When a group's dynamics get stale -- Give up? Or Rekindle?
August 26, 2014 11:46 AM   Subscribe

About a year ago I joined a group that meets several times a month about spiritual topics. I was warmly welcomed and found great comfort in the group. However now, I am beginning to feel like the group is pretty much the same every meeting. I know Person X will talk about Thing X; Person Y will bring up Anecdote Y; etc. Should I quit? There's a twist...

There doesn't seem to be a whole lot of change from week to week in the members' lives (internally or externally), at least what they choose to share within the group, and I'm starting to resent going because of this.

DTGA (Dump The Group Already), you say. BUT, getting bored of groups and leaving them has been something I've done all of my life, that I feel ashamed of. Throughout my life, I have excitedly joined, actively participated in Improv comedy groups! Writing a novel groups! Alumni club! Book groups! ...and then got bored and moved on.

I am always thrilled to meet new people, learn their stories and feel a sense of belonging. But once things get too repetitive I get restless. It is not that I am bored of any specific person in the group - I enjoy one-on-one conversation with them and know they are multi-dimensional. (And I have wonderful friendships and relationships that continue to last many years.)

But repetitive group structures and the way people relate to one another within the groups seem to get stale to me. It's like members go on auto-pilot once they get to the group. Even in college I got restless with my 'clique' of friends because I felt like our activities and conversations became predictable. I was always the one person within my group who hung out with other outside friends and had other connections. This was generally positive but also meant less intimacy and belonging with my main group of friends.

I look at people who have done the same volunteer position, or spent time with the exact same group of people, for years with admiration.

So my questions for AskMeFites are:
1) If you're feeling like leaving a group or club, how can you tell whether you're leaving because the group no longer serves its purpose, OR because you're giving up on a good thing?
2) If you've been committed to a group or club with little change in membership/structure for many years, how did you push through boredom? And are you glad you did?
3) Is it wrong to get bored of groups? Is it a negative character trait to feel restless?

For the purpose of this question assume that I can't change anything about the structure, topics or membership of my current group (the content is pre-set by another body).
Oh and I'm in my 30's.
posted by rogerrogerwhatsyourrvectorvicto to Human Relations (15 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Do you need to go to every meeting? Maybe you'd be less bored with it if you only went once or twice a month.
posted by showbiz_liz at 12:00 PM on August 26, 2014 [4 favorites]

Life is short. There's no shame in saying "This activity is no longer helping me grow and move forward."
posted by MonkeyToes at 12:10 PM on August 26, 2014 [7 favorites]

Best answer: This question puzzles me a little. I don't get why you feel ashamed of leaving groups.
My answers:
1) If I feel like leaving, I must have some personal reason for wanting to leave... if I felt I were "giving up on a good thing" I wouldn't leave.
2) For groups that I've committed to for a long time, I find ways to stay interested. I change my role within the group, embark on some new project within the group, or get involved in some new capacity.
3) No, I don't think it's wrong to get bored of groups or feel restless.

If you want to have the experience of really belonging to and investing in a group over a long period of time, my suggestion is to find a group doing something that you consistently find personally meaningful, and to push through those periods of boredom by thinking about what would give this group meaning again. Like, for the writing a novel group, you're bored. Because you don't want to write a novel anymore? Move on. Because it's the same people and interactions? Switch it up. Try a new structure for your meetings, or interacting with a different subgroup, or taking a break from the novel-writing and writing poetry for a couple of months. Take some responsibility for making the group interesting for you, instead of assuming that you can't change anything -- that may be true of your current group, but it's certainly not true of all the groups you listed.
posted by chickenmagazine at 12:14 PM on August 26, 2014 [4 favorites]

It sounds like you're unsatisfied with the group and you believe you lack the power to change it into something satisfactory. Imagine if someone was asking these same questions about a romantic relationship. I'd tell them to get some confidence or quit without guilt.
posted by hjo3 at 12:25 PM on August 26, 2014

Best answer: I've been in a few weekly groups related to my hobby, and the thing that keeps me going is pretty much the thing that you're finding frustrating. The stability and continuity of the group dynamic is exactly the thing I *like* about the kind of group you describe.

But it sounds like you're expecting a constant influx of new perspectives. There's nothing wrong with that, but a regular weekly group is not going to be the environment to support that desire. I've gotten burnt out on trying to guide an established group to something I found more interesting. It didn't work, and ultimately I left. If you're looking for a steady stream of new perspectives there may have to be some other way for you to get that--a group with more fluctuation in attendance, doing more outreach, that sort of thing. But I'll mention that more variable groups, in my experience, dissolve faster. There really does seem to need to be a core of regulars for a group to work.

Since it sounds like you're interested in exploring this more, I'm curious if you ever pushed through the boredom phase. How long do you feel that tension before you stop going? There are plateaus in lots of skills including that of being part of a group, and maybe what you're experiencing is discomfort from stretching your reliability muscles. (not to say you're an unreliable person generally, but the kind of reliability that comes from being around every week in a group.) Alternately, go every other week. Go once per month. See how it feels being away from people. Read a new book on the topic and ask the group for their opinion. Focus your energy on the one-on-ones that you seem to enjoy.
posted by tchemgrrl at 12:41 PM on August 26, 2014

Best answer: I have long pondered that personal growth groups and singles groups suffer from the same problem: If you solve the core issue that brought you into the group, you're no longer interested in the goals of the groups. Thus you get one of two results: You either leave the group, or you re-create the problem so that you have a reason to continue to be a part of the group.

As a long-time resident of Marin County, and now living just outside of it, I've been peripherally involved with all sorts of "personal growth" groups, and it seems very much like there are often hardcore long-time participants wallowing in their issues, rather than growing.

So I try, when evaluating groups, to see if they're focused on personal goals, or larger goals. Because the groups focused on larger goals or ongoing common interests will change and grow and morph, but the groups focused on personal goals will tend to stay relatively static as people either find they have achieved those goals, or find themselves falling back into cycles because achieving those goals would mean leaving their support structure.
posted by straw at 12:46 PM on August 26, 2014 [2 favorites]

1) If you're feeling like leaving a group or club, how can you tell whether you're leaving because the group no longer serves its purpose, OR because you're giving up on a good thing?

You can't. No one can.

2) If you've been committed to a group or club with little change in membership/structure for many years, how did you push through boredom? And are you glad you did?

Years? YEARS? Fuck no!

3) Is it wrong to get bored of groups? Is it a negative character trait to feel restless?

Of course not! There's a whole wide world out there!
posted by dogrose at 1:09 PM on August 26, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I do not think there is anything wrong with not wanting to remain a member of the same group for years on end. One thing I have learned over time is that just because something (a group, an event, a relationship, etc.) doesn't last forever doesn't mean it wasn't incredibly meaningful and valuable for the time that it existed.

This is just one example, but for a couple of years I was involved in a group that hosted a monthly religious service. I (and the other members of the group) put in a lot of hours and the service was deeply meaningful both to us and to those who attended (it was fairly well attended by non-organizers). Then, the core group of organizers all ended up with various other commitments that took precedence (one person moving, another starting a time-intensive graduate program, one becoming pregnant, etc.) and we ended up sadly deciding that this was no longer something we could continue to organize and offer to the community. At first I was really sad about this, and felt like if the event was ending, all of our time and effort in planning it had gone to waste. After I got some distance, however, I realized that those services were AMAZING and they made the two years that I participated in them so much richer. They didn't need to continue on until the end of time in order to have been a meaningful and pretty major part of my life.

It sounds like these groups are great for you, but not great for you FOREVER, and that's okay. It also sounds like you're forming lasting friendships that are able to survive beyond your leaving a particular group, which means I think you're not just some flaky/flighty person who can't ever form a lasting relationship. It's just that one single group isn't necessarily going to sustain you for your entire life. More power to those for whom that works out with their personality, but it's not for everyone. And I think there's a lot of value in recognizing that things can be amazing, wonderful, meaningful, and still not last forever. It's okay to give yourself permission to grow and change.
posted by rainbowbrite at 1:27 PM on August 26, 2014

3) Is it wrong to get bored of groups? Is it a negative character trait to feel restless?

I wouldn't say so. I think it is a sign of a curious, intelligent mind that wants to keep learning. Just ask yourself if you are getting a cursory, superficial taste of what is possible, or if you've truly plumbed its depths to your satisfaction.

Also maybe you are joining groups for the people, as opposed to for the activity. Like if you joined a hockey group to meet people, and then get bored with how they behave week after week. Well they're not there to make friends, really, they're there to play hockey. So focus on the 'yay I can play hockey with these people' rather than criticizing them for their style of idle chit chat. No one person / group is going to fill all needs for you.

Since you mention college friends also falling into repetitive patterns, ask yourself if you aren't the one being superficial. Are YOU sharing your honest 'in the moment' self with the group? Are you telling them what is really going on in your life, how you are feeling and so forth? I have friends where we get together and always drink and chat and joke, and yet it still feels fresh since it gets deeper every time. But if you are being superficial and 'putting on a face' then it will feel very empty and unsatisfying to you.

Maybe you think of people as puzzles, not as people? Once you figure out the puzzle, so to speak, the interest is gone?

On that note, you sound a little judgy. Maybe your college friends were just placeholders for friends? Did you truly like them? I'm sure I repeat myself 1000x. My bf has heard my stories so many times... and I tell them anyway! So you could consider tackling the bored/judgy side of yourself that stays removed while critiquing the person. Consider the joy this person gets out of the story; they repeat it because it was meaningful to them. Try to connect to them as people, not as ideas or actors.

But repetitive group structures and the way people relate to one another within the groups seem to get stale to me. It's like members go on auto-pilot once they get to the group.

Yes this does happen! I can't remember what it is called... consensus trance?

On that note.... you may be joining groups that are... uh... not smart enough for you? You need more of a challenge? It may be hard to face (maybe you subconsciously choose 'easy' groups so you can feel a sense of mastery, rather than challenging groups where you would be the 'grasshopper' so to speak) when you finally find one, stick around, because it does become a growing thing. So try looking for a group of people that is a bit more challenging next time? I have a group of friends who honestly truly 'show up' when we get together and it is really refreshing.

In the end I don't think this restlessness is an issue provided you do maintain some long term (10+ years) relationships outside of your family. If you get bored with people easily and never have deep relationships, it could all be a cluster of signs showing control issues / fear of intimacy / judgy nature.

Finally with this particular spiritual group, honestly it sounds like you've joined a 'rudder-less' group. There are TONS of rudder-less spiritual groups out there and I would advise to quit them because they have no direction and true method to help you grow, it is really the blind leading the blind.... around in circles.

(I dove deep into this question, since this slant hadn't been addressed up to this point. The answer could very well be: you just crave change. I'm just throwing some ideas out there to see if it sticks.)
posted by St. Peepsburg at 2:35 PM on August 26, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Recruit new members. Host the event and change things up a bit. Become a catalyst. Create a sub-group or spin-off. Look at your geography and ask the members you like if they'd be willing to start up a satellite affiliation in a town/neighborhood nearby. Given that it's a spiritual group, consider picking a new setting -- how about nature? Invite a guest speaker/facilitator. Suggest a rewriting of the groups "rules" or charter, as say an annual renewal. Start now to firm up connections with members you want to maintain 1-1 relationships with. Start a new group, such as a dinner party collective or a bike ride, and invite them to participate. Plan a sabatical or a field trip. Suggest a volunteer night where everyone donates service in the name of the group. Maybe there is a "work party" that can be done for the good of the collective that you can organize.

There are so many options. Try at least 2-3 before you go. Then, you will feel much more certain of your decision, and perhaps you will have left a more interesting legacy to those who remain than simply quitting or doing the slow fade.
posted by cior at 2:35 PM on August 26, 2014 [2 favorites]

getting bored of groups and leaving them has been something I've done all of my life, that I feel ashamed of. Throughout my life, I have excitedly joined, actively participated in Improv comedy groups! Writing a novel groups! Alumni club! Book groups! ...and then got bored and moved on.

Generally there's nothing wrong with leaving a group, whether because you are bored or for some other reason.

There's no inherent reason to be ashamed here, nothing wrong with being just a regular member and then... not. Now, if you were an officer of the group or had some other responsibility you had taken on that would be different.

Sometimes groups end up consisting largely of people who really enjoy group meetings. If that's not something you like, you aren't going to enjoy that sort of group.

If you hadn't gotten bored with each of the groups you list, you might never have had the time or inclination to try out the other sorts of groups. Has your life been richer for trying different things? Keep trying new groups.

Have you felt that you want to accomplish something by staying in a group? Think about what that might be and what sort of group might be right for that. Most of the groups you list seem to be focused on talking about things in some way. Would you want to be a part of a group that accomplishes something concrete? Think about what sort of thing and look for groups that do that. A group that has goals around organizing events, building things, or some sort of time limited goal might be more interesting to you for a longer period of time. Or you can pick a shorter time period group, like something supporting a political candidacy or aimed at organizing one event that's on a specific date.

You might also like a group that gives you a lot of time to have one-on-one interactions with people, like a hiking group where there might be many members but you'll only get to talk with the people around you most of the time and the people around you change.
posted by yohko at 3:28 PM on August 26, 2014

Best answer: I've been a member of, and facilitated, small groups within a church setting for a number of years. I think that groups can stay vibrant through intellectual growth (interesting discussions, learning about new topics, etc) or through interpersonal growth (group members sharing more deeply with each other) - or in my setting, ideally, both. If neither of these growth aspects is present the group will feel pretty stale. It sounds like there isn't much structure to the intellectual content, if you're having the same conversations every session, and I can see how that would be pretty unsatisfying. Is there a relational dimension to the group, or is there meant to be? As cior identified above, there are lots of ways to reinvigorate the group's intellectual life if you're prepared to/permitted to take on a leadership role - but if that's not an option, I would only stick with such a group if there was a compelling relational reason to do so. Not all groups or all group members are forever. Some long-term groups are worth persevering with, even through boredom, if there's still life and hope for some aspect to flourish - but that's not always the case. Don't feel bad about leaving if you're not benefiting from the group and have no realistic expectation of change.
posted by Cheese Monster at 4:18 PM on August 26, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I think you should look at your life as a whole. In my opinion, a rich life includes some people/groups who are there for years and years. For me, it's my relatives and closest friends. A rich life also includes variety, which is things you might do for 3 weeks, 3 months or 3 years, etc. Then in the middle, there are things you might stick with longer because they get to the core of who you are. For me, my alumni group is that way, because I have very strong ties to my alma mater (it's a techy, innovative place that gets to the core of who I am). I've been drawn back to that for decades.

The question is, are you interacting and connecting with people in rewarding ways overall? If nobody sticks around in your life, there might be a problem (or something to be gained by sticking with things more). But if you have a good mix of short term and long term relationships, then I think you're doing fine.

When I look back on my life, I hope to have had a few activities and a few sets of people who I deepened my relations with over decades. And, I hope to have thousands of people I've met in other ways, and other activities I've been involved in for various periods of time.
posted by htid at 5:37 PM on August 26, 2014

Organizing and running a group offers a whole different set of challenges, particularly a group centered around making an impact in your community.
posted by Jesse the K at 7:12 PM on August 26, 2014

I get bored of groups too, unless their main goal is to constantly do new things. This could be committing to learning a new dance or new tune every week, going as a group to a new place every month, cooking a very different meal together every Sunday (Korean food this week!), etc.

So maybe you need to try (or create!) a different type of group. Meetup often has groups that focus on, for example, exploring little-known places in the city or trying uncommon activities each month.
posted by ceiba at 5:40 AM on August 27, 2014

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