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We the People ... Are Lonely
July 15, 2012 1:44 AM   Subscribe

In "Friends of a Certain Age," the New York Times Style Section examines how life stages affect friendship, citing the college years as America's prime friendship-making time. Why? Because as we get older and "external conditions change, it becomes tougher to meet the three conditions that sociologists since the 1950s have considered crucial to making close friends: proximity; repeated, unplanned interactions; and a setting that encourages people to let their guard down and confide in each other."

Those changing "external conditions" include work, coupledom, and children, all of which play a part in diminishing the importance of friends: "Work friendships often take on a transactional feel; it is difficult to say where networking ends and real friendship begins." Then, too, "[d]ifferences in professional status and income also complicate matters.... Once people start coupling up, the challenges only increase. Making friends with other couples “is like matchmaking for two.... Adding children to the mix muddles things further.... Even when parent friends develop a bond, the resulting friendships can be fleeting — and subject to the whims of the children themselves."

Maturation and psychology also factor in. According to Marla Paul, the author of the 2004 book, “The Friendship Crisis: Finding, Making, and Keeping Friends When You’re Not a Kid Anymore”: "After 30, people often experience internal shifts in how they approach friendship. Self-discovery gives way to self-knowledge, so you become pickier about whom you surround yourself with."

But these are hardly the only explorations of the topic: A quick Amazon search for "friendship" yields 47,000 results.

And should you want to improve your own lot in life, there are Websites as well as books to help. The Times article links to four different social networking sites, all with the explicit goal of platonic matchmaking: Socialjane.com functions very much like a traditional match site, only without the romance. Girlfriendcircles.com encourages group get-togethers, while also offering speedfriending services. Girlfriendsocial.com has space for classifieds and also hosts its own events, and Companiontree.com stands out as the sole service willing to nurture "bromance" as well as BFFs. Meanwhile, if you seek a first-hand account of what meet-and-greet matches are like, see Rachel Bertsche's "MWF Seeking BFF: My Yearlong Search for a New Best Friend."

For a more political view of friendship, you might want to look for Giles Slade's forthcoming book, "The Big Disconnect." Writing in the Times Comments Section, he sees the demise of friendship as a result of late-stage capitalism: "Life has become increasingly isolated for more than a century now. This happened when we left the large extended agricultural family and community for the economic competition of our growing urban centers.

 We are increasingly encouraged to live single lives and the single life has become a growing trend. Romantic coupledom and lifelong unions are decreasing radically in favor of serial monogamy. We are alone more often than ever before.

 This is simply an economic condition of consumerism. Solitary consumers need more goods than family groups which shares its appliances, cars, housing...." And "[a]s everything in our lives becomes commodified (time, leisure and relationships) we become less generous and less skillful with others."

Finally, if you're interested in this topic, it's worth reading through the Comments at the bottom of the Times article, as well as the forums, links, and blogs related to the Websites above. Many of the posts — as well as perhaps Metafilter itself — provide overt or covert testimony to the fact that friendship ain't easy, and many of us lead very lonely lives.
posted by Violet Blue (67 comments total) 140 users marked this as a favorite

 
it becomes tougher to meet the three conditions that sociologists since the 1950s have considered crucial to making close friends: proximity; repeated, unplanned interactions; and a setting that encourages people to let their guard down and confide in each other."


What's missing is that the internet has enabled these three conditions, in myriads of ways, since its inception, bridging barriers across languages, culture and geography. Perhaps we're now making more friends than ever, eventually to find a way to meet them in person somewhere.
posted by infini at 2:58 AM on July 15, 2012 [12 favorites]


> This is why so many people meet their lifelong friends in college

That's unfortunate - college grads go where the jobs are, and it's a rarity that an entire group of friends will end up in the same place.

AskMefi provides testimony to the veracity of the larger theme as some variation of "I'm X years old, with no friends. Where can I make friends?" is posted every so often, with varying level of special snowflake. Join meetup.com, have hobbies, and "it's a numbers game" are the go-to answers. Occasionally it is pointed no requirement to drink alcohol at the local's bar but they do have a social atmosphere.

For some reason, PostSecret comes to mind as well (but it is also Sunday).

I'll try an remember to pick up a copy of Big Disconnect when it comes out because I'm not convinced this is purely an effect of late-stage capitalism; merely our very American brand. Hollywood has sold us out to Prince Charming and Sleeping Beauty and that we can find a single person who will be the only person we need for the rest of our lives.

Thanks for the FPP.
posted by fragmede at 3:11 AM on July 15, 2012 [3 favorites]


Solitary consumers need more goods than family groups which shares its appliances, cars, housing...." And "[a]s everything in our lives becomes commodified (time, leisure and relationships) we become less generous and less skillful with others."

I don't agree with this. Me solitary is a much much more aware person when it comes to my consumption and my carbon footprint. Whereas me in a family situation is all about time and expediency and convenience, which causes spending more than I want to and and consuming and wasting MUCH more than I want to and not making effective and efficient use of the resources and things that I have.
posted by Skygazer at 3:12 AM on July 15, 2012 [4 favorites]


Whereas me in a family situation is all about time and expediency and convenience

The consumption arising from the inefficiency with which one family shares one house, one house worth of content, and a few cars is absolutely dwarfed by the consumption by each family member possessing one house, one house worth of content, and one car.
posted by falcon at 3:51 AM on July 15, 2012 [2 favorites]


Having moved overseas after graduation, I'm surprised by how strong my friendships remain with my friends from college. I see them maybe once or twice on a trip home, which happens maybe once every year or two.

Here in Japan, it can be challenging to make friends, for more than just the obvious (language barrier, physically clear outsider ness). A good number of the friends I have come from places I've worked, and I've found myself thinking about the differences between my college friends and my friends here. More than once I've thought that one or two of the good friends I have here are people I probably wouldn't even been acquaintances with back home, but here, there is a much smaller pool so to speak.*

One of the things I'm finding as I stay here longer is that there is a lot of attrition. A lot of foreigners stay only one or two years, and the longer you're here, the more people slowly disappear from your life, and not being as young anymore, it's not as easy, or even interesting anymore to just hang out in a bar with a lot of younger expats who are in the process of just settling in, and who've decided, after six months to a year, that they know what make Japan tick.

* I realize that it sounds like I'm ignoring the possibility of making friends with Japanese people. I'm really not. For me, at least, it's been quite difficult to get many of my relationships with Japanese people past the acquaintance stage. A lot of that is on me, and subpar language skills, as well as a, for Japan, excessive amount of job hopping.
posted by Ghidorah at 3:58 AM on July 15, 2012 [6 favorites]


I agree that it's having to go where the jobs are that's put such a strain on deep, lifelong friendships. My obeservation is that it seems like acquaintances are the new friends - you may go out bowling and have a beer or two, but such ones aren't the sort you'd turn to when you're in difficulty or have profound conversations with. And online interactions can only do so much. Hence why some want a significant other to help fill that gap.
posted by Anima Mundi at 4:09 AM on July 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


Ah, but with FaceBook, everyone is my friend
posted by Postroad at 4:12 AM on July 15, 2012 [2 favorites]


I was surprised to read that sociologists had codified the three conditions, and even more surprised they'd missed out the obvious one: self confidence. Friendship is fundamentally about feeling comfortable with someone, and unless you feel comfortable with yourself, that's pretty hard to pull off. Judging by the suicide rate (perhaps the ultimate measure of how comfortable you are about yourself), "not feeling comfortable with yourself" seems to be on the rise, and to afflict boys more often than girls.

I think that's pretty important to understand. Consumerism is all about dissatisfaction, most of all about yourself. The observation that consumerism led to solo living is true, but tangential. Consumarism led to us loathing our fat, hair, wrinkles, motor vehicles, and vacation choices, and that is what made us lonely.
posted by falcon at 4:13 AM on July 15, 2012 [14 favorites]


Falcon: The consumption arising from the inefficiency with which one family shares one house, one house worth of content, and a few cars is absolutely dwarfed by the consumption by each family member possessing one house, one house worth of content, and one car.

In cities, people live in apartments and use mass transit. And if I really put my mind to it, in terms of electricity, cooking gas, taking efficient showers, making my own food (cutting down on over packaging), and recycling effectively, I know I've achieved like a negative carbon footprint. I'm pretty sure I'm owed some carbon credits actually. (/joke)

I think it's too facile and flawed an assumption that living alone makes people more voracious consumers.

As I said, people who have alone time have the time to think through how to live as efficiently as possible. Families do not.
posted by Skygazer at 4:15 AM on July 15, 2012 [3 favorites]


I was just kicking these ideas since a friend just moves from here to there seeking fun and friendship in Europe, finding making friends in his late 30s was problematic given babies.

Personally, I have many and varied, and close, friendships online, but I'm pretty troubled at maintaining flesh relationships.
My peak friendship era was uni, but I let a lot of those lapse. I could resurrect them via FB with ease, but I don't want to. Since then.... there as been little in the way of new flesh chums, and I don't feel the loss.

But this FPP gives me lots of stuff to poke at.
posted by Mezentian at 4:20 AM on July 15, 2012


LONESOME NO MORE!
posted by clarknova at 4:25 AM on July 15, 2012 [4 favorites]


There is nothing like school to meet the requirements of proximity, setting and repetition. I remember moving to the suburbs soon after graduating from college, married but no children, and the stunning change in how easy it was to meet people and make friends was overwhelming at times. People that I met had more difference and we lacked the common experience of being in college together; some were married with children, many were older, some were in different economic strata etc., and everyone was busy. All of this made it hard to find yourself in the repeated social interactions that lead to friendship. Later in life so many friends came from my children's social interactions, but those are fragile and sometimes the adult friendship carries on when the kids have parted ways and sometimes it does not. Anyway, making new friends seems more of a challenge now than it was in some times such as college and even to this day my closest friends, closest confidants, are friends from high school and college.

By the way, great job in posting this article and fleshing it out with interesting thought and contextual supporting links! Please keep posting.
posted by caddis at 5:28 AM on July 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


My girlfriend and I had a conversation about this just the other day. I have a handful of friends -- who are, basically, the closest thing I have to family outside of her, in the can you please come to my mom's funeral" sense -- with whom I've been close friends with since my early teens and that is, apparently, really odd. We've seen one another through multiple moves for college, work, and seem to always end up back in Brooklyn. Everyone is even, quite literally, moving to the exact same neighborhood to make roots to start their own families. Sometimes I forget how thankful I really should be for these sorts of relationships, especially considering my biological family is basically all deceased, and then I remember and I am.

Which is really pretty good, considering I dropped out of college when I was 19 and didn't go back until the age-gap between me and the rest of the student body was such that hanging out off-campus with people I hung out on-campus (it was a commuter school) was sort of weird and awkward, even though they were getting up to the exact same stuff I had been five or six years prior.
posted by griphus at 5:37 AM on July 15, 2012 [2 favorites]


The consumption arising from the inefficiency with which one family shares one house, one house worth of content, and a few cars is absolutely dwarfed by the consumption by each family member possessing one house, one house worth of content, and one car.

I'll agree with Skygazer, at least in part -- I'm single; I live in a city; I rent an ~800 square foot apartment, have one person's worth of consumer goods, and have no cars. If I was living with another person, it's pretty likely that I/we would have a car, a rather larger apartment, and much more stuff. If we lived in a house, the space would likely be more than double, and, if we lived in the suburbs, two cars would be probable. Both of my suburban-living brothers currently have more cars than family members, and, I am reasonably sure, more space per family member than I do.
posted by GenjiandProust at 5:40 AM on July 15, 2012 [3 favorites]


(Also, it helps that I no longer have any friends who are anything more than moderately concerned for my well-being if I don't reach out with them for a long time. Which is really, really conducive to actually doing social things when you know the response to "hey I know we haven't spoken in six months, but let's hang out" is "oh, yeah, sure, that'll be great!" and not "oh yeah? well why haven't you called me in half a year? Hm?" One of my best friends from high school moved to Denmark a few years ago and has a "no computers after work" philosophy and therefore doesn't do social networking/email/chat/etc. He just visited for a week and hanging with him was like he never left even though we maybe had a conversation and a half between now and the last time he visited during the winter.)
posted by griphus at 5:41 AM on July 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


((And not to spam the thread but goddamn, people, I think I met all my other friends via MetaFilter meetups, so go to these things!))
posted by griphus at 5:42 AM on July 15, 2012 [2 favorites]


I moved countries after I hit 30 and I was surprised by how difficult it was to make connections, let alone friends. Work proved a waste land socially and I lived in my new country for nearly two years before I met some people. Two of my loneliest years. What changed?

I got a new hobby.

I found a ready-made social circle based upon that hobby and now - four years later - I do not just have a social circle, I have some very close friends who I cannot imagine not being in my life.

Interestingly, most of these friends are in their late 30s/early 40s, have no children and are mostly expats. Even more interestingly, that also pretty much describes my old social circle in my old country.
posted by kariebookish at 5:48 AM on July 15, 2012 [2 favorites]


I think the hardest part is getting past the "hump" mentioned in the article where you're friendly acquaintances (once you're out of college), and to get through to "friend" someone has to keep pushing, which feels awkward and doesn't always work out.

One thing I like about living in a smaller city is that there's more stability; people who move here tend to stay here a long time, and a lot of people grew up here, worked elsewhere, and moved back, so there's a lot of long-standing community and connections (which makes it a little more difficult to break in as an outsider, because half the people you know have all known each other since high school, but once you're in it's good!). And it's small enough that you run into people you know ALL THE TIME, which does give you a chance to get to know people.

I would say the strategies that worked well for me making friends in a totally new city after law school were volunteer, take community rec classes, and throw more parties. My husband's strategy is "play D&D." Both worked pretty well. I also try to keep in mind that everyone hates friend-dating once they're full-grown adults and that mostly people are grateful when you put yourself forward and try to make friends with them. They don't think you're a desperate dork; they think, "Oh, thank God someone else is doing this part because it is awkward."

One of my close friends recently flat-out refused to move when her husband had a job opportunity come up; they had moved once before for his work, and she'd been so miserable starting over with friends. She's in her 40s and just said, "No. You can go and we can visit each other, but I'm staying here, and I will get divorced before I will move. I can't do it again and start over again."
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 6:03 AM on July 15, 2012 [24 favorites]


I don't have any friends because I am too busy with the weekly moral panic induced by a NY Times trend piece. Why last week I only just stopped breast feeding my 21 year old son in public. It was difficult to stop because I obviously got something out it. Particularly as I am childless 45 year old man with no friends living in a world of declining civility and increasing polarization where anecdotal evidence points the value of stereotypical gender roles and where teen cougars now prowl junior proms wearing bracelets indicating they huff some sort of vapour from Lush while being poly-amorously experimental at sex parties while their parents are off filling their growlers and scarfing David Chang muffins with the refined essence of intense coffee filtered bacon molecules made from home smoked partially monkey digested pig.

Same as it ever was.
posted by srboisvert at 6:12 AM on July 15, 2012 [46 favorites]


It's weird how hard it is to make friends as you get older. After reading that article I thought about it and realized that very few of my daily interactions with other people outside of Mrs Agogo last more than a few minutes. That's hardly stacking the deck in favor of making new friends. It seems like at some point you need to make a business proposal like plan of attack to force yourself to be in possible-friend-making situations.
posted by Slack-a-gogo at 6:13 AM on July 15, 2012 [2 favorites]


"No. You can go and we can visit each other, but I'm staying here, and I will get divorced before I will move. I can't do it again and start over again."

I would be curious for other 'global nomads' or 'third culture kids' to chime in and share whether that background/life experience has made it easier or harder or simply offered a different mindset in dealing with this issue.

I just went back to Finland last month for the Midsommar (Juhannus) festival for a two week vacation, a year after I left. I visited with three friends/hosts and feel I have added lifetime friends to expand and enhance my life. All said that they probably wouldn't have become friends (local culture/society is very reserved and independent) if I hadn't been so warm, outgoing, friendly and making the effort to reach out across every linguistic, ethnic and cultural barrier one could imagine.

Yet, its hard to start over each and hard to always be new. It hurts to be alone adn different and strange. But when the time comes, I find myself going into "newbie" mode just out sheer decades of practice.

Here I am now, spending more time than I imagine in yet another continent, knowing that if I wanted to develop the social circle, there's the effort involved and the activity and just not wanting to do it. Thank god for Metafilter. Its the same blue no matter where you log in from.
posted by infini at 6:18 AM on July 15, 2012


proximity; repeated, unplanned interactions; and a setting that encourages people to let their guard down and confide in each other.

....I have never seen this list before, but suddenly I understand why almost all of my post-college friendships have been made through independent comics. You really do see the same people over and over again when you're working or attending conventions, and nothing fosters casual conversation like sitting in a ghost-town artists alley at 11PM while you're waiting for the room to be locked up for the night.
posted by Narrative Priorities at 6:26 AM on July 15, 2012 [4 favorites]


My avocations have all turned from mutual interest into groups of long-term friendships, so I think there's something to that. I have a core group of good friends from jr high & high school that has stuck together because we began playing music together, so spent a lot of time in one anotehr's garages & spare rooms, and bonded over that. In my late 20's, I started caving, which requires lots of time spent in close proximity to small-ish groups of people, and also requires a pretty high level of trust, and pretty much all of my "4 AM stranded on the freeway" friends, as I think of them -- people who would ungrudgingly come rescue one another in crisis situations-- come from one of those 2 groups.

I have a few long-term friends from work as well, but again, these derive from the mutual interest that work provides, chiefly art & craftsmanship. What this Times article seems to suggest, that friendships are formed by having $time to hang out randomly interacting to form happenstance relationshps is necessarily shallow & ultimately a losing proposition, since mutual interst is totally a crapshoot. Get out of the bars and do something with your life, and you will find people you bond with.
posted by Devils Rancher at 6:56 AM on July 15, 2012 [5 favorites]


I was surprised how hard it is to make friends with other parents, people who presumably have an interest in finding people for their kids to play with as much as you do and who understand your stage of life. But unless you live on the same street they do, it's just too complicated to get together for playdates or just to hang out. Maybe we're all just too freaking tired to try.

On the other hand, it's gotten easier to get together with other adults since social media came along (and cell phones) so at least I get to do more social drinking provided I can find a babysitter. It also helps to have a super social spouse who is still friends with everyone he's known since high school.
posted by emjaybee at 7:03 AM on July 15, 2012


"I would be curious for other 'global nomads' or 'third culture kids' to chime in and share whether that background/life experience has made it easier or harder or simply offered a different mindset in dealing with this issue. "

I think a lot of it is just personality. My friend who refused to move is someone who's just temperamentally unsuited to the upheaval of moving generally (she doesn't even want to move house within her same community), and for whom her friends are her family, and who likes to spend lots of time with other people, but is shy and unsure about getting to know people. So moving for her is an incredibly upsetting life dislocation.

I am not super-fond of starting over, and liking being settled in a community impacts our thoughts about careers, etc., but I don't really see it as a crisis, even though I lived in the same community my entire growing up (we moved once ... six blocks) and graduated high school with most of the same kids I went to preschool with when I was three. I'm not very nomadic and I like being rooted in a place and I need to have a decent-sized group of local close friends or I'm unhappy, but when I've had to start over in a new place, I just start working on my new roots right away and throw myself into it. I'm not shy about approaching strangers. (I'm shy on the INSIDE, as I tell people.)

"I was surprised how hard it is to make friends with other parents, people who presumably have an interest in finding people for their kids to play with as much as you do and who understand your stage of life."

I secretly find this part of parenting a little slice of hell. Lots of my kids' friends' parents are cool, and lots aren't my people but are perfectly pleasant to chat with, but some of them are awful and you still have to spend time with them. It'll be better when they're older and can manage their own social lives without me CONSTANTLY supervising, but then there's all the issues like, what if you become BFFs with another kid's mom and then your kid and that kid have a fight and hate each other? Ugh. Friendships based on the preferences of tiny sociopaths seem extra-fraught.

Regarding playdates, I set up a weekly regular park playdate via facebook with other families who have kids my age. It's an open invitation, anyone can be on the list (I figure people who don't "fit" will filter themselves out), and in the worst-case scenario, my kids get to play at the park for a couple of hours while I sit by myself. But most weeks around 5 families show up. (There are around 25 families on the list.) Some people come just about every week, some come now and then. It's worked really well.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 7:10 AM on July 15, 2012 [7 favorites]


Funny because after taking in that quote about how "this is simply an economic condition of consumerism ... [a]s everything in our lives becomes commodified (time, leisure and relationships) we become less generous and less skillful with others"- which rings very true to me - another thing that sticks out from the NYT article is the woman who uses the 100-point scale and measures the worth of friends based on things like returning a call or being late, which strikes me as incredibly consumerist-oriented approach to friendship, literally, she's treating friends like products she can get some use out of.

She's an extreme example but a lot of people especially in big cities do this all the time more or less consciously. It's not literally, straight cause-and-effect a product of increased commercialism and consumerism but it's related in so many less direct ways, it seems to me at least. Even thinking of your own spare time as a commodity - in terms of activities to do, time to fill, plans and schedules instead of just letting it roll - inevitably makes you treat other people as commodities because you think oh who can I call to do this or that with me, no that person is not the most suitable for this activity so better call these other ones. The fragmentation and the distance and the fact of living in larger urban areas and each being busy with your own things and needing to plan everything in advance makes this sort of an almost inevitable tendency. I hate this but it's true.

Sure, that thing of planning spare time based on activities can be a neutral thing, not necessarily bad, but I don't know, even when it turns out to give you enough of a good time, it still makes you lose the spontaneity of just getting together for the pleasure of each other's company in the first place, choice of activity or inactivity being secondary and irrelevant; with good friends, because you like each other it won't matter much what you do or don't do together, you'll be enough in synch to end up doing things you all like. That's a lot easier to do if you live closer, and are not so hung up on specific ways to fill your spare time. It's also a lot easier when you're younger, because you are more open and curious; but also because of the nature of tighter communities you tend to end up in when you are younger. There are ways to recapture that later too but it takes more effort to find the kind of people who still share that attitude past their thirties...

Or maybe I'm just a bit in a nostalgic mood and this is making me ramble on... Anyhow, very interesting read and links, thanks! and yes ah the comments to the article are worth a scan too.
posted by bitteschoen at 7:16 AM on July 15, 2012 [6 favorites]


What's missing is that the internet has enabled these three conditions, in myriads of ways, since its inception, bridging barriers across languages, culture and geography. Perhaps we're now making more friends than ever, eventually to find a way to meet them in person somewhere.

I think it is more that we're now friending more people than ever, which is a different thing totally.

That being said, telecommunications absolutely allows you to maintain the same friendships longer and under circumstances that would have torpedoed the connections in earlier days. I have friends who have moved across the continent and free long distance calling and e-mail, and so forth allow me to keep in touch just as readily as if they were still living a half-hour away from me. My parents had friends who did this, and keeping in touch meant letters and maybe an annual expensive phone call and perhaps once ever decade or so, someone would make the trip there or back here. For my grandparents, it would have been letters only, and my great-grandfather had a brother who made that move, and who (so far as I know) disappeared totally from the family's consciousness except as a memory -- being in Manitoba may as well have been being dead*. I vaguely knew that we might have relatives in the west but it wasn't until I encountered a guy with the same name as me and we turned out to be third cousins that there was any reconnection there.

*Note that I am not making any of the several jokes that spring to mind here.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 7:17 AM on July 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


I think the hardest part is getting past the "hump" mentioned in the article where you're friendly acquaintances (once you're out of college), and to get through to "friend" someone has to keep pushing, which feels awkward and doesn't always work out.

I agree. I've been doing far better at making friends over the past couple of years, once I caught on to the fact that it simply takes more effort all the time. It took the least effort in school or in college, because you were together all the time and friendships could grow organically. Immediately post-college, it was pretty easy because people had roommates and crappy jobs and there was lots of organic hanging out. By the time people are pushing 40, they have mortgages, serious jobs that require long hours, sometimes kids or responsibilities for caring for a parent, and all kinds of other things that fill the hours of their lives. Creating a friendship requires real effort to carve out not just space in the schedules, but also fun and pleasure in doing so. It's not easy, at all.

I would be curious for other 'global nomads' or 'third culture kids' to chime in and share whether that background/life experience has made it easier or harder or simply offered a different mindset in dealing with this issue.

I think I more or less qualify for that category. I'd say that I'm highly skilled at making acquaintances, but honestly not very good at making deep friendships. Drop me into a totally new place and I'll have lots of people to chat with in short order, but when I move on I'm unlikely to maintain contact with anyone. I'm trying to change that, but as mentioned above it takes a lot of effort.

I was surprised how hard it is to make friends with other parents, people who presumably have an interest in finding people for their kids to play with as much as you do and who understand your stage of life.

That's strange to me, because what I've noticed as a person with no kids is that it is incredibly difficult to maintain more than the most casual of friendships with most people with kids. At least here, there seems to be a hermetically sealed zone of "people with kids," who socialize exclusively together. It doesn't bother me -- people can socialize however they want, no harm done -- but I've been really struck at how tight those boundaries are drawn in this place and with the people I know.
posted by Forktine at 7:20 AM on July 15, 2012 [3 favorites]


BTW, the best comment from the NYTimes article is:
"Interesting article, but everyone over 30 probably knows all this.

How about an article about how husbands (over 30 years of age) still want to hang out with their college or high school buddies (more than 2 or 3 times a year) and have drinks, but their wives give them grief about it or forbid it? (e.g. "why do you still want to go drinking with your friends...you should grow up").

That article would be more interesting."
No, dude, that article would be EVERY SITCOM FROM THE 00s.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 7:21 AM on July 15, 2012 [11 favorites]


Actually, I think that happens rarely enough for it to be a perfectly workable topic for a Style section piece.
posted by griphus at 7:31 AM on July 15, 2012 [2 favorites]


Drop me into a totally new place and I'll have lots of people to chat with in short order, but when I move on I'm unlikely to maintain contact with anyone. I'm trying to change that, but as mentioned above it takes a lot of effort.

That's where the internet comes in for me. But I hear what you're saying... everytime I move, its like a sieve to filter who'll "stay" and who'll just pass into memory. Its the waking up one day and realizing that your "4am and who do I call" BFF is actually (and literally) a 4am call because she's in Yorkshire and you're in Singapore. I didn't *want* to move from Finland, I didn't want to start over./cuts rant short
posted by infini at 7:38 AM on July 15, 2012



One of the saddest things about the article was how we've so thoroughly evolved into Brand Me — to take up the consumerist angle. Facebook is all pretty pics and positive advertisements for friends and acquaintances. LinkedIn serves the same purpose for business. Match is where we advertise for love. And now we have a place to do the same for friends. It's all so forced positive, so full of humblebrag, and so disconnected from messy reality.

Probably some of it is lack of confidence, both individually and as a society, as commented above, so together we are increasingly aware we are always competing, and now that we have the tools to do it like mini-movie stars we are expected to make use of them.

Another consumerist angle to friendship in America is its very disposability. I've been shocked so many times now when friends have disappeared instantly upon marriage or childbirth. And yet I notice too that it's such a conventional response it can be hard to even make a case that's it's wrong. The fact is as soon as life gets demanding and something needs to go very often it's friends who don't make the cut.

I read somewhere that friendship is the one form of relationship we have no rituals for: No ceremonies, no recognized celebration, no particular status. The very term BFF is mocked, and yet if you think about it a best friend forever is kind of a lovely idea. Theoretically at least, it's a relationship based entirely on free will, on good will, typically with no monetary involvement. Which I guess helps explain, in a capitalist society, why it so often seems undervalued.
posted by Violet Blue at 7:53 AM on July 15, 2012 [26 favorites]


What's missing is that the internet has enabled these three conditions, in myriads of ways, since its inception, bridging barriers across languages, culture and geography. Perhaps we're now making more friends than ever, eventually to find a way to meet them in person somewhere.

I can honestly say that many of my closest internet friends, the ones I've known for over a decade, are relegated to that same murky level of Facebook friend as my closest "real life" friends from my school years. Where we fostered those relationships--EZboard, LiveJournal, AIM--have all been replaced by Facebook. That, plus getting older, really has made those internet friendships where we had so much in common just like any other school-era friendship when we had so much in common. It's a bit sad.
posted by girlmightlive at 7:56 AM on July 15, 2012 [3 favorites]


Yes, Facebook is not good for this. It has commodified "friend" and "friending" and "like" among so many other things. See VioletBlue above re: consumerism of friendship.
posted by infini at 8:00 AM on July 15, 2012


But note that this piece (to its credit) isn't a typical NYT Style Sections trends piece, in that it presents this as a "same as it ever was" phenomenon, not a "society has gone down the tubes since I was a kid" phenomenon. My parents, born in the 1940s, are very social and have lots of acquaintances, but I don't think they have any truly deep friendships they formed after they were 25.
posted by escabeche at 8:04 AM on July 15, 2012


Making friends, or not being able to make friends, has been one of the defining issues of my entire adulthood in all its different facets - okay, probably my entire life really, since I was the nerdy kid who the other kids picked on - I preferred to speak to grown-ups whenever possible, until I became one myself. I am probably more sensitive than most and I have dealt with depression since - I honestly don't really remember a time when I wasn't dealing with it, which effects my self-esteem, leading me down the path of thinking "people don't want to be friends with me because I'm not good enough to be friends with, something is wrong with me". I am friendly and enjoy meeting new people, and sometimes I am confident (which has taken over half my life to develop, and is crucial to trying to make friends, I find), but all too often I end up feeling like a misfit, and that has always been a trigger for the suicidal ideation - "What is the worth of being alive if it is so lonely and painful so much of the time? Why try so hard to fit into - to be a part of - a world full of people who don't want to connect with me, and I am honestly not sure I want to connect with them either?"

Humans are social animals (and did I ever figure that out once I had children and needed that "village" to help raise them, but that village is particularly elusive, even more so than making friends - at least in the society I live in). It is not natural for us to be so isolated, and yet, here we are. In university I was working almost full-time and carrying a full-time class load as well, and so did not focus on making friends as much as I should have - I have regretted that for years, because since then it has been amazingly hard to form friendships that weren't based online.

So many friends, I've made online - I even met my husband online (luckily, he lived two hours away from me, but that was coincidence); online friends have been great when I am lonely - many of them I've known for years, over a decade even, and have met IRL - and meeting people online means you can select for commonalities over proximity, which is no small thing! But I'm reminded of the "Is the web driving us mad?" piece from a couple days ago, which (despite the dramatic tone) resonated so much for me - do I tend toward depression because of the time I spend online that is full of novelty but not deeply satisfying, or am I spending time online because I tend toward depression and I am seeking connection any way I can get it? Probably a little from Column A, and a little from Column B. Online connection is absolutely worthy as its own thing but does not serve well as a substitute for proximity: yes, I'd rather drink and talk on Facebook or IRC or on a web community on a Saturday night than sit alone in my house, for sure, but really I'd rather be hanging out and drinking with a friend IN PERSON, and it sucks to think that I am online because I don't have anyone to be out with IRL.

I quickly learned once I was out of university how hard it was to make friends. Then I emigrated - even harder: my experience of Canada is that people in general are polite, but not so much friendly, they seem slightly wary; my husband is Canadian and he says you can be acquaintances with people for years, see them every day, even, but taking that next step to friendship is a big wall. I don't know. But I do feel like an outsider, even in a culture that is deceptively similar to the one I grew up in ("deceptively" is key - there are differences, even if they happen to be differences I like, a lot of the time). We live in a city where it feels like everyone grew up here and has known each other all their lives; they are not looking to make friends, they already have friends. And in rapid order, before I had a chance to adjust to living in a new place, I had children, and I think it's hard to really get how isolating being a mother is until it happens. Our families are either distant or uninvolved and meeting people simply because you both have children the same age is often not enough to go on in terms of actually making friendships.

Anyway, here I am, I've finally managed to meet these criteria again: "proximity; repeated, unplanned interactions; and a setting that encourages people to let their guard down and confide in each other" - I've made local, IRL friends who I run into over and over again; we get to talking and they are able to admit that they too are discontent and lonely, that being a mother is isolating, and we can make a connection starting from there. It's taken years. Sometimes I daydream about how we could buy a beautiful house at a price we could afford if we were only willing to move away from here - and I put my foot down over and over again; we will not move, because I am not starting over again somewhere else. I just can't. I don't even want to move out of the neighborhood at this point. And I need to stop putting so much time and effort into something ultimately less satisfying & more ephemeral - seeking to fill these social needs online - it has its place in my life and has been helpful, useful, even therapeutic all too often; but I need to put more of that effort into the opportunities actually around me, the people actually around me: they are the ones most affected by my active presence in their lives, and I am most affected by their active presence in mine. I guess I feel we can't go thousands of years operating as humans this way and not be profoundly unsettled in being disconnected from that in a matter of decades or less.
posted by flex at 8:06 AM on July 15, 2012 [12 favorites]


Most of my closer friends are people I met through a college alumni email group. Some of them I knew in college but many I didn't know until afterwards. But it was a lot of repeated weekly activities (tabletop gaming, parties, and later, in a different city, karaoke league) that made us friends.

I think the biggest factor for me that has made it hard to make friends as an adult, even more than my introversion, is health problems. Anyone with chronic issues is going to have a hell of a time making that repeated commitment needed. (To connect that to the various "internet is changing our brains/go without internet" threads, I'd be extremely lonely without the internet. I might get out more, and I'd certainly read a lot more, but I'd be very isolated. I'm grateful for the internet and the connections it fosters, even though I know it has downsides and the connections are weaker.)
posted by immlass at 8:46 AM on July 15, 2012 [3 favorites]


I think that while it's true that I definitely made more friends in terms of sheer quantity when I was in college, now that I'm in my mid-thirties, I find that I'm far more particular in the kind of new people I choose to hook up with. So the overall quality of my circle of friends has definitely improved over the years.

In retrospect, it seems like a worthwhile trade-off.
posted by surazal at 9:11 AM on July 15, 2012


I've been thinking a lot about this lately so it's great to hear what other people are experiencing.

It seems the internet does make me feel less lonely, but then I'm less fussed about reaching out to hang out in real life, which has always been difficult for me. It really does take a lot of work, but, as ViolaBlue says:

Another consumerist angle to friendship in America is its very disposability. I've been shocked so many times now when friends have disappeared instantly upon marriage or childbirth. And yet I notice too that it's such a conventional response it can be hard to even make a case that it's wrong. The fact is as soon as life gets demanding and something needs to go very often it's friends who don't make the cut.

I'm surprised to hear people say they don't like friending their kids' friends' parents, because that seems like the only people my old group of friends now hangs out with, and since I didn't have kids, I'm out of the loop and feel jealous. Some of my old friends will now only hang out with families that have kids the same age and gender as their kids.
posted by maggiemaggie at 9:14 AM on July 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


Skygazer: And if I really put my mind to it, in terms of electricity, cooking gas, taking efficient showers, making my own food (cutting down on over packaging), and recycling effectively

I'm not sure what intrigues me more: your belief that individuals cook, shower, and recycle less effectively when they do it as a family (I can't imagine what sort of family you must have for that to be an experience for you - it's where I learned those things); or your belief that those notional savings could amount to any more than a fraction of a percent of the embodied energy of your personal house/apartment. Hmmm. In any case, on our (UK) side of the pond, the rise of singleton living is acknowledged as the dominant pressure on housing, new house building, and burgeoning house construction resource and energy demand, and also as the supposed saviour of otherwise stagnating consumption. YMMMV.
posted by falcon at 9:25 AM on July 15, 2012


Seconding griphus. If you go to metafilter meetups when you move to a new city, by the time you need to change residences within that city, two years later, you will have friends that are willing to help you move. (I hope!)
posted by madcaptenor at 9:38 AM on July 15, 2012


"I'm surprised to hear people say they don't like friending their kids' friends' parents, because that seems like the only people my old group of friends now hangs out with, and since I didn't have kids, I'm out of the loop and feel jealous. Some of my old friends will now only hang out with families that have kids the same age and gender as their kids."

I know this happens, but I have the hardest time in the world understanding why people would do this. First of all, I spend all day with my children. I would like to spend at least some portion of my social time with GROWN-ASS ADULTS. When #2 was about 6 months old and I could finally leave the house for more than two hours at a time and I'd go somewhere and someone would have a baby with them, I'd internally groan because I was SO TIRED OF TINY NOISY NEEDY PEOPLE and I was leaving the house to escape that. (It's wearing off now, now I want to see all the babies! again.) Secondly, how on earth are you going to acquire babysitters for your small children if you aren't friends with people who have teenagers? Thirdly, any reasonable child-herd requires children of many different sizes.

There are some things that are great about hanging out with people with kids -- we probably have somewhat similar schedules, if we family hang-out our kids can entertain each other while the adults chat, if their kids are close in age to mine their house is at a similar level of childproofing, if their kids are older than mine my kids will follow them around like ducklings. But as long as my not-kid friends understand my kid-having limitations, hanging out with my not-kid friends is equally great! Which is basically that I have a limited number of times I can leave the house unencumbered by children per month. Also that I am VERY EXCITED to go do adult things when I get to do that, like have dinner where I'm not cutting up somebody else's food. But when I can't go without my kids, the best friends are the ones who can roll kid-style. So, it's easier if they come to my house -- I have to make dinner anyway so I might as well make it for 5 as for 4, I can put the kids to bed and we can hang out late without having to get a sitter or rush home to put my kids to bed, if we go to their house I will have to spend the whole time making sure my kids don't puke on their carpet or stuff crackers in their Blu-Ray player. Adults without kids who are willing to hang out on kiddie outings are the best -- it increases the number of adults without increasing the number of children! We have a membership to the zoo that has a guest pass, so I often ask my non-kid-having friends if they want to go to the zoo with us. Lots of them haven't been in years and my kids don't need a lot of managing at the zoo so my friend and I can stroll and chat while the kids watch the tigers. Also frequently adults who don't have kids are willing to do things like blow bubbles for 20 minutes, while my tolerance for bubble-blowing sessions ran out last week.

I either like or don't mind most of my kids' friends' parents, but there are a few ... these two women who act like they're in "Mean Girls" despite being grown-ass women of 30 and try to turn every child-event into their cafeteria lunch table drama. This lady who I think of, with narrowed eyes, as "Ben's mom," who is always freaking judging my kids and my parenting ... grrrr. And my older one LOVES Ben. And Ben LOVES him. And Ben's mom is awful. Most of them are great and interesting people. But you can't avoid the awful ones; with normal adults you just don't spend time with the terrible people! But with your kids' friends' parents, you are stuck.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 10:02 AM on July 15, 2012 [5 favorites]


My internet vs irl friendships are pretty blurred at this point. It is in large part because I live in a city, but mefi meetups (and monkeyfilter meetups before that) have been a big source of friends in LA. Especially when I first moved here for school and didn't totally click with my classmates on a friendship level.
posted by mandymanwasregistered at 10:02 AM on July 15, 2012


I have moved every year and essentially started over three times since I graduated college. At this point I would say I make friends easily, but I'm at the point of my life now where most of the people I meet are coupled. I was trying to fill a dinner party table recently and trying to decide who to invite and I had to categorize my friends these ways:
1. single person
2. couple who share an interest in the subject in the party
3. person whose sig other is totally uninterested in the subject of the party but will insist on coming anyway and still have fun
4. person whose sig other is totally uninterested in the subject of the party who can come independently
5. person whose sig other is totally uninterested in the subject of the party but will insist on coming anyway and ruin the party
6. person whose sig other is totally uninterested in the subject of the party who can come independently, but if they stay out late their sig other will send them angry texts demanding they come home

Category one is rapidly shrinking at my age. And people seem to fill the rest of the categories in roughly equal ratios. And I was thinking as I looked at the last two, that honestly, I can't invite those people at all and need to give up being friends with them. This is depressing, since it's 2012, that people are so controlled and defined by even girlfriend/boyfriend relationships.

And as a woman who works in tech, the amount of other women married/in a relationship with my mostly-male colleagues who won't let them have any female platonic friends can make things seem a bit lonely for me in that field.
posted by melissam at 10:45 AM on July 15, 2012 [9 favorites]


Interesting. I find the internet the best source of meaningful contacts - friends, lovers, activity partners, whatever - that I've ever had. Even college in a densely student-infested area didn't yield the variety of people the developed internet has for me. And I don't use FB at all.

But then, I'm an single, no kids, urbanized queer. I'm fairly introverted but like to use words and media to share interests. No one geographical location, except perhaps the megaconurbations such as London or the SF bay area, has a large enough community, or enough density, of the people I'd prefer to hang out with. But the internet, and my ability to travel (at least regionally) has made all the difference.

The internet helps me find the people, contact them, grow the relationship to the r/l meetup stage, maintain it, and further network from our combined social groups. I don't feel lonely at all, and my phone bill has never been so low (of course, this is after buying a laptop and excessively smart phone; perhaps I am shifting the expense from toll calls to hardware purchases.)
posted by Dreidl at 10:54 AM on July 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


No, dude, that article would be EVERY SITCOM FROM THE 00s.

I think there's a valid insight here into how TV programming reflects our social problems. One notable aspect of which, in the US anyway, is how much things that are a "social problem" go unspoken and become "personal problems".
posted by dhartung at 11:03 AM on July 15, 2012 [2 favorites]


One of the things I always regretted was that I did not have the go-away-to-college-after-high-school experience. I knew instinctively that that would be where lifelong friendships would be made. I've moved around and started over with no connections in a new place something like six times in my life. It definitely gets harder as you get older, and as your lifestyle choices (single, no kids) take the less-traveled route.

I was most recently faced with the task of making all new friendships when I divorced, since all of "our" friends were really his friends and family, and I moved to this, his home city, when we moved in together. We even worked in the same industry, and when I left him I left the industry and most of my colleagues too, so I'd never have to run into him.

My goal was to have enough local friends to invite to dinner parties. It has taken me eight years to achieve that. I still have very few local friends my own age, though. There is just so much "let me tell you about my adorable grandchild" I can stomach, and it's not a lot.

Facebook, to my surprise, has turned out to be a wonderful way to reconnect with old friends and stay in touch with friends who've moved. There is something so affirming in the experience of having someone either find me (which means I have not been forgotten) or being happy to be found (which means I did not forget them).

Some people just seem to "catch" in the fabric of your life, so that they are a permanent fixtures despite time and distance. IMX it doesn't matter when or how you met them.
posted by caryatid at 11:09 AM on July 15, 2012


Frequent MetaFilter posters are obviously a highly biased sample on the question of "How effective do you find the Internet as a means of making IRL friends, or for that matter as a venue for having friends in itself?"
posted by escabeche at 11:14 AM on July 15, 2012 [2 favorites]


On the shared-experiences note, hanging out with the kidless is challenging once you're a parent. Sure, they're (usually) the ones you can do fun, active stuff with on short notice. But in conversation there are huge spheres of your lives that just don't overlap, or even exist in each other's world. Listening to stories about dating, I don't have all that much to add aside from "wow/awesome/that sucks" and advice fifteen years out of date.

Same with telling tales of parenting to the uninitiated. It's this whole realm of experience--utterly mundane experience--that outsiders just can't imagine, let alone relate to. Not to mention the attendant emotions. (As I describe it to soon-to-be-parents and the occasional, treasured single friends who are actually interested, it's like growing an entirely new sensory organ, for better and worse.)

My wife describes a similar-sounding gap between working and non-working mothers. Completely different lists of concerns and complaints, sometimes so different it's hard to listen, objectively as a friend.

On top of that I add Facebook's worst-of-both-worlds approach to "friendship": the more you know all the day-to-day things going on in your (real, pre-FB) friends' lives, the surfacey stuff, the less inclined you are to call or see them in person. It's good for so-so friends, but I think if anything this constant kind-of-contact is worse in the long run. As much as I am on FB, I feel closer to my friends who aren't.
posted by gottabefunky at 11:40 AM on July 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


Frequent MetaFilter posters are obviously a highly biased sample on the question of "How effective do you find the Internet as a means of making IRL friends, or for that matter as a venue for having friends in itself?"

I thought it was my job to be metafilter's resident smart-ass statistician.
posted by madcaptenor at 12:11 PM on July 15, 2012 [2 favorites]


My parents moved to Manhattan in the sixties with 4 kids, leaving behind college friends and family (as well as grad school friends). It seemed to me they made new friends pretty quickly, with a varied group of people, mostly childless and single. I adored my parents friends, they were so much fun to be around, and they made my parents more fun to be around as well.

I don't understand the mentality that says you can only be friends with people who are exactly like you in every way, including stage-of-life, and that everyone else is an "outsider".

I was very disappointed when my friends became like that. I thought we were all going to continue being one big happy family, and that my friends' kids would be like my nieces and nephews. I was happy to go anywhere they wanted me to, but I can't always invite myself over to their house.

At any rate, this post got me to reach out to a few more old friends (IRL) today than I would have.
posted by maggiemaggie at 1:02 PM on July 15, 2012 [5 favorites]


The first few years out of college, I did find it hard to make new friends, even though I was hanging around a good friend from college. But as I've gotten older, I've almost found it's easier to make friends now, mostly because I know myself and I know what I want out of friendships. That doesn't make them easier to find, no, but it makes me less worried about finding them. And the relationships I form now are deeper because I know I want them.
posted by darksong at 1:15 PM on July 15, 2012


"the three conditions . . . crucial to making close friends: proximity; repeated, unplanned interactions; and a setting that encourages people to let their guard down and confide in each other."

The sometimes disheartening way friendships have of simply disappearing during our early decades, can give way to an understanding that one can make new friends and that longevity is not the only measure of friendship. It might not even be the most important one. To me, the quality of the connection is more important than that a friendship be active for a specific length of time. Everyone leaves, one way or another, and the leaving does not negate the value of the friendship.

I believe we do not need to cling because, as Emily Dickenson wrote, "What I have loved is mine forever." There is truly no need to be sad for what is lost. Nothing is lost because no one is guaranteed a future. Every day is a gift, even when we feel sad because a friend has gone, what we have experienced is still ours. The deep connections of friendship nurture us and we benefit from continuing to make new friends.

Although the first two of these criteria can be met in many ways in our world, the third is a great deal more difficult to find. Usually, outside of therapy, people are not candid about themselves. Our media, while simplifying interactions, does not elicit the trust necessary to be completely open about ourselves. Simply growing up teaches us not to let our hair down in public. There are few opportunities to get to know other people as intimately as we did in those college years. On the other hand, that atmosphere also invited intense competition, so some did not find it as fertile a ground for friendships as others did.

What wasn't included in the three criteria but was pointed out by commenters here, is the necessity to know oneself and to be willing to be vulnerable and make the first move. It takes a while for most of us to reach that point and it can be a fairly rigorous journey. It's worth the effort, though, even if it means seeking some kind of therapy or personal growth environment, because, once you know yourself and how to recognize "your people," you can set about making friends throughout the rest of your life. When you find someone you like (who doesn't have to be like you or like any of your other friends), you feel prepared to approach them. They won't all become friends, but, at worst, you will have a circle of interesting and congenial acquaintances, which is not a bad thing.

In conclusion, Facebook notwithstanding, nobody has 500 friends.
posted by Anitanola at 2:14 PM on July 15, 2012 [21 favorites]


The first thing I thought of when I read this was the Jerry Seinfeld bit about making friends in your 30s. It's so true. This Gothamist writer thought of the same thing.
posted by SisterHavana at 3:30 PM on July 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


That was lovely, Anitanola
posted by maggiemaggie at 3:49 PM on July 15, 2012


There's one thing that's not been mentioned here, and I find that omission kind of astonishing. Because while the factors enumerated above, do play a role in the formation of friendships, I believe there is something entirely more fundamental at play: social biology.

To put it most simply, people are social animals, and have biologically determined stages of social life. Young people are naturally inclined to form bands in ways they don't once they reach older age, and later when they form their own families. You can examine the group behavior of primates, or indeed, just watch some monkeys at the zoo. The animals stratify by age group cohorts. Young males - and females - form gangs and run together, because they have common concerns, which are rather different from their older cohorts (and which also explains why cross-generational friendships are rare). Once you have your own family, the focus is inward and not toward the gang. When young, they (especially males) are on the make, together they go to conquer the world (their social or ecological world) and establish themselves within the society, they cooperate in a group.

Now, I don't want to be overly reductive, and obviously in humans things are a lot more fluid and complex compared to monkey societies, but there is an underlying biological impulse. There is something rather different on a purely hormonal level in young people's friendships and the establishment of group identity "us vs them" - it's far more visceral and less calculated compared to older people. Yes, lack of psychological experience is one factor - there is a level of naivete about loyalty that just doesn't exist in the more experienced - not to say cynical - older people. You really think "best friends forever" - these emotions and certitudes are characteristic of young people without the benefit of life experiences and greater sophistication that comes with age. When you're older, you just don't experience these with the same intensity, novelty and rawness untempered by time. That's a huge factor. You have not developed caution or defensive mechanisms. So you don't form the same kind of intense friendships as an older person.

Being at a different stage of life is also a key factor. Think of any generational group. You're a young gang, all together out to conquer the world, make a career displace the older generation holding power. It your gang against the world. But when you're middle-aged, you look to pick allies strategically, it's networking and calculating, not pure friendship - you form much more temporary and fluid alliances. A group of young people spontaneously forming a gang - yes, we see 'em all the time. A gang of middle-agers forming from scratch? Nope - the middle aged gang is folks who all formed it when they were young.

Bottom line - the simplest explanation for strong friendships being formed in the 16-25 year groups is purely biological - it's what we're most primed for by nature, as social animals who evolved to function in groups.

Though yes, the other factors mentioned above exist - but as an addition to this fundamental biological reality.
posted by VikingSword at 4:48 PM on July 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


The vast majority of my training is in pediatrics, but I had to do geriatric rotation like everyone else. One of the sites I was at was an end stage traditional nursing home that was attached to a much larger retirement village (there was also a mid-range, in terms of health/mobility, assisted living unit).

I spent most of my time in the acute setting, but would occasionally help out with health fair-type activities in the retirement village--taking free blood pressures and what not. Most of the residents were very active 55-late 70s.

I really loved it over there and was talking about how invigorating the whole mood was to a classmate, and he said--yeah, because it's exactly like being in college again. And it was true; a bunch of people in close proximity going to the same activities, staying up late together, hooking up with each other, and with little better to do than engage in a lot of bonding and interpersonal drama time. The article underscores these conditions for friendship and relates them to a particular time for a privileged youth, but the same could be said for this population of privileged older adults (and this population, from my limited perspective, were making a lot of meaningful connections).

So yeah, external factors, namely, a communal environment--it seems to me. As a mom with a young kid, I really resonate with everything Eyebrows McGee has said, right down to being attracted to making more childless friends. But a lot of my difficulties as a woman pushing 40 is that my small family of 3 make up this physical pod that is separated by blocks or miles from everyone else's pod. I find it so ridiculous how hard it is to get together with people. Also, we moved to this city with a small child (versus our previous city where we starting making connections as childless people), and so the VAST majority of the people we know here are other families with kids because that was our main social opportunity as newbies.

So I'm thinking I'd better start saving for my condo in the retirement village, so I can hang out with other people on a regular basis again.
posted by rumposinc at 5:22 PM on July 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


The first rule of fight club: you do not talk about fight club.
posted by bukvich at 5:38 PM on July 15, 2012


I don't understand the distinction between networking and "pure" friendship.
posted by LogicalDash at 6:01 PM on July 15, 2012


That's one of the even greater problems of living rurally; it greatly cuts down on the proximity and "repeated, unplanned interactions." We have very few friends now; it's pretty depressing, actually. We know that the only way we'll meet people is by making ourselves get involved in some interactions in town, but that's a big commitment of time already limited by long work hours and a commute. It's a conundrum; I love where I live, it's beautiful and isolated and peaceful. It's so isolated. This internet interaction is nice enough, but to me, it's no substitute for real-life friendship.
posted by Red Loop at 6:23 PM on July 15, 2012


This article is so pessimistic that it's dug into an especially raw place in my mind and has remained hidden there for a few hours.

I have to see this kind of crappy obvious pop psych article as the Times's attempt to connect to 20 and 30 somethings who the publication fears may be drifting towards other forms of media.

Reminds me of this episode of Kings County I heard on the radio in the car Friday night. It's a (crappy) new show on WNYC recorded live in Brooklyn with Wait Wait Don't Tell Me styled quiz questions about veganism. It's a pathetic last gasp from a dying giant.

If they really wanted us, they'd make it so I don't have to delete my entire cache every time I want to read more then 10 free articles!
posted by shushufindi at 7:02 PM on July 15, 2012


"Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another: "What! You too? I thought I was the only one." - C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves

I have found that having a passion outside work (in my case it's poetry) provide ample opportunity to make new friends.

Get a hobby, and get into it, and find a community that's also into it.
posted by eustacescrubb at 8:02 PM on July 15, 2012 [3 favorites]


People who say 'use the web', what sites are you talking about? People who say 'hobbies', which hobbies are you talking about?
posted by moorooka at 1:16 AM on July 16, 2012


I heard World Of Warcraft is where it's at these days.
posted by acb at 4:21 AM on July 16, 2012


Ironically, I don't think any of my current friends are people I knew from college, and most of them are from the post-college years --

* two of them are ex-boyfriends.
* one was one of the friends I met when a work colleague had a new boyfriend (I ran with her and the aforementioned boyfriend and a gang of his for a while, this one guy is the lone holdout after all the other people got married and stuff)
* one is a former member of a pub quiz team with whom my own quiz team had a longtime rivalry in the early 00's.
* One's an old roommate.

Maybe this is payback for being a black-sheep outsider in high school.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:06 AM on July 16, 2012


Having a hobby or interest that fosters a sense of community goes a long way to helping make friends after age 30. I'm an avid cyclist and if it weren't for group bike rides and the shared sense of community among fitness freaks I don't see how I would make friends at this stage of life. Taking part in something that a minority of the population "gets" does wonders to forging friendships inside the circle.
posted by dgran at 7:27 AM on July 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


I grasped this concept with painful clarity back in high school and college. It made graduations agony, the latter particularly. It wasn't until many years later that I had classmates tell me that they'd found my sadness peculiar then, but that they totally understood it now.
posted by kinnakeet at 9:49 AM on July 16, 2012


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