Having difficulty making friends in the area
July 29, 2014 11:17 AM   Subscribe

I'm wondering why I had a much easier time making friends in the last area where I lived than I have had in this area. I think it has to do with the way social media has changed, but I'm not sure that's the whole story. I've asked myself what gives. Snowflakes inside.

Throughout my adult life, I've lived in a number of different places -- largely due to job changes -- and mostly in New England. It took about four or five years before I had a good network of friends and before New England felt like home to me. Now, I've been living in Maryland for about five years. The fact that I still really don't have any friends here bothers me, largely because I remember that it was at about the five year mark up in New England that I started to feel at home and that I have a social circle. I still keep in touch with my friends up there, but it's now exclusively online contact due to the long distance. (My college friends are all over the country and always were, so I'm used to online-only contact there and don't expect a change.)

I'm very often homesick for New England, even though I did not grow up there. I used to think there was something special about the area, though now I'm not so sure. I've come to realize that my current lack of a local social circle is not due to something that Maryland lacks or due to something that New England uniquely has. It's just that for some reason, the process of making friends for me here seems much, much slower.

In general, I like most people, but I'm definitely an introvert, and thus I have a lot of difficulty with small talk and other useless conversations. I meet someone in person for the first time, and after we introduce ourselves to each other, you can almost hear the crickets chirping. The odd exception to this was when I was in college, I seemed to have little trouble making friends in person - I can only attribute this to the college environment, though I'm not sure exactly what made it conducive to me making friends in person. For some reason I haven't yet figured out, I do a lot better with making friends if I meet people online first before meeting them in person. LiveJournal was great for this when I lived up in New England, but LJ has died a slow and painful death, and meeting local friends through that venue is no longer viable. Facebook is absolutely terrible for this, as it's kind of limited to people you know already. Heck, I lock my profile down and use a fake last name to avoid people finding me who I don't want to have contact with (mainly people from high school).

There are a few people I know from LJ days who live nearby that, though I have never met them in person, I feel like we'd be good friends if we ever did. Unfortunately, "nearby," in this case, means "at least an hour's drive away."

I had hobbies up in NH/MA, and I met some great people through those hobbies. I do volunteer work for a specific organization through which I made a lot of friends up in New England; here, the specific organization exists, but the volunteer opportunities are far less plentiful, so I end up volunteering less often, and thus the people I meet are not people I see quite as often. I was also in a community band in MA, but the bands I've found here don't seem to interest me, and I haven't picked up my instrument in at least six years, so I'm probably not as good at it anymore. Finally, I'm part of a collector organization -- but I never really made "friends" so much as trading partners through that organization -- whether up in New England or here in MD.

I know my co-workers. We go out to lunch occasionally. I see one co-worker of mine at volunteer events for the organization I mentioned. Aside from that, once 5:00 rolls around, everyone goes home. Now, I had a similar issue at my job in MA, but after a few years, those acquaintances slowly became friends. Here, it doesn't seem to be happening.

I like my job; I have job security, and I like my house -- so I'm pretty sure I'll be sticking around in MD for the foreseeable future. (Then again, I thought I'd be a lifer in MA, too.)

My wife is much more outgoing than I, and she's slowly been able to meet friends in our area by doing whatever it is that extroverts do. I feel very awkward, though, getting to know these friends, and I often feel as if I'm "stealing" her friends from her. That feeling is going away, thankfully, but I still feel like these people know me whereas I don't know them.

Recently (within the last month), we were invited to and attended a party hosted by one of these friends. I was very much looking forward to said party as an opportunity to meet more people in our area. I was disappointed. Yes, there were plenty of local people there, but they all seemed to be in their own little cliques, and everyone seemed to have known each other from the time they were about five years old. I ended up sitting most of the time with the two people I already knew -- which was fine, but I was just disappointed. Maybe I expected too much of the event.

I live in a somewhat rural area. MeFi meetups "near me" that come to my e-mailbox seem to mostly be in DC, which is usually (at least) a two hours' drive away. Whenever I check it, meetup.com doesn't turn up anything I'm interested in nearby.

Our neighbors are wonderful, but that's just one family.

People I've talked to about this say that in your 30s, you start making friends when you have kids. I understand that; you want to know the parents of the kids that your kids are hanging out with. But I figure there's an absolute minimum of nine months, plus about five years until the kid gets to be of school age, before I'm in a situation where I'd be able to meet people in this manner. I need something for in the mean time.

Any advice? Am I expecting a social circle to materialize too quickly? Is there anything else I can be doing to speed up the process?
posted by tckma to Human Relations (14 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
Am I expecting a social circle to materialize too quickly?

Well, here, I think that's the problem really. A social circle won't happen TO you, it's something you've got to make happen for yourself.
I moved to Canada almost 6 years ago and have the best group of friends of my life now, but it took hard work on my part. I'm not naturally introverted but even I had a hard time putting myself out there enough at the beginning.

You're going to have to grit those teeth and become the Master of your own Destiny. Pick up that phone, call your acquaintances and invite them out for drinks. Acquaintances become "friends" with a little effort on your part. No-one goes out after work? Start inviting people: "Hey - does anyone fancy a quick drink today or tomorrow after work?" and just keep on asking.

Yes, you may fear rejection but all it takes is one good friend to get the ball rolling and the rest will come. Good Luck - you can obviously do this, you've done it before with success! Keep that in mind
posted by JenThePro at 11:30 AM on July 29, 2014 [3 favorites]

... you start making friends when you have kids. I understand that; you want to know the parents of the kids that your kids are hanging out with. But I figure there's an absolute minimum of ...

I would encourage you to enjoy the life you have, rather than thinking about some future life that is theoretically going to come to you.

Looking at this example, I would expect you will go out for coffee with the other parents in your prenatal classes and have great fun because of your great common interests with the other parents-to-be.

You won't just "want to know the parents of the kids that your kids are hanging out with," like some kind of due-diligence, but rather, you will be over at their place all afternoon on play-dates having great fun watching and talking about the kids.

You don't need to develop a thesis about how each specific life event will cause friends to occur. Just go to the event and enjoy it. Would that be somehow different from "having friends"?

On preview, quoting the previous poster, 'Good Luck - you can obviously do this, you've done it before with success! Keep that in mind.'
posted by JimN2TAW at 11:47 AM on July 29, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Anecdotally, I found Marylanders outside of Baltimore to be a bit hard to crack.

My strategy for making friends as an adult is to fling myself at things willy-nilly and see what sticks. My closest friends are:

- the now ex-husband of a friend of mine, who four years ago posted on facebook that he was at a bar nearby watching a football game.
- a woman I met at a intro to grad school mixer, who lives near me so I offered her a ride home
- a woman who attempted to bid on an object I wanted at a silent auction
- a friend of a friend of a friend who was up for watching the 2010 World Cup with me

These are all basically...random. I got these friends by showing up, being open to new experiences, and talking to people. I'm not an extravert

Can you take more of a leadership role in your volunteering community? Make the volunteering opportunities happen more often.

The turning-acquaintances-into-friends thing is harder, but what I've found works for me is to be at one spot every week at the same time, and invite a bunch of people. I send a facebook message out to ten or fifteen people, saying that I'll be at x bar for a drink on Friday at six, everyone's welcome, bring friends. Sometimes it's just me; sometimes everyone shows up, but I've solidified a number of friendships that way.
posted by punchtothehead at 11:56 AM on July 29, 2014 [8 favorites]

Best answer: I've been to Westminster MD once and it struck me as very rural; I think the low population density there is partly to blame. You say you "had" hobbies which makes me wonder if you are open to adopting new ones, which are a great way to meet people and also give you a topic of conversation. Here's two examples using hobbies of mine that might be of interest to you. First, there's a local homebrewing club that you could look into. They are involved in the Maryland Microbrew Festival in your town in September but probably have a meeting before then. Second, the county airport is there and airplane people are notoriously friendly - I bet if you show up interested you could make some new friends pretty much instantly. It can obviously be an expensive hobby but there are flying clubs and the like to make it more affordable, certainly more affordable than having kids for example.
posted by exogenous at 11:59 AM on July 29, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: You have a few things pulling against you:

You're older
You're married
You're introverted.

Making friends gets really difficult after your twenties. People who haven't moved have their set of friends and it doesn't get expanded without energy. The married thing is a problem, because people assume you are busy with your spouse and don't invite you.

I've moved several times as an adult and the key is finding groups of people that meet for unstructured time. Classes never worked for me to meet people because it's structured, then people leave. I met most of my friends in San Diego through a running group. When you're as slow as I am you have ample time to get to know people on a five mile run! Seeing the same people every week gave me time to get to know them. If running is not your bag, then a board games group, a hiking group, a meet-up. In my last city, I met some of my closest friends through a monthly meet up. In both the running group and the meetup groups, meetings led to other stuff - breakfast after a run or dinner before a meetup. Next thing you know, you've got friends.

For me, the recipe to develop a friendship is frequent meetings and unstructured conversation. Try to find a place that allows that.

Considering the age-married-introvert thing, you need to work to make friendships take root.
posted by 26.2 at 12:01 PM on July 29, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: FWIW I think you might be right about New England, at least partly. I too have lived in various parts of the US and one thing I've noticed (though obviously I'm just one person) is that in NE people tend to be more honest about whether or not they like you/want to be friends with you. Whether you actually make friends anywhere is something different and more complex, and a whole slew of factors go into it. But outside of NE I have frequently been confused by people who really seem like they want to be friends, but actually...don't. In NE, people may be less effusive and friendly on the surface as a whole, but if they bother with you, it's usually because they really do like you. That might be part of what you're noticing. I just wanted to point it out because if that's the style of social interaction you've grown used to, encountering different modes of behavior can kind of mess with your head.

Somewhat rural + introvert is always going to be harder, anywhere, as well.

Sorry that's not very helpful, but good luck!
posted by DestinationUnknown at 12:01 PM on July 29, 2014 [3 favorites]

You talked about meeting people on LiveJournal. Maybe a website like reddit would be a good way to find like-minded local people? I don't know. Reddit can be a cesspool but it is also a place to find people from all walks of life who want to talk about anything. For what it's worth, when I lived in MA/Boston area, I had the opposite experience. I found people really stuck up and it was hard to make friends for me. The best thing you can do is say yes to any invitation you get though.
posted by AppleTurnover at 12:28 PM on July 29, 2014

RIP LJ. I miss it too.

No one has mentioned the c-word yet - church - are you spiritual (or, open to joining atheist-and-agnostic-friendly groups like Unitarian Universalist congregations)? Could be a good way to meet other likeminded parents and non-parents (and potentially scratch your musician itch).

I as well had a really hard time making substantive friends when I was in the MD/DC area - I didn't live in a rural place but there was something about the culture that seemed very closed to newcomers if you weren't hyper-drinky/networky. People I knew who were *from* the area or had lived there a long time had these tight groups of friends but they were really tough to crack.
posted by rogerrogerwhatsyourrvectorvicto at 1:05 PM on July 29, 2014 [1 favorite]

When one of my good friends moved, she focused on two hobbies - knitting and ultimate frisbee. She joined an ultimate team and started going to a knitting meetup. That was several years ago and today some of her best friends here are people she met through those two things. I think sports are great for meeting people but it doesn't have to be a serious sport - I know plenty of people who play kickball and a handful who played darts. Is there a bar nearby that you like? Do they do any events? Maybe if you become a regular there, you'll meet some interesting people.

Finally, since you were into an online community before, is there a Wordpress community near you? What about Yelp? Part of me feels like Yelp and Yelp elites are silly but at the same time, they are always on top of the latest bar or restaurant and they have events that sound cool.
posted by kat518 at 1:08 PM on July 29, 2014

Response by poster: No, rogerroger, I am not religious. I was raised Catholic, and I'd had enough of that before I even finished high school. My neighbors are VERY involved with their church, and my area seems to have more per-capita churches than any other place I've lived - I think it goes with the territory of rural areas. It also makes sense given Maryland's history having been founded as a refuge for Catholics to freely practice their religion.

With regards to the party I mentioned in my post -- Yes, it seemed everyone was very drink-y, which was off-putting to both myself and my wife -- though I didn't want to mention that for fear of sounding judgmental. Still, I'd have thought that by my age, people would have outgrown that, but I guess that's not true. I never was a fan of drinking merely to get drunk, even when I WAS in college. Besides, I have a very low tolerance, and I'm often the driver. Perhaps counter-intuitively, I enjoy winery and brewery tours (I may just check out the MD Home Brew Association mentioned by exogenous.
posted by tckma at 1:10 PM on July 29, 2014

I, too, live in an area that is mostly either drink-y or church-y, and not much for people inclined to neither.

I tried out my local Unitarian Universalist congregation (the minister is an atheist and half the congregation are ex-Catholic atheists, so I wouldn't say it's too religious). Ultimately I decided it wasn't for me, and I stopped attending. But I stayed long enough to get to know some other people who were trying it out. Some of them still attend there, some of them stopped attending for their own reasons, but our friendships have lasted several years now.

It's not a substitute for LJ, but it might help to get on Twitter and follow local hashtags, local news reporters, local businesses, etc., and from there you'll find other local people in their followers lists or who are being retweeted, and gradually get to know local people online that way.
posted by Bentobox Humperdinck at 1:44 PM on July 29, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: OH WAIT, you're in Westminster? I went to school there, so those are *exactly* the people I know. I'll check around to see what they're up to these days.

It would be worth checking out McDaniel to see what's going on there; I know that it is limited in some ways, but I'm sure that there are things worth taking part in. And it's such a small school that honestly, if you show up a few times, someone will probably remember you.
posted by punchtothehead at 1:48 PM on July 29, 2014 [3 favorites]

Check meetup.com for your area and interests - this is what it's designed for.
posted by mmiddle at 6:17 PM on July 29, 2014

Best answer: I have never lived in Westminster but have visited as well as traveled extensively throughout Maryland, which I'm a big fan of. I do understand small-town life as well as how it can be surprisingly hard to make friends when you're older, regardless of location. I know there are fewer people in smaller places but Westminster's big enough to have a range of people and personalities; I know it's frustrating but I'd try really hard to keep an open mind about meeting people, like not thinking people are "too rural" to get you. Granted, you won't click with everyone, as you know of course ;-), but there are those like you who just have been more hidden in the woodwork. I am sure you will eventually find a great group of friends but it may take awhile and many tries: it took me a few years but I finally hit the jackpot on people and now have a social calendar that's almost too full. I had almost given up on looking for friends but it worked out; I realize my own negative attitude and preconceived notions were holding me back at times.

In the meantime, I second the McDaniel suggestion because it's a nice college and I can imagine there are definitely faculty and staff and community members, new and old, who'd really enjoy making a friend like you! I'd also consider doing some community volunteering like once a week at a place you feel comfortable but slightly out of your comfort zone as it may not result in friends but may help you feel more "at home" and aware of your surroundings. Finally, I know DC is far but what about meet ups in Frederick or Baltimore? Each are ~40 minutes away but that's do-able a few times a month and a nice chance to have the friendly contact for now; furthermore, people may actually be from Westminster or have friends and family they could connect you with. In any case, good luck and I promise you that it will eventually work out, if perhaps differently than expected!
posted by smorgasbord at 6:43 AM on July 31, 2014

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