Making friends for people who hate being in groups.
March 17, 2015 1:33 PM   Subscribe

I dislike being in groups, but I'm finding that I'm at a life stage where my friendships are dwindling - people have kids, move away, etc. I like being around people in one-on-one interactions.

I'm not exceptionally awkward, and lot of people have given me the feedback that I have good social skills. I'm good at being able to talk to just about anyone, and find things to have a conversation about with people I have little in common with. I work in healthcare, and a lot of my job is helping frightened and vulnerable people feel better, and developing relationships and rapport with them. I don't think I have what could be considered clinically significant social anxiety.

I have a partner who is an extreme extrovert, who thinks it's weird that I don't have more friends. We've been talking about getting married, and my partner is upset that I wouldn't be comfortable at a wedding with forty people, just because it's so many people in one setting. I've told her that while a "big" wedding (forty is big, to me) wouldn't be my preference, I would do it for her, because I know it's important to her. She says it makes her sad that I wouldn't enjoy our wedding day, and that I need CBT to enjoy groups more. My own opinion of the situation is just that when two people in a relationship are very different, they both have to compromise a little for each other to make it work, and that's not a bad thing.

I don't really feel that troubled by my discomfort in groups, and it's not something I really want to change about myself. Part of it is because I'm persnickety and have intense politics and don't feel that most people in groups share my values. I know that I have really strongly held values as kind of a "safety mechanism" - I trust people who share these values to not hurt me in certain ways, while I have trouble trusting people who don't share my values. Avoiding groups has been a way of taking care of myself. While I can function in a group, and do it all the time, for work or the benefit of my partner, it leaves me feeling depleted and lonely.

Platonic OKCupid dates have been a great avenue in the past for me, because I can screen people for similar values, and then meet them one-to-one - all the conditions that make me comfortable. Unfortunately, my partner is not comfortable with me meeting people off OKCupid, even if she vetted / helped write the profile, had access to my password, etc., because she thinks it's weird to use a dating site to make friends.

I've tried volunteering, because I figured I'd be more likely to meet people with similar values if we were working toward some kind of shared goal, especially in a somewhat politicized setting. I have trouble making casual, pleasant conversation turn into friendships or meeting up outside the volunteer setting, but I'm really open to pointers in this regard. I usually do the "How to Win Friends and Influence People" thing and drum up conversation by being interested in something about them, while being mindful of not being nosy or invasive.

So, I'm interested to hear what some good avenues for meeting friends might be, that don't involve joining groups. Or how to negotiate relationships between extreme introverts and extroverts.
posted by unstrungharp to Human Relations (15 answers total) 39 users marked this as a favorite
So, I'm interested to hear what some good avenues for meeting friends might be, that don't involve joining groups. Or how to negotiate relationships between extreme introverts and extroverts.

Wait so which of you wants you to make friends? If you're trying to make friends because it's the only way your partner will marry you without pouting, that's...a little nuts. On her part, not yours. Similarly it seems awfully unreasonable of her to demand 1) you make friends, and 2) you make them in GROUPS, and 3) you make them the way SHE wants, not the way that works for you (ok cupid).

If it's truly YOU who misses having close friends and wants to actively pursue them:

It's unclear whether you actively dislike volunteering or if you just haven't had luck turning it into friendships yet. If the latter, you just have to keep doin' what you're doin'. It takes a lot of people before you find a couple who will click and turn into outside-the-venue kinds of friends.

The hands-down easiest way to make friends is by meeting the other people your compatible friends/relatives like, because the hurdle of getting in touch and establishing a baseline rapport is taken care of. Do you enjoy any of your partner's friends? It sounds like your partner mostly socializes in groups, but is there any way you could contact your favorite person or two from those groups and suggest hanging out? Ideally you would do this shortly after seeing them at a group activity -- at the party or whatever, strike up conversation, and then follow up on it over email or text or whatever, and open up the possibility of a hang.

Others will have better advice on the introvert/extrovert dynamic; as someone who's almost always a little more extroverted than my partners, all of my advice would be for your partner. (You say that you make a point of attending group events when it's really important to her--and I assume you behave politely, etc. at these events--this to me is the critical thing an introvert can do for an extrovert.)
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 1:58 PM on March 17, 2015 [5 favorites]

First of all, you sound fine and I'm not sure if you want more friends because you want them, or because your partner thinks you should have them.

In my experience, the older you get the harder it becomes to meet and socialize with people one on one. Pretty much everything for adults in modern society is structured around couples, families, and groups. (This, and not your conversational skills, is probably why you didn't make friends volunteering. Most people will volunteer (group!) and then go home to their partner (couple!) There's little time for much else in most people's lives, unfortunately.) It seems to me that the easiest (and most common) thing would be if your partner has a friend who has a SO, and the four of you all hang out, and then maybe you become friends with the SO individually as well.

As for ways to meet friends without groups, I haven't done this personally because I'm happy enough being a loser by myself:) But finding someone for casual language practice might be one way. If there's a language you know a little but would like to speak better, arrange to meet regularly for coffee and practice with a native speaker. Maybe you'd become friends, if not at least you'd practice the language. Or perhaps take up some physical activity that takes two people, like tennis. I imagine that kind of thing gets people who are new in town or new to the activity seeking out partners in a somewhat structured way.
posted by DestinationUnknown at 2:06 PM on March 17, 2015 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: I don't know if this counts as threadsitting - feel free to delete away if it does, but I want to clarify since it appears unclear in my original message: yes, I really do want more friends.
posted by unstrungharp at 2:26 PM on March 17, 2015 [1 favorite]

Seconding language as being an opening to friendship - if you have an interest at all there will likely be a group in your city where people meet to talk that language, often with a teacher present to guide it. And at sites like you can practice with people on Skype until you feel confident to have chats in person, then look for more local exchanges. Of course if you have no interest in languages it's not for you, but it's definitely something which brings people together in a nice low-key way.
posted by AuroraSky at 2:39 PM on March 17, 2015

Apologies if this seems obvious but have you tried hanging out in very small groups? There's a huge difference in group dynamics with 3-5 people vs. 40 people. In my experience most introverts (including myself) strongly prefer the smaller groups, and have a lot of fun once we're comfortable with each other, which often never happens in a larger group.

Lots of hobbies work well for finding small groups to socialize with - for example, volleyball and rock climbing are two of my hobbies that often result in 4-6 people heading out to the bar afterwards. You might have to join a larger group first to meet people for smaller social events, but don't stop there - start talking to a few people here and there, and once you're friendly with a few people, invite them to hang out sometime (could do the same hobby, or something more general). Or if you're feeling brave, ask the whole large group sometime if anyone wants to go out to the pub after, or whatever - most of the time only a few people will want to come, so you'll get your small group that way.

If you still hate even small groups, the same strategies work! Just take it a step further and start cultivating friendships with a few people you really connect with, within the smaller group. Endure the discomfort of group socializing if you can't find a way to enjoy it, until you can meet people in that environment and interact enough to invite out one-on-one. It gets easier with practice - limit your time at each event if it's too overwhelming, just make sure you're socializing with the same people regularly, even just a few minutes at a time, and you'll get closer to being "friends" (or start hating each other, which case switch your focus to someone else!).
posted by randomnity at 2:39 PM on March 17, 2015 [1 favorite]

This might look counterintuitive on the outside, but: running clubs. Everyone gets together in a big clump to stretch for 5 minutes before hitting the trail, but you really can't run more than 2-3 abreast. Thus, you are usually hanging out with one person for most of the run, and in my experience people are friendly to new folks but the mechanics of the activity means you never get mobbed.

Metacommentary: If you're already planning the wedding, it's too late to make more friends quickrightnow to balance out "your side." The fact that your fiancée wants you to get therapy so she doesn't have to worry about your introverted nature, that just gives me the heebie jeebies all over the place. Maybe she should be trying to do her part of the compromise by working with you to structure the day/location so that there is some down time and private spaces for you to hide out if you are feeling drained. I imagine this will help more than forcing yourself to Just Be Friendly Already.
posted by katya.lysander at 2:58 PM on March 17, 2015 [8 favorites]

Chiming in to say I have the exact same issues as you and look forward to cribbing from the advice everyone offers.

But also, katya.lysander's metacommentary above - many, many thumbs up in agreement. Also, I'm already in therapy - in fact I had an appointment last night - and guess what my therapist and I discussed? For the millionth time, how we're going to get me to meet a few more people and make some new friends.
posted by Bretley at 3:28 PM on March 17, 2015

Best answer: Do you need to trust people to socialize with them? Like you, I find it easy to talk to almost anyone, but I have certain strong political values which have very personal relevance. I don't tend to continue to socialize with people who offend them, but I'll hang out with pretty much anyone who I get along with superficially without knowing whether our values are compatible on the broad spectrum. The people I haven't known long enough to vet on the main issues I do call friends, but you could also call them friendly acquaintances.

In most cases, the way to make friends is to cultivate acquaintances. Not all of them are going to meet your standards and become true close friends, but at the same time every person you meet will misstep somewhere crucial along the way. Shared values won't protect you from being hurt: I've found that it's my friends who actually do share my values and morals that hurt me the most when we disagree, never my acquaintances and friends whose values I am less secure on. It's very uncommon to find someone you can trust to have the right character and opinion 100% of the time with regard to your personally important issues. I don't think it would be inaccurate to say that most people don't even get that in their spouses or best friends.

I like what Heather Havrilesky has to say about making friends as an adult: "cast a wide net and be accepting and give it time. You can't use the aggressive, early twentysomething's tactics, because it poisons the whole process to believe that you're trying to hunt and trap the perfect BFF. ... Some of your closest, lifelong friends may not seem like close, lifelong friends for the first five or six years you know them. Seriously. It takes time to figure out who matters, who listens, who tells the truth, who comes through in a pinch, who's down to earth, who appreciates you and accepts your flaws, who says the right thing at the right time, and who makes sense all around."

I recently moved to a new place and here are some things I've been doing to try to make local friends:

-Volunteering. That actually worked. I met someone I hang out with outside of volunteering now.
-Gardening. There's a community garden in my neighborhood. I like this because there are people working on the same project, but mostly it is quiet work. It's not as if we are standing around socializing in a group. When I went over the other day it was just me and the woman who manages the plot.
-Neighborhood community organization. I find the meetings are draining and boring, but I've met a someone who I see one-on-one, and a few acquaintances I'm happy to run into now.
-Friends of friends. Usually at informal gatherings at the pub, which I'm okay with especially on weekdays when it's not so crowded.
-I've thought about posting some stupid craigslist ad like, "Come play backgammon with me this Saturday," or some such and seeing who turns up.
posted by wrabbit at 3:34 PM on March 17, 2015 [19 favorites]

Start with the friends you have. See them more often. If you don't like big parties etc, initiate smaller dinners or other activities you like. Tell people to bring their partners/besties/siblings. It will take a while but over say 12 months of actively doing this, you will gain a few new friends that you can start cultivating one-on-one time with.

But maybe all you need is to re-establish friendships with some of the people who have drifted away? When I had kids, a lot of my friends just stopped inviting me to things, thinking I wouldn't want to or be able to join them. It was often true, but I wanted to be invited anyway. My best friends were the three who came to see me. I really appreciated that, I loved them for it. I was lonely in suburbia with my little ones and no adult company. So if there's anyone you used to enjoy, give them a call, go see them if it's hard for them to get out. Just drop by for one beer but do that more often.

I am an introvert and have a lot of friends. It's the result of a deliberate effort over the last 5-10 years to make more friends. I did it by doing what I suggested above, starting with reconnecting with people I enjoyed before. That got me involved in more small-group things, more invitations to other things, more new friends through other friends. The last few years, I've had some social engagement or other a few times a week. I am exhausted. I feel spread too thin. I need more quiet time with my husband and my best friend. Now I am actively cutting back on the number of people I spend time with so I can focus on my favourite few. Maybe the pendulum will swing again but for now, I am happy seeing only my best friend regularly and going to one or two other things each month.

I know you said you actually want to make friends for yourself but double check with yourself that this is really the case. Your original ask sounded like a lot of pressure from your partner to do what she thinks is 'normal' or whatever. Make sure you're doing what you really want to do. There's nothing wrong, and I think a lot right, with having just a few close buddies.
posted by stellathon at 3:37 PM on March 17, 2015 [5 favorites]

I have a partner who is an extreme extrovert, who thinks it's weird that I don't have more friends. We've been talking about getting married, and my partner is upset that I wouldn't be comfortable at a wedding with forty people, just because it's so many people in one setting.

Well gosh, this sounds fun. Leaving aside my personal experience with such things and accepting that you do indeed want to have more friends for the sake of having more friends: hobbies. Do you like mushrooms? Mycology foragers. Do you like woodworking? Joinery classes. Tech nerds can find tech nerds. Linguistic nerds can find linguistic nerds. Birdwatching? Book reading? Throw a rock.

Find your nerds. We all should find our nerds.

I will tell you that nothing is as nice as being loved as the person that you are, and having someone support you when you want to expand the person you want to be just for yourself, not because it pleases them.

But to your question: all hobbies have their friendships. You have hobbies, surely.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 5:44 PM on March 17, 2015 [2 favorites]

I agree with others' advice about doing things that you like/hobbies in small groups. Try meetup to find some activity that appeals - there's bound to be something - and get into it. There are heaps of activities that will be in small groups, and you sound like you're fine with dealing with small groups. Eventually you will work out if there is anyone who appeals to you more or not and can try forming a friendship with them. Even better if there's two or three, because then it doesn't seem like an attempt to engineer something romantic (not that there's anything wrong with that, but it doesn't sound like what you're after).

I'm also an introvert who is comfortable in small groups, not large ones (though I also need to balance my overall energy levels and make sure I get enough alone time too). I have had success with volunteering in an environment which didn't require constant interaction with other people, and some success with a local choir. But like wrabbit says above, it can take a while to realise who amongst the friendly acquaintances is really going to be a friend - years sometimes. It takes a lot of persistence and effort in my experience, and there will be times you feel like you're the one who always has to make the effort. Be patient.

I have to echo others for expressing concern about your partner's attitude about your dislike of large groups. You sound fine and not in need of therapy to me. She might be though, if she can't accept that not everyone is just like her!
posted by Athanassiel at 6:31 PM on March 17, 2015

I'm like you! I prefer one on one friends.

I had a breakup with a boyfriend about 3 years ago when all my friends had first started having kids and I was experiencing some kind of weird thing where it was like "um, I have no friends at all"

so I did a few things, and now I have lots of friends! (not lots. but enough. I don't want or need anymore these days.)

A) friendship is not always a two-way street. If you've lost some friends to kids and stuff, that's something you can fix, you'll just have to adjust your expectation. My best friends and I no longer go out to nice restaurants and have long leisurely dinners after work, but we will meet up for a quick drink on weekdays when hubs can pick up the babies, I do go up to their house to hang out with their families, go to the park with kids or go shopping with the babies.. and it's different, but it's still nice. so make an effort to get some of those lost friends back, they probably miss you too but just think that you're not interested in hanging out with their kids.

B) I did that cheesy craigslist post. It was very funny and charming and I met some really nice women who had recently moved to the city. no long lasting friends from it, but potential for it I think. I'd try again if I was lonely. just make it clear you really do just want friends, and go to a movie or something. I had some fun platonic dates at worst!

C) just.. hang out with people one on one. If you meet someone you like, ask them to hang out. Acquaintances you like but have never pursued a friendship with? ask them to coffee! Yoga teacher? maybe she'd love to grab a coffee! nice person you met on the bus that lives in your neighbourhood? coffee! Guy from work who you think is funny? COFFEE.

seriously, it sounds dismissive, but just ask people to hang out more. be honest with your intentions that you'd like to be friends, and make an effort to see the people you already consider your friends a little more often.

you don't need to be comfortable in groups.. you're an adult, and you can do whatever you feel like! groups drain me because I act like a big phoney fakeo who is on stage when I'm in them, which makes me exhausted. Sometimes I wish some of my friends knew each other, but I also like to just sit down with them one-on-one and connect, so I'm often quite happy to have such separate friends. Just stress with your partner that you don't love hanging out in groups, and she'll eventually accept it. My boyfriend pretty much just has one group of friends that have all known each other since they were little kids and always hang out in a bunch, and that is so weirdly different than my life, but we accept it and deal.
posted by euphoria066 at 6:35 PM on March 17, 2015 [2 favorites]

Or how to negotiate relationships between extreme introverts and extroverts.

I think you're right, it will take a lot of compromise. Your SO should work to understand your needs a little better (you're not weird for preferring one:one conversations or smaller gatherings or feeling overwhelmed at large events, and I agree that it sounds like she doesn't accept a pretty significant feature of your personality, which is worrying).

On the other hand, if you want to make this work, it would be to your advantage to learn to be able to hold your own at events with 40+ people, even if you don't necessarily enjoy them. If only because you'll have to attend a lot of them if you marry an extrovert (family holidays; work functions; other friends' and family members' weddings and showers, etc.). Those kind of events bring happiness to an extrovert; if you can't or won't participate, even on a token level, I think you're both setting yourselves up for some friction.

(I can't remember the last time I seriously talked about values at a big function, by the way. At the last one I went to, I got into conversations about skiing in Quebec; somebody's grandchild; a TV show that hasn't aired in 20 years; working out the best way to roast a duck - that kind of thing. When it got to be too much [which happens to me sometimes], I took the slow and scenic route to the bathoom, or rested in the hall or outside, or just chewed my food and let the music fill the space. You can learn to manage your level of stimulation, even at a mid- to large-sized event, and it would also help, I think, to manage your expectations of the kind of conversations that should be happening. It's just shallow dipping into one exchange, taking a breath, and doing the same again with someone else.)
posted by cotton dress sock at 7:57 PM on March 17, 2015 [4 favorites]

Seconding what cotton dress sock says about learning to manage your level of interaction and stimulation when you're in a large group. A large group is made up of a lot of individual people you can have one-on-one conversations with, and a large group doesn't notice when you step out for a bit. (Except probably at your wedding. People will notice if you step out from that. Although, even then... if these are people who know you and care about you, they will understand when you need to step out!)
posted by mskyle at 6:53 AM on March 18, 2015

So, I actually met many of the people I currently spend the most time with through MetaFilter meetups in my city. MeFi is something we all have in common and makes it feel like there's already an existing connection so you don't need to spend time on the casual small-talk stage and can jump right in to talking about that crazy thing that guy said in that AskMe comment oh and did you see the video in that FPP the other day?

As a caveat, I will note that I'm actually very social and probably an extravert because I feel like I do get my energy from social interaction, but only when it comes to people I already know and feel comfortable around. I think I'm similar to you because I also feel really uncomfortable in a lot of social situations including large get-togethers.
posted by capricorn at 10:32 AM on March 18, 2015 [1 favorite]

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