get married and start popping out kids.
posted by friarjohn at 4:03 PM on February 8, 2005

There was an excellent article about the difficulty people often have making friends as adults in the Chicago Tribune a year or so ago, and the woman who wrote it turned it into a book. It is directed at older women, but I think it's applicable for anyone.

However, as a working mom, I have to say -- LiveJournal has saved my life. I can keep up with my friends(list) whenever I have ten minutes, instead of arranging babysitting or doing the complicated time-tradeoff with my husband (parenting: the zero-sum game). I'm closer with those folks than I am with friends from college.
posted by esperluette at 4:54 PM on February 8, 2005

Moving away from your friends can serve to make you aware of how little you had in common with them besides geographic proximity. This is normal. There are only a couple of people I still stay in touch with from my ten years in Detroit -- and one of those moved out here to Seattle before I did.
posted by kindall at 9:06 PM on February 8, 2005 [1 favorite]

I feel guilty when I lose touch with a friend. I think it's my fault. This thread made me feel better about losing friends.
posted by recurve at 9:27 PM on February 8, 2005

I have been grappling with this issue. In trying to come to terms with the recent loss of my "best friend" (of 25 years), I started to face up to how many others I had allowed to fall by the wayside, mainly through laziness. (It didn't help that I spent most of my adult life moving back and forth between the States and Germany, as well as coast to coast within the States. Meanwhile, my tight group of college friends, for instance, were busy moving together to one U.S. city, then later packing up and moving together to yet another. And then, during the extended period during which Best Friend and I were becoming estranged, I moved 2,000 miles across country one last time (to reunite with a childhood sweetheart) and settled into a place where I knew nobody. I've been here for 2 1/2 years now and am still trying to figure out how to make friends locally.)

As to making friends as an adult who's no longer in school, I agree that so-called affinity groups are probably one's best bet. I work out of my home, so even the chance office friend is not in the cards for me. I am thinking: book group, yoga class, volunteer work, some sort of continuing ed course.

As for friends of the past and keeping up with them, I agree with kindall that moving away reveals who your "situational friends" were and who the people you share something with on a deeper level. It occurred to me recently that I feel closer to a handful of ex-boyfriends than I do to the few female friends I'm still in touch with. It seems we women are still incommunicado through a brand of effort approximating nicety, protocol, obligation (one sends Christmas cards, one makes sure to reach out at least once a year, etc.); with the boyfriends, it's because we would still get along, have the same ideas or interests or the like. But I'm not really in good contact with the exes because they're ... exes.

If I could go back and do things differently, I would make sure to go to all the weddings I missed. At the time, I was so certain I would be "excused" because I lived abroad - as if missing out on key rites of passage in the lives of friends was something you could get a doctor's note for. I would have made the effort to visit the people I really cared for and felt close to, I would have planned joint vacations and been more vocal in urging them to visit me. I think I actually could have done a lot to keep certain friendships from atrophying.
posted by melixxa600 at 12:32 AM on February 9, 2005

As I got older and my friends moved to other towns and/or got partners and/or children I started doing as my mother has done, I write cards. It's more costly than emails, but I've found that my friends love getting something nice in the snail-mailbox every once in a while - and I know that I do.

Usually I write cards twice a year: when I go on a holiday (or imagine that I'm on a holiday in my own hometown due to financial shortcomings) I spend a day or two writing postcards. And around Christmas, I make tacky and glittery Christmas cards to send.

For me a card has the perfect size, I don't have to write much since the space is limited, but it still says I'm thinking of you. (And if you want to say more you can buy/make a double card).

So, next time I dump into their country/county/town it's much easier to write an email or a text message saying; Hi, I'm here. So do you want a card or do you want to meet me?

And I know that at least some of them write only one postcard when they're on holiday: for me.
posted by mummimamma at 3:04 AM on February 9, 2005

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