building solid community in your thirties and forties
August 15, 2014 12:43 PM   Subscribe

Folks in your thirties and forties, especially ones that are married or in committed relationships - how have you built or maintained communities and social support networks outside your family? Especially if you have kids? How would you recommend that one build a good foundation for this earlier in life or if you wish you had (particularly following a significant life event like a divorce). I am going through a break-up and facing these questions right now in my earlier thirites, and wondering how I can better prepare myself if this happens in the future.

I'm currently going through a break-up after a three year relationship and my social life had withered a lot in it - a number of my friends had moved and were no longer local - and a lot of other friends had married and were much less available. I am trying ti figure out how to rebuild a friend network (and/or make new ones), but was really struck by how much harder this gets as I get older (than it was in my twenties) and how much harder it might be in the future.

I've really committed to building a better and broader foundation for myself before i get in a relationship again and would love thoughts from folks (particularly older) on this point. The NY Times had a rather depressing article on this, and I would like to hope that's the exception rather than the rule.
posted by waylaid to Human Relations (19 answers total) 55 users marked this as a favorite
Well, one way you could start is by reaching out to some of those friends you haven't heard from in a while to rekindle things - "yeah, I was kind of a jerk and let things slide because I was caught up in my own shit, but I'd like to do something about that - you guys wanna [insert activity you could do here]?"

And the people that aren't local any more aren't any less your friends. You may just have to email or call rather than just meet at the bar and hang, but that's still an option. (Hell, I'm still just as much best friends with someone even though we live in different countries.)

As to meeting new people - these are what sport clubs, book clubs, movie clubs, etc., etc., etc. are for. You may not hit it off with everyone, but then again, you might. Either way, you'll be out of the house and socializing, and that's what counts.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:53 PM on August 15, 2014 [2 favorites]

For me, it's been doing things. Evening classes, sport, etc. Sometimes the friendships stick, sometimes they don't, but overall I've found that over time I've ended up with a small number of closer friends where the relationship goes beyond the activity itself, attached to a wider network of mutual friends who all know each other through the activity.
posted by penguin pie at 1:33 PM on August 15, 2014

It is harder as you get older, and things will become more divisive in your 30s via multiple kid splits - there's 30s/no kids, 30s/young kids who don't have much time to socialize, and 30/older kids suddenly able to socialize more. (There's also 30s/going back to school, 30s/steep career climb, 30s/just married, 30s/divorcing.) And then the cycle repeats in your 40s. And people are moving all that time as well, 30-50 is when people do big relocations for career/school/love/family.

The strategy that has been working fairly well for me is to pursue multiple streams of community, and being willing to step up with some leadership sometimes (making the call, deciding the place, not throwing out weak queries just to see if someone else will run the ball), and know that most of these things are going to come and go but that I might keep one or two really good friends from those vectors.

And I mix my groups together now and then, which has been really surprisingly successful as we all get older and don't have a ton of time to go looking for these people from scratch. That way I'm not dependent on a single group (and its changing makeup/politics) for all my social life.

But also, yeah, you just have fewer friends as you get older. It probably won't be like your 20s again until your 50s or 60s, because even just one item from the kids/marriage/career/education box is enough to seriously curtail your free time/money.
posted by Lyn Never at 1:35 PM on August 15, 2014 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I'm female and will be 42 next month. I've been married for 16 years and have two kids.

I have friends that I've had since childhood and college and I have friends that I've met after kids and marriage. The friends that I've met after kids and marriage aren't as close as my lifelong childhood friends but I could go to a couple of them for support. I am also good friends with two of my coworkers and can tell them pretty much anything.

My friends in adulthood are friends who I have met through mutual friends and clubs.

When my first child was born I joined a "Lunch with Baby" club. I socialized with that group for a while and met other women through that group. One of the baby club members introduced me to her sister-in-law who was not part of the baby club. We became friends and go to the movies and are both members of the same book club. We both have busy lives but we love movies so when we make plans it usually involves a movie. It's not like when you're a teenager and can hang out every day and drive around for hours doing nothing. The time factor is why I think it's more difficult to become close. We've been going to the movies for years and a closeness has developed.

I have met friends through running clubs and the gym. I have my movie friend and I also have a running friend. I run with a group on weekends but meet my running friend twice during the week. We only meet for an hour or so but it's enough time to chat and and vent if need be. I have met friends through my kids' school and sporting activities.

My advice would be to get out and join some clubs or engage in some activities. Use your kid's activities to meet other parents. Not all of your friends may be friends that you can go with your personal problems but it's a stress reliever to socialize.

It's important to stay in touch and make plans. When life gets hectic it can be easy to let friendships slide. I have been guilty of this. I used to be very shy about inviting people to do things but now I'm more confident. I find that I am comfortable having five friends (or couples) that I see on a regular basis. My social life revved up significantly a couple years ago and I found that I had too many invitations. If you're working full-time and have kids it's not easy to juggle multiple friends. One or two close friends with a few situational friends is probably all a person needs to feel less lonely.

If I could do it over I would have stayed in touch with some of my friendships that have faded. I would have been more understanding. I would have been less judgmental. I would have been more vulnerable (I had a hard time sharing things that bothered me). I would have loosened up (I used to be more serious).

Be open, be patient, be a good listener, invite people to do stuff, join clubs like parent groups, join an exercise class, etc. Good luck.
posted by Fairchild at 1:40 PM on August 15, 2014 [6 favorites]

Best answer: I have to admit, your question spurred me to think about our social circle (which is large, and close) and think about what we (a mid-40's couple with kids) did or do to "cultivate" it.

A few things, I guess:

1) The majority of our social circle all belong to the same club (we mostly met through this club). And so, because of club activities, there are regular, scheduled opportunities for us to see one another -- events we all attend and have shared experiences through.

2) Because we all met through this club, many of our friends are far flung. We use social media and email to stay in close touch with our non-local friends, to celebrate small shared achievements and also provide support during times when there are larger or smaller challenges. We're also very willing to celebrate the return of people who we haven't seen in ages, for whatever reason, and accept them back "in the fold" quickly. Because of this, people know that it's ok to "have life" for a while.

3) We have a good balance of committed couples, families with kids, and single people in our circle of friends.

4) We have shared annual rituals. Some of these are through the club, but others (like the annual day-after-Thanksgiving Leftover Pie party) are things we've just made sure to do year after year. We also do potluck suppers to celebrate birthdays, and make an effort to get together in low-stress ways.

5) We are supportive when friends are having a tough time, but not afraid to be very pointed if "The Dramaz" (ie: high maintenance, attention seeking behavior) starts up.

6) We consider our close friends (and I would include about 20 - 30 people in that group) to be as much "family" as our blood relatives are, and have the same commitment to loving and supporting them as we would to our actual relatives. Our kids (of varying ages) are close, and the childless adults in our group are good 'aunts and uncles" to the kids (some of whom are now grown and able to have kids themselves).

For you, I would say:

- Friends who have moved away or are married are still your friends. Reach out to them. Say "I miss hanging out with you and would love to see you." Make a plan that works and stick to it. Then make another plan. Use social media to strengthen your connections with people you don't see often. Be genuinely interested in their lives. I don't actually think you need to say "I was a kind of a jerk" (unless you were, actually, a jerk) but rather I'd go with a simple "I miss having you in my life" approach.

- Making new friends: Find a club or organization that you're passionate about, and you'll meet people that share your passions. From there, making friends should be a natural progression. If possible, make your home a place where you are comfortable having at least a few people visit.

The article actually says explicitly the three conditions under which most new friends are made: proximity; repeated, unplanned interactions; and a setting that encourages people to let their guard down and confide in each other.

Despite all this, I'm currently going through a situation (through the school's PTO) where I'm need to to sort of "force" "making friends" and it's awful - in large part, I think, because it's so artificial -- your kid and my kid like each other, so we're together a lot, so we need to be friendly. We have proximity, and repeated, unplanned interactions, but the setting is anything but conducive to letting our guard down and confiding in each other. So we might be friendly (sorta) but we are actually anything but friends. That's why I personally feel that clubs and organizations (be it a church, the lions club, or your local RPG group) can play an important role in this for you ... you start with something in common.

But do start by reaching out to your existing friends, even if they're far away or you haven't been in touch in ages. I bet they'll be pleased to hear from you.
posted by anastasiav at 1:42 PM on August 15, 2014 [2 favorites]

Ann Friedman and Aminatou Sow talk about this in the latest episode of their podcast Call Your Girlfriend! Call/email people per EmpressCallipygos advice above. Accept invitations to all kinds of events, even if it isn't totally your thing and you have to make yourself a bit vulnerable. Then pay it forward by introducing friends to other friends.

Me, I joined a roller derby league. I now have so many new people in my life, and while a lot of them are acquaintances rather than friends I'm still happy when I see them at practice or deal with league admin.
posted by hannala at 1:58 PM on August 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: In my thirties my friends came from three sources:

1. Grad School. I was in a cluster program, where the class stayed the same, and the instructors changed every term. I had a study group and we're still keeping in touch today.

2. Church. I joined a UU church and met a lot of great people there. I sang in the choir, served on committees and helped out at events.

3. Daria Message boards. I was in an on-line community. I met Husbunny there, and a lot of our friends come from there.

It IS harder, you have to make more of an effort and it's harder to get close because a lot of folks have friends who have been in their lives for decades, they have a history. But it's possible to get a nice acquaintance group going.

Call your far flung friends. My best friend lives about six hours away, another lives on the other side of the continent. It happens! You can still stay in touch. Social media and phone calls.

Don't give up! I promise, you can do this.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 2:14 PM on August 15, 2014 [2 favorites]

I am trying ti figure out how to rebuild a friend network (and/or make new ones), but was really struck by how much harder this gets as I get older

Not to be harsh but it's less getting older and more that people in your position often have an attitude of "oh shit, I'm single. Provide me with company, people I've barely acknowledged for years". I'm not saying you're like that but if someone I've barely talked to in 5 years gets divorced and suddenly wants to have ladies nights at the local wine bar I'm 90% probably going to roll my eyes and decline. No one likes to feel used. No one only wants friends who pop up when they need something.

I'm in my 30s and maintained relatively all my friendhsups during one major breakup and a move and into a new relationship. The secret is to always be open to making new friends and keeping up with the old ones even when it's not a "priority" for you because you're busy or have a relationship or whatever.
posted by fshgrl at 2:15 PM on August 15, 2014 [2 favorites]

This is one of those things that religious organizations are great for--most of my closest friends since I moved to Atlanta are people I met at my (left wing, social justice oriented Presbyterian) church. We have boozy after church brunches and invite a bunch of random people, we volunteer and go to protests together, we help each other move, check on each other when we're sick or have a family thing, those of us without kids have been known to help out those with kids, etc. I sing in the choir and have really bonded with my fellow altos, many of whom are much older than me--it's sometimes really nice to know people who aren't your age, too.

It sounds like anastasiav has achieved a similar community through a club. But if you're stuck getting started, joining a religious organization, including something like Unitarian Universalists or Secular Humanists, is a great way to join an already existing community.
posted by hydropsyche at 2:17 PM on August 15, 2014

I'm a working mother of two, plus my parents and his parents live on the other side of the world. For a large part if my life, co-workers have formed the core of my friendship circle. Once I had kids, more friends started to come through daycare and then elementary school. Perhaps I am a bit Machiavellian but I find small kids are flexible enough about friendships and play that we can have play dates with families where the adults get along well, and the kids are pretty happy to play. I also schedule play dates with kids' best friends (where adults are not as compatible), and those families just remain acquaintances.

Really I'm just agreeing that you find friends through interest groups, and kids/school are another set if interest groups.

You do have to work at building and maintaining friendships as you get older, simply because you often have less time than a student or 20-something.
posted by Joh at 3:48 PM on August 15, 2014

You say your social life withered because your friends moved or got married, but you seem to be ignoring the amount that was within your power to prevent. For example, a close friend of mine moved to another city 8 years ago, but we still talk online every week. Some of my friends have 2-3 kids now, but we still hang out. It's just that instead of texting "sushi now?", we need to plan two weeks in advance. Instead of doing something "exciting", we're just hanging out at their home and chatting while they watch their baby. Or we communicate a lot more via email and less in-person. But the friendships are still extremely strong.

When people say that it gets harder to make friends as you get older, I sometimes think they just mean that it's harder to make friends where you can hang out in-person with very little notice, doing fun things. If you are open to different ways of communicating, I think it's not vastly harder as you age.
posted by vienna at 4:18 PM on August 15, 2014 [2 favorites]

For keeping friends, I have a group of friends (we started as a mom and tot group) where, one night a week after the kids are in bed, we meet at each other's houses for wine-and-whine night. Having a set but flexible schedule (if the host's child gets the stomach bug or whatever we cancel; not everyone makes every night; you show up after your own kids are asleep or your spouse gets home or whatever) and rotating hosts/costs and not having the expense of going out, has worked pretty well. It helps we all live within 25 min. Sometimes we have a hiatus. No one minds if the host has a basket of laundry in the hall. The spouses tend to use this as video game night :)

I use Facebook to keep in touch with people. It is lazy. I am lazy.

As I write this I realize I need to restart it but for a while my husband and I had a habit of having sets of friends over for brunch, once a month or so. Over a year we'd manage enough and then we got invites back sometimes...basically kept people on the social radar, and we invited new ppl like families we meet at martial arts.

I try to take a slightly longer lunch at work once a month to network with 2 former coworkers that are friends.

I am really lucky in having solid friendships although writing this reminds me to nurture them, because otherwise life takes over.
posted by warriorqueen at 4:36 PM on August 15, 2014

Response by poster: I wanted to provide a little clarity cause there was a little criticism from some posters above. My partner had pretty severe depression, social anxiety, and emotional turmoil over the last few years. It took a severe toll on my other relationships as I put everything into keeping her stable and away from the brink of being suicidal at many points. So they absolutely did wither, but it wasn't cause of some callous disinterest on my part at nurturing friendships but rather that taking care of my partner often meant forgoing them, visits, important events, and so on. That is something I won't make a mistake of for so very long again, but I had also felt at that point during the relationship that I needed to do the best I could to take care of her. I have plenty of acquaintances (we normally had house parties w 30 to 40 ppl)_ I just have a lot less intimate and close friends than I once did. I'm also male and I have often found it harder to really find guys who are willing to talk deeply and emotionally (my oldest term guy friends are great fo r this but people like that have been hard to find over my life)
posted by waylaid at 4:48 PM on August 15, 2014

Having read your update... It truly does not bother me for an old friend or acquaintance to say hey, life got in the way...want to have coffee? If it did, I would say no.

Maybe start a hangout night with Netflix or other low-commitment activity (poker is a tradition) and invite people you think might possibly become deeper friends and give it a few months and invites to see what happens?
posted by warriorqueen at 5:06 PM on August 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I prefer this article from Jezebel to the NYT article that you cited. It provides more useful advice about how to cultivate friendships moving forward. In a nutshell, find activities you are interested in which are also opportunities to interact with people on a somewhat frequent, regular basis, thereby cultivating friendships over time.

I definitely understand where fshgrl is coming from. I've seen the "oh shit, I'm single" thing in the newly detached who were previously over focused on their relationship. Don't let that stop you from reaching out. I like warriorqueen's wording to use when you approach your friendship network. I think you will find that folks will empathize.
posted by jazzbaby at 5:18 PM on August 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks for all your thoughts, everyone. (I totally understand where fshgirl and vienna are coming from - i should have provided more context on my particular situation, though). Had m ex not had this emotional/suicidal situation for so long, I doubt my friend network would be where it is currently. But I am aware that being 33 is different from late 20s in terms of where people are and want to think about it accordingly as I plan the stuff i do.

That Jezebel article is awesome. Thank you for it! (was worth asking just for this alone)
posted by waylaid at 7:43 PM on August 15, 2014

I recommed co counselling intenational a lot on here, global free peer support without a power base, based on sound therapeutic principals. It helps me loads.
posted by tanktop at 5:00 AM on August 16, 2014

I'm not criticizing you, just giving you a reason people might be hesitant to get close. In case you disappear on them as soon as you aren't single.
posted by fshgrl at 2:46 PM on August 16, 2014

Best answer: People have shared so many great thoughts and here are mine to add to the mix!

1. Reconnect and revitalize old friendships: people said it above best on how and why. I will add that I've found reconnecting with old friends to not only be a boost of fun and friendship but a welcome reminder of who I am and how far I've come, which could be the same for them, and then how nice it is to share that with one another. These people remember you before your last partner and can surely help YOU remember all the awesome stuff about you that got lost in the shuffle.

2. Read up on making small talk and conversing with strangers: I totally did this myself a couple years ago when too much time online + mostly having old and/or long distance friends + working a lot caused me to forget some of those basic, chit-chat with strangers skills. I'd consider myself naturally pretty outgoing but such books really helped me refresh. (Unfortunately, I can't remember any specific ones off the top of my head but your local library should have some good titles.)

3. Reconsider having friends of all ages: perhaps you already have friends of all ages but, if not, please do consider the possibility of having much younger and much older friends. Indeed, your ages and life experiences may be different and you won't necessarily become bf's but your love for a certain hobby is the same. Or you work together and can share work stories. Or you can exchange your life wisdom for their energy (or vice versa!)

You sound like a good person to talk to based on what you wrote here as well as clearly very caring, so you're already half-way there. One thing to also consider is how you are framing yourself and your life these days, like what's the tone of your current personal narrative? I say this out of my own experience where, after a slew of bad experiences, I was defining myself (in my head and somewhat to others) as the summation of those events or at least overloaded with the side effects. Yes, dealing with/overcoming those challenges is a key part of who we are but for now with the struggle so fresh, it might be a relief and an opening to think of yourself a bit differently if need be. :-)

Whatever you do, please keep trying, don't worry if certain connections don't stick, and give yourself breaks if and when you need to. Granted it may seem less organic than when you were younger but I'd agree that new friendships in your 30s and 40s and beyond can be even richer and even greater in number. Good luck!
posted by smorgasbord at 3:30 PM on August 16, 2014 [2 favorites]

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