How do I friend?
December 23, 2017 4:51 AM   Subscribe

I cannot believe I'm asking this question at (almost) 30, but how do I keep and maintain friendships with different groups of people without ripping my hair out? Dramz inside.

This is righteously stupid, but here goes. I have friends from all walks of life, and I tend to like it that way. Rich friends, gorgeous friends who love to party, nerdy friends (like me) who like to stay indoors and drink, sarcastic friends, broke and funny friends, upbeat and positive friends, etc. I met nearly all of these folks in separate circumstances (work, by chance, a hobby, etc).

The problem is...when forced to get in a room together, they all hate each other. Or so it seems (?). The last time I built up my courage and tried to do this in an attempt to be more social (a few years ago), it went terribly awry. My two closest friends (and, incidentally, my judgiest friends -- or maybe not incidentally? guess that says something about me) had something to say about everyone, and it really distressed me, to the point where I don't host events any more. I'm thinking about this now because I have a birthday coming up early next year and, honestly, the thought of bringing all these people together makes me so anxious that I'd rather just hole up with my boyfriend instead of throw a big bash for my milestone bday (which also sucks).

I'm sad that I don't have a group of girlfriends that I can go out with regularly because of this. I don't think I've introduced any of my friends to each other in years. I'm not a hugely social person anyway, but it'd be nice to host a movie night, or BBQ, or something rather than expect people to invite me out all of the time. (Not sure if this is related, but like 3 people showed up to my last bday event, ha. Maybe I'm the asshole everyone hates??).

Anyone experience something like this before? I'm not sure how to remedy it. And before anyone says "dump the judgy friends," I get it, but they've been there for me through some really difficult times and I do value their company and opinions (most of the time). I'm thinking that maybe I should just be honest with them about the fact that I feel like I can't have a party because they hate all of my other friends (lolz), but at the same time, I can't force people to like each other so...yeah. I don't know what to do. Any advice would be appreciated.

I've actually grown more socially anxious over the years, to the point where I don't have a ton of friends anyway (and don't know how to get and keep compatible ones), but that's maybe an AskMe for a different time.

Thanks, all.
posted by themaskedwonder to Human Relations (22 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
Friendship is not transitive and that's OK. It is not a failing of yours that your friends don't get along with each other; it is also not a failing of your friends'.

There's not much more to it than that.

I personally prefer to have repeated, small gatherings than one big bash, for precisely this reason.
posted by Fraxas at 5:17 AM on December 23, 2017 [21 favorites]

I feel similarly and have diverse groups of friends. They don’t really co-mingle. I haven’t attempted a massive party that would force them to, partially due to geography, but every once in a while I will test the waters with 2-3 people over drinks to see if they are compatible. Often, they’re not.

After that happens, instead of feeling like a failure, I try and pat myself on the back for having the ability and social acumen to hang out with so many different types of folks!

I have smaller gatherings or one on one celebrations with friends. Being social doesn’t have to mean throwing or attending parties. Asking gently, is throwing a big bash for your milestone birthday a “should” for you? Like you feel like this is something you should do?

Honour your milestone birthday in a way that’s meaningful for you. Take a day trip with your partner, find a mini achievement and rock that, or do something outside of your usual norm like high tea at a fancy hotel.

Also, I’m noticing some of the words you chose that appear quite self-critical. From saying your question is righteously stupid to assuming you’re the friend everybody hates... perhaps that is anxiety talking. You’re doing a great job.
posted by nathaole at 5:40 AM on December 23, 2017 [9 favorites]

I'm thinking that maybe I should just be honest with them about the fact that I feel like I can't have a party because they hate all of my other friends (lolz), but at the same time, I can't force people to like each other

You've outlined the solution here. It's true that you can't force your friends to like each other, but you can let them know how it impacts you when they talk negatively about each other, and you can (and should) reinforce boundaries to make it clear that going forward, you aren't available for judgy talk about your friends. There are a variety of ways to do this - from the frank "Please don't say negative things about my other friends, it causes me a lot of stress" - to saying "hmm" and changing the subject (which will get the point across to many people but not all of them) - and many options in-between.

Seconding Fraxas's suggestion of multiple small gatherings.
posted by bunderful at 5:41 AM on December 23, 2017 [2 favorites]

Hi, I also have a lot of disparate groups of friends and some judgmental friends and some friends who hate each other or just don't mesh. I deal with it by...just not mixing them. The only time everyone was "in the same room" was probably my wedding, which is enough of a Big Deal event that people understand how to behave (usually).

If you want to throw a big party for your milestone birthday, and you do want to have everyone there, I would amp up the fact that it's a really big party and talk it up in the weeks beforehand. Make it really clear that you are really excited for it and it's your big night and you can't wait, and hopefully people will get the hint that they should show up for you and not make drama. Or, have your boyfriend invite everyone and emphasize all the same points above (he's so excited to throw a party for YOU, it's YOUR DAY, etc). Even with all may just not work. That's a risk! And if the anxiety about it is going to ruin the fun for you, it's not worth it, you know?

There's nothing wrong with having small gatherings, and not inviting everyone to everything. You can totally test the waters with some mixing if there are particular friends who might really enjoy a board game party, or a night out on the town, or whatever. And FWIW I don't think "being social" has to mean throwing parties. You have friends and you can choose to spend time with them in situations that both of you will like. That sounds plenty social to me.
posted by cpatterson at 5:51 AM on December 23, 2017 [1 favorite]

I have always had friends from different places in life who are extremely different from each other and would never hang out with each other on their own. Here is what I'd say:
1. This likely will not be a problem by your 35th birthday. People tend to stop saying very critical things about how other people just *are,* though they still analyze each other's motivations (and are critical of actual bad behavior.) It's much less socially acceptable to just kind of express "ew" or "oh god nope" about another person after you hit 30. People may internally feel that, but they'll be nice at a party. I mean, probably. That's usually how it goes.
2. Even after that it's not easy to host people who are really different from each other, just because they don't have a lot to talk about. So for example I often have separate small dinner parties with different groups who I know would like each other or already know each other.
3.But if you want to have a big milestone bd bash (and yay why not) you might consider having it somewhat smaller and planning it around an actual activity. Something that creates a shared project and a ready-made topic of conversation about what people are doing in the here and now. Like, go out dancing, or have a dance party in your house. Or get a bunch of clay & have everyone make a city on your dining room table and the floors of your kitchen. Or go find a place where the city will let you paint a mural, or just play elaborate charades -- or whatever is not standing there drinking.

On edit: was typing while the answer above came in, so basically, i agree with doing an activity!
posted by velveeta underground at 5:58 AM on December 23, 2017 [1 favorite]

Other than your two closest friends, does everyone else do okay together? Because if it's just them, then you might be able to rein them in for big parties. Depending on their personalities, that could be by talking to them about your problem in advance, telling them that you're "sparing" them from having to come to the party because they don't like your other friends and so you can celebrate with just them at another time, giving them a job to do at the party that will keep them occupied, hosting it at a time you know they're not available, etc.

If it's not just them, smaller events with people you hand-pick to be likely to be compatible is the way to go.
posted by metasarah at 6:51 AM on December 23, 2017

There's a lot of good advice upthread. However, I'm chiming in to say that you're not responsible for your friends' feelings about others. If you want to throw a big blowout party, do it, enjoy it, and if some of your guests get bent out of shape because they don't like everybody present, that's not your responsibility. Your responsibility begins and ends with being a gracious host, making sure there's enough food and drink for everyone, and thanking the folks that are kind to you.
Oh yeah and cleaning up after your epic party.
posted by cleverevans at 6:55 AM on December 23, 2017 [13 favorites]

I solved this problem for a couple years by hosting my birthday at a dance club, telling everyone when and where I'd be there, but not actually renting the club out or anything. People showed up, they bought me a drink, they danced, I mingled, and if they didn't like everyone in the club, well, they couldn't tell the complete strangers from my party guests anyway.

(I have the same problem, particularly because most of my friends are strong-willed, opinionated people. This is fine! I just don't try to make or expect them to all like each other. It is delightful when they do, but not the norm.)
posted by restless_nomad at 7:17 AM on December 23, 2017 [1 favorite]

This is another AskMefi question where I'm sitting here thinking, "Is their relationship so bad they can't talk?"

I have a really good friend, S. A few months ago S had a couple of glasses of wine and and decided to tell me that a certain behavior of mine really got on her nerves. It hurt my feelings because I thought she was overreacting and interpreting it in the worst possible light, but when she explained more I realized she wasn't really accusing me of being bad. She had experiences/context that made this behavior more hurtful than it would be for me, and since I respect that I told her I'd try to change.

I'm sharing this anecdote because that conversation made us better friends. Even though it was awkward, and at the time I was angry. Because we're good friends, we could talk, and the process of talking made us closer.

Talk to your judgemental friends. You can't make them enjoy hanging out with your other friends, but you can say, "It's hard for me when you're negative about my other friends and it makes my evening less fun. I want to have a birthday party. I don't expect you to like them, but I want to hang out with everybody without having to deal with that. Do you want to come to the party, and try to be more positive? Or would you like to have a separate event? We could go out to dinner, maybe. What would you enjoy?"

Or... something like that. The thing is, if you have a good relationship with a reasonable person you can talk about relationship issues and it's often the first step. You're considering it already, and that's a good instinct. Don't bottle it up.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 8:41 AM on December 23, 2017 [8 favorites]

See #4 of the five geek social fallacies:

Mefi post about it:

On phone, can't link.
posted by foxjacket at 8:44 AM on December 23, 2017 [2 favorites]

Why are you friends with people who are awful to strangers and/or awful towards friends of their friends?

This is a real question. You might rethink your boundaries around this.

And YES you should talk to your nasty judgey friends and tell them how hurtful they are. Then invite everyone but them to your awesome milestone birthday party.

It's also worth noting your nasty judgey friends have successfully commandeered your attention by being petty and jealous, basically by bullying you. They are bullies. DTMF'sA.
posted by jbenben at 12:04 PM on December 23, 2017 [3 favorites]

I am you! And 40+ and have the same problem. Don't overthink it and do not feel bad about it.

It is my experience that people don't actually 'grow up' and get over being clique-y and judgemental. Those of us who slide between groups easily (and don't have a large 'home group', like a bunch of old college buddies or something) often find ourselves feeling like we're missing out, or somehow flawed because we can't get a bunch of people together. I, too, have tried to mingle my friends and have it go horribly awry. Now I don't try. I'm still kinda sad when I see people (I.E. my wife) with large groups of friends who all get along; unlike her, I cannot support a party.

My strategy nowadays is not to have all my friends together in a large social group; rather, I try to introduce friends from different cliques in smaller settings, where they can meet one-on-one. I find this helps break down the walls they have, and they are more likely to get to know each other and form the mutual respect that is necessary for crossover. I don't expect my friends to become friends but some of them have learned to talk to each other, and I have even been able to have some of them hang out with me during holidays, my birthday, stuff like that. James from work knows Tony from my band and they both have met Steve from college (at different times) and we all hung out on my birthday last year. Dave my old roommate has met all three but really can't stand Steve (this strategy doesn't always work) but luckily he was busy that night anyway (though I'm sure he would have put a sock in it, for my benefit).

Either way don't sweat it too much, you're not really doing anything wrong- this sometimes just sorta happens. Smaller settings are better anyway, you get to have real conversations.
posted by Admiral Viceroy at 1:51 PM on December 23, 2017 [5 favorites]

I had this problem for years, having lots of disparate friends-unto-themselves but no real friend circle. I generally prefer people one on one or in small groups so it worked pretty well for me, but I did truly feel the lack of a community.

I solved it by accident by taking up an activity that over the years developed into a large tribe. Now I still have plenty of one-off friends but I also have the comfort of a large community of people who all know and (mostly) like each other.

So possibly the solution to your problem is not getting all your current friends to coalesce into a friend circle but to find/join/create a friend circle that does not necessarily include present friends while continuing to maintain pre-existing relationships.

Will this be hard and take a long time? Could be. It took almost a year of doing the activity to feel like I was "one of us" in the community and it has taken years for that community to develop, strengthen, and deepen. Good luck to you!
posted by Jenny'sCricket at 4:32 PM on December 23, 2017

Some people keep their friend groups separate and that's fine. I'm a friend mixer and I like to host casual get-togethers. I think familiarity is the key- my friends from different areas (e.g. science colleagues and sports teammates) have met each other a few times and are pleasant and cordial to each other, even if they don't have much in common besides myself. Might not have time to get to this stage before your birthday, but i think that the more these people see of each other, the less awkward it will be for you.
posted by emd3737 at 4:33 PM on December 23, 2017

1. This likely will not be a problem by your 35th birthday. People tend to stop saying very critical things about how other people just *are,* though they still analyze each other's motivations (and are critical of actual bad behavior.)

Hahahahaha no. Came here to say what Admiral Viceroy said. I’m 48, and people still say I’m a bad person for liking this one or that one. Some good advice here, but if you find a real solution to this problem let me know.
posted by Melismata at 5:23 PM on December 23, 2017 [1 favorite]

May I just say that I do not know how you should solve this problem but it doesn’t feel like a problem to me as much as an awesome situation in which you have many different interests and friends from many different areas and I just love that so much! I do have several super judgmental friends and when one of them starts talking trash about something that I find painful, I say, “you are oh so welcome to feel that way but please do not share that opinion with me because I love X and do not want to hear critical things about them.” And that has mostly worked for me. So I think a lot of it has to do with developing my own boundaries over the years and speaking up when people I love are crossing those boundaries by being deeply critical of other people I love. I speak up. And it makes a difference.
posted by Bella Donna at 7:28 PM on December 23, 2017 [1 favorite]

Apologies, of course it’s a problem if you find it problematic. I did not mean to dismiss your concerns.
posted by Bella Donna at 7:30 PM on December 23, 2017

Find a middle ground between "become a hermit!" and "throw all my friends into the same room and force them to get along!" Some of your friends will get along; some won't. Experiment with small groups and your best judgment and see what works. There may be some subsets that just can't mix it up.

Some of your friends might be hopelessly judgey assholes; either learn to love that or decide you can't and ditch them. At a certain age (yeah, around late twenties, sure), most people learn how to attend things like parties while remaining civil and polite, or how to avoid these types of engagements if they can't. If you find yourself with too many people who can't or won't, it might be time to find some new friends.
posted by axiom at 8:49 PM on December 23, 2017 [1 favorite]

I think this is a classic age problem. When you're in your late teens and early 20s, lots of your friends have very similar outlooks and life experiences. They all grew up with the same music, many of them went to various universities but had similar times. They are either thinking about or getting on with becoming grown-ups, buying houses, starting families, and that sort of thing.

Once you hit 30 you start to realise that the people you know are splitting off into very different groups. Some are full-on career monkeys, some have growing families, some have gone all new-age, some are still bumming around in bars and riding motorbikes (or whatever it is with your acquaintances). Although there is (obviously) a thread that still holds you together with your friends, even if they're very different from you, this thread often doesn't exist between your different friends.

It's just a thing. Not everyone gets on with everyone else.
posted by tillsbury at 1:55 PM on December 25, 2017

I'm like you (I'm 33 for reference) and I used to think the more the merrier. But I've given up trying to mix my different social circles, and in fact I found out it invites drama as I've lost friends because of cheating situations between the groups (ridiculous).

So I make a rule to NOT mix my friend groups now if I can avoid it. Sorry friends.
posted by christiehawk at 11:43 AM on December 26, 2017

Friendship can be transitive, but you can't do it all willy-nilly. When I'm introducing friends to each other, I make sure they have some common interest, and ideally I introduce them in a setting revolving around that common interest (for example, we all like playing board games so I invite them to a game night). There has to be a reason for me to introduce them.
posted by a strong female character at 5:32 PM on December 26, 2017

I've actually grown more socially anxious over the years, to the point where I don't have a ton of friends anyway (and don't know how to get and keep compatible ones)
Yeah I feel this a lot. For me it's extroverted tendencies + barriers to social interactions = lots of times when I'm feeling, mixed in with a cross-country move that hasn't helped my social life at all.

You don't have the "wrong" mix of friends, but it sounds like the relationships you do have don't lend themselves to the kind of interactions you're looking for. Perhaps if you can create circumstances to have random in-person run-ins (work, hobbyist clubs, creative spaces, other sorts of "extracurriculars" are good for this-- maybe there are others??) you might find yourself more able to establish and solidify 'organic' friendships further.
posted by postmillenial at 6:02 PM on December 28, 2017

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