Making Friends and Dating in Madison, WI at Age 32
September 12, 2014 1:17 PM   Subscribe

Hi all, I've gone through previous questions relating to live in Madison, and it looks like I'm far from the first person to feel like it's super hard to make friends or find dates here at age 32. Before I give up and move, which I am very much considering, I want to know if there are options I've overlooked as far as meeting people goes.

As I mentioned,I am 32. I am a single, white, bisexual female. I am a writer, music journalist, and visual artist. My actual income is through Social Security Disability, which I get for being bipolar type II and having severe PTSD and anxiety. Sometimes the PTSD and anxiety keep me from being social.

With Madison being a university town, I feel a lot of things (including most of downtown) are designed with 20-somethings in mind. Either that, or it swings to the other end, and programming caters to families with young children.

As far as my interests and disinterests go, it doesn't help that I have zero interest in playing or watching any kind of sports, and therefore I don't want to join any kind of league or whatever.

I feel like I've tried to form writing groups or groups for people of all sorts who consider themselves creative, but things have fizzled out every time.

Most of my social attempts have involved first meeting people online, but after having so many icky experiences that way, I would prefer to get away from that world.

I am not opposed to volunteering, but I don't know where to start, and I am admittedly a little antsy about whether or not I can be dependable these days due to mental health stuff and insomnia which upsets my sleep schedule and still has me sleeping at odd hours.

I have tried going to both the UU churches that are easily accessible (I don't have a car). The Frank Lloyd Write one was too big for my liking. I do like James Reeb, and I hope to go back there again, though there are not that many people my age. (Also, for what it's worth, I am a Pagan and not a strict UU--if such a thing existed--but I have heard a lot of bad things about local Pagan groups.)

As far as other programming and events, there are things that seem cool, like Cinematheque, but it's hard to meet people at things like movie showings. At least, it requires less shyness than I have.

As is, I spend a lot of time reading and writing in coffee shops and in more "adult" bars, but that rarely ends up breeding a conversation, though I've been taking small steps to get over my social anxiety.

As mentioned above, I do not have a car, and I live on the near-east side, so if you are familiar with Madison and have any suggestions, please feel free to chime in or Mail me. Thank you.
posted by mermaidcafe to Human Relations (16 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
I think situations like this are what okcupid was made for.
posted by empath at 1:44 PM on September 12, 2014

Response by poster: I had some luck with okcupid, and even met one of my closest friends there. Unfortunately, the sexual harassment on OKC was so bad that I had to leave recently.
posted by mermaidcafe at 1:51 PM on September 12, 2014

Is it possible it's not Madison but the mental health issues, and being on disability? I don't mean those are terrible things, but I definitely think people tend to be less interested in someone who is on disability. I know that may not be a PC thing to say, but I think it definitely makes a difference for a lot of people. You said yourself sometimes you aren't as social because of your mental health, so as an outsider, I don't know how it affects you, but perhaps that's a part of it too. I assume that's not the first thing you tell people, as I find people need to get to know you a bit better before you start getting too personal.
posted by Aranquis at 2:11 PM on September 12, 2014 [8 favorites]

I have to agree with @Aranquis. I would be less interested in someone on disability as well, and especially people with anxiety. You may not realize it, but it may be something people can pick up from your interactions on a first date or whatever. For example, I tend to be a nervous person on first dates. But I thought I was doing a great job at hiding it but then I found out everyone was wondering why I am so nervous.

I think the way around that is to be upfront about it - and mention it from the getgo. Not in your profile, but on the first date. When you work on these things (and I am sure you are) keep in mind that this will also indirectly help your dating as well.

But your question seems to be about meeting people.

To play off a few things you already mentioned:

--Continue volunteering even though you may not make everything. That's fine. Some are low commitment, for example - a day. In terms of where to start, start with your interests (like music, etc.) and look up organizations. Or go through a non profit that matches up people with non profit opportunities - like this. Keep in mind your goal - if you want to meet people I wouldn't tutor a kid 1:1 since you may not be able to meet people. I'm sure that would be lovely, but it sounds like a group thing may be more your deal.

--Churches usually have young adult groups. Join those! I don't think 32 makes you too old. The local one here is late twenty somethings.

--You seem pretty artistic. I think you can join some meetup groups around those common interests - like music, writing workshops, etc.

--Check out the local museums and see if they have happy hours or gatherings. I'm sure that there is a vibrant scene in Madison

--Not sure how "queer" you are in terms of whether you are more interested in men or women now, but the local LGBT center should have speed dating events. Or volunteer there!

I hope those are good starters.
posted by pando11 at 2:48 PM on September 12, 2014

How about volunteering to take tickets or be a projectionist at Cinematheque? I had a friend in our small university town who did this--he was introverted but met a lot of people, and because he was doing a job it wasn't as hard to make small talk, etc. Maybe a museum?

Also. how long have you lived there? It sounds like you're doing everything right; I'm your age and it took me about two years to meet a good group of age-mates in my area.
posted by stellaluna at 2:50 PM on September 12, 2014

Have you hooked into the political culture at all? It seems that since the 2011 Scott Walker protests there has been a very active, very interconnected resurgent movement of people on the left, involved in activities as basic as the Solidary Singalong at the Capitol to hanging out at The Fountain, working with Occupy on (what has turned into a focus on) homeless issues, with arts and speaker events connected to that. The thing about this is that there is definitely a broad range of ages, from granola lefties just out of UW to die-hard union organizers from the good old days. I'm in Janesville and here the political environment skews even older (I was just at a screening of a show about the Penokee Hills mine and nearly everyone in the room was retirement age), but when I've been at stuff in Madison it's been all over the map but rarely feels Millennial-dominated.

I feel like I've tried to form writing groups or groups for people of all sorts who consider themselves creative, but things have fizzled out every time.

Well, I'll say this -- forming your own group that won't fizzle out is a tremendously patience-dependent process. It may work best if you have a cause, a persistent and appealing focus, or an outgoing and attractive personality -- which you admittedly don't. I would look more for existing, stable groups that you can ease into from the periphery, and I can't imagine those are hard to come by in Madison.

I don't know if you're on social media, but that can be another tool here. You could start a page and get it popular (patience again!). Or perhaps you could do like someone I follow on Twitter who is doing a #newplaceaday theme this year, tweeting her experiences (mostly) biking around Chicago and exploring neighborhoods. (I have fond memories of the city and don't know when I'll get back, so this is a wholly vicarious experience for me.) She uses it to connect to people and get involved in projects (for her, photography and urbex). If I were moving to a new city I would definitely do something like this -- when I was there in the 90s I occasionally tried Usenet for this but not very diligently. I did meet a few people that way but mostly didn't do enough on my end to maintain them.

The one thing I regret least of all was joining a social/volunteer club (in my case Rotaract, sort of a junior Rotary, but you're technically past the age range for that now). I met a neat, diverse group of young people who were constantly doing both recreational and purposeful things together, and I still consider some of them close friends, though we're long since geographically separated. There absolutely are opportunities like that in Madison, if you want them, and I'm sure you could find one that works with your particular ideology/commitment needs.
posted by dhartung at 3:14 PM on September 12, 2014 [2 favorites]

The UU church that I attend has something called "small groups." They're basically affinity groups where people study, talk, socialize, etc. There's one for women, Christians, atheists, etc. It's a great way to get to know people at the church without all the overwhelming feelings that come come from showing up on Sunday and trying to meet the whole congregation at once. My church has a drop-in small group every other Monday. No commitment. You go when you feel like going. See if your church in Madison has something similar.
posted by nubianinthedesert at 3:50 PM on September 12, 2014

I'm not involved with Madison's lively music scene, but you should be! You're a music writer, too? Have you tuned in to WORT 89.9? Community radio! The place runs on tons of volunteers (and a dedicated but tiny staff).
posted by mimi at 3:51 PM on September 12, 2014

Response by poster: Yeah, I am familiar with WORT. An ex of mine was super active there as are a couple friends I have now. I know the music director decently (as in, we can say hello and make small talk to one another) so I will touch base with her.

I'll also check in with Outreach, which is a local LGBT center, who may also have a new Pagan group that I haven't tried out.

Yes, I did a Chalice Circle once through my UU group and it was very good. I don't know when the next ones are starting, but I'm sure I'd enjoy doing that again.

Volunteering at Cinematheque is a great idea as well. I'll try that too.
posted by mermaidcafe at 4:08 PM on September 12, 2014

You know, depending on the cost and how much free time you have, would you consider taking one class a semester for fun*? Like pottery, or welding, or dance, or even something like CPR? Our university has a lot of opportunities for meeting people but they tend to be open primarily to students (of all ages). Taking a class would allow you to take advantage of those opportunities; things like outdoor recreation trips, cultural events or concerts, or even non-traditional student events. You might be surprised how many people are your age and in school; at least that's the case here.

*If you're worried about attendance issues due to mental health you can most likely get accommodation through the school's disability support services offices, so if that's your only hesitation, don't let it stop you!
posted by stellaluna at 4:20 PM on September 12, 2014

A friend suggests Yahara House as a possibility:

She suggests the OP might find it helpful as either a user of the services there or perhaps as a volunteer.
posted by gerryblog at 4:33 PM on September 12, 2014

I agree with previous posters that anxiety and sleep issues rather than Madison may be the issue. Sounds like you've tried a ton of social outlets and that's awesome. Maybe a small tweak on your mental outlook with drugs or councelling or a support group can help shine some new perspective. While some things in life totally suck, you seem to have some significant negative feelings about your social outlet options. They may not be perfect, but they're probably not going to significantly chane in a new city. Please work on your health and outlook. I hope you can find happiness where you are!
posted by Kalmya at 6:43 PM on September 12, 2014 [1 favorite]

One UW class you can take for free is Tim Gattenby's Adapted Physical Ed. The students taking the class are physical ed, OT, PT and other allied health professionals. Those of us attending free are "teaching material." One has the chance to work 1:1 with a personal coach-in-training. Classes meet at the SERF and the Natatorium, and include both land and water.

I also have BP II as well as some physical impairments. For me exercise is crucial to well-being, and this class helped me get back in the swim (literally). I attended for three years -- no charge!

While there I met disabled people from all over town as well as students interested in disability issues.

I'm familiar with quite a few disability rights advocates and groups -- Memail for details.

The Cornucopia Studio on the near east side is a free creation space particularly for artists with mental illness.
posted by Jesse the K at 8:41 PM on September 12, 2014 [2 favorites]

I met people there just being at the same coffee shops daily. This happened most at that coffee shop under the CRC church on library mall.
posted by persona au gratin at 3:58 AM on September 13, 2014

Come to a Metafilter meetup-- there is one next week.

Madison also has a pretty large number of Meetup groups. I joined a book club and met some really fun people.
posted by TrarNoir at 5:39 AM on September 13, 2014 [1 favorite]

Meeting people as an adult is hard. I am involved in a local roller derby league, which has introduced me to 120 of the coolest women and men in my city. I'd recommend looking into becoming a volunteer or Non-Skating Official for Madison's roller derby team, the Mad Rollin' Dolls!
posted by stompadour at 8:55 AM on March 24, 2015

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