How to meet people in Chicago in their 20s.
August 7, 2007 6:37 PM   Subscribe

[ChicagoFilter] I moved to Chicago recently, and I'm having difficulty making friends and meeting people who are around my age (early 20s) who share similar interests -- and I am looking for suggestions on how to branch out. (mi)

I am in my very early 20s, not in grad school, and have a job that exposes me to approximately 4 people every day (all of whom are at least a decade older.) I'm going to stick with this job for possibly a decade, so I won't meet new people through work. I can't think of anyone I know in a similar situation (I don't live anywhere near anyone from college, but my college friends either stayed in that city, went to grad school, or work with people their own age.)

I don't plan on going to grad school for any future degrees. I'd be happy to take classes to meet people, but I'd have to take them at night, and my work schedule is somewhat erratic which prohibits having a set schedule. I called UofC about possibly taking grad classes in the humanities, but they don't allow that without being in a PhD program - I looked into DePaul and Loyola, and the classes aren't offered at times I can take them.

Exacerbating the situation somewhat -- at least, in Chicago: I don't drink, I'm pretty shy, and I'm not into the entire Wrigleyville/downtown scene on the weekends. I tried improv, but I didn't really care for it -- and Chicago seems very cliquey in terms of all of the people who migrated here from UofI, Northwestern, UofC, etc., and therefore have set social networks in place.

I love comedy, and writing, and artsy stuff. I like baking and papercrafts and biking. I've always had a bucket of friends wherever I happened to be -- but I also happened to be in college and/or a job with people my own age and/or in a city where I had a social network in place.

I have none of those things now -- and I would like to make friends. I'd be happy to volunteer or join groups or collectives or visit places or go to lectures. But I'd like to meet people in their 20s, if possible.
posted by anonymous to Grab Bag (31 answers total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
I've always said that there should be some sort of support group for folks right out of college.
It was perhaps the most difficult time in my life, going from a ready set of social outlets and friends to none at all.

I'm in a new place myself and though I'm older than you (and quite the lush), I've had some difficulties too.
If you click on my handle, you'll see a similar question that I've asked with some really marvelous suggestions.

I love, love, love Chicago (and am trying to move there myself.) There has to be some sort of improv or comedy group or class you might take and you've already identified other areas of interest. Why not try a baking class at some trendy spot nearby? Also, though you didn't go to school in Chicago, maybe you can check your school's alumni association to see if their might be some alums in the area.

Good luck. It's a really difficult transition...but like most things, this too, shall pass.
posted by notjustfoxybrown at 6:45 PM on August 7, 2007

There's a pretty active biking community in Chicago. Check out a Critical Mass group near you.

It sounds really cliche, but volunteering is a great way to meet interesting people. I volunteer at a museum a few hours a week and have met some cool, intelligent women (staff, student workers, interns and other volunteers).

A lot of art galleries and coops have classes and mini-workshops on the weekends. Maybe look at knitting or art classes.

I have also found that working at restaurants and cafes is a good way to have a ready-made group of friends. Maybe pick up a couple of shifts at a local coffee house or restaurant.
posted by pluckysparrow at 7:11 PM on August 7, 2007 [1 favorite]

Hi anonymous, four year Chicago veteran here and I sympathize with your plight.

I am in my very early 20s, not in grad school, and have a job that exposes me to approximately 4 people every day (all of whom are at least a decade older.)

Generally speaking in your early 20s its is hard to make friends. Its a bit of a limbo age where you have hold over friends from high school and college, but haven't yet reached the point where you have an active independent social life.

I can't stress this enough: it takes years to establish meaningful relationships with a circle of friends who are reliable.

I can't think of anyone I know in a similar situation

Of course you can't: you're young and of limited experience.

I'd be happy to take classes to meet people, but I'd have to take them at night, and my work schedule is somewhat erratic which prohibits having a set schedule.

So you've already ruled out the "meet people at grad school" or "meet people at a cooking class" responses. Thats fine, those environments only have limited success anyway.

I don't drink, I'm pretty shy, and I'm not into the entire Wrigleyville/downtown scene on the weekends.

These are both three separate and somewhat interrelated problems.

You don't drink. Truthfully that does limit you severely in future social situations. Unless you meet and make friends with strict hobbies (people who only like to get together to go cycling or four wheeling or whatever) then you've basically set yourself up to be "that guy" in the group who doesn't get invited to the bar when everyone wants to get together. There is an IMPORTANT DISTINCTION here: this has less to do with meeting people in bars and more to do with interacting with people you have perhaps met else where.

My advice: suck it up and learn how to both enjoy and moderate a drink. Or join a church.

You're shy. Whatever. Many keystrokes have been spent here addressing shyness. Dig through the archives.

You're not into the Wrigleyville/downtown scene. Congratulations. There is hope for you as a human being after all. Believe it or not there is more to Chicago than Wrigleyville and downtown. There really isn't enough space or time to go into it here, but you basically need to expand your scope for what Chicago is and can be beyond the bar/club/hangout/trendy neighborhood type thing.

and Chicago seems very cliquey

This is your own inexperience and young age talking.

I've always had a bucket of friends wherever I happened to be -- but I also happened to be in college and/or a job with people my own age and/or in a city where I had a social network in place.

OMFG! And you mean suddenly things have changed and you LIKE can't have that chum bucket anymore??!?!? OMG! Seriously. Relax. Breath.

I think much of your problem is that you are perhaps approaching people a means to an end rather than recognizing them as meaningful individuals. You speak in cliche terms of "social networks" but have you just tried to make friends one on one with your neighbors, or people around you?

Personally, it doesn't sound like either your head or your heart are in the right place and thus you're setting yourself up for failure. Life isn't one big Facebook group. It takes work to build meaningful relationships.

I've lived in Chicago for four years now and I'm very lucky to have plenty of friends. Part of that is that I'm out going and friendly but another portion of it is that I actually take the time to care about people around me. My two best friends in Chicago that I've met thus far are two different random neighbors. I didn't try to "network" with them, or whatever. I just tried to be a good neighbor and a cool person and it just flowed from there.

Be a good neighbor, a good citizen, a good friend and you'll build meaningful relations soon enough.
posted by wfrgms at 7:14 PM on August 7, 2007 [1 favorite]

I know that's a really difficult time, especially if you're shy and don't want to go to bars. That really describes me too.

I've found volunteering to be a great way to meet people. Is there a cause or interest that you have? Is there a particular cause that you and your college friends were interested in? Chances are that if there's something that has interested people your age, you'll find other volunteers around your age too. You will never feel more loved or needed than if you want to volunteer! It really gets me out of myself when I do something to help other people. Plus, you've already got something in common with the other volunteers, and you're in the position to get to know them pretty well. I've gotten close to some of the other volunteers, and we've gone out to eat, etc.

Another thing I've done, since I love to bake too (you're not me, are you?) is take non-credit night school cooking or baking classes at a community college near here. Some of them are only a couple of weeks or even one or two nights, so you don't have to make a huge commitment. Since it's just a fun activity, people are pretty informal and loose, having a good time. It's a really natural, non-threatening way to meet new people.

I second the suggestion above about your alumni association. I'm always getting emails about get-togethers in my area - lectures, book readings, etc.

I don't know about your beliefs, but most churches will have a young adults group. Even if you're not into going to church, you might find an event or something that might interest you.

Best wishes!
posted by la petite marie at 7:15 PM on August 7, 2007

Have you tried ? Take a look and see what they're up to - tons of events and lowkey, and many that aren't drinking related.
posted by jare2003 at 7:17 PM on August 7, 2007

Also, for volunteering - try OneBrick. It's one-shoot volunteering with a social component built in. Great way to meet people. Link
posted by jare2003 at 7:18 PM on August 7, 2007

Here's a good article from the Washington Post about, which is national.
posted by jare2003 at 7:20 PM on August 7, 2007

Like notjustfoxybrown, I also posted a similar question about this topic. I'm in Chicago, but also like notjustfoxybrown, I'm probably more of a drinker than you're looking to hang with.

My main advice, is don't ignore the power of the internet (which you obviously haven't since you're posting this question). You didn't mention anything about a boyfriend/girlfriend, but I've had lots of friends come out of online dating and networking sites like myspace. And you can gear your search to people who seem equally introverted if that's what your looking for. And even if I met a guy online and it didn't work out, I've almost always gotten a friendship out of it -- either with the guy or one of his friends. And some of my closest friends are people I met online looking for housing or concert tickets or whatever.

Also, if you're part of any other online communities, maybe suggest a meetup?
posted by awegz at 7:22 PM on August 7, 2007

I've always said that there should be some sort of support group for folks right out of college.
It was perhaps the most difficult time in my life, going from a ready set of social outlets and friends to none at all.
This is so true. And it's crazy that nobody really prepares you for it. I think that most people are really thrown for a loop by how hard the first year or so out of college is.

You don't mention music, but one popular place where people meet each other is the Old Town School of Folk Music. Their main location is actually in Lincoln Park, not Old Town. Don't be too put off by the "folk music" thing: they construe "folk" about as broadly as is possible. My sense is that the crowd tends to skew youngish, but I could be wrong about that. They do have evening classes, although it's not clear to me whether your schedule would allow you to take them.

(Chicago doesn't want for great places to take classes: the Old Town School, the Lill Street Arts Center, the Chopping Block. If that's what you decide you want to do, you shouldn't have trouble finding lots of cool classes.)

I'd second the knitting suggestion. I don't know a thing about the knitting scene in Chicago, but if it's like most American cities, I bet there's a knitting group with mostly 20-somethings.
posted by craichead at 7:27 PM on August 7, 2007

I love ... writing ...

You might be interested in this. Writers of all ages (well, over 21 anyway) show up each week and there is surprisingly little drinking going on for a group that meets in a bar.
posted by jknecht at 7:27 PM on August 7, 2007

Isn't part of the problem that you posted this anonymously? There has got to be dozens of Mefities in their 20s that live in Chicago. The only way to build up your social network is to put yourself out there and meet people. Get to know some people and their circles and soon you will have some friends of your own.
posted by mmascolino at 7:46 PM on August 7, 2007

Both the MCA and the Art Institute have regular young professional events (some free, like jazz on the terrace at the MCA; some discounted for members), I recommend them. The trick is you must must must talk to people at the events. I suggest carrying a personal business card with just your name and an email on it. Have a drive-by conversation with someone. Keep it short and friendly. Then say: "It was nice talking you. If you plan to come out to First Fridays next month, let me know. Here's my email." Most people will never email you, but a couple will. Eventually, you will make friends from it.

Chicago Cares is also populated by folks in their 20s and 30s. But the same goes for those events. You have to talk to people and suggest that you see each other again or outside of the confines of the event or it will just be a way for you to fill your time alone, instead of a way to make friends.
posted by crush-onastick at 7:51 PM on August 7, 2007 [1 favorite]

Oh and don't worry about drinking. There's a big difference between not drinking and not liking to hang out in bars in Wrigleyville. Not drinking doesn't impact your ability to socialize, but not liking to hang out in bars in Wrigleyville changes the parameters of where you will socialize.

For instance, there's booze at all the Lincoln Park Young Professionals events and at some of the Auxiliary Board of the Red Cross of Greater Chicago (their Young Professionals group) events, but no-one notices or cares if you don't drink. Just practice talking to strangers (I like your shoes! Did you get them at City Soles?) and eventually, you'll make friends.
posted by crush-onastick at 8:03 PM on August 7, 2007

I am a early to mid 20s professional in Chicago who has faced a lot of the same issues as you. It's been slow going, but I've started cracking the social scene through a combination of work, hanging out in bookstores and such and my university's alumni association. You don't mention where you went to school but all of the Big Ten schools have huge alumni networks here and I assume that lots of other schools do too. My e-mail's in my profile if you want to chat more or plot a lonely 20s meetup of Chicagoans.
posted by fancypants at 8:06 PM on August 7, 2007

You say you have tried and disliked improv. I know that Second City and Improv Olympic offer classes in writing sketch comedy and other such not-technically-improv comedy activities. Or maybe you just realized you don't like hanging out with young, ambitious comedians.

I'd also nth anything these other folks said about the fact that the years right after college can be tough, socially. I'm 28, and I can tell you it gets much easier.
posted by HeroZero at 9:14 PM on August 7, 2007 [1 favorite]

I'm actually a Chicagoan thinking about taking an improv class, and if you had a bad experience I'd be curious to hear why. My email's in my profile, if you want to discuss.
posted by HeroZero at 9:28 PM on August 7, 2007

Hello anon, thanks for posting this, I'm in your boat too, early 20's in Chicago, work very late so have trouble getting out and joining anything. I'll second or third the Old Town School of Folk, very neat place, so many interesting classes, and also I read the Chicago Reader very frequently to see what's happening, also Gaper's Block seems to be a decent local blog with local events. I've met people through going to readings at Quimby's bookstore on North Avenue in Wicker Park. I keep missing the Chicago Mefi Meetups unfortunately.

Yea, why was this anonymous? Nothing to be ashamed of, it's tough getting settled and feeling comfortable when you first get out of school. Good luck!
posted by Sreiny at 9:55 PM on August 7, 2007

I'm in the same plight you are; I moved here to Chicago about three weeks ago. No friends here yet, but three of my friends will be moving here soonish. That's still incredibly few compared to the number I was used to in college. (although I am getting married this weekend and will, you know, be living with my wife, which should help).

I'm going to be busy for probably the better part of the next two or three weeks, but after that I was planning on trying to get a meet up together. How's about I promise to pull for it being somewhere not-a-bar and we see if metafilter has any decent, non-snarky folks living in Chicago. I suspect that it does (and hope, because I need friends, dammit).

So yeah, keep your eyes peeled on MeTa. Or just e-mail me sometime.
posted by ztdavis at 10:13 PM on August 7, 2007

Too bad you're posting anonymously... if the problem with improv was that you felt it hard to break into because you didn't know anyone involved, I coulda hooked you up with some friends who do the whole Second City/IO/barprov thing.

I moved to Chicago about 9 months ago knowing only one person who lived here. I've already managed to start up several groupings of friends - and I'm an introvert at heart. How? Forcing myself to let go and simply talk. Talking to people before the show when going out to see a band, or doing things like Critical Mass. Little things like that start the whole domino effect, you know? And while yes, many of those people I randomly met here and there didn't end up "sticking"... plenty did.
posted by Windigo at 10:25 PM on August 7, 2007

I'm starting to think that the art of "branching out" is more of an attitude/perspective shift than anything else.

You know what you do and do not enjoy doing; I think that's key. Recognize that not everyone in the world is involved in an unchanging clique - there are (many) other people out there feeling the same way you are.

It's also important to think about what kind of friend you are, and what kind of social interactions you want. For example, I am introverted, and being around groups of people tends to drain my energy very quickly. I much prefer relationships that are one-on-one, so when I meet someone I really like I try to maintain that through lunch/movie/whatever with that person. So, I don't have a clique (and probably never will)...and I'm okay with that.

Everyone is going to advise you to go out, do stuff you like, and tell you that eventually you'll find what you're looking for. I think that's true. Just remember, you may have to do a LOT of this in order to find people you really enjoy being around. That's definitely the case for me...I'd say I've made a (possibly) lifelong friend maybe once every 3-5 years. Other friends are people I enjoy doing stuff with now, but maybe these friendships are more "of-the-moment," you know?

It sounds like you're still stuck on the idea of having a crew like you did during college. In my experience, that changes as you get older. It can be a difficult transition to wrap your head around. It also forces you to realize just how valuable those lifelong-type friendships really are...maintain them (it can be best friend from college lives 3000 miles away, and she is still like the sister I never had).

Don't worry about it too much. Get out, do fun stuff, and talk to people as much as you can. Once in a while, you'll make a friend. In between, you'll be getting to know Chicago and doing things you like to do anyway.

As for not drinking, I hear what you're saying - I don't drink either, and people give me isht about it sometimes. Try not to make a big deal of it (really, you don't even need to mention it most of the time), and don't feel like drinking is a prerequisite to making friends. Obviously, it's not.
posted by splendid animal at 10:33 PM on August 7, 2007

I know someone who's 23 who just moved to Chicago. There are a lot of you there.

Now, some thoughts from above stuck out to me:

"I've always said that there should be some sort of support group for folks right out of college. It was perhaps the most difficult time in my life, going from a ready set of social outlets and friends to none at all."

"I am a early to mid 20s professional in Chicago who has faced a lot of the same issues as you. It's been slow going, but I've started cracking the social scene through a combination of work, hanging out in bookstores and such and my university's alumni association."

My personal support group this past year? Working part-time at a college bookstore! Granted, I stayed in the same town I went to college in, so I still had a group of my college friends around. (Got lucky there, I know.) But I also met a bunch of new people my age with similar backgrounds and interests (smart, a little geeky, adept at computers, well-read, similar frame of reference) working retail at the bookstore. Don't discount working just a couple days a week, and on different days each week if need be; college bookstore are usually used to working around student schedules, so they may be able to accommodate you!

It's something to think about, anyway! I've had fun at my bookstore...
posted by limeonaire at 10:48 PM on August 7, 2007

Oh, and if you don't have time to work retail, well, maybe I can at least tell you one of the most important things I learned from it, which is as follows:

When you're working retail, see, it doesn't necessarily matter what you're filling your hours with before close, as long as the hours go by quickly and painlessly. The very nature of retail is cyclical and Sisyphean—there will always be more boxes to unpack, more books to shelve, more paperback covers to return to the publisher. What makes it bearable is talking to the people around you.

And so what often starts as an exercise against madness, staving off boredom by talking to *grumble sigh* these people I have to be here with, often turns extremely pleasant once you find that the people are in fact intelligent and interesting in their own right. What starts off as a video-game–like means of passing the time ("Talked to a coworker! 20 points!" "Helped a customer! 55-point bonus!") or a means to an end ("Maybe if I'm friendly I'll get promoted") often turns fascinating itself.

In short: Learn to start talking to people you aren't sure you'll have anything in common with (wherever you happen to be). Treat it like a game, or like you have to interview them for some reason. Ask them ridiculous things. You'll often find that these people are mentally your type, despite apparent socioeconomic and age differences.
posted by limeonaire at 10:58 PM on August 7, 2007 [2 favorites]

You're getting great advice from everyone, but I specifically wanted to address the grad class issue: you may have more luck successfully auditing if you contact the professor directly whose class it is, instead of the administration. I'm not sure it's the best way for you to meet people or if you're very enthusiastic about it, but the option is there, should you choose to pursue it. (I was a grad student at Chicago, and there were unenrolled professionals in some of my classes.)
posted by pamccf at 11:05 PM on August 7, 2007

Chicago is a big city. Does your college have an alumni group there? Just because your friends from college aren't in town doesn't mean other awesome folks from your college aren't around. I have some friends in Chicago right now who have joined (started?) an alumni book group and love it.
posted by moreandmoreso at 11:58 PM on August 7, 2007

Nthing cycling groups. Especially road cycling groups. Critical mass is great, and definitely worthwhile, but its one night a month, and it'll take a few months before you meet people you'll see outside of it. Most road cycling groups train at an easy pace at least a couple days a week, and usually are very chatty on those rides.
posted by devilsbrigade at 6:45 AM on August 8, 2007

Oh, and as an often-broken general rule: the harder something is to do, the closer the friends you'll make from it. If you ever get the urge to do crew or rugby, you'll be in good company.
posted by devilsbrigade at 6:46 AM on August 8, 2007

Good advice all around, but I have to disagree a bit with wfrgms on drinking. The limiting thing about being a nondrinker is not usually the nondrinking itself but rather making drinkers uncomfortable. I have nondrinking friends who avoid bars, make sure everybody knows they don't drink, and give unsubtle nonverbal signals that they don't approve of others drinking around them. Then there are the nondrinkers who are totally comfortable in bars and around drinkers; people who don't know such a person well would assume he or she is not drinking that night due to driving, etc., and not because it's a personal choice. With enough practice, you can become the latter type, and it will expand your social options.

(Then there's also the third type: recovering alcoholics who can't be in drinking situations. That's a real social challenge, obviously, but one that AA and other groups seem to do a decent job of meeting.)
posted by backupjesus at 6:50 AM on August 8, 2007

There are about 5,000 opportunities to take classes at night. How about an exercise class, a dance class (I recommend arabesque, a dance studio I go to), a wine-tasting type deal? Any sporting activity you can think of, gallery opens, poetry readings, small club shows? Comedy clubs seem like a great place to meet people. There are so many things to do in Chicago, I'm sure you can find something.

I know it's hard. I moved to Chicago when I was 21, lived alone for several years and it did get lonely at times. But almost 7 years later, I am busy and active and my social life is happening. Hang in there but get out there!
posted by agregoli at 7:56 AM on August 8, 2007

(I wasn't alone for 7 years, hope you didn't get that conclusion! =)
posted by agregoli at 8:00 AM on August 8, 2007

Unless you mean you don't drink liquids at all, you'll find that bars serve non alcoholic stuff too. backupjesus is correct that some drinkers are put off by nondrinkers but fails to identify what a good things this is, just like people who judge you based on your shoe choices: you get to weed out the doucebags quickly before you form entanglements with them.

If you really feel self conscious about it, however, get your soda with a hunk of lime in it, or learn to like lime and seltzer.

I also wonder about what mmascolino points out. What made you feel like this question needed to be anonymous? Nobody likes desperation or shame, whether it be in a date or a friend. If you walk into every meet situation feeling terror that folks are going to find out you don't already have any local friends then you're not really putting forth a face that's real attractive.
posted by phearlez at 8:22 AM on August 8, 2007

Heyo! 24 and in Chicago (most of the time). I would say that not being a drinker shouldn't inhibit you from hanging out in bars, unless you don't like the crush of the crowd. I'm kind of a Lincoln Park person so I'm in a bar half the damn time but many of my friends don't drink. My best bro drinks orange soda and gingerale. He loves the stuff. He still tips like he's drinking alcohol, though.

Regarding classes - I know this might sound weird but there are about fourteen excellent seminaries throughout Chicago that regularly admit students as "students at large" - much, much easier to get a flexible admission than at a school like Loyola or U or C and usually costs less, too. I'm a student at Chicago Theological and we have tons of social workers, nurses and other people who show up to take our fantastic history and world religion courses. Most of the seminars are closed to non-graduate students but seminars are kinda boring sometimes anyway.

I would second everyone recommending Old Town Folk - tons of excellent opportunities to meet cool people there. Also, come to a Chicago meetup. Chicago mefites are pretty young and hip and they love meeting other people.
posted by Baby_Balrog at 2:11 PM on August 15, 2007

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