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Dear QuirkyAlone: How do I make new friends? August 24, 2009

Posted by Onely in quirkyalone.
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“Dear Quirkyalone: Advice for QuirkyLiving” is a weekly guest column by Christina and Lisa. It appears every Monday (crossposted here from Quirkyalone). When you’re making up your own road map for (quirky)living, you need thoughtful advice. We’re here for you. Quirkyalone and Onely welcome your questions; send them on to onely AT onely.org.

Dear Quirkyalone,

Many of my friends are having children, and this is putting pressure on our friendships. Not only do they have next-to-no time to catch up, but all our conversation centres on their children. So it’s time to find new friends –but this is proving really really difficult. Can you talk about the phenomenon of having very few friends and where and how to make new friends (either single or childfree friends)? Thanks.

–Singal (in Australia)

Dear Singal,

I think many readers will identify with your problem. But before I answer your question, let me offer some annoying unsolicited advice: don’t give up on your friends right away. Friendship is about weathering life changes together. It’s normal for people–especially Quirkyalones or Quirkytogethers–to develop different goals and interests through life (would you want to be friends with them if they didn’t?). Consider yourself lucky that your friends are not taking up B.A.S.E. jumping (or something more terrifying, like scrapbooking). Some relationships can survive such shifts in interests, and others can’t. In any friendship, one person will sometimes tax the other’s patience–think of vacation slideshows. But when a friend really hurts or neglects you, try to decide what would be least stressful: abandoning the friendship, or taking action to fix it–whether through a frank talk with your friend, a simple apology, a monetary stimulus, interpretive dance, whatever. Use this handy formula:

(Cumulative joy obtained from interactions with friend) – (Total angst acrued from friend’s transgression) > (Anticipated angst of addressing the issue)

Your friends simply may not realize that no matter how smart and cute they think their children are, other people will never find them quite as interesting, unless the kids poop sparkle turds. So next time you tire of hearing about the baby, try gently saying, “Hey, I do want to hear about little Sally’s croup soon, but actually right now I was hoping we could talk a little bit about this book I was reading, because it reminded me of our trip to Gettysburg that one prom night. Once I get that off my chest I’ll be able to pay closer attention to the subtleties of Sally’s hacking.” After a couple of these suggestions, your true friends should get the hint that you’re feeling neglected, and they’ll act accordingly.

But supposing they don’t make more of an effort to incorporate you? Well, then, I like meetup.com. (It’s in Australia too.) The site helps connect groups of people share a common interest, such as Italian language, basketball, or astral travel. It’s not a dating site, so you seldom encounter the meatmarket mentality (disclaimer: Onely takes no responsibility for any very rare occurrences of smarmy arm-stroking and close-talking).

However, the best way to make new friends is to focus less on meeting people and more on pursuing your own interests. Let the connections happen naturally from that. For example, get a puppy because you think dogs are adorable, not because the dog park is a good place to strike up conversations.

If you do meet someone you think has friend potential, remember that making friends and dating share many of the same strategies and pitfalls: Show interest but not desperation or fear. Maintain eye contact. Let them sniff your hand first. (Oh wait, that’s dogs.) Laugh at their jokes unless they’re not funny. Share parallel details from your life (but don’t interrupt with your own stories or try to trump someone’s ancedote with your own).

Readers, how do you maintain old friendships and form new ones?

–Christina at Onely


1. bobby - August 24, 2009

Meetup is in the “Definitely give it a try” column. I have belonged to a few meetups here in NYC, although I never had time to go to any, I see many people making new friendships.

2. Free4Life - August 25, 2009

This is the stage where I’m at in life – all my other friends are married and with kids. I am part of a few meetups where I live in Washington DC and have met some potential friends – still too early to call them true friends, but I like where this is headed. I feel like I’m in control of my own destiny. If it doesn’t work out, it doesn’t work out.

If I do end up making lifelong friends out of this, then I will feel like I have accomplished something major. And that is my goal. I won’t feel lonely if I have accomplished something major.

It’s rewarding for me to make new friendships while I’m an adult. We all change, grow and mature to a certain extent. I admit, when I was younger, I was very immature. I threw tantrums, yelled a lot. I never kept my cool. I rubbed people the wrong way.

Sometimes, with the friends that have known me for years (the same ones that are married and have kids now), my past seems to haunt me. They will always bring up how i was 10 years ago, 20 years ago, if we’re in an debate and they want to get their point across. It’s hard sometimes for them to accept that I’ve changed.

But the beauty of forming new friends in adulthood is that it’s a fresh start. You can start with a clean slate. As people find out more about you, they will learn about your flaws, shortcomings and so on. But it’s not so much to your detriment. You can relax a little.

Onely - August 25, 2009

That’s tough that your old friends use your past as a tool like that. I’m sure they’ve changed over time too, and it would be nice if they accepted that you have, as well.

So your point about new adult friendships being a “fresh start” is well taken. I think I’ve had a gradual turnover in the last thirteen years so that all my friends are “new” except for one friend from college and a couple longtime family friends. The benefit is that it’s allowed me to grow without feeling beholden to people’s old ideas of me.


3. specialkphd - August 25, 2009

I actually DON’T think you should be looking for new friends who are just like you, but redefine your friendship with the ones you have. Your current friends have new needs from you, and you have new needs from them. A simple “I miss you” card would help…my advice is to wait it out. Just like a friend who is in lovey-dovey time, the newness of kids will wear off, and pretty soon, your pal will need someone to take her out for pedicures or for happy hour…

Onely - August 25, 2009

I definitely agree with waiting it out–but I think it would also be good to make new friends too. I like the card idea but I personally would do the “thinking of you” route, because I would be worried that “I miss you” might cause the recipient to feel guilty. (?)

4. autonomous - August 25, 2009

I so relate to this post! Awhile back, and for several years, I struggled mightily with this. I experienced aching loneliness at times, feeling as though I had been marginalized by my “coupled w/ kids” friends/family and couldn’t figure out how to connect with people I might develop close friendships with. (I even dated a guy whom I knew early on to be a bad match because I wanted to feel included in the social world I thought I was missing.)

Now looking back, I am grateful for the time I had to fully pursue some of my most personal interests (also what makes me multi-dimensional) as well as I’ve learned to entertain myself without much effort.

Interestingly, when I finally embraced my life as was and I felt happy being single, and just happy in general, several of my oldest, closest friends cycled back around, as well as I made a couple of new ones.
(I made the new friends through work and by extension of existing relationships. Went on a lot of “friend-dates” though, that is, some sort of outing) They were all at different stages too with kids/spouses etc., but I don’t think it’s a coincidence that my positive energy had something to do with why all of a sudden last year, I found that my calendar was jammed with all sorts of social things, and that it has continued at a fair pace. If there is a lull, then well, I know what to do- grab a book, my running shoes, the garden gloves, or take myself to the movies or dinner!

I would say that I wish I hadn’t agonized so much and just trusted more that if they were such good friends, time would prove it. I also had to look to myself and what type of friend I was….I think I needed time away from certain people to grow too.

5. Onely - August 25, 2009

“Friend-dates” are the best date! No worries about who pays! I’m glad it worked out for you in the end after the loneliness period, and I’m glad you mentioned that period because we all have them and it’s important to talk about them (so that we don’t end up dating bad matches, as you did, which we’ve all done. . . = ) )


6. Alan - August 25, 2009

Never heard of Meetup. Might give it a try later (when I have time, that is).

Haven’t really had a problem with friends ditching me…probably because I usually only make acquaintances, which lapse when I move or change jobs. There are very few people who I really want to hold on to.

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