How do I build a support system?
February 20, 2013 8:03 AM   Subscribe

Hey mefites, how did you build up your friendship group and support system?

Hey mefi! Basically I got asked out recently and I sort of freaked out, and I realised I felt that way because I don't have a support system here in university!! I have friends and acquaintances that I might go out for coffee with, or people I can chat to about trivial things, but I don't have a go-to support system who I know that in the event I get my heart broken, will stick around to pick up the pieces... And I just realised how terrifying that was! I know how to talk to people and make friends, but I feel like the people who are in my support system I stumbled on during classes in school. I don't know how to build a solid support system in this weird unstructured university setting! Do you remember how you built yours? And how do I feel more emotionally safe in the meantime?
posted by dinosaurprincess to Human Relations (11 answers total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
In university, my strongest friends were my randomly selected roommates (what luck!), a couple classmates, and the people from the clubs I joined. I didn't indiscriminately join clubs; I found ones that attracted my type of people (for me - debate and newspaper/comedy paper/literature).

The bond over years of self-volunteered projects with other members and travel with them (for debates, supplies, club outings) and weekly or bimonthly or monthly meetings has really endured even beyond college.
posted by vegartanipla at 8:13 AM on February 20, 2013 [2 favorites]

Conversely, I've found that it is at times of emotional stress that my support network has revealed itself. Friends you thought were solid as a rock fall away in disinterest, others show their true colours and forge friendships in torrid times that go on to last years.

What I mean to say is, go on and make as many friends as you can, or wish to, and don't worry about who's going to stick around when trouble comes - you won't really know until it does!
posted by greenish at 8:25 AM on February 20, 2013 [11 favorites]

In addition to sharing interests with people, deep and supportive friendship means mutual vulnerability!

It's ok to ask your friends to do things for you, and try to do what you can for your friends. Once I stopped trying to be completely self reliant in all things (ie, yes, I could take my car to the shop and then bus home, taking 40+ minutes, OR I can ask a friend to drive behind me and give me a ride!), it's easier to be vulnerable when you really need to (a break up or other big issue). This requires you to be willing to do small things for friends, when they request or when you offer. If someone isn't willing to do small things, they may still be there when you need big things, but I find this layer of mutually reciprocated small favors is a good indicator of who is reliable in my life.
posted by worstname at 8:32 AM on February 20, 2013 [4 favorites]

One of the best ways to build association is to do stuff with people. Are you in any clubs? Do you exercise with a group? Do you have a semi-regular poker night group? What do you like to do? Find other people who might like that thing and go do it. Did you make friends with someone because you both enjoyed a class together? Grab a couple other people and go to an exhibit or event that's related ot the class topic. Get pizza and discuss why the professor is crazy.

There's also reciprocity. Who around you that you already know might need some support right now? Obviously you don't want to push yourself on anyone, but when the opportunity arises, be there.
posted by Wretch729 at 8:37 AM on February 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

I don't have a go-to support system who I know that in the event I get my heart broken, will stick around to pick up the pieces.

Echoing greenish, sometimes you have to just take a leap of faith that people will lend you an ear when you're having such a hard time you can't keep it to yourself anymore. You're going to have to take the risk of dating and meeting more people and quite possibly having your heart broken without a "support system."

This leap of faith isn't like jumping off a cliff and hoping there's a safety net. It's more like slipping down the stairs and hoping someone catches you-- even if there isn't someone there, the worst that will happen will be that you have a sprained ankle. It happens. That's what life is like for lots of people.

The thing is that you're never going to develop close intimate relationships with friends until you have something to experience with them. And that's not going to happen until you have experiences.

To give you an example, when you were asked out, did you tell one of your friends/acquaintances about having gotten asked out? Because if you're unwilling to be open about those little things, you can't expect to have a "support network" of people you'll go to about the big things.
posted by deanc at 8:40 AM on February 20, 2013 [4 favorites]

Do you remember how you built yours?

One way is just by intuition. The acquantances that I clicked with the best slowly became my support system, naturally over time.

A more direct way is by testing the waters with the more friendly acquantances you have and seeing which ones seem interested in playing a more involved role. For example, you could casually mention to these folks that you have a date, but that you have some worries. The individuals that seem to get more distant and polite at that point are folks who should probably just stay casual friends, but the ones that get more interested and start asking questions or expressing concern are potentially people you could turn to later on if things don't do well. Or at least that's how I think about it.

Another way is to offer support to others, and see which people respond well to that. These are probably folks who consider helping one another to be a part of life.

But however you go about it, it's something that builds up over a long time, i.e. probably not in time for your date.

...who I know that in the event I get my heart broken, will stick around to pick up the pieces...

That's a big responsibility. Maybe your more established friends back home could help with that.
posted by MrOlenCanter at 8:41 AM on February 20, 2013

I didn't "build" it as much as just allowed it to happen organically. My college was a little odd (by U.S. standards) in that it operates on a quarter rather than semester system, and it's arranged so that students can quite literally be off-campus for more than a year at a time because of off-campus study abroad programs, internships, or just a term taken off to do whatever. So when you're on campus together, that may be the only nine weeks you spend together out of 18, and things can get close and intense very fast.

I was in the glee club (nothing like the TV version!) and several politically oriented groups and a few people from both are still friends today, more than 20 years later. We went to a lot of meetings/rehearsals together; we sat up all night arguing about stuff together; we typed each other's papers; we committed civil disobedience together; we got high and/or tripped together; we had occasional (okay, once) sleepovers in the very old, very beautiful cemetery on campus together.

You have to give to get, but you don't have to be a doormat about it. But you do have to risk stuff - your time, your emotional openness, like that. And don't overthink it.
posted by rtha at 9:00 AM on February 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

It sounds like you're already doing this, but make sure to create contexts for closer relationships to develop; make sure you're including one-on-one or very small group interactions in locations where you have some privacy to talk without someone's roomie / crush / ex / whatever hearing.

Also, avoid saying judgmental or mean things about anyone, period - especially with new acquaintances, this can be an indicator that you're not a safe person to share things with because that judgement or meanness might be turned around on them.

You're doing great! Good luck!
posted by momus_window at 9:55 AM on February 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

You probably mean "how do I create a mutually supportive system" rather than "how do I find friends who will support ME?" Could it be that your newer friends don't feel like they can share things with you? If you really enjoy the new friends you've made, invite them for some longer outings where you can really get to know each other? As mentioned above, you can't force it, but you can BE a really good friend, and see if you don't get some reciprocal attitudes back.

avoid saying judgmental or mean things about anyone, period
this, a million times. Friendships made by mutual hating on other people and judginess aren't going to be the kind you want.
posted by Glinn at 10:05 AM on February 20, 2013 [3 favorites]

Do you live on campus in a dorm? Most of the really close friends I made were the people who lived in the same house (group of 60 students in the same floor in the dorm). We bonded mainly through partying our first year in that we realized we didn't know anyone else here, but realized that we all knew where each of us lived (right next door to each other) and decided that when we party, we'll all agree to make it back together at the end of the night and help take care of each other as needed. It was a serious leap of faith, but one we all agreed to take before really knowing each other. And I supposed it worked really well because we all stuck together for all 4 years. There must be some truth to in vino veritas then.

My other few close friends from school were either met randomly in classes and others from clubs/organizations. One of my close friends I met because she needed an accompanist for her vocal recital and then just randomly entered my practice room to ask me to play for her in a few weeks.

There's absolutely nothing wrong with stumbling on to friends!
posted by astapasta24 at 12:31 PM on February 20, 2013

One awkward disclosure at a time.
posted by ead at 4:27 PM on February 20, 2013

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