Not sure how to make friends after partner's passing
October 17, 2016 9:03 PM   Subscribe

My partner died a little over a year ago. He was a gregarious, goofy guy who had many friends. He was pretty much my only friend. His friends were wonderful when he was sick, and some tried to reach out after he died, though not many. I didn't know what to do except not be a bother; I couldn't bring myself to call them. The issue is that how to interact with people baffles me.

I see many of them fairly often at events, and we are friendly, but none are close enough that I feel I can call them just to chat, or to invite them to do something. I've had dinner with a few, months ago, and they were polite, but you can tell when you are trying to have a conversation and it's not connecting. I don't need to meet new people because I already know a lot of people, it's that I don't know how to become a friend.
posted by Vispa Teresa to Human Relations (10 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
People become friends with time and familiarity. The best path to forging new friendships is to spend low pressure time with nice people doing something you and they care about. This can be a hobby or a charitable pursuit or something educational, just so long as it involves hanging out in small groups where conversations can happen.

It's okay if you're not the kind of person who makes friends easily or has the need for a lot of close friends. Seek out some social sustenance and see where it takes you.
posted by Scram at 9:13 PM on October 17, 2016 [11 favorites]

Scram's advice is on target. You connect with people by being "you", it's a simple as that. Exist in the moment, be authentic, be honest. The people that should be your "friends" will gravitate towards that person.

And, "a little over a year" is not that long a time. It's not surprising that things haven't "normalized" by now.

posted by HuronBob at 9:47 PM on October 17, 2016 [3 favorites]

try hanging out with them while doing an activity so that the focus isn't on making conversation - it gives you time to spend together that you won't feel awkward if no-one is talking. I love hosting games nights, or doing crafts together. Movie nights or binge watching a tv show together is fun too - it also helps to spend time with them as a small group - once you have 5 or 6 people the conversation can carry on even if not everyone is participating. The more shared experiences you have with people the closer you'll become.
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 11:08 PM on October 17, 2016 [2 favorites]

I'm so sorry for your loss. If it reassures you, I think it's normal for friendships to begin with a period of being a little awkward or formal, as you get to know one another better (and although you already know these people through your husband, getting to know them directly can be almost like starting again - it's a new relationship you're navigating). So don't panic or think you're doing something wrong just because there wasn't an instant connection. Give it time.

I feel like this might be a situation where you could be honest without making yourself too vulnerable, and it would help a lot. They might be a little unsure whether you want to be approached much socially by them, if you were (completely understandably) withdrawn right after your bereavement. If they don't know whether their friendship would be welcome or upsetting to you, give them a gentle steer. A note along the lines of "I'm sorry I've not been in touch much this year - it's been a difficult time. I'd love to stay in touch in future - will you be at/would you like to join me at [event] some time?" where [event] is, as suggested above, something that doesn't require hours of conversation - going to a movie, or something.

It'll help them relax around you to know that you do, indeed, want to hang out with them and they're not imposing, and also lets them know that you've found this whole 'continuing my late husband's friendships' thing a little tricky, taking the pressure off you to do it 'perfectly'.
posted by penguin pie at 3:42 AM on October 18, 2016 [4 favorites]

I don't need to meet new people because I already know a lot of people, it's that I don't know how to become a friend.
"How to Win Friends and Influence People" may be old and it may have a reputation as being a bible for a certain kind of manipulative person. However it also can serve as a checklist of things that you might not be doing or not doing out of habit or pre-disposition. The linked Wikipedia summarizes what these are. One of the key things is that you have to cultivate a genuine interest in other people.

I've had dinner with a few, months ago, and they were polite, but you can tell when you are trying to have a conversation and it's not connecting
Can you? Maybe you were just not very confident in yourself and that made you a bit paranoid in your judgements? Maybe the people you were talking to were distracted or tired? Maybe you are not as good at reading intention as you think? Or perhaps they really were people who have no real interest in maintaining friendship with you for some reason - it happens to everybody. In any case: you need to try to increase the number of occasions where you are reaching out to potential friends to more than once every few months.
posted by rongorongo at 3:44 AM on October 18, 2016 [2 favorites]

A year is such a short time. Be gentle with yourself. You are still adjusting to your loss.

I would take a slightly different tack than recommended above
Use the leeway grief gives you to be with one or two that you want to connect with and tell them you are not sure how to be their friend by yourself but would like to try. Ask if they will keep inviting and including you.

Also when you are ready, spend some time thinking about who you were before your partner. Was he always your only friend? What did you enjoy doing before you met him? Were there things you didn't try because he wouldn't have enjoyed them? Could you try them now?
posted by emjaybee at 4:35 AM on October 18, 2016 [12 favorites]

I suggest you reconsider your stance about not needing to meet new people. If you have a friend group that you were in as a couple, it may be that you can only take those relationships so far. My experience with trying to get closer to people like that has usually been that they don't see me that way. We are part of the same group but we are never going to be close on a one to one basis. Plus, past a certain age, a lot of people already have as many close friends as they want.

So I think it might be better if you seek out new people. I have met most of my individual friends through work, or writing groups and classes.
posted by BibiRose at 6:31 AM on October 18, 2016 [2 favorites]

I would look for a widow's group. I don't know if you're a "young" surviving partner or not, but in my life I I had three friends and cousins who lost their husbands before age 40. Each experienced a similar disconnect from her friends, Having a place to go where her loss was not unique went a long way to helping each of them cope. It's not that they abandoned other friendships but that they having the young widows community helped them fit into their new circumstance in less fraught way. These were not counseling groups--they were like meet-ups, social, networking groups. They'd meet at a pub or go to the museums or have lunch. It was more about not feeling alone or worried that grief would come up at a weird time and no-one would understand. It was about being able to make friends without having to navigate people who were afraid of saying the wrong thing.

To be honest, the first of my mother's friends to lose her husband when they were all in the late 60's probably felt the same disconnect, She continued to come to the parties and events every year, but seemed withdrawn.

So I think you should be gentle with yourself, and I think you should maintain your connections with your husband's friend by being friendly when you see them and trying something like seeing a movie with them. But I really would look for a local *social* group for widows
posted by crush-onastick at 7:10 AM on October 18, 2016 [7 favorites]

Keep in mind that his friends are still grieving, too. It might be hard for them to become friends with you, as they are reminded of his loss each time. You might want to find your own friends outside of his sphere. Try a new group (the gym? people at work? book club? aforementioned widow's group?) and invite people to hang out with you.

I am very sorry for your loss, and hope you're able to figure this out.
posted by clone boulevard at 7:46 AM on October 18, 2016 [2 favorites]

Are you comfortable subtly asking the people you've spent time with for social help? When you're naturally shy and also very sad, it is very easy to wrongly interpret normal social gatherings as awkward or unsuccessful.

If you say, "a difficult thing for me has been trying to rebuild and meet new friends, do you know anyone with similar interests to me?" you could bring an empathetic friend to think of someone they could comfortably introduce you to who'd you more likely have things in common with, and you wouldn't have to try as many "public/anonymous" experiences (not usually bad, but you don't always make friends), or have to explain everything that has happened.
posted by aralymn at 9:30 PM on October 18, 2016 [1 favorite]

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