How to find platonic friendship only at midlife?
May 7, 2019 12:35 PM   Subscribe

I’m just wondering if midlife people are interested in having platonic friends, and value them, or if society sees them only as a stopgap to be dropped as soon as a partner is found? Assuming there are people out there interested in platonic friends, how would I find them in Scotland, outside of the always-recommended ?

I am nearly 50 and wouldn’t make a conventionally attractive candidate as a romantic partner – for example I’m quite overweight and also not working due to disability. However I have some of the good qualities you might look out for in a platonic friend to meet up with occasionally for coffee and a chat or have as a companion to go to an arthouse film. Things like being a good listener, fairly articulate and educated, and probably as important as anything I have the free time to meet up and not flake out whereas a lot of my peers are busy with family and kids etc.

My question is, how would I go about finding a platonic friend just to talk to, rather than a romantic partner? Could this just lead to disappointment in the long term as the friendships would end when/if the other person started dating, not by my choice but by theirs? I know the standard answer for any loneliness question is to try Meetup but I have had mixed results with that and I’d like to try other options too.

Thanks in advance for any opinions!
posted by AuroraSky to Human Relations (25 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
Are you a woman? It might be worth searching out whether there are Red Hat Society groups near you. It's a social club, primarily for women 50+ but they also welcome people who are younger. It's a usually a bit more word-of-mouth than meetup in terms of attracting members and a bit more stable in terms of membership -- women tend to join and attend some/all events over a period of years, rather than picking and choosing as can be the case with meetup.
posted by jacquilynne at 12:51 PM on May 7, 2019 [2 favorites]

I can’t answer the bit about Scotland but I and my several intensely close girlfriends are all your age and married (well, I just got divorced, but for all these many years of close friendship I was married) and we all deeply value our friendships. But when people are first in a new relationship, yes, they tend to cocoon with their new love, so maybe focus your friendship efforts on people who’ve already been with their partner a while.
posted by HotToddy at 12:54 PM on May 7, 2019

Also, if you are a woman and a dog person, get involved in dog sports. Dog sports are lousy with middle aged women who value other women (and dogs!). It tends to be a great mutually supportive community.
posted by HotToddy at 12:57 PM on May 7, 2019 [3 favorites]

I think the trick is not aim at having just one friend but a lot of different friendships of different natures and intensities. I would start with finding group activities that interest you. This lets you be friendly in a general way with lots of people while focusing on an activity that you would enjoy by itself (book group, volunteer work, bridge club) Then identify a few people that you think you might connect with well on a one-on-one level and invite them to do something else. Try not to focus too much on any one relationship - plant lots of seeds. And don't discount the quality of friendship you can have with people that you only see in one context - if you see them every week or every month at the activity, in time there can be a real friendship even if you don't meet outside. Then set up a reminder to yourself to be the one to intiate things with the people that you would like to see more of. For a while I had a list of people that I would try to see individually once a month - that was an intensity that worked well for my lifestyle and theirs. And yes, some of them might move on, but if you have a rich network of friends, that will be OK too.
posted by metahawk at 1:00 PM on May 7, 2019 [14 favorites]

How many social groups are there around you? I used to give guest talks at Women's Institute meetings pretty regularly, as well as a couple of other special-interest or locality-based community groups. A lot of people I talked to were members of several groups, and were social butterflies to the nth degree. This was all in south Wales, but I can't imagine Scotland is terribly different; maybe go to a bunch of meetings, start making acquaintances, and see who turns into friends. I've also had mixed experiences with Meetups, and I think stuff like the WI has the advantage of having been around longer, and already kind of having gone through growing pains.

(Some of the more urban WI's seemed to be quite clique-y, so I'd recommend trying a bunch of groups. The ones that served smaller communities were some of the warmest, most welcoming times I've ever had. I seriously cannot recommend getting involved with the WI enough.)

Do you have a hobby (or want one) that you can join a guild or other group for? My most lasting success so far has been with a knitting circle that's really growing into a group of (right now casual) friends.
posted by kalimac at 1:15 PM on May 7, 2019

Per an earlier question, OP identifies as male.

Given the recent thread about lots of men depending on wives for organizing their social lives, (and thus sucking at socializing) this might make it a bit harder to make male friends.

Also, a Scottish teetotaller (male) friend tells me that the drinking culture in Scotland makes it hard to socialize outside pub culture.

Your best bet probably are interest groups. Maybe book clubs, movie watching clubs, gaming clubs, places to learn a new skill? You‘re open to male-female friendships, right?
posted by Omnomnom at 1:49 PM on May 7, 2019 [2 favorites]

posted by Omnomnom at 1:51 PM on May 7, 2019 [2 favorites]

Could this just lead to disappointment in the long term as the friendships would end when/if the other person started dating, not by my choice but by theirs?

It might lead to disappointment for this reason or for any number of other reasons. Like dating, platonic friendship is something that can ultimately lead to pain or hurt feelings. Most people feel that it's worth the risk, but there is always a risk.

It is hard to find friends once you're out of school. Generally older people, partnered or not, tend to be pretty busy with their lives. I don't think there's anything to do about it except look for groups that interest you. Like looking for a romantic partner, it can be a long, difficult process.

I have been making an effort to make more friends recently. I made a very good platonic friend through fencing, and I've gotten to know more people through getting involved in church again. I've also gotten into a vegan group. Obviously, these things are very specific to my interests - I only specify them to emphasize that there can be a diversity of activities in your community that aren't necessarily MeetUp groups. There isn't an easy answer to your question (and I don't want to imply that you're expecting one).

Once you're in a group and meeting people, you need to deal with moving the friendship outside of the group so that you're seeing the person one on one. This is also like dating, in that you are dealing with the possibility of rejection (If I ask him to have coffee, will he think I'm weird?) This is another situation where the only way to make it work is to take risks. It's super hard, but there really aren't other options. Good luck!
posted by FencingGal at 1:53 PM on May 7, 2019

I don't know what "quite overweight" and "disabled" means, but if you can still walk, check out your local Scottish country dance group:

Ignore all the videos of incredibly fit uni students bouncing on cobblestones. Most SCD is done by retirees, in at least one case with the assistance of a cane.

But most local SCD groups have a small, close-knit core of regulars who come for years to decades at a time and are incredibly welcoming. Also, 50 might well make you one of the coveted "young dancers".

In general, the recipe for friendship seems to be regular, but low-stakes contact over a long period of time, such as 5 minute chats at the interval every Thursday for a few years.
posted by meaty shoe puppet at 2:04 PM on May 7, 2019

There's a worldwide epidemic of loneliness; the UK recently created the position of minister of loneliness.

Churches have traditionally been a place where people meet new friends, and, in my experience, remarkably little religion gets discussed at churches.

I sometimes force myself to be uncomfortable for 45 minutes: I find an event that might be interesting, such as a book talk, a free concert, chess tables in the park or town center, 3D printing at the library, intro class in fly fishing, art walk, local history walk, local sporting events, .... The day of the event, I decide I'll skip it instead, but then I make myself go, even if it's only for 45 minutes, and I force myself to speak to at least 5 people. Even if the convo is entirely perfunctory, I might run into that person next month, or somewhere else around town. It takes a while to build acquaintances, and, of those, a few might turn into friends. Can you withstand 45 minutes of awkwardness?

Also, as for non-platonic partners... same. Lots of people are very lonely for romantic partners. Go slow, but give little indications that you'll be a respectful partner, and that you're interested. Even a "maybe coffee sometime...."

Also, don't forget about online options, especially those that allow voice convo.
posted by at at 2:26 PM on May 7, 2019 [7 favorites]

I joined a community chorus about 3 years ago and have made strong, wonderful friendships there.

At work, I manage a volunteer program and have seen some of the volunteers forge good friendships too, beyond just taking shifts together. Not sure what the UK version is, but in the US there's a website called volunteermatch that will let you search on volunteer opportunities using filters for physical ability and other factors.
posted by AliceBlue at 2:42 PM on May 7, 2019 [1 favorite]

This is a thing, and you are not the first person to ask, and I am one of the people trying to find friends at about 50. (Though like other posters I do not know about the Scotland part.) I expect the most likely candidates are other folks without kids. And I have had some small success in years past with taking classes at the local art center and volunteering at an animal shelter.

One thing that is suggested sometimes is the Unitarian Church, as a place to meet people but also to feel a part of a community. You can be any variety of religious or not particularly religious at all, is my understanding. I almost joined once but first I had to go to an orientation and I chickened out.
posted by Glinn at 2:44 PM on May 7, 2019 [4 favorites]

I’ll third the suggestion of finding a church, if you are at all religious or spiritual. I joined a local church (as a pretty agnostic person, who was then pretty isolated) and have been astounded at the openness, community and support of a wide range of people of all ages “doing life together”.

Finding a church that is open and affirming, and that welcomes people regardless of their spiritual beliefs, made a big difference. In my small Australian town that’s a Baptist church, but UU churches is where I would start looking.

I’m a married woman in my 30s whose partner doesn’t attend church, and I have started forming good acquaintanceships with people like you, whom I look forward to seeing every week.
posted by third word on a random page at 3:34 PM on May 7, 2019 [1 favorite]

Seeing another response above: in my church-finding stage, I didn’t have to go to an orientation or anything, just show up for a service and sit at the back where I was most comfortable. In the more welcoming churches, someone would notice a newbie and go introduce themselves, then either sit with me or leave me alone, as I needed that day.
posted by third word on a random page at 3:36 PM on May 7, 2019

I'm mid-40s, in Scotland and single and do fairly well for platonic friends. As others have suggested, they've mostly been made through a combination of group activities and patience (to let those friendships within the group develop over weeks, or - more likely - months initially) and a bit of being brave enough to suggest low-key stuff outside the group activity so friendships can transition into standing on their own.

To be fair, I don't know anyone who uses Meetup specifically in Scotland. In my mind they tend to be a bit more for transient populations - students, young folk who have just migrated here from overseas for an adventure and want some pals but might not be staying long term. I don't know how accurate that is, or if it's just my perception. But I've a hunch that to find people a little older, and more likely to stick around, you want something that has longer-term roots in the community and in local institutions. Volunteering, a choir, a community garden, a life-drawing class at a local community centre.

The single thing I've done that has probably led to the most (and best quality) friendships has been outdoor swimming - it's a community of kind and open souls. I don't actually swim (maybe half a dozen strokes if I'm feeling sporty), I just go for a bob about and a blether. It's very welcoming to all body shapes and mental health situations too, IME. I don't even swim that often these days but the friendships have endured and we do other things. So if you're at all inclined to have a bash at taking a dip, look up the Wild West Swimmers on facebook (assuming you're still in Glasgow). Maybe look for or post in search of people who just want a social swim, to weed out those strange folk who put their heads down for 2k distance swims. I know so many people who were feeling lost and found their people in the sea or splashing about in a loch.
posted by penguin pie at 4:00 PM on May 7, 2019 [4 favorites]

I've made some of my best middle-aged lady friends in choirs. (Even when I was in my twenties.)
posted by The Underpants Monster at 7:06 PM on May 7, 2019

I’ve met friends in language classes before. There’s lots of opportunity to talk to and learn about people, with opportunities for outings (like foreign films).
posted by exquisite_deluxe at 10:03 PM on May 7, 2019

There are MeFi IRL Meetups in Scotland - according to the list of past events, the last one was in February. From that page you can follow the RSS or iCal feed for future events. You can also enable IRL alerts on MeFi by ticking the setting on your Preferences page.
posted by rangefinder 1.4 at 12:51 AM on May 8, 2019

Thanks so much for all these replies, I've been really touched! The reply about the struggles of being a teetotaller male trying to socialise in a male pub culture hits the problem right on the nail. I will drink literally 1 or 2 beers sometimes at home but feel out of place in a noisy pub. I have read younger people are more likely to go to coffee shops instead so attitudes are changing, but I have one male friend my age happy to meet for coffee and cake, but that's it. I am also mindful of reading articles where guys were not great about being in touch with their feelings and expected women to do that extra emotional labor, that sort of unbalanced friendship is what I want to avoid seeking as a man. I will think about all the replies, my first resulting action has been to e-mail a local university counselling research project which operates on a sliding scale to ask about their waiting list, as it's an issue I think I could tackle better with support.
posted by AuroraSky at 12:52 AM on May 8, 2019 [4 favorites]

Hey, are you into creative writing? There‘s a decent writing group in Glasgow that I know of, with interesting peoplw.
posted by Omnomnom at 7:55 AM on May 8, 2019

Thanks for your tip Omnomnom but I don't have that creative instinct to come up with lots of ideas. In fact I've not wrote an essay since 30 years ago at Uni or a fiction/ creative one since secondary school. Not this it's impossible to start a creative pursuit at a later age but I think writers are usually writing away and often from a teenage age. I might take up journaling for my own personal interest but not as a social hobby.
posted by AuroraSky at 8:41 AM on May 8, 2019

At least in the US there is an app called Patook that is meant to be like Tinder for friendships. I did meet someone through it once but we didn't hit it off, but I suspect if I were more persistent I might have been able to make more friends.
posted by zeusianfog at 12:37 PM on May 8, 2019

I do a bi-weekly "men's group" therapy meeting and have made some good friends there. I also do Buddhist-oriented addiction recovery meetings. In a sense I don't really feel like I need to do these to stay sane and sober, but I have grown to really love the connections I make at these places.
posted by bennett being thrown at 1:46 PM on May 8, 2019

Board game nights are good places to meet people. My SO joined a few and now they get together a lot for games at home.

Is going to the pub and not drinking alcohol not an option? I often order tea as I don't drink much.
posted by mippy at 9:37 AM on May 10, 2019

Update: I got accepted onto the counselling research project, and will have 20 sessions of free counselling to work on some of these issues (and as a byproduct have some in-person interactions which are lacking for me, I do too much online socialising). The isolation/ loneliness/ socialising issues are the main ones I will be working on, as well as (perhaps counter-intuitively) becoming better at entertaining myself and not putting too much pressure on pressure on myself to make friends quickly. I don't want to be coming from a place of neediness "will you be my friend?" but just to get to know more people and find which ones are a good friend match.
posted by AuroraSky at 11:20 PM on May 13, 2019 [3 favorites]

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