How do I meet other parents in my age bracket (late 40s)?
October 9, 2019 12:00 PM   Subscribe

One of the toughest things about getting divorced has been the loss of family friends who have kids roughly the same age as mine (7 & 10). How do I more or less start over, socially?

For various reasons, my ex ended up with almost all of “our” friends, the folks you call up for a barbecue or a hike, or just hang at the house playing boards games while the kids watch a movie. These were relationships that took years to build--more than a few started in childbirth classes--and this has left a big hole in my social life.

For going on two years now it’s just been my girls and me, flying mostly solo. It’s fun, but it can also be exhausting. I’ve done my damndest to schedule things with the few friends who didn’t choose sides, or parents at our girls’ school. But so far that has been frustratingly difficult. Parents my age (47) are busy and already have their social circles in place. I don’t seem to click with many parents at school so far, aside from setting up play dates for the kids.

I work alone (writer), so there’s no office-connection angle. I'm dating, but nothing near serious enough to involve an introduction to the kids yet. (My ex started seeing someone soon after the split, which combined the friend split, seems to have let her go forward with little change.) I even started a divorced men's Meetup group.

Anyway, I feel like I’ve exhausted the options I can think of and it’s still 95% single-parent time. I’d love to find other families to do the everyday hangout stuff with, but also camp, climb, bike, go to the beach, weekend trips…we’re game for all of that. How? Facebook groups? Meetups? Try harder at what I’ve been doing already?

(I live in Portland, OR if it matters.)
posted by El Curioso to Society & Culture (13 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
I even started a divorced men's Meetup group.

Try finding a co-ed divorce support group, not a meetup. A recently divorced neighbor of mine met two women there and married the second.
posted by JoeZydeco at 12:12 PM on October 9, 2019 [4 favorites]

New non-school activities for the kids that require parent involvement? Sports teams, maybe whatever version of scouting makes local or political sense?
posted by LizardBreath at 12:27 PM on October 9, 2019 [2 favorites]

You and I are spitting distance apart in age, and I share custody of my kid, though I have repartnered and also have a stepkid. Its really hard for us middle age men to make friends!

So are you looking for friends for yourself, or for companions/acquaintances to do things that include the kids? You seem to want both, from your post, and that seems like a tough combo right out of the gate. Those are two different kinds of relationships, sometimes overlapping, but sometimes not.

You may want to first focus on building friendships with people who are NOT also parents... that your friendship would be based on mutual interest, not mutual offspring. A benefit of being a co-parent (assuming your ex has the kids sometimes) if you have at least a little unfettered adult free time. Take advantage of that freedom and meet people who have shared interests - but maybe not just b/c you are all parents. If you end up being friends, you can invite them along on family stuff, later.

I, too, never clicked much with parents of other kids - but every once in while when our kids got close to one friend or another, then we invited that kid's parents over for dinner. A few of them were cool, but mostly that's for the benefits of the kids to spend more time with school chums. I think this might be the category of "companion" that is totally legit, but maybe not usually for long-term, deep friendship and weekend trips.

Counterintuitively, I think you are more likely to meet people willing to go camping, weekend trips, to the beach with you - places where you spend days together in various states of undress, sleeping in the wilderness! - when you have a genuine connection with them. You probably find these people in that first category, not "parent" friends. Good luck!
posted by RajahKing at 12:29 PM on October 9, 2019 [7 favorites]

Was the divorce nasty? If not, then you might find that your old friends are quite open to hanging out with you, too. I was surprised to find, for instance, that one of my ex's co-workers whom we had often socialized with still wanted to hang out with me after the divorce. I had assumed that as my ex's co-worker, this person would obviously choose to remain my ex's friend, not mine. But it has worked out so that my ex and I share the friend.

Don't assume those friends are lost. You will need to be the one to reach out to them, however, because divorce is fucking weird, and the burden of making others feel comfortable with our divorce usually falls to us. People will take their cues from you. You have to lead the way for them to feel comfortable being your friends again. For starters, they have no way of knowing whether it's okay for them to contact you while they are still friends with your ex. They do not have nearly as many inside details about the divorce as you do, and they might be assuming that they need to pick sides. It's likely going to be a relief to them to realize they don't have to.
posted by MiraK at 12:59 PM on October 9, 2019 [11 favorites]

Some PTAs are super social; one of my local ones has their monthly meeting and then they all go to the nearby bar. Maybe yours is that way, too.

Volunteer at Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts, Camp Fire, robotics, Lego robotics, sports teams, trailwork days, etc etc etc.
posted by The corpse in the library at 2:37 PM on October 9, 2019

Cub Scouts! I know, the politics of the national organization is not great, to say the least, but the people in scouting are wonderful and active. Girls can now choose between Girl Scouts (not related to Boy Scouts of America) and Cub Scouts, the latter having started a welcoming girls a few years ago. Once they are are middle school age there is a lot less parental involvement, so I would start now.

Typically Cub Scout "packs" are organized geographically, so there's likely one in your neighborhood that you might want to try first. They really all have their own personalities, though, so I would check out at least two "den" (smaller group of kids all the same year in school) meetings to see where you mesh best. Some packs are very outdoor-oriented, etc. and it depends a lot on who the leaders are. To find a list, go to Be A Scout and you can search by zip code.
posted by wnissen at 2:42 PM on October 9, 2019

You may want to first focus on building friendships with people who are NOT also parents... that your friendship would be based on mutual interest, not mutual offspring.

Seconding this, assuming you have shared custody. I (single, no kids) have recently made some great new friends who are divorced single parents through a shared interest/activity. We mostly hang out when they don't have the kids, though now that we're closer (and I've been vetted), we hang out with the kids sometimes. Honestly, those friendships are pretty much just like the friendships I have with single/no-kids friends, and I find it a lot easier to maintain the friendship with them than with parents who are still married.

I will say, the ones I'm closest with have both been pretty upfront and active about cultivating the friendship, which I think is key, because single people without kids will tend to assume that parents are super-busy and won't want to be too intrusive. So you may have to make extra effort.

Also, speaking as someone who hasn't been there but has seen friends go through this: you need your own stuff outside of your kids. Preferably NEW stuff. My friends who are divorced parents who have been able to develop new interests and build new communities around those interests have done SO MUCH BETTER post-divorce than those who haven't, who kind of seem like they're a bit stuck (which is honestly understandable if they are, divorce really sucks!). So yeah, I suggest finding some sort of social hobby or community to get involved in (church, local politics, some sort of performing group, sports are all standbys) and making friends that way.
posted by lunasol at 4:19 PM on October 9, 2019 [1 favorite]

Apologies if this is off-topic, but one of the reason that women tend to end up with the friends when straight couples split is because women are often the ones making the plans, and so that pattern continues. It's not that friends desert the husbands; it's that the making-plans-patterns continue apace. In your marriage, was it mostly your wife organizing these sorts of get-togethers? If so, you might think about if there are any of those old couple friends where you could initiate some plans. For example, are any of those couples ones where the wife works a ton and the dad is working less and taking more of a lead in scheduling play dates and weekend activities? Or is there one where the dad is an avid hiker and the mom not so much? I would also (assuming that the divorce was mostly amicable) make it easy for those folks to be friends with you by not talking about your ex-wife and her new partner in any sort of critical way. Make it easy for them to be around you without feeling bad that they're her friend, too.

For the friends who didn't choose sides: are you generally interacting with the dad when you attempt to make plans? Was it usually your ex wife planning things with the wife in that couple? If so, maybe text both of them if you're currently reaching out to the dad. Moms are often the keeper of the schedule. (I have a dear friend from college, a man, and I don't know his wife all that well, but when I'm going to visit their town, I get in touch with both of them and presume it won't work only to reach out to him.)

I would also think about reaching out to the men in some of the couples you're not friends with anymore. Maybe there's a male friend who would want to grab a beer some Friday night when you don't have your kids.

(Okay I also just looked through your question history and realize you've had some tough things to deal with around these friendships before, so I hope the above was helpful.)

So, in other advice: I also recommend finding a group around an interest or hobby. After my ex and I split two years, I sort of dove into a activity that I had been involved in only a tiny bit, and I've met a ton of people this way. One of my best friends is actually a divorced dad with kids the same age as mine (a platonic friend). We haven't gotten our kids together (they're all teens with their own stuff going on), but it's been great to have another divorced friend with kids who has the same sort of variable time availability depending on who has the kids.

Do you ever do school pick up? That can be one way to interact with other parents, and I think the dads often find each other. Also think about helping kids coordinate play dates with their friends at school. Maybe you can develop a friendship with the parents.

While I do know some divorced men who have formed friendships through dating, often with women they liked but didn't want to date or dated only briefly, I think those friendships tend to be fleeting and end when the woman starts dating someone more seriously. So I do think it might make more sense to invest some energy in reaching out to men or couples but not single women.

Okay and I also just saw that we are in the same town. I'll send you a note.
posted by bluedaisy at 5:08 PM on October 9, 2019 [1 favorite]

I would start planning playdates and make sure you are doing the enough of the emotional labour. If you are reaching out to other parents, you may be doing so from the experience of being in a relationship where your former partner did a lot of emotional labour that you might not have seen. This means having healthy snacks and drinks ready, anticipating the needs of guests and their children, making offers to pick up kids, thinking about bedtimes and transition times, planning around allergies, remembering when those friends have conflicting appointments/schedules, when birthdays are, whose class someone is in. It can also help to host social events and volunteer on school committees, not just show up at those events. You might be doing all that, but I have noticed that some guys do not realize that there was all this emotional labour their former partner was doing that created social opportunities.
posted by Chaussette and the Pussy Cats at 5:15 PM on October 9, 2019 [4 favorites]

To answer a few Qs...yes, the connections with many of our mutual friends were more connected and maintained through the wives. So aside from one case I've already asked about here, they weren't huge losses in terms of friendships; we guys were more along for the ride instead of connecting. But still, it's a loss.

And it was a high-conflict divorce, which I'm sure affects some people's comfort level in terms of being friendly with both of us, especially if they were already more closely connected with my ex. I mean, people are civil, but who knows what kind of info has gotten around. Hence the starting over.

I have made a number of good (platonic) female friends through dating--honestly I connect more easily with women--but they're usually not parents, which can be a pretty big gulf. So compatible couples with kids are the targets now, with not-overly-bitter divorced dads a close second.
posted by El Curioso at 8:21 PM on October 9, 2019

(I'm also stunned by the lack of divorce support groups in a city this size.)
posted by El Curioso at 8:23 PM on October 9, 2019

Just so you're aware, your kids are at the age when a lot of friends you had from when the kids were toddlers drift off anyway. Their lives are not so focused on the kids anymore so they're focusing more on their jobs and/or friends without same-age kids because it's more of an option. So while I know this was a dramatic change for you, be aware that a lot of us experience it even without a divorce in the picture.

I have few friends now so can't give you PERSONAL advice here, but I see from other friends that the trick is to do an activity Every Single Week that exposes you to the same people. For a lot of my friends it was soccer, scouts, or other kid activities, as LizardBreath said. For others it was D&D, other game nights, stitch-n-bitch, church stuff, or volunteering for a hobby group (like bike rescue). You will encounter other parents there. Don't discount people with kids much older or much younger than yours, either.
posted by metasarah at 6:22 AM on October 10, 2019 [1 favorite]

I'm also stunned by the lack of divorce support groups in a city this size.

You might need to look at local churches. Most don't advertise widely, but they also don't care if you're a member or not.
posted by JoeZydeco at 7:06 AM on October 10, 2019

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