Is it okay to want more interesting friends? Can I get them?
May 16, 2015 12:01 PM   Subscribe

After years of tricky life circumstances, I don't have much of a social circle left and I probably seem like a boring workaholic loner, which totally isn't attractive to people who, well, have the kind of fun I'd like to have. Should I just make friends with available people I have little in common with, or can I be more likeable to people who already have active, interesting social lives?

At the beginning of undergrad, my social life, for the most part, was pretty active and great. That all went well until I spent what should have been the end of my undergrad years dealing with a major depressive episode and some family issues that led to me taking time off school around the same time that most of my friends were graduating and starting their lives. I was kind of left behind by most of my old friends (I wasn't fun enough, they were put off by my personal circumstances, etc.) and my relationships with the ones who stuck around largely got burned out over the past several years because my stuff was too much for them to deal with and we stopped having interesting times together.

Ever since falling out of step with my original cohort, while I've found friends, I've found it really difficult to make friends who I have enough in common with. Although I made new friends when I returned to to finish my degree a couple years later, they weren't the best fit for a bunch of reasons, and being busy with work and school made it difficult to maintain those relationships. Being several years into a career in an industry where 60-hour work weeks are common, I've lost more relationships because I'm not as available as some of my friends who work 9-5. I have a couple of friends, but I don't have enough people locally to, say, round out a dinner party. My friendships are okay, but they're not with people who are totally open to new experiences - we mostly spend time 1-on-1, commiserating. I've spent most of my 20s in long-term relationships, the most recent of which ended after a few years in part because my ex found my lack of a social life to be a turn-off. I don't get invites anymore from our (former) mutual friends who I'd been friends with for years; even well before we broke up they started snubbing me and not him, because I'm the world's biggest killjoy.

I want to change all of this, but I don't think I'm attractive as a potential friend, in large part because I've become so solitary over the past few years. One issue is that I suspect that I seem boring to most people because I don't do a lot of the things that I would do if I had friends who were game to do them with. I'm happy to do a lot of things solo, but not everything is as fun or as doable alone. I'm interested in other people, and can hold up my end of a conversation and not be self-centered, but I can tell that people like my coworkers pick up on the fact that I have a lot going on socially. That, and it feels like most people my age aren't looking for new people to bring into their fold - nearly everyone who could make a good friend already has their tight undergrad/grad school crew and years of history and Instagram photos.

Now, if I had really esoteric interests I'd understand why I have this problem - but I like doing what I think is typical late-20s hipster-y big city stuff, like going to bars and concerts, and doing yoga after work or sometimes going out to dance. I see lots of regular-looking people around my age doing these things all over my city. It's possible that I'm having trouble with this because I haven't gone to grad school yet and people are a bit put off by that.

Take my ex's female friends, for instance: they're nice women, but we didn't seem to have enough in common to sustain anything more than an acquaintance-level thing. They're not that much younger than me, but for a bunch of reasons (they're from conservative cultures and also seem somewhat immature in a lot of ways) it feels like they're in a vastly different place in life. They like shopping and watching children's movies, for instance - I can go along with that, but I couldn't invite them to an art gallery show or to do some sort of foodie thing - it's just too far outside their comfort zone. I've tried and they've always balked.

While I do meet people who I'd like to get to know better and who have enough in common with me, they've always clearly got their own tight-knit things going on and who probably aren't looking to add a new friend. On the other hand, I keep meeting friendly and welcoming people like the ex's friends whose preferences I can accomodate but don't want to do a lot of the things I like to do, so these relationships never feel reciprocal. I understand that not every potential friend has to be a perfect match, but for some reason I'm finding it difficult to find or connect with anyone who can do the things I care about doing. It's kind of depressing (and resentment-causing) feeling like there's no one who likes me and who I can call up to do something I'd truly find fun who'd also be game for it, too. I don't think this is so much an issue of me not wanting to be a member of a club that would accept me, or me not giving these people enough of a chance.

is the answer for me to just accept that I'm unlikely to find friends who have the sort of life I want to live? Am I being too rigid? My ex always made me feel bad about wanting friends I have more in common with, because beggars can't be choosers, but is that what I should accept? I'm in my late 20s and feel like this might be as good as it gets in terms of my social life, but that's really sad. Can I hope for better?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (17 answers total) 24 users marked this as a favorite
Check for something to do on There is nothing wrong with wanting people in your life who will challenge you and push you to be better.

Cultivate interesting hobbies. Make a list of things you'd like to do. Figure out how to incorporate those things. Learning interesting things often leads to meeting interesting people.
posted by fluffy battle kitten at 12:38 PM on May 16, 2015 [4 favorites]

It sounds like finding others who have common interests is really important to you. You've mentioned a couple of them: art and food. Why don't you try and meet people who you know are into these things? It seems like that would be a common basis for friendship. Meetup is a great site for finding those kinds of people / activities.

Yes, you can hope for better! Taking the first step in that direction by reaching out is the only possibility you have of getting where you want to be. "Big things have small beginnings."

And anyone that turns up their nose at you for not having gone to grad school (seriously?) is someone that you don't need to be friends with. You're trying to pull people to art galleries, for Christ's sake. That sounds plenty cultured to me.

Don't beat up on yourself because you're finding it difficult to establish meaningful friendships as an adult. It's a problem that many, if not most, struggle with.
posted by Noisy Pink Bubbles at 12:38 PM on May 16, 2015 [2 favorites]

Go and join some clubs/groups/meet-ups where you can learn a new hobby that you would define as exciting or interesting and stick with it for a while (rock climbing? life drawing? mountain biking? crochet? Whatever appeals to you).

You'll kill two birds with one stone - meet new people who are potential friends and become more interesting for your own definition of what makes people interesting. And it never hurts to have an intruiging hobby you can chat about to new people you meet in other places.

I'm 40 and make new friends reasonably regularly by taking up new activities and pursuing them. It's definitely not over in your late 20s.
posted by penguin pie at 12:38 PM on May 16, 2015 [1 favorite]

If you want more interesting friends, you'll have to go do more interesting things. Go to art gallery events, go to foodie meetups (and book-signings and talks and that sort of thing) and take food classes, audition for plays and volunteer to schlep chairs and usher at the playhouse, go knit, investigate a religion (or absence of religion).

You will also have to accept that nobody in their late 20s has time for teenage/college-style intense emotionally overdemanding friendships anymore. People have careers, partners, they have kids or are getting ready to, they have aging parents and health problems of their own and time constraints. By your 30s, you may only see your bestest friend 2-3 times a month. But there is still friendship and socialization to be found on those terms

I find that joining groups works best, just statistically for getting exposed to the most people with a similar interest, but also the group provides a hub and a frequency and that's easier for people as they get busier - hiking club is 2nd and 4th Saturday mornings unless it's a holiday weekend, and once a quarter there's a pub crawl (hike), or the Lady Atheists have Book Club Brunch first Sunday of every month whether anyone has read the book or not. You'll make a friend here or there that you start seeing off the schedule, you'll find out one of them is a neighbor or works near you, things will take off from there.

And fuck your ex, why are you still letting him control your friendships with people who might be better than him? You already found out: they all are!
posted by Lyn Never at 12:41 PM on May 16, 2015 [2 favorites]

When I had a somewhat similar problem a year or two ago, I joined a large Unitarian Universalist church in my big city and started going to their Young Adult group events and I pretty much immediately had a new social circle. I wouldn't say they're exactly hipster-y but churches and religious groups in large cities that have large young adult presence in their congregations are great places to make casual but meaningful friendships. Most people there are actively interested in developing new relationships and connections and feeling like a part of a community.

Also, try out social sports (dodgeball, kickball). Maybe online dating? It can be hard to find an actual relationship but finding someone who wants to go to an art gallery or a bar is easy.
posted by armadillo1224 at 12:55 PM on May 16, 2015

Just want to say that you are not alone in this. Your story from beginning to end is very similar to that of one of my friends who recently moved away. Depression, life changes, major relationship changing, demanding job, moving to a bigger city - all of it has meant some pretty lonely times for her. The big city thing especially seems to suck for people in their late 20's-early 30's making new friends. It's not you. I really doubt you're "unattractive as a friend." It just sucks sometimes. People have flaked on plans with my friend, like, an hour before plans were going to start and it really hurts.

When I moved to a bigger city in a foreign country were I soon found out I didn't speak the language nearly as well as I thought, what really helped me make friends was taking classes in things I was interested in. I got to practice my language skills in the context of something I really liked, got homework which kept me busy, and got to know people over the course of weeks instead of one night at a meet up. When the class would end, I had an excuse not to hang out with people I didn't click with and a context for following up with people I did.

Trying new bars and concerts and knowing fun places to go dancing make you sound interesting to me. I would love to have a friend that invited me along to concerts because I never take the time to investigate the new bands. I started hanging out with a friend of mine who's a transplant from across the country because she goes to my gym and was mentioning some fun-sounding dance night at a bar and invited me along. Turns out she's awesome and we've been friends now for a year.
posted by Pearl928 at 1:07 PM on May 16, 2015 [4 favorites]

Stop thinking about interesting friends and start thinking about interesting activities that attract like-minded people.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 1:10 PM on May 16, 2015 [11 favorites]

Ive noticed that a lot of people who struggle with friendships do so because they're really insecure and judge themselves harshly and in turn judge other people harshly. They always seem to be sizing you up and that's an annoying and depressing energy to want to engage with.

I personally think people are interesting for lots of reasons, and if you're kind and open then they aren't feeling alienated and reserved by the judgy-feelings you're unknowingly giving off.

Basically, to make real friends and not just "collect people" in a disingenuous way to make yourself seem cooler, you have to actually like people and want to build real relationships with them.

Without that, you end up in weird friendships, like some people I know have, where they claim they have a buddy who is xyz/interesting and they're not actually real friends, just acquaintances who sooner or later feel wary of you. I've had other women try to "collect me" because they're lonely and it's never fun to be friends with someone who is judgmental, much less to have to hang out with them or have conversations with them.
posted by discopolo at 1:29 PM on May 16, 2015 [6 favorites]

I see lots of regular-looking people around my age doing these things all over my city.

Keep doing these things. Go to the same yoga class every week. Join book clubs and language meetups. Consistency is key if you're not one of those 2% of people who can instantly strike up a friendship with a stranger. Yes, it's not going to be as fun alone, but keep doing it alone so that you have things to mention to Likely Friend Candidates when you have conversations with them that turn into you asking if they want you to invite them along the next time you try a new restaurant,etc.

Also, be clear to the friends you do have that you are trying to expand your social circle and make room in your life for more group activities, and that you'd love to be invited along if they need a +1 for something. Making friends as a post-college adult is both extremely rewarding and a total drag. How I did it: community choirs + contra dance + friends of friends + church + a smattering of queer activism.

I just went to grad school and I can tell you that having a high-powered consulting job where you work 60-hour weeks totally counts for as much social capital as an advanced degree, although YMMV based on region. Also, your ex was full of crap.
posted by katya.lysander at 1:34 PM on May 16, 2015 [1 favorite]

At the beginning of undergrad, my social life, for the most part, was pretty active and great.
Part of this is that you're coming in expecting the same ease of making friends that you had when you were in college. Sorry to say, that's never going to happen. I'm probably in about the same place you're in. I don't have a whole lot of friends, and the ones I do manage to keep up with are busy with something more important – a wife or husband, kids, or traveling for work. I only mention this to normalize your experience. Yes, this is normal. No, you aren't a weirdo.
I haven't gone to grad school yet and people are a bit put off by that.
Uh.. what? Who the fuck are you socializing with? Are people really saying, "Oh, you mean you don't have your M.A. yet? Uh... actually, the pool party is cancelled." Why would you want to be friends with these people?
It's kind of depressing (and resentment-causing) feeling like there's no one who likes me and who I can call up to do something I'd truly find fun
I get what you're saying, but this is all in your head, and it's going to hurt your ability to make new connections in life if you don't deal with it. If you really don't believe you're a worthwhile person who people want to be around, your efforts at making new friends will not be successful, simply because you won't recognize when you meet the right people.

I think you have some issues around self-esteem to work through. I also don't quite understand why your go-to option for friends is your ex's friends. These are people who are probably primed to dislike you. But beyond that, I think that friendships as a 27+ year old adult are quite different from friendships as a college student slash early-20s person, and your expectations are out of alignment. The friendships you made in undergrad were forged in the fire of a massive shared experience, in which you lived within close quarters of your peers during a pivotal moment in your development. That's probably not going to happen again.

So you need a new model for relationships. You need to meet your peers and spend time with them in some collective experience. I can't tell you what that looks like, but for me it meant joining a gym and taking up a strenuous athletic activity. The nice thing about being finding friends as an adult is that you can be involved in a lot of disparate activities so your peers are diverse.
posted by deathpanels at 2:07 PM on May 16, 2015 [6 favorites]

I haven't gone to grad school yet and people are a bit put off by that.

I think it might be the energy you're giving off that they might be put off by. I've never ended/excluded anyone for not having a grad degree. I have left people off lists for not being warm and kind or if I think they'll just cling to me and not be friendly to other guests or fun to be around. Not if they're a little shy or awkward or anything, so long as they're able to socialize. But if they're mean, talk behind people's backs, are petty or have some kind of agenda or disloyal, I don't enjoy that kind of negative energy. Nobody does.

Have you considered rekindling any of your friendships from college? What kind of friendships were they? I actually transferred undergrads and my best friends from freshman year (they're all married and I'm single and on the opposite coast) are still my bffs---we're even closer now than we were then (mostly because of constant texting and celebrating milestones in their lives). It ends up mattering how long you've known someone. ( I just got a lovely text yesterday from my grad school friend who also moved to the opposite coast about how her FB feed brought up a 10 yr photo of us at graduation. She humored me by going to karaoke with me bc I wanted to try it last time I was in her city and kept me from falling asleep with a plastic bag over my head that I put on when I was drunk after karaoke).

My basic point is: stop comparing yourself to others, stop judging people, and "rating people" (low hanging fruit friends vs people you aspire to be/join the ranks of). I think you'll be happier and more relaxed and find best friends. People want to be around people who are warm and kind and genuine and caring.

And seriously, being able to build genuine friendships is so important, whether you're single or have a boyfriend/husband. You'll need emotional support through life, and cultivate the ability to Form non-romantic intimate relationships. So I think maybe therapy might be an important way to find out why you're having trouble making friends.
posted by discopolo at 3:26 PM on May 16, 2015 [1 favorite]

My ex always made me feel bad about wanting friends I have more in common with, because beggars can't be choosers,

my ex found my lack of a social life to be a turn-off. I don't get invites anymore from our (former) mutual friends who I'd been friends with for years; even well before we broke up they started snubbing me and not him, because I'm the world's biggest killjoy.

Sounds like your main problem is that your ex was a real sack of shit who got some kind of kick out of putting you in no-win situations. "You don't have enough friends but also I'm turning our friends against you and also you're too shitty for friends"? What a turd. I hope step one in your finding of new friends is to literally never ever speak to your ex or any of his shitty, easily fooled friends again. Just assume everything he ever said to you was a complete, baldfaced lie, because he sounds like the kind of NYC jerkass hipster who deserves to be brained with a jar of artisanal pickles.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 1:06 PM on May 17, 2015 [2 favorites]

It's possible that I'm having trouble with this because I haven't gone to grad school yet and people are a bit put off by that.

I think people are going to be more put off by the attitude that there is something lacking in not having gone to grad school yet than they are about the fact of you not having gone to grad school yet.

Most people don't go to grad school, or have relatives or friends who aren't planning to go to grad school. An attitude that a lack of grad school makes a person unworthy in some way is something that the majority of people are going to find offputting.

Oh, and if you are trying to make friends with people who act like you are "less than" because you have not gone to grad school, that is a good signal that they are not a good friend for you. Don't waste time trying to plan more social time with that person, go to a meetup or something where you can meet people who are not so judgmental of others.
posted by yohko at 11:40 AM on May 18, 2015

Where do you live? Memail me and tell me. If you live where I do, let's hang out! I love art, foodie things, and late-20s hipstery stuff!
posted by sevensnowflakes at 4:25 PM on May 18, 2015

Just learn to offer the most interesting parts of yourself upfront! Interesting people can't resist the bait. I can't offer you any advice on how to find people who like to go out and do things, but I can say, once you've collected a few truly fascinating pals, you don't even have to have common hobbies! You just spend your days making never-ending banter or deciding to tour fish breeders or pretending to be seals. At that point, no one would dare suspect you of being boring. Boring people simply don't make such arbitrary life plans! It's like magic.
posted by jignomer at 8:37 PM on May 18, 2015

The trick to getting rid of boring people is to stop hanging out with them. No need for a scene. You just stop calling them, and very nicely turn down their tickets to the bat mitzvah, and when you run into them at the grocery store you say, "Oh hi! How are you?" and then scurry away at the first opportunity. Voila! Strangers again. Denial of awkwardness is an important social skill! Grow to love it!

"...they've always clearly got their own tight-knit things going on and probably aren't looking to add a new friend."

Numbers game. Nobody has all the time, and a few people have no time, but some people have some time, and if you're persistent it can be your time.

1) Find two cool activities
2) Put them on your calendar
3) Invite a potential friend to Activity #1
4) They can't make it? Go anyway
5) Talk to someone new there
6) Get their number
7) Invite them to Activity #2
8) Repeat until fwends.

YOU have to take charge here. Don't wait for other people to make the first move. Besides, even if the friendship fizzles, you still did a cool thing right? And you have a story about it, right? And that means a social history instead of a string of lonely nights, right?

Do *anything*. Just do it with panache.

Now you have bait!
posted by fritillary at 2:09 PM on May 19, 2015

I'm not much of a foodie, but I would LOVE someone to go to hipster-y art galleries, concerts, and bars with. Where do you live? What type of music do you listen to? I'm a woman in my mid-20s who just got out of a similar relationship as well. He met all of his friends (who lived in our city) during undergrad years ago, and wouldn't get off my case about barely having friends in the area, even though I had just moved to the area 4 months before we started dating! It drove me nuts!!
posted by Penguin48 at 6:47 PM on May 30, 2015

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