I'm afraid friendships will end once friends find partners
January 25, 2017 12:54 AM   Subscribe

I'm turning to the hivemind for advice about dealing with the disconnect between the friendship that seems available to me - going to Meetup events and chatting with whoever turns up that afternoon/ evening - and the one I want, where people get to know each other more and invest something in the friendship. At the moment I've had some social life which is showing me that I want more than the online friendships I previously had. But at the same time it seems other people have friendships as something to pass the time in between partners, or that as soon as they are partnered up, the need for the previous friendship disappears. I am a middle-aged man so am not expecting besties or BFF's but what do other people who are "single and staying that way" do in the face of losing friends as they find partners? If anyone has found ways to pass the time at home alone which keep the loneliness dragon at bay that might be a way to minimise the issue too from another angle.

In the last year I've started to make more efforts through Meetup to try to connect for real-life friendship after years of mostly socialising online. I have made a few acquaintances that happily interact with me at meets but I don't see outside of the meets, and a smaller number of people I occasionally see by themselves. It has really meant a lot to me to have people make some time for me in person, since I suffer from low self-esteem. I like these people, both men and women, and I want the best for them and for them to be happy. I want them to have partners if that's what they wish for themselves. Yet recently I was somewhere with two of them who are in couples where their partners were present, and it's clear our friendship interactions are much less meaningful to them than the ones with their partner (which is a good thing, better than them hating their partners, but it made me realise they mean more to me than I do to them). I also have a local friend who happens to be quite a bit younger than me, and has mentioned her natural aspirations to be married and have a family, so it's a bittersweet feeling investing in a friendship which you know will end as soon as that person is partnered and "loved up". Maybe it's because I don't have a partner and aren't looking for one that friendships matter more to me than other people, but it's a painful though that I really care about people and they are perhaps just passing the time until they find a partner. Can anyone relate to that feeling? The same thing happened to me in my 20's as my friends at the time all got married. And the one long-term relationship I did find, I did the same thing, and neglected my friendships as I prioritised my main relationship, so I can't judge other people for doing exactly what I did. I suspect the answer here might be for me to care a bit less, to chill out and enjoy friendships for what they are even if they only last a few months, and do develop the capacity to enjoy my own company more. But I find that really hard to do especially with people I have come to really like, and who have made me realise that I need in-person friendship and not the online kind only, since it's just not the same for me if people online don't actually talk by voice and can vanish so easily from my life. What solutions have you all found to cope, if you have felt the same emotions?
posted by AuroraSky to Human Relations (13 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
Friends do come and go. I think it's helpful to accept that - people get married, they land a dream job in another location, etc. I do know that bittersweet feeling of being happy for a friend getting married and sad for the hit to the friendship.

The things that might help:
* Get in a large group with a lot of people that's very open to new people - not all of them can get married off at once, and new people will replace marrieds as they drop off.
* Along the same line, check out a church (unitarian churches are popular with the green) and look for ways to get involved - through choir or outreach teams etc.
* I do have married friends. I don't see them as much as I did when they were single, but they are still in my lives and it's still great to see them and spend time together when we can.
* Do you yourself want to get married? That's sort of like locking in a best friend who can't go off and marry someone else, you know :) Not without some complications anyway.
* If you're committed to remaining single, look for other friends with the same attitude.

Good luck!
posted by bunderful at 5:36 AM on January 25, 2017 [2 favorites]

What about making friends who already have partners?

Ultimately though friendships really do come and go, and they are almost always imbalanced (one friend is going to invest more in the friendship than the other). I think friends dialing things back with you for a new partner (or new friend!) can feel more hurtful than a friend who no longer has time for you because they took a demanding new job or moved or something, because that feels like less of a direct tradeoff. But I don't think that's probably a very productive way of looking at it.

As for how to spend your time alone, as a long-time single person (single pretty much continuously until age 35, including multiyear periods where I didn't really have *any* local in-person friends who I could go get a cup of coffee with), here are some things that worked for me:
* Don't stay home if you don't want to. On a weeknight you can go to the movies, or go to a coffeeshop or bar and read or watch the game in the company of relative strangers. On weekends you can do pretty much anything you want; go for a hike, go to a museum, take a last-minute minibreak to a nearby city. There are very few things in life that actually require a partner.
* Join an organized group that gets you out of the house at least one evening a week. This is a good thing to do even if you do have someone to come home to! For me it's a choir. Church groups and volunteering are other cheap ways to do this. Social sports leagues, running/biking clubs, a regular yoga class, or continuing education class are some other options that come to mind. I've even taken on a part-time seasonal job when I was poor and didn't feel like spending time alone. Ideally do something where someone takes attendance, so that you feel like you *have* to go.
* Roommates. I only actually lived alone for about two and a half years of my singlehood. After two years I missed having roommates. After another year and a half or so of that I missed living alone so I did that for a little while.
posted by mskyle at 6:09 AM on January 25, 2017 [6 favorites]

I don’t have a great answer for you since I’m kind of in the same boat, but what’s helped me is latching onto a preexisting social circle. The core group of this circle all went to college together; it’s picked up other people (like me!) over the years, but it’s pretty stable. Hanging out with these folks has given me the opportunity to get closer to individual members by seeing them semi-regularly over the course of years, and it means I still have friends even when individuals’ availability wax and wane (when they have a new baby, start a new relationship, etc.). Meetups in your area may function in the same way; in mine they tend not to… they tend to have a near complete turnover over a year or two.
posted by metasarah at 6:35 AM on January 25, 2017 [1 favorite]

It seems to me that you're very focused on trying to create permanence in your friendships.

For me, a friend is a friend even during times they are less available. Social media makes this awesomely easier but...why are you gauging your connection against someone's romantic partnership? Is it about time or about quality? I have friends where they were jetting around the Middle East for 5 years, with basically just one card a year contact, but as soon as they were back we pick up the friendship. I would challenge you a bit on your view that your friendships are wholly defined by whether that person is available to keep you from feeling lonely right then.

It's okay if ultimately you decide that for you,yeah, availability to hang out weekly in person is key but then...it's actually you rejecting them on the basis of their availability, not people continually leaving you, if that makes sense.

If the base problem is that you're bored and lonely then yes, I highly recommend a group or two that meet weekly for whatever reason (church used to be traditional) so you have a social pool available a lot. I hear you that you want deeper relationships and I think many of us do eventually find that one friend we talk to daily but -- see above, I think often life itself intervenes and it's the weekly X group that fills the gaps.

Finally this is a bit tough-love but I have had friends that treated our relationship like a referendum on their importance and while I totally get that this is a huge struggle with self-esteem, the result for me was feeling like my choices to have other friends, hobbies, spouse, etc. wasn't okay. It is not fun to feel like someone I care about is gauging whether I am "loved up" (what does that mean?) or who-loves-whom-more.

Friendships definitely have to work for both parties, and if for you a friend texts you daily and goes out every Friday, that's truly ok. But if your friend invites you along with her boyfriend because she wants you there and you are sitting there thinking this just proves you're not #1...for me that's very uncomfortable. It's putting me in a position of judgment or something.
posted by warriorqueen at 6:40 AM on January 25, 2017 [8 favorites]

Finding and investing in friendships are truly possible, providing sufficient time and energy.

Meetups are certainly a viable avenue. In the context of friendship stages; acquaintances, friends, good friends, BFFs, Meetups initiate the acquaintance stage. It gets the ball rolling by connecting others based on a common goal or idea.

You mention wanting the best for the people you know. This sometimes means letting them go experience another phase in their lives. I’m sure they would want the best for you when the time came.

That being said, consider additional alternatives in finding the relationship(s) you want through common goals and ideas. Look for things that involve interacting with people and gets you out of the house like volunteering, church, Toastmasters, seminars, etc.
posted by mountainblue at 6:40 AM on January 25, 2017

Also, not everyone who gets married falls completely off the map. Childless couples in particular are usually great about getting together regularly, especially if they've been married a while. People whose kids are older are usually more free to get together too. Sometimes people become less available right after getting married and having kids, but re-emerge after a few years ready get an occasional beer and play board games.

And friendship doesn't have to last forever, or always be the same, to be great.
posted by bunderful at 7:11 AM on January 25, 2017

The groups of friends I know that remain close over the years all have some weekly event that keeps them committed to seeing each other once a week, such as pub quiz, board games, family dinner, or D&D.
posted by tofu_crouton at 8:58 AM on January 25, 2017 [2 favorites]

I too am a middle-aged person and I relocated 8 years ago and I can attest to the difficulty of making lasting connections in a new place where people already have friends and going deeper than a casual "meetup" friendship is hard.

The friends I have made are people I *do* things with. You talk about having good conversations and wishing people well, but what are you bonding over? Bonding occurs when there is a challenge of some kind and you overcome it together, or one of you helps the other. It could be a problem at work or needing help moving or learning a new skill or trading stories about low self-esteem (as long as those conversations are solution-focused).

Remember that people go to generic meetups in order to meet people. Once they meet people they bond with, they no longer need the meetups.

In general, because of the ways we are socialized, I think these things can sometimes be easier for women. You have to show a bit of vulnerability in order for someone to advise/teach/help you. An example: a guy I work with is a serious introvert and very self-sufficient, but over the past year he has developed a tight circle of steadfast friends because he took up bike riding and they helped him train, lose weight while doing it, get better, go from road biking to mountain biking, etc. Some of those people have partners, but they all ride together, get a beer afterward, etc.

So think about what you like to do, think about ways you can help others, and think about things you would like help with. And connect with people through those things rather than passively through generic meetups that other people set up.
posted by headnsouth at 9:34 AM on January 25, 2017 [1 favorite]

Kanye West wrote the interpersonal anthem for men over 35. What you are going through is completely normal. I'd like to offer you some guidance on two issues, as I see them.

The first is that you can't control other people's behavior, and it is very difficult to control your own expectations. So give yourself a break. When you find yourself getting down because no one wants to hang out with you irl, acknowledge your desire for more intimate relationships. Then acknowledge the fact that your expectations are, more often then not, unrealistic. This is because you are human, and for no other reason. Try to tune in to the good things that *do* happen to you, like, "I went to a meetup and talked to someone who shared a fascinating/thought-provoking story." Try to tune out the disappointments, such as when you do not get a text back, even though you are prompt in your responses when texting.

The second issue is your self-esteem. Remember that self-esteem comes from your*self*. It's dependent on how you view yourself, and not much else. If you are struggling to stay afloat because no one wants to hang out, take a moment to remember that it is normal for you to lose out to people who are romantically involved. That's the way it should be; from a certain perspective, it's actually kind of sweet. Very few adult men have the kind of social life that most adult men want, where we get our needs met and have our thoughts and opinions validated as often as we'd like. If you are struggling with the first part of the equation (getting your needs met), you might find some meaning and purpose by dedicating yourself to the second part (by listening to and validating other people's opinions, especially if they are male).

Lastly, seek friendship where you can find it, not where you want it. Learn how to tell when people are open to friendship and when you are likely to end up frustrated with the outcome. Pursuing a friendship is a lot like pursuing a romance: you will end up with far more disappointments than successes, and you will have to temper yourself against the sting of rejection, both perceived and quite real, without any solid means making a distinction between what is perceived and what is real. When you feel let down, take a moment to acknowledge your sadness, and then move on. Don't give up on yourself. You deserve to be happy.
posted by Mr. Fig at 9:58 AM on January 25, 2017 [3 favorites]

You sound like you might be a good candidate for joining a service based group. I have some of my longest/best friendships through people I have met through 'service' type activities.

If you are interested, there are many that are 'faith based' but there are also lots that are not faith based at all, or so minimally so as to be open to all of any/no faith. The trick is finding one where you like the 'activity' as well as the people. Many groups host open evenings, or if you need a sponsor, its fine to ask people to introduce you to their group. You might be surprised if you posted to say Facebook, saying "I'm looking to join a service group, anyone got any ideas?" who might already be involved and offer to introduce you. Otherwise, it's perfectly fine to just google local service groups and cold call them, explaining you are looking to get involved in your community. Not all accept new members all the time, so don't take rejection personally. If it's not a good fit when you meet them, don't join.

Getting out and DOING things with like minded people (who may or may not be of the opposite gender of you) is a great way to get to know people, as well as yourself. And because you have something in common (the service aspect) there is something to discuss or keep a friendship time to develop over.

Don't give up on meetups, they certainly can have their place, but I think developing a range of friendships, and activities in your life (as time and energy allow) is probably the best way to broaden your social horizons.
posted by Northbysomewhatcrazy at 10:30 AM on January 25, 2017 [2 favorites]

You know, I do see the DingoWife as my #1 priority, yes, but that doesn't at all mean that I don't treasure my friends, too. Some of them have been in my life for years longer than she has, have had experiences with me that I love thinking back on, "get" really silly aspects of my personality ... I think you would do yourself a huge favor if you tried not to think of relationships/friendships in terms of ranking who's most important. Apples and oranges, you know?

And yes, when couples get together oftentimes they do seem to drop off the face of the planet, but that's often just temporary - once the initial shine wears off, a lot of times your friends will be wanting to reconnect with you ... so if you can, try to think of things on a more long-term basis and be open to the possibility that a newly-coupled friend will want to come back into your life at some point.

And even if they don't, well, that doesn't take away from the friendship that you'd had. Genuine friends truly aren't just there to 'pass the time,' I promise. I've had a number of very dear friends with whom I've lost touch with over the years for one reason or another, but that doesn't change the fact that the friendship we'd had was special and important, and contributed in some way to who I am now. My mom likes the phrase "people are in your life for a reason, a season, or a lifetime" - even those "for a season" friends are valuable.
posted by DingoMutt at 10:37 AM on January 25, 2017

Night classes at a community college. Older people who work during the day have to go to school at night.
posted by conrad53 at 5:11 PM on January 25, 2017

I'm not sure how the experience is for a middle aged man, but as for the other gender, I've found that single people who find true love can end up as Smug Young Married and pretty much dump you afterwards and only want "couple friends." On the other hand, I've had great luck with other "permasingles" like myself (let's face it, me and those friends are probably too immature/emmeshed with our mothers to be partnered in life) or Old Marrieds, who don't feel the need to flaunt their partnerships and are totally fine with befriending anyone they can get, regardless of their romantic status. Also, what Mr. Fig said about being friends with who wants you.
posted by jenfullmoon at 6:23 PM on January 25, 2017

« Older Detailfilter: early 90s London and Paris   |   Can you read this handwritten name? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.