Trying too hard, or not enough, wth new friends
January 2, 2019 10:16 PM   Subscribe

How much “trying” do you do with new friends? How do you read how much they want to be friends with you?

I really need to make a friend or two in 2019. I have friends who are far away, but I would like a good local friend or two to play the occasional game with, go out to brunch with, or sit around and gab with.

My problem is that I always seem to either try too hard or not hard enough to keep the friends I could be making.

An example of trying too hard: I made a friend through some board game stuff but seem to have scared friend off when I lent them a movie they mentioned they wanted to see and suggested we hang out sometime. I think I misread that we were just supposed to be game friends and not friend-friends, and they ghosted. (Btw, no chance this was mistaken as a romantic thing on either side, no worries there.)

As for not-hard-enough, I think there have been some people that I could have been friends with had I made a little effort beyond just friending on social media. But again, I have a hard time reading if I am trying too hard, so my default is to not try at all and hope that they will make some sort of move toward friendship/activities. And they don’t.

Adding difficulty, I’m an older person and fairly introverted. People my age tend to have kids and/or very established friend groups, so breaking into that is pretty hard. Despite how this all sounds, I’m relatively likable, chatty, and easy to get along with, so the issue really seems to be more about finding my place with new people and going the right pace. I would welcome any advice.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (22 answers total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
FFS, someone got "scared off" when you suggested you hang out sometime?! I doubt it, they flaked is what happened.

Friendship is like tennis. The other person has to respond back and hit the ball back to you in order to keep the game going. You can make overtures, and that's good! A lot of people won't get up the nerve to do it (as you've seen) so if you give it a try, that's excellent. However, they have to respond back. As we say in dating situations, if they say they're "busy" and don't offer a different time to get together, they're not interested. I think your initiating is great. But some people will respond back and some will not or be flaky ass or ghost or whatever, so give up on those people. Pursue the ones who pursue you back, don't bother if the person doesn't respond in kind.

If it makes you feel any better: There was one time I proposed friendship to a new coworker who was complaining she didn't have friends here. She said that she only wanted couple friends for her and her husband (and I'm obviously permanently single). Now that, folks, is mortification. But hey, I tried and it was her loss and fuck young smug marrieds anyway, amirite?
posted by jenfullmoon at 10:28 PM on January 2 [53 favorites]

So...I really wish you hadn't made this anonymous because I have a weird maybe-suggestion that I'm not going to suggest here because it's a little too niche and you're unlikely to be interested in the suggestion for all kinds of reasons and it would probably make me too identifiable to clever people, but if you want to memail I'll share.

Also, as an older person who has some of the same issues: many (but not all) people I meet in my age peer group tend to be busy with kids, five polyamorous relationships, serious careers, divorces, etc. and are too busy to hang in a buddy-sense, I've had relative luck with older or way younger, like young enough that I feel a little weird about it. But it's all platonic and cool and eventually it stops feeling weird.

And honestly, I don't know if it's where I live or what, but all the people my age seem super-unhappy and get stupid-ugly-frighteningly drunk and/or drugged way too much, and I find younger and older than me just seem to be healthier.

But absent any knowledge of what happened with your friend-prospect, I would also encourage you to not automatically think you tried too hard. Even if it feels that way, it doesn't always come across that way to other people.

I have felt like I'm on the other end of people trying to hard, and it's _only_ when I feel like they have nothing in common with me. Sounds like you and this person had games and movie-taste in common.

Please do keep reaching out to people, make sure you're not putting arbitrary restrictions on people with whom you might share interests and don't feel weird about your age. I promise, there are people who would live to hang out with you, it just might take time and creativity and a bit of patience to find them.

Good luck fellow traveler!
posted by liminal_shadows at 10:57 PM on January 2 [3 favorites]

I agree that the thing to do here is not be afraid to make overtures, but pay attention to how they respond, and calibrate further moves based on that. It's quite a fine art, and the temptation to over-think is ever-present, but can be so rewarding when people respond. Definitely, if you feel like you're not getting traction after one or two overtures, it's time to dial it back.

You sound really emotionally balanced, so this is probably not necessary to point out, but: Don't allow yourself to be overly cast down when someone does not respond to your overtures of friendship. It's entirely their loss.
posted by unicorn chaser at 11:06 PM on January 2 [5 favorites]

Definitely just keep asking people! It’s not over-eager to ask someone once or twice if they want to hang out. I am so happily surprised and grateful when I meet someone through a hobby/gig/work/study/mutual friends and then they ask me to do something social with them. Making friends as an adult is HARD.

Finding good places to meet the people to ask also helps - group hobbies and taking classes have been the richest source for me.
posted by wreckofthehesperus at 11:59 PM on January 2 [1 favorite]

I think it's worth it to consider with each person whether you are pursuing friendship because you enjoy their company/find them interesting, or because they tick some friend-criteria boxes on a list in your head. The former tends to be more mutual and is where friendships naturally develop; the latter feels like an effort for you and is off-putting to the other person.

The friendships you are looking for sound pretty intimate to me (introvert) - one on one brunches and talking - so I would start there. Do you already have easy conversations with this person? Do you pair off at your group events and pick up conversations where they left off last time? Do you know their kids' names and they know about your big project at work? Those are the people who have real friend potential.

It is hard with people in the busy child-rearing years, time for brunch and open-ended chats is near impossible. Breaking into established friend groups tends to happen by invitation. Keep living your life and doing things that interest you, because those are also the things that make you interesting to others. And meetup is still a thing - check to see if any of the religion/nonreligion/foodie/newcomers/middle-aged-hikers etc. groups hold brunch events.
posted by headnsouth at 12:46 AM on January 3 [1 favorite]

I've moved around quite a lot in my adult life, and I've become reasonably good at making new friends. The key is that I try A LOT. I'm lucky enough to meet a lot of great people in my line of work, and I work hard at keeping communication open. This means anything from super-low key contact (responding to people on social media, - I start a lot of conversations just by responding to Instagram stories - forwarding things I think they'd like etc) to making concrete plans. I try to keep an eye out for events that look good - theatre, storytelling nights, concerts, comedy shows - and make a point of inviting people out to them. I personally think an event is better than, say, a brunch or one-on-one coffee, because you have something to do together and that cuts through the tension.

I have no problem at all being the person who always organizes things, because when you move to a new area you don't have the benefit of an established friend group where things tend to happen more organically. The way I see it, if I want any kind of social life, I have to go out and actively make it happen.

I try to stay sensitive to social cues - if I get that gut feeling that they're just not that into it I drop it. I also really challenge myself not to get upset if people can't make certain plans. I get it! People are busy! Scheduling with adults is like three dimensional chess! I have to turn people down, too! But there's a lot to be said for cheerful, low-key, socially sensitive persistence.
posted by nerdfish at 4:42 AM on January 3 [35 favorites]

I am an introvert with bonus social anxiety, and I have a bad habit of freezing or pulling away when someone reaches out to me, no matter how great I think they are. If you’re trying to befriend fellow introverts, they might be doing the same thing I am. I don’t have any advice for avoiding that, but it’s not your fault.
posted by Metroid Baby at 5:02 AM on January 3 [15 favorites]

This is a great goal for 2019. Making (and keeping) good friends is really hard, but so important. I think you might have more success if you reframed it a bit into something tangible like: join X adult education classes, volunteer at two new organizations, get out of the house 3 nights a week.

I've moved around a lot, and have felt the way you're feeling many times, most recently a couple years ago. I've found it helps to accept that there are going to be times in your life when you have no close friends. And that's when you really need to be strong. But then there are other times (like now) where I have a couple very close friends and I treasure them.

Friendship is formed from shared interest and shared experiences. You have to spend enough time with people for them to trust you and get to know you. If you spend enough time out around people, spending time with the same people, it will happen. It can take months and years (always longer than you think it should). I think if you start getting out more and focus on spending your time in ways that help people and that are valuable to you, you might have some new friendships by the end of the year.
posted by Pademelon at 5:06 AM on January 3 [1 favorite]

I find that friendly acquaintances that I think might be potential friends respond better to a small group hang out than something one on one. Even if it's only with one other additional person, people tend to be more receptive to and comfortable with a suggestion of something done in a group. That could be suggesting another organized activity that they might like which you also participate in.
posted by jazzbaby at 6:23 AM on January 3 [4 favorites]

To me, one and one hangouts are less terrifying once I feel like I've gotten to know someone more in a group setting. I am an extrovert with a knack for making folks at ease in a one on one situation but to be honest, I don't always want to hang out with specific people one on one or follow up because I have needs too, and sometimes I just don't want to do it with that specific person. It's usually nothing personal but I have really specific needs in emotional support and chemistry that is best served in a 1-1, but that stuff can't be manufactured, it feels very mutual.

So I would focus less on the rejection part and just keep asking folks and realize that you too, are a fun person! Be there for people but think too if you enjoy being with them! So keep asking and doing you. I can ask quite a few people and still get a lot of turn downs just because life is busy. But it's okay, there is always more people!
posted by yueliang at 6:58 AM on January 3 [3 favorites]

In my area, a lot of people grew up here, have old friends from school, family, etc. Nerdfish is spot on - be persistent, keep making plans, casting out invites, etc. Join methods and game nights, Take a class or 2. People are busy, and have their own issues, so try not to take it personally.

I have a friend who is a good cook, has lots of dinner parties so she can try recipes. I've made friends taking a class and forming a study group.
posted by theora55 at 7:15 AM on January 3

I have a lot of trouble with this too. Some things I've tried that sometimes help:

Inviting people to a party I'm hosting, which feels lower-stakes and casual than a one-on-one hangout. I think it says "I'm having people over, no extra trouble for me if you come over too," instead of desperation. Of course this requires already having a critical mass of friends and a target that is good with throwing themself into that kind of situation.

Asking people for favors. Small ones, like borrowing the neighbor's lawn mower, or asking for a recipe, or asking for a hand carrying this box to the car when you're both leaving after a game.

Finding ways to run into each other more. Don't let this reach the level of stalking, but choosing to stop in at the coffee shop at a time they're usually there or walking your dog when they're getting home from work leads to more familiarity, even if you don't directly interact with them.
posted by metasarah at 7:20 AM on January 3 [4 favorites]

I don't think you're trying too hard -- someone has to be the one to make those overtures.

I would suggest looking for organized social activities that are specifically geared toward making new friends. There are meetup groups, for example, that are specifically for forming friendships, rather than geared toward a specific activity. I used to run one -- Females for Friendship -- in my previous city, and my main group of friends all met through that group. Now we have other things that we more closely identify with -- our book club, our trivia team, etc -- but the origin story is FFF.

I'm not sure how much older you are, but my mother had some success making friends through Red Hats. She also goes to aquafit at her local pool, and they have coffee / chat sessions after the class once a month and she has met people there, as well.
posted by jacquilynne at 7:36 AM on January 3 [1 favorite]

I'm mid-thirties, also a difficult age because of people pairing up, focusing on their career, and having kids.

Not sure if this is helpful but I made my best new friends as an adult through yoga teacher training, you really bond and tend to be like-minded, 4 years out the five of us still get together regularly. I have had someone contact me through linkedin (we are about to meet for lunch and then a walk, she was new in town and looking for like-minded people), and through work with a client there was someone there who asked me to coffee and the friendship has grown from there, that is fairly rare but it happened. I am not always the best at reading people so I've tended to let people come to me in general, I am semi-extraverted and try to go out to social events (concerts, art shows, talks) and when I'm out I acknowledge people, say hi, keep track of what is going on in the other person's life or find out, a lot of people don't do that. Key for me is figuring out who is friendly back to me, who seems genuinely interested in me, and trying to show up for them through social media (instagram and facebook, basically by liking their posts and making the odd comment), and that keeps a thread going that makes reaching out easier for shared activities (and also key obviously is do I like them, I'm not the best at that but getting better with time).

I think it's good to put yourself out there and suggest things, for people I don't talk to regularly but want to hang out with I try to check in about once a month to see how things are going and suggest doing something in the next while and that usually results in a get together unless they're really busy. Most people just don't feel like they have room in their life for new people, so I think going out and connecting with other people looking to go out more or whatever activity you are into is key.
posted by lafemma at 8:21 AM on January 3

The only way where you *might* have been off-putting is if you were really pushy about the movie. So not the act of offering to lend them the movie, but if you were really like "have you seen it yet? Let's set a coffee date to talk about it!" and they're not similarly enthusiastic *about the movie*.

Mostly, if you make gestures toward being friends and they don't reciprocate and you don't become friends, then they weren't going to become your friend anyway, so you haven't lost anything. It's just not true that if you had just hit the perfect level of behavior and pushed all the right dialogue buttons you could have had exactly your preferred outcome.

I say worry less about coming on too strong and keep reaching out to people. You can always give them an "out" if you're worried that you're putting too much pressure on. Even movie/games friend, you can reach out again to say "hey, I haven't heard from you in a while and was wondering how you're doing. Would you be interested in getting together sometime for either games or a movie? No worries if you're too busy, but I wanted to check in."
posted by Lady Li at 8:51 AM on January 3 [2 favorites]

I think making friends when you're older is a lot like dating -- it's a numbers game. So yes, keep trying. The worst that can happen is they don't respond. Keep in mind that even if the folks you meet are super cool and you have a good time at a board game thing or other scheduled event, they may not have a ton of time or desire to add another friend to their life. This is fine! It's not necessarily that they don't want to be friends or you came on too strong. Older folks have a lot of calls on their time, and it's up to you to find those people who you like *and* have time for more socializing.

I recently moved back to a place where most of my previous network has moved to different cities or countries. I've been making new friends by having fun chats with people I meet -- at events, friends of friends who come over for barbecues, neighbors, folks I work with and their partners (thank you holiday party).

I find the easiest way to segue from 'we just met' to 'let's be friends' is to exchange numbers, and then I invite them out for tea (much like a first date) and see how things go from there. I tend to make individual friends rather than trying to insert myself into an established group (which is fine if you can swing it!). I hang out one on one with said friend for a while and then invite a few other friends and them to go do something or come over for dinner. So I'm slowly creating my very own friend circle. In my age group with so many folks preoccupied with kids and so on, I feel like it's really on me to find people who have space in their lives for new friends.
posted by ananci at 10:20 AM on January 3 [2 favorites]

Science says it takes a long time to make friends as an adult -- so take comfort in the fact that it's not just you? (I mean, that's already clear from the many comments here sympathizing -- count me among them!)

Nthing the suggestion to find a shared weekly activity. I've found a fair number of friends by getting into swing dance, but even with lots of contact hours per week, it's taken longer than I thought to find my crew.
posted by diffuse at 10:23 AM on January 3 [2 favorites]

People who have high energy are more likely to engage with me. Cyclists, concert-goers, artists, etc. If you can find a way to engage with people in their high-energy activity, it will be much easier than, say, watching a movie together. Listen to the things people like to talk about - dancing, classes, trips. Try those for yourself, see if maybe they are a good fit.

Someone once told me, when I was surprised how much they wanted to be my friend, "you bring a lot to the table." Build what you bring to the table, and then people will want to share that table with you.
posted by rebent at 11:58 AM on January 3 [4 favorites]

making friends when you're older is a lot like dating -- it's a numbers game.

This. I'm a lot less willing to have casual friends than I used to be, even though as an ex social butterfly who still works with adult students, I still have significantly more than e.g. my partner or lots of people my age. I'm just pickier, less tolerant, less energetic and also busier, and the amounts of free time I have are jealously guarded.

There are a number of people I'd like to see more and consider close friends who I probably see 5-10 times a year. So any new person is competing with every relationship I've already formed on some level, and even if I'm totally stoked to hang out with them it's entirely possible I'll keep having to prioritize an older friend with a baby or cancer or who's only in town for a night etc. etc.

The only way it works for me to make new friends is persistence combined with convenience.
posted by aspersioncast at 12:02 PM on January 3

I think when it comes to making friends, it's best to err on the side of trying too hard. I don't think people pay as close attention to this as you think, and anyone who thinks negatively of you for trying too hard was probably not going to be your friend anyways.

That being said, I think there is a wide range between, hanging out one-on-one, and just adding people on social media, that might be worth exploring. Personally, I tend to prefer hanging out one-on-one with really close friends, since we have a shared history to fall back on if the conversation is a bit slow. But if you add one or two more people, it feels a bit more relaxed, even when I don't know the other people very well. On the other hand, commenting on social media posts and using them as conversation starters is pretty low-stakes and has been the start of friendships for me. And in between, you can try hanging out in settings where it's not as awkward if you leave after a few minutes, like parties, socials that occur after you do an activity, like meeting at a bar after running with a group, or hanging out in a coffee shop after a book club meeting, or supporting friends in their endeavors, like going to their comedy show or musical performance or craft booths.

Finally I'm not sure if this is what happened with your board game friend, but I tend to not take people too seriously when they say we should hang out without being more specific about what they want to do.
posted by chernoffhoeffding at 12:58 PM on January 3 [2 favorites]

This may have been mentioned up thread. My suggestion would be to join a group activity where you will be in close proximity to people around your age you can socialize with and get to know — slowly. Friendship takes time but socializing in a group can come pretty quickly and might satisfy your need to chat and connect with people. Sometimes we can be fulfilled by just being around people and having casual conversations. There doesn’t have to be a formality about it. As a married, working, forty-something I am fairly busy and don’t have too many one-on-one friend dates but have lots of opportunities to fill my socializing need through group activities.

Become a regular somewhere. Preferably at more than one place or activity. I have opportunity to make friends and connect with people because I am often in the same place on repeated occasions- work, my volunteer position, yoga, etc.

1. Are you available during the day? Join your local YMCA and do the morning or daytime group exercise classes. You will get to know people this way and often if you and others have time on your hands, there will be occasional outings for coffee afterwards, or chatting in the lobby. Any group exercise will do and it doesn’t have to be the YMCA. Walking clubs, couch to 5k training, yoga, etc. Your local RWB chapter— you don’t have to be a veteran to join or participate.

2. Bird watching or garden clubs.

3. Book clubs.

4. Other opportunities to be a regular and be around people: Minor league baseball games or local sporting events, live music, trivia night at the local pub, bridge, etc.
posted by loveandhappiness at 1:19 PM on January 3 [2 favorites]

Two strategies have worked for me recently (in my early 30s, with friends in their late 20s to late 40s).:

- Attending a regular organized activity that has a social component but is also structured. For this to work well, you have to be a really faithful regular. This could be a pub trivia night, a meetup, a book club, whatever... maybe similar to your game night. My experience with this kind of events is that it's a really long game, and to actually build outside-of-event friendships you need to keep showing up for the organized event over a period of months to years, actually getting to know other regulars and building friendships more or less within the event. Then decide from there who you want to ask to meet up outside the regular meeting; or maybe over time, those in-event friendships will themselves be fulfilling.

- Extending a casual invitation to a group of people all at once. I started a group Facebook chat with a few friends who all knew each other asking if anyone wanted to get brunch that weekend back in the spring. We all went for brunch, AND we have kept the chat going and gone for brunch either all together or in smaller groups every month or two all year. Not only have we developed this group friendship, I have also seen all of them as individuals more often than I did before we started going for brunch. I have liked this because there's several people and therefore several more chances that someone will initiate the next plans, and also because I feel less self-conscious initiating plans with several recipients... for example, A says no often, but B is sometimes available and C almost always is! So it's lower pressure.
posted by snorkmaiden at 6:41 PM on January 4

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