How can I connect with people?
February 9, 2015 2:29 AM   Subscribe

I'm feeling very disconnected from the people around me. I'm looking for some advice on how to make new connections.

I live about 300 miles away from my family. I've lived in this city (Chicago) for over 7 years. I moved here for work, and about a year later, started grad school. I'm 30 and single/no kids. I live alone in an apartment.

At work, I'm in an upper management position. I HAD several work friends and one by one, they have all either left the agency or moved across the country. Of the "work friends", all except one were in similar level positions, and we spent time together both in the office and outside of work. As people leave the agency, we tend to stay in touch for awhile and then drift apart. Most of my former work friends who still live in the area are newly married and/or have new young children, which also makes it hard to meet up.

I made a few friends with a hobby, however similar to my work friends, the people that I became close friends with have all moved pretty far away. These were the people that I really associated with the most and made living alone in this city fun. We would hang out, vacation together, and go to events regularly before they moved away. I usually see these friends once a year for an annual vacation and we talk on a semi-regular basis via social media. If we lived in the same area, we'd certainly still be spending time together.

At school, I have not really made any friends. I am in a small grad program on a part-time basis and because my schedule differs from my classmates, I don't tend to see the same people from class to class. My last semester involved full-time work along with a very time consuming counseling internship, which meant that I did not really have the time or energy to reach out to others or accept many invites. This semester (my final semester) all of my classes are online.

I am trying to branch out and reconnect, but I'm finding it difficult.

At work, I don't see many opportunities to make new friends. In my position as a manager, I don't really feel comfortable hanging out with the other employees who are similar in age (and vice-versa). It never works out well and tends to create conflict since I am in a role where I have to monitor and evaluate staff. The other current managers in the agency are much older and we don't have much in common. It does sometimes make me feel a bit sad when the staff go out after work, but I would never invite myself along. I have very good "work relationships" with the majority of my coworkers, but it doesn't extend beyond work.

I haven't dated in years (for a variety of reasons, but mostly because work and school have consumed my energy). I am open to the idea of dating but I'm at a loss for where to start.

I tried meet-up and it's never worked out well. I've probably gone to about 15 meet ups in the last few years and never made a real connection. I joined a gym and I have been semi-regular at some of the classes but no one really talks before or after the classes. I started volunteering a music school and I plan to take group guitar or singing classes in the spring.

I have a dog and when the weather is good, we often meet up and speak to neighbors on walks. My dog hates the winter cold so she's not interested in going out when it's cold or windy.

I've never had a problem doing things alone. I go to tons of concerts, movies, vacations, shopping trips, events, etc alone, but I don't often meet people during these outings.

Most days, I come home from work and sit/lay on the couch and I don't speak to anyone. It's getting depressing (though I am not clinically depressed). I speak to my siblings daily via phone or text, but they live over 300 miles away so we don't see each other often.

I have several local "social media" friends, but we never seem to be able to put action behind the statement that we'll meet up with each other. I'm not giving up on these people, but I'm also not expecting that things will change significantly in this area.

Any advice or suggestions for how to make new friends or connections?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (16 answers total) 33 users marked this as a favorite
I have several local "social media" friends, but we never seem to be able to put action behind the statement that we'll meet up with each other. I'm not giving up on these people, but I'm also not expecting that things will change significantly in this area.

This jumped out at me. Don't passively wait for things to change. Be proactive. You already know you like these people! Organise a meet-up! "Hey guys, we're always talking about meeting up, let's do it!" Good luck!
posted by Ziggy500 at 2:40 AM on February 9, 2015 [10 favorites]

Yep, not just "let's do it" but "beers and boardgames, my place next tursday at seven, I have pizza, bring what you want to drink", or whatever your connection is, "Walking Dead at Bob's Wings n Suds on sunday night, come one, come all!". Might be just you and you fleas the first time or two, but give it a swing. Do you have local mefites that can thicken the stew?
posted by Iteki at 3:18 AM on February 9, 2015 [3 favorites]

You're on the right track!
To find quality people, you're going to have to put in the effort.
As Iteki and Ziggy500 said, don't be passive - BE ACTIVE.

I had great success with MeetUp; I'd recommend trying them again and expand your interests. I went to Star Trek, Libertarian, Singles, Singles Over 40, Wine, Hiking, etc. Let your MeetUps be as varied as you are. If you make a connection, get their information and contact them and bring them into your circle of trust.

Keep going! Don't quit! You can do eet!
posted by John Kennedy Toole Box at 3:38 AM on February 9, 2015 [3 favorites]

Join a sports team or bar game league. It appears to be one of the few reliable ways to meet new friends as an adult. You go every week. It's the same people. Everyone has a few drinks. My only criticism of the teams is they tend to be a little alcohol centric and so I ended up bailing after a couple of seasons because I wanted to ease up. However I made one very good friend and two years later I'm still regularly invited to birthdays and BBQs.

I joined an already formed team and didn't know anyone. As did a couple of other people on the team. It was totally acceptable thing to do.
posted by whoaali at 4:24 AM on February 9, 2015 [4 favorites]

I recommend teaming up with the one person who is most vocal about meeting up. Set up a board game night or whatever on a specific night and then invite people together. That way it'll be more attractive to people AND you will at least have met one other person if nobody else shows up.
posted by Omnomnom at 4:41 AM on February 9, 2015 [3 favorites]

It sounds like you might be waiting for someone else to be the first to speak to you. I'm an introvert myself, and it's my default. What has worked for me in the past is to make a point of speaking to at least one new person every time I go to class. Learn their name, ask what brought them into the class, ask if they are from the area - stuff like that. Next time, say hello to them, and get a new person's name.

Try playing extrovert now and then.
posted by bunderful at 4:47 AM on February 9, 2015 [2 favorites]

Ugh, I have been there. I'm glad to see you aren't down on yourself about this, because you shouldn't be. Making non-work friends as a grown-up is very hard and no one warns you.

Some thoughts:
--n'th-ing Omnomnom's comment about teaming up with someone else to set up an event. This definitely makes it more likely people will come (because no one is thinking, what if I go and there's no one else there??) and you won't feel terrible if no one else comes. I have had enough events where literally no one came (wow this sounds so sad to say) that this is my default now.

--Do you live in an apartment buiding or neighborhood? Have a housewarming party even if you've lived in a place for a while.

--Re:dating: OkCupid is the answer. Make a profile, ask a trusted friend to look at it. Start going on dates.

--Is there an upcoming metafilter meetup in your area? If not, consider organizing one!
posted by BusyBusyBusy at 5:22 AM on February 9, 2015 [1 favorite]

It sounds like you're already giving yourself lots of structural opportunities to meet people: You're going to Meetups, you're going to concerts, you walk your dog in the summer, you're taking courses, you're going to the gym. The problem that you've stated is that none of these things have led to a "real connection".

Real connections are created when you apply optimism and energy to casual connections, and casual connections are created when you apply optimism and energy to random interactions and small talk, and small talk is created when you apply optimism and energy to the blank nothingness of people you cross paths with in the city.

Might I suggest that the pressures of work and school have drained all the relational optimism and energy out of you, optimism and energy that used to come naturally, and that the only way you'll find real connection again is if you start to consciously apply it even when you don't feel like it?

To use the language of John Gottman: Connections are built out of a series of small bids for connection. If you want to build up to a real connection, you have to be a) making bids of your own and b) consistently responding to the bids of others by "turning toward" instead of "turning away" or "turning against". This probably used to come naturally to you, back when you weren't weighed down. Now you may have to put conscious effort into it, which may feel unnatural and forced at first. Pointless, even. However, it will pay off.
posted by clawsoon at 5:52 AM on February 9, 2015 [28 favorites]

The Chicago Mefites have regular meetups and are lovely, friendly, and welcoming people. If you haven't been to an IRL event yet, try it out!

I'm suburban, but also looking to make new friends, so if you want to hang out, feel free to me-mail me.
posted by Fig at 7:41 AM on February 9, 2015 [1 favorite]

If it makes you feel better, it's not just you. In Chicago, it's easy to meet people but hard to make real friends. I think people (unless they were born and raised here) don't generally stay here long-term. It's a transitory city that people tend to move to after college then leave either for bigger and better things or to raise a family. You've obviously run into this a lot with all your friends moving away and sad to say I don't think there's much to be done about it.

The other issue is, it's a huge spread-out city. I have so often met people at a party or something who seem really cool and who might be good candidates for friends but they live in some neighborhood it takes an hour or more to get to from your place so you know it's never going to work out.

My best advice is to stay local. Become a regular at your local coffee shop and bar and go out and interact with people in your own neighborhood as much as possible. Proximity and frequency are two of the most important ingredients for building friendship. It's so much easier to hang out spontaneously when people live a couple blocks away from each other.
posted by Jess the Mess at 10:00 AM on February 9, 2015

My mother now 75 makes friends easier than any other person I've met. Seriously if/when she dies her funeral will have to be held in a stadium or something. The secret from what I can see is she become a regular. People are more comfortable with people that feel familiar. She goes to the same coffee shop & makes a point to say hello to other regulars. Just a casual hello, nice day sort of thing, and she keeps doing that. She goes to card games, every week, sees the same people says hello, makes small talk. The small talk grows, 6 months or a year later she has a friend. She likes people, she is interested in people, she wants to give as well as receive a connection with people. Thing is it is really hard to feel instantly close to someone, you have to do the ground work. The small talk, the small connections, build familiarity. clawson said it way more poetically.
posted by wwax at 10:33 AM on February 9, 2015 [7 favorites]

A thought on meet-up. Some activities are more conducive to making friends than others. I've made many friends through one where we had a weekly bar trivia group for a while, I've made almost no friends through one where I was doing weekly pick-up soccer. But, if I'd invited folks for a meal or drink after the game, who knows?

What I've found I had to do was not only attend the meet-up but really let people that I found interesting know that I thought so, and then follow-up using the meet-up tools to get in touch after. It feels a bit awkward at first, but that is why the tools are there. Some people are non-committal, but others are excited for the opportunity to do something more selective. I found that just assuming people were there because they were also looking for friends shifted me enough to make it a bit self-fulfilling. Of course there are folks who aren't interested, but that's fine.

Also, for what it's worth, some of my best friends now are women I met going on dates. The dating didn't work out, but the friendships are still going strong.

It all takes time and investment, but once you start it tends to snowball a bit as new friends introduce you to their friends, etc.
posted by meinvt at 11:21 AM on February 9, 2015

Having been in this situation, I know it carries a lot of inertia. It will take effort to overcome this inertia.

I got so desperate that one weekend when I was at the office with some other workaholics, I asked a few of them to grab lunch in a restaurant... I asked them, "like, what do you guys *do* when you're not working?"

That conversation changed my life. One of them led me to a really friendly (but sadly, quite expensive) gym in town, which I joined and went to religiously. I am a swimmer, and swimming can be an isolating sport because everyone is all weird and awkward in their swim trunks... So I thought that I'd be isolated even in this warm friendly environment. But after I started going on a regular schedule, people started staying hi and inviting me to social events. It was tremendously uplifting and helped me be more positive in my outlook on the social scene.

The second suggestion is online dating. If you work a lot and you're 30, it feels like it is basically impossible to meet people your age who were single. Many of my work friends from that time period are now married to people they met online but they don't admit it! Even if you don't meet "the one" right away, at least you're doing something about it, which feels good.

About a year after this change in mindset, I met my spouse.

Hang in there, it does get better!
posted by amy27 at 12:30 PM on February 9, 2015

The way I found "real" friends through meetup was:
a) Turn up regularly to the same group. You'll generally find there are a core of 'regulars.'
b) Get to know said regulars and build up a connection. I found facebook (despite all its flaws) a useful low-risk first step.
c) Meet them in a non-meetup context. As others have said this does mean you have to take a risk/initiative and invite people to things.
posted by Erberus at 1:40 PM on February 9, 2015 [1 favorite]

My brother lives in Boston, and every morning at 7 am he goes to a coffee shop in his neighborhood. One day, he started chatting with another regular, and then they started sitting together whenever they saw each other. Then they started inviting other regulars to join them. Now, several years later, my brother has a wonderful group of local friends.

I find meetups awkward. I've found it easier to meet people I like if there's a reason we're together. Some friends I met when my kids were little and I joined a mothers group, and others when I worked on a political campaign.

It helps a lot if you invite people to your place. It doesn't have to be formal. Just invite people to watch a game with you or the season premiere of Downtown Abbey, or whatever. It takes friendship to the next level.
posted by islandeady at 7:39 AM on February 10, 2015 [1 favorite]

I was in the same situation before. Lucky for me I'm a musician (hobbiest) so I looked up others to play with through Bandmix, Craigslist, etc. Joined a band and made life long friends.
posted by chagler at 12:44 PM on February 18, 2015

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