how to form a group of girlfriends at age 30?
January 14, 2012 7:49 PM   Subscribe

How can I form a group of close, lifelong girlfriends when I'm almost 30?

I'm pretty shy, but I love having close friends. I've gotten to a point where I have 5 or 6 close girlfriends, but they are dispersed around the world and most don't know each other. Worse, only two of them are in the state where I live now. One will be moving to Canada in April and the other is a busy new mom. I have a boyfriend I've been with for 7 months and a busy social calendar, but I really long for a group of close, lifelong girlfriends. I'm talking about the kind of girls who know each other inside out, will be at the hospital as soon as one of us has a baby, will throw wedding showers for each other, will plan girls nights weekly and go on vacation together once a year. I envy women with a big groups of girlfriends who have all known each other since high school or college and have been through everything together. Even though I have an active social life, I feel isolated. Is it possible to find a support system like this when I'm almost 30? How can I go about making friends like this? I find it's easy to make a new friend here and there or, conversely, to be part of a superficial social group. But I can't figure out how to form a tight-knit group of girlfriends at my age.
I know part of the problem is my shyness, but I really don't know where to even start. It takes me longer to make friends, but once a friendship forms I'm pretty loyal and a good friend. Does anyone have any strategies?
posted by sunrisecoffee to Human Relations (22 answers total) 68 users marked this as a favorite
Maybe look into volunteering somewhere that you may find like-minded women. It's hard to keep a solid group of women in their prime childbearing/marrying years together for casual social reasons (I know because I now blow off many social gatherings with my girlfriends cause, at 30, I'd rather be alone with my boyfriend or watching Downton Abbey, the gym, etc.) but if you can come together for something greater than yourselves, you have better odds of keeping everyone in contact for longer.

Most of my friends are self-employed or have flexible schedules. So although I tend to avoid going out for brunch or whatever-- barring holiday stuff-- with them almost out of hand these days, if I invite them to come work at the food pantry at my church, they do it. And then we get a piece of cake afterward. So that's what works for me.

So yeah, soup kitchen, religious organization, museum docent, art awareness, equine therapy, whatever your personal interests may be.

Also, dance classes. I've never had any luck meeting friends at the gym, but adult dance classes are full of cool women. Improv classes are great for that, too.
posted by devymetal at 8:06 PM on January 14, 2012

I'm not sure what your living situation is, but have you considered either taking a roommate (one who you are interested in being friends with) or moving into a shared living situation? Strong friendships are often formed through simple proximity, as long as there is no clear personality clash. This won't work for everyone, but it's an option to consider.
posted by samthemander at 8:32 PM on January 14, 2012

My experience is that one is often losing old friends to distance and differences in life direction and, at the same tine, one is also gaining new friends who appear and have compatible interests. People are so mobile now that a group of the same friends who are close by all of one's life is a luxury reserved mainly for those few groups of friends who live in the same place all their lives.

For most of us, the trick is to know and find the kind of people you want in your life and, whenever they appear on your horizon, gradually invite them into your life. Some of them will turn into close friends, almost, one might say, an intentional family, as loved friends can be. People grow apart, move away, age, die, but there are always new people who can become close.

Once, prompted by a desire similar to yours, I organized a group of a dozen or so women with common interests and we kept up weekly meetings for at least ten years and most of us became good friends and have remained so for twenty-five years. We were a support group, a reading group, an eating club and an investment group and I can't remember what all we did; we shared a lot of ourselves with one another, through job changes, fears and triumphs, marriages and break-ups, new houses and the birth of children and much more. We stay in touch today. We are not alike but we have similar world views and we especially value our connection with each other as women. Until I made that effort, I had not had a good group of women friends. It was likely the best pro-active move I ever made.
posted by Anitanola at 8:43 PM on January 14, 2012 [19 favorites]

"I envy women with a big groups of girlfriends who have all known each other since high school or college and have been through everything together."

Mostly people who have this, who live in close geographic proximity as you desire, never left their hometowns and their big group of friends is also people who never left their hometown. I've got nothing against my hometown, and I'm still friends with folks from my childhood, but realize that having such a social life, that revolves exclusively around the same people you've known since you were 16, is usually pretty limited and limiting.

"Is it possible to find a support system like this when I'm almost 30? How can I go about making friends like this?"

On the contrary, I think most adults who have close-knit groups of friends find them in their adulthood. (In fact, I rather suspect most of us who tend to "group up" go through several "waves" of close-knit groups in different life-stages.) Many people find their adult group of friends through their child's schooling, or through work, or through church, or through shared interests. Me, I got mine in a book club. We do all these things: "I'm talking about the kind of girls who know each other inside out, will be at the hospital as soon as one of us has a baby, will throw wedding showers for each other," -- although weekly girls' nights would be more than most of us could manage because of other life obligations, and in my group vacations are family-oriented. We make sure to get together once a month for book club, which we all try to block out on our calendars as inviolate, and usually someone invites everyone to an outing or gathering (pedicures, furniture shopping, lunch out, drinks at someone's house, whatever) halfway through the month when we all miss each other, although usually that's just a part of the group who can manage to go. We do the sorts of things you want -- 4 of 7 of them visited me in the hospital with my most recent baby this summer, the others came by once I was home; just in 2011 we had and attended for each other a surprise graduation party, a baptism, four kiddie milestone birthdays, a 20th wedding anniversary, three baby showers, one wedding shower, one wedding (I officiated!) ... I'm sure there's more but that's what I can think of.

It was really a matter of repeatedly putting myself out there when I moved to a new place and trying lots and lots of things ... it probably took about four years before I stumbled into this then-forming book club, and it took the book club a couple of years to settle into its current membership and for the relationships to form and grow. So it wasn't quick, but I met a lot of other neat people along the way of searching for my peeps.

One thing is that while we all love to read and we all love each other, we are different in a lot of ways too, and being close-knit means being respectful of those differences. Like, we mostly don't discuss politics or religion because there are some strenuously divergent opinions (but I had three atheists at my son's baptism! Because they love me!). So don't be afraid to make friends with folks with whom you only have a few things in common; I think sometimes people limit themselves by saying, "Oh, I wouldn't like hanging out with [opposite political party]" or whatever.

On preview, you should do Anitanola's last paragraph. :)

I have book club tomorrow, I'll have to remember to comment on their awesomeness.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 8:49 PM on January 14, 2012 [8 favorites]

It's hard to engineer something like this. You made your childhood friends through school and neighbors.

Your best bet is to join an organization you admire and want to stick with. Something that meets frequently to do things together. Then cultivate friends in that group.
posted by pracowity at 11:41 PM on January 14, 2012 [2 favorites]

To misquote, it's like growing a tree, the best time was to start was 20 or so years ago, the next best time is now. Like dating, start by finding people you have interests in common with, make friends selectively there.
posted by epo at 2:33 AM on January 15, 2012 [6 favorites]

I've met some really wonderful friends through work, including some who are squarely in the lifelong friends category (attended my very small wedding, etc.) If your career path allows it, maybe trying to find a work environment that breeds really close relationships? Unfortunate flipside to that is that most of those types of workplaces are inherently stressful.
posted by charmcityblues at 4:23 AM on January 15, 2012

I don't agree that the best time to start is long past -- friendships I made when I was younger tended to have more to do with proximity; now that I'm almost 30 & know myself better, I do a better job of selecting who I want to be in my life.

While joining clubs, classes, etc., is fun, I like to make up my own club and invite people to join. If you like watching movies, have a Cinema Club. Invite women you think you want to be friends with -- make it silly -- go watch a movie and then have a drink afterward. I'm a member of a Ladies Book Club, and just the other day some friends and I decided to form a Walking-and-Talking Club. (See? Anything can be a club.) Cooking club! Knitting club! Karate club! Make it sound goofy and fun and start gathering people together. Everyone likes being asked to join a club; I think it's a feeling leftover from middle school.
posted by staboo at 5:39 AM on January 15, 2012 [3 favorites]

I don't have any proof that this is an effective manual for what you want to do, but you may find this book interesting:
"MWF Seeking BFF: My Yearlong Search for a New Best Friend"

posted by Tandem Affinity at 5:58 AM on January 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

You should probably have babies first. Children necessarily bring women together, and it's easier to find like-minded souls. :-)
posted by low_horrible_immoral at 6:04 AM on January 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

'I find it's easy to make a new friend here and there or, conversely, to be part of a superficial social group. But I can't figure out how to form a tight-knit group of girlfriends at my age.'

You are good at the hardest part! Now, look at the new friends and think about what they have in common. Select a group of five that you feel would be compatible and invite them for a girls' night out, a tea party, a paint your own pottery, whatever interests you. If they mesh and every one has a good time, talk about doing it again and then do it. Commit yourself to at least 2 social events a week (minimum). Meet women for lunch, brunch, coffee, shopping, whatever. You have to court lifelong friends. It takes time.
posted by myselfasme at 6:41 AM on January 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

Building on low_horrible_immoral's reply, if you think you're going to be starting a family soon(-ish), then maybe just sit tight for a little while and wait for the inevitable flood of new women to enter your life: other moms! I've made more really good friends in the years since my kid was born than I ever did before then. And the best part is they come in large numbers, so you can easily create a group if you want to.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 6:46 AM on January 15, 2012

But, even if you do have a baby, you have to be pro-active! You have to find the mom's groups and become a regular! I've met some wonderful women since the birth of my baby but they aren't quite yet the confidants I've been looking for. I met them through a pre-natal yoga class that then had a mama/baby yoga class.
posted by amanda at 8:48 AM on January 15, 2012

Well, ime, the thing with meeting other moms is not just that you're in close proximity to them like in a class, but that once your babies get a little older and start going to preschool/regular school, you have an infinite number of opportunities to spend A LOT of time together, like volunteering at school, being Scout leaders, team moms, class moms, youth group leaders, PTA/O volunteers, etc., etc.

Which leads back to the idea of going out and finding a volunteer activity that you like and can afford to spend a lot of time on (regardless of your baby-producing status). It can just be a lot easier to find a tribe/girlfriends when you all have something in common already (kids of the same approximate age and an interest in helping out).
posted by SuperSquirrel at 9:27 AM on January 15, 2012

Also keep in mind different types of volunteering lead to bonding or not-bonding -- the kind of volunteering where you spend all day sitting in a meeting of the organization's board offers hardly any; the kind where you interface with the public (running a booth at a charity event, say) or move around a lot (fixing up an old house) offers some; the kind where you do a repetitive task for hours (folding clothes or stuffing envelopes) offers TONS, especially if you bring a bottle of wine or two. The best kind of volunteering for bonding is the kind where you stay still and do something repetitive for a long time, where your hands and eyes are busy so your mouth and ears want to chat. A lot of times the most interesting, rewarding, or high-level volunteer work isn't where you make your friends. (My husband does a volunteer thing where they clear a nature preserve of invasive species ... when they're doing that, they're all focused on hunting and finding and working, and they're spread out around the area. It's when they all hike in and out of the preserve that they socialize and bond.)

Anyway, stuffing envelopes and folding stuff for rummage sales is where it's at. Followed by working concessions stands that have slow periods. :)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 10:07 AM on January 15, 2012 [2 favorites]

I don't have an answer so much as an anecdote.

I'm 36 and I recently (within the past four years) found myself a group of friends like this. I don't know if we'll be friends for life. You really can't project that kind of thing.

There are about 5 of us in the core group, and another 3 or 4 who drop in occasionally. I can see the number expanding or decreasing over time with the core group still mostly intact.

About four years ago, we started getting together on Wednesday nights to watch Buffy the Vampire Slayer on DVD. We made it through the whole series and then moved on to movies and other TV shows. Right now we're watching Game of Thrones, before that we watched the first two seasons of Mad Men. We get together every week and really it doesn't matter what we watch. There's usually some sort of potluck vibe to the evening, sometimes planned ahead of time sometimes completely random based on whatever kind of yummy leftovers somebody shows up with.

We do holiday parties together now and occasional naked lady parties.

It's really nice to have a group of supportive friends who are all friends with each other too. We've really grown to know and care for each other over the last couple of years. But I had no way of knowing we'd become friends like this or that we'd still be getting together weekly after four years. It grew organically into this special thing.
posted by dchrssyr at 10:11 AM on January 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

It seems to me that there are two approaches to this: get yourself adopted into an existing group of awesome women, or form your own group. You're good at meeting new people, which tends to be the hard part for everyone I've ever known (myself included!), so all you have to do is figure out who you'd like to be closer with.

If you know an awesome lady who talks about awesome friends that she has, invite her to hang out. Mention that your close girlfriends have all moved away, and how nice it is to hang out with another woman. She'll probably start inviting you to hang out when she does stuff with her other women friends.

The way that might be easier, though it requires a bit more proactive work on your part compared to the previous approach, is to think of all the interesting-seeming women you've met and liked, and invite them together for something. "Interesting Women Potluck" or "dinner at this new restaurant I've been meaning to check out" or "sledding for grown-ups with cocoa at my place afterward" or "backyard bonfire" or "Chick Flicks and Mud Masks in the Living Room" or "Wednesday Night Happy Hour" or whatever strikes your fancy. See who seems to get along, and keep planning get-togethers. This gets even easier if you find people with a shared interest that can turn into a regularly-scheduled gathering, like watching X show together each week, or meeting for a monthly book club, but it'll still work even if you just invite people for random events on a regular basis.
posted by vytae at 11:59 AM on January 15, 2012 [3 favorites]

Don't rule out staying close to your friends who have moved. They aren't the friends to get together with every week, but they might just be the ones who have been there for you, who will come to hospital for the birth of your baby, etc. My best friend moved across the country and we have actually gotten closer, because before we got together every few weeks, but now we have a standing phone date every week (and get together when she visits her parents or I visit my grandparents, being close enough to make it feasible). She was at the hospital when my daughter was born and remains an important part of my life. So, absolutely work on some of the things other people have suggested, just, also have a phone date with the closest (emotionally) of the distant (geographically) friends. Watch the same movies or TV as each other and discuss it, recommend books to each other and talk about them.
posted by Margalo Epps at 12:41 PM on January 15, 2012

I really long for a group of close, lifelong girlfriends. I'm talking about the kind of girls who know each other inside out, will be at the hospital as soon as one of us has a baby, will throw wedding showers for each other, will plan girls nights weekly and go on vacation together once a year.

People write books about groups of women like this - Fried Green Tomatoes, The YaYa sisterhood - because it is literally novel. It is, for most of us, a fiction. I am not at all sure this is an attainable goal these days, where people are so often relocating and the division between domesticity and mothering and the outside world is so sharp.

Having hit nearly 40 with no circle of girlfriends, I started doing what vytae suggests. I picked 6 women and invited them to a very low key dinner - we have a wine bar/cafe thing that is BYOB on Thursdays - about once a month. They mostly didn't know each other before; a few of them are friends now, and a couple have rotated out so someone just invites someone new when that happens.
posted by DarlingBri at 12:42 PM on January 15, 2012 [2 favorites]

This sounds like a rather mild case of Geek Social Fallacy #4.*
Geek Social Fallacy #4: Friendship Is Transitive

Every carrier of GSF4 has, at some point, said: "Wouldn't it be great to get all my groups of friends into one place for one big happy party?!"

If you groaned at that last paragraph, you may be a recovering GSF4 carrier.

GSF4 is the belief that any two of your friends ought to be friends with each other, and if they're not, something is Very Wrong....
You've got five or six really close friends. That's awesome. The fact that they aren't all totally best friends with each other too doesn't diminish the awesomeness of your individual friendship with each one of them.

*Not just for geeks! These ideas are pretty pervasive all over American culture. Geek culture maybe takes them to extremes, but really, they're just "Social fallacies we all picked up sometime in middle school and have been trying to work past ever since." But that name is less catchy.
posted by nebulawindphone at 4:35 PM on January 15, 2012

My close group of friends started when one said, "You've never read The Chronicles of Narnia?!" They started getting together every Monday to eat dinner and read aloud. That event stopped six years later. Now we have dinner every Monday. It's not women-only, by any means, but we've shared weddings and babies and deaths and dinners and and and. We find each other jobs and houses and have clothing swaps. We have Thanksgiving together. I think the original group met volunteering at a computer recycling center.

I think the idea of hosting a regular event is a good one -- ask someone you'd like to get to know better, and have them bring a friend. See where it goes. Good luck!
posted by linettasky at 5:06 PM on January 15, 2012 [5 favorites]

I'm a guy, but I've moved between cities a few times, and had the similar issue after each move (or each friend moving away!)

Make sure that you're doing things that enable you to meet new people. Earlier in life, you're forced into things like this; later in life, it's easy to choose paths that simply don't involve meeting new folks. If you're not doing something at least once a week where you run into people, then you're shorting yourself here. Whether it's a weekly class (woodworking, glassblowing, Spanish) or a social activity (sewing group, happy hour, church social) or an athletic event (volleyball, bouldering, bicycle or jogging meet-up)... there's tons of stuff for this in any city.

When you meet people who you like, spend some time with them once or twice a month, or more if that's fun and convenient for both of ya. Going a bit out of your way helps a lot here; don't go silly-far out of your way, but a little bit of effort without desperation, if that makes sense.

Repeat over a few years, at least two, but not more than four or five. Every time I've moved, it's taken two years to build solid friends I can call in a pinch, and for the three places I've been for four years, it's taken about that long to build friends I can call in *any* pinch.

That said, there's no shortcut to do it faster that I've ever found.
posted by talldean at 5:39 PM on January 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

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