Friending in one's thirties
September 21, 2022 3:30 AM   Subscribe

I have realized, somewhat to my surprise (as a generally friendly, chatty person who's nice to people), that I have very few friends, even fewer local friends, and seem to have entirely forgotten the knack of making friends. Not friendly work acquaintances, not social media banter. Actual friends who I look forward to catching up with and share stuff with. If you've managed to do this in your mid-thirties, tell me how.

My brain is fried from dealing with illnesses within the family, workplace drama (friends at the workplace is completely out of the question for me), and an increasing sense of losing my sense of joy for life. I'm specifically interested in the experiences of single women, and if these experiences are from places apart from the US, that would be a bonus (but this is not necessary). But any and all inputs welcome. Do I go to meetups? Do I DM the fun/quirky/interesting local women I follow on social media, or will they think I'm a stalker? Do I attempt to reconnect with old friends? Do I bring my best self as opposed to my more authentic (read more tired/bitter) self? Do I keep stuff surface level for a long time, or do I dive off the deep end conversation wise? How does one even sense a platonic connection?!
When did this become so complicated?
posted by Nieshka to Human Relations (16 answers total) 29 users marked this as a favorite
I don't know, and would like to know however, I'll offer up some observations of someone I know who has done this.

She is older and doesn't have to work for a living. She joined a range of groups that she was genuinely interested in that attracted women of a similar enough demographic to her. For the first several months, she would tack on the occasional coffee or whatever after the meet up. I'm not sure how exactly she got to the next step, but I do remember there being various people she wasn't interested in spending more time with. She now has two or three quite good friends, good enough to go on holiday with, but it did take a long, long time. I think the thing that made it successful is that there are enough single/widowed/divorced people interested in the same kinds of activities as her, so she was also meeting people who were interested in adding to their friend groups.
posted by plonkee at 4:42 AM on September 21 [1 favorite]

For me, the transition from shallow to deep happens easiest/best if I can find a topic and activity to experience with the person that can be discussed in a more than surface level. For example: going to see art or music or watching the same tv show and then talking about it, or doing something together (lecture, tour, event) that touches on a subject that we both know something about or want to know more about. Talking with more depth about something is the bridge to being able to open up about the self.
posted by xo at 5:02 AM on September 21 [1 favorite]

Honestly, I picked a group with weekly meetings and made a commitment to show up consistently for six months even if I felt like the group wasn't a great fit. I also took any invitation for coffee or dinner after the event that was offered. By 6 months I had made friends and by 5 years the group is disbanded but I am still in contact with a few of those people and we are good friends 10 years on.

Just be yourself, if you are going to make a friend they are going to figure out who you are anyway. Enjoy the group, and that the process of making friends is hard and sometimes slow going. But consistancy, common interests and repeated contact does deepen friendships.
posted by AlexiaSky at 6:06 AM on September 21 [6 favorites]

Consistently attending meetups that interest me has worked very well for me. I’d say don’t overthink the conversation part. Just show up and let conversations develop naturally. After a while, when I was “regular”, I felt pretty comfortable just asking people I particularly connected with or thought were cool for their phone numbers. There are a few people I haven’t seen again but most have become friends. The advantage to meetups is that most people are there, at least in part, because they want to make friends, too. Even really, really shy people who barely talk to anyone will eventually make friends if they show up enough.

Making your own meetup is a way to fast track things but it’s a bit of a commitment.
posted by Jess the Mess at 6:06 AM on September 21 [2 favorites]

I recently had someone I was corresponding with in a professional context straight up say, "I noticed you're in New York, I'm new in town, it's hard to make connections after grad school, do you want to meet up sometime?" and I was charmed and flattered. We ended up having a lovely afternoon hanging out, and will probably see each other again regularly.

Other things that helped -- she suggested a specific activity and a few specific dates, she mentioned professional interests we had in common that we could talk about, and we were both comfortable letting the conversation move between professional chat, venting, and personal details.
posted by EmilyFlew at 6:14 AM on September 21 [7 favorites]

Last year I tried something silly called New Friends November. I am not a kid person but I was inspired by little kids who go up to other little kids and ask if they want to be friends.

As a lifelong Guesser I wasn’t ready for that level of directness, but I forced myself to adopt the ‘it can’t hurt to ask!’ philosophy and asked 3-4 people out for coffee or a glass of wine over the course of the month. I’ve also tried Bumble BFF but had more luck asking folks I knew peripherally.

It is tricky to step out of your comfort zone, and as a single woman in her 30’s, I totally get it.
posted by nathaole at 6:28 AM on September 21 [2 favorites]

I’m single and in my 40s. I’ve met friends through IRL events and online.

1. Yes, you can DM people on social media. However I wouldn’t do this cold - I’d interact in comments with them first. Ideally you have an exchange unfold that naturally lends itself to DMing - like you’re both interested in an art exhibit so you agree to meet up, or you’re both fond of an author and want to swap books.

2. Being active on social media helps. Post about things that interest you and engage with others who are posting/commenting about the same things.

3. Join a group and just keep showing up for several weeks. It helped me in one instance to make a point of chatting briefly with at least one new person at every event.

I was just thinking about my own friend situation and this thread helped me realize that I can take some steps towards something better. So thanks for posting 🙂
posted by bunderful at 7:28 AM on September 21

Consistently volunteering somewhere that means something to you, serving on non-profit boards, mentoring people in your field, having a party/potluck where friends bring friends, being somewhat shameless about posting "I would like to do X on date Y, is anyone up for it?" I have had good luck with all of these.
posted by *s at 7:35 AM on September 21 [1 favorite]

I think you'll do best finding connections through groups and the shared passion you have for whatever activity it is you like. Not just for the meeting people part of it, but for doing things you feel passionate about, because the overlap there is what is going to build friendship. Its a combination of quantity - being around each other, getting used to how people are - and quality - the shared meaning of your volunteering, your union organizing, your bookclub...

I don't think one on one quasi-dating of friends works all that well - if you think back to the ease of meeting friends at a younger age, its likely b/c you had a LOT of shared time together, maybe in high school or college... its time and shared interest that creates connection and meaningful friendship.
posted by RajahKing at 8:29 AM on September 21 [1 favorite]

Hi, I’m a single 34-year-old woman in the US. My best advice is just to keep meeting people. Keep churning through people. Say yes to every invitation. Say yes to everyone sane with reasonable boundaries who shows interest in you and wants to be your friend.

Do I go to meetups?
I found that meetups didn’t really recover after Covid, but YMMV. It can’t hurt to try.

Do I DM the fun/quirky/interesting local women I follow on social media, or will they think I'm a stalker?
I had great success using Bumble BFF. Sure, there are some flakes, but everyone else on there is also looking for friends and I had enough hits to make it worth my time, and I did indeed find my BFF, who is in a bizarrely similar life situation to me and lives near me and who I never would have met otherwise.

Do I attempt to reconnect with old friends?
This worked for me, can recommend. Especially since I live in my hometown.

Do I bring my best self as opposed to my more authentic (read more tired/bitter) self?
In a word, yes. I have tons of baggage from my divorce and even my fellow divorced/baggage-y friends can only tolerate so much hearing about it.

Do I keep stuff surface level for a long time, or do I dive off the deep end conversation wise?
Err on the side of surface level unless you know it’s someone who can really relate and who clearly wants to connect on a deeper level. Mostly, do fun stuff together and talk about that.

How does one even sense a platonic connection?!
It’s one of those things you just know when you know IME.
posted by stockpuppet at 8:31 AM on September 21 [1 favorite]

Since I hit 30, every single of my new real friends (prior to becoming a parent, which is a different thing) have been through either existing friends or neighbors. Do you have close friends in other places who has friends in your town? Reach out to them to meet up!
posted by sandmanwv at 8:33 AM on September 21

I picked up and moved cities (and countries) at age 49. I’m very introverted so I took up some small volunteer opportunities — situations where I have a job to do and meet people tangentially to doing it. Very occasionally I meet someone through that who I connect with.

Fortunately one of the people I met was a stone cold extrovert who constantly organizes small lunches with an assortment of people. I’ve met many interesting people that way. We usually trade social media contact information, which helps me get a better feel for someone before I ask them to get a meal together. Usually a "completely platonic" meal if I think there will be any misinterpretation.

There’s another extrovert I met on the job who will be moving here this year. I’ll introduce him to a few people but honestly I expect to ride along on his coattails as he cuts a swath through the community.

I must admit I often find extroversion an annoying trait, but it can be harnessed for purposes of good.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 10:12 AM on September 21

I’m single, late 30s, and outside the US (Paris). I love Meetup and have made so many friends that way, including several new friends this summer when I wanted to build up my social circle a bit more. It can take a while to find the right meetup group but I’ve used it in cities all over Europe and really recommend it.
posted by ellieBOA at 10:18 AM on September 21

Read up on the works of Shasta Nelson.
posted by jenfullmoon at 11:12 AM on September 21 [1 favorite]

Almost all of the long term friends that I've made in my 20s, 30s, 40s, and 50s are people that I've met through shared interest groups and hobbies. These are activities where I meet with people to do stuff that we enjoy on a regular basis. Over time, a certain small percentage of these people develop into more than just friendly acquaintances that I do things with and we become friends who know each other, care about each other, share things about our lives with each other, and sometimes stay in touch over the years even if we move to different cities or stop participating in the activity that originally brought us together.

For me, those activities have been martial arts, music, D&D, and the SCA. (I'm no longer active in the SCA, but I keep up with a number of my old friends from those days.) For you, the list would probably be different.

I have found that you can't force the process. Some people you meet might seem like they would be awesome friends, but their social lives are already fully booked up for the foreseeable future. Some people might start becoming friends and then get caught up in other life events and just vanish. But it seems that when I show up for these activities with a sense of passion for what I'm doing and an open, friendly attitude towards the people I'm doing it with, a certain number of them end up being actual friends.

"Do I attempt to reconnect with old friends?"

Every so often I look up an old friend I haven't talked to in a while and give them a call or message to see what they've been up to. (Or sometimes an old friend will reach out to me.) It usually doesn't lead to a regular ongoing connection, since we're now living in different places doing different things. But it still feels nice to just catch up with each other. And it some cases it leads to a situation where we just periodically touch base with each other every few years.

"Do I bring my best self as opposed to my more authentic (read more tired/bitter) self? Do I keep stuff surface level for a long time, or do I dive off the deep end conversation wise?"

There's no one right answer to this. I have friends who will dump out their life story at the drop of a hat and others who took much longer to open up. Probably the best approach is the one which comes most naturally to you.

I will say that your "best self" and your "authentic self" don't necessarily have to be at odds. Don't pretend to be someone you're not. But you can't share everything about yourself in an initial meeting anyway. Why not start out with those aspects of yourself that you would enjoy meeting?
posted by tdismukes at 1:03 PM on September 21 [1 favorite]

I have found sporty activities are best for this. Whether it's hiking, working out, tennis, rock climbing, or team sports like soccer, Frisbee, etc, there's always someone looking for fitness buddies. I think it starts the connection on a positive note because you're already doing something that's good for your health and improves your mood, so the vibes are already good.
posted by winterportage at 4:44 PM on September 21 [1 favorite]

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