How Friendships Change in Adulthood
October 26, 2015 3:27 AM   Subscribe

The voluntary nature of friendship makes it subject to life’s whims in a way more formal relationships aren’t. In adulthood, as people grow up and go away, friendships are the relationships most likely to take a hit. You’re stuck with your family, and you’ll prioritize your spouse. But where once you could run over to Jonny’s house at a moment’s notice and see if he could come out to play, now you have to ask Jonny if he has a couple hours to get a drink in two weeks. posted by ellieBOA (59 comments total) 57 users marked this as a favorite
I can't believe this is a subject of research because literally every adult I know is intimately aware of this.
posted by anotherpanacea at 3:38 AM on October 26, 2015 [12 favorites]

I was fortunate to have a wonderfully diverse, intelligent circle of close friends in high school who really helped me get through. In the years since, my social circle has dropped off to in-laws and a handful of e-mail contacts who don't always respond.

This summer I spontaneously staged a reunion for the old high school gang. People came great distances and amazingly the old group dynamic kicked in. With eyes closed, the laughter and conversation felt like 1974 again. It was a day of soaring emotion.

My closest friends in school were guys. After school, I found, such relationships were viewed with suspicion, which cut off half my supports at a stroke. Being able to see and speak with these friends again felt liberating but also frustrating as none were local or likely to visit the area again, and all have spouses who do not view our association charitably.

Within 36 hours, after the last bottles had been dragged to the curb and the last thank-you e-mails were fired off, the stark contrast between being surrounded by supportive people to whom I did not need to explain myself, and the reality of my day-to-day life which tends toward isolation, was physically painful. Part of me now regrets hosting the reunion--it was a vivid and intense reminder of the real cost of "growing up."
posted by kinnakeet at 4:49 AM on October 26, 2015 [86 favorites]

My best friend, and best man at my wedding came over for dinner last night. It was the first time I'd seen him in about two months. This is not groundbreaking news to me.
posted by Ghidorah at 5:44 AM on October 26, 2015 [1 favorite]

I see my buddy like every few days. But then again we are kinda perpetually like 14 years old. (But with booze!)
posted by ian1977 at 5:48 AM on October 26, 2015 [3 favorites]

I've been emailing a college friend for over a decade who lives across the country. Recently he and his family passed through my city and were within five minutes of my home, in fact. I found out on indirectly on Instagram. I realized it's probably time to focus on non-virtual relationships.
posted by mecran01 at 6:06 AM on October 26, 2015 [4 favorites]

Facebook really changed a lot of the dynamic of having people come and go from your life. At this point, I have been able to reconnect with virtually every person who was significant to me as a teenager or young adult except the ones who 1) I don't want to reconnect with or 2) don't want to reconnect with me.

But it also flattened the relationships I had with people I was closer to, because it took away a lot of the impetus to make an effort to stay in touch with them through arranging occasional in-person visits and talking on the phone. When you can exchange a joke or a link or some quick chat with someone just as easily as if they were an officemate, it doesn't feel like you're out of touch with them ever. I would not hesitate to say that I no longer have any in-person relationships outside of my family, but I communicate with almost all of my old friends every single day. We might as well all be heads in a jar at this point.
posted by briank at 6:09 AM on October 26, 2015 [17 favorites]

I don't miss my high school friends at all. Because of facebook I know what they are like now as adults and I wonder what the hell I was thinking in high school.
posted by srboisvert at 6:11 AM on October 26, 2015 [20 favorites]

I don't miss my high school friends at all. Because of facebook I know what they are like now as adults and I wonder what the hell I was thinking in high school.

I know, right? A whole bunch of people from high school sent me friend requests a couple of years and I accepted them, thinking "Aw what the hell," and it turns out wow, I do not like them as adults.
posted by Kitteh at 6:20 AM on October 26, 2015 [1 favorite]

We have a bunch of good friends. When we socialize we just bring our kids along. The kids all play videogames together downstairs and the adults talk and booze it up upstairs. It's really fun.
posted by Nevin at 6:32 AM on October 26, 2015 [1 favorite]

I've seen a couple different versions of this article, and it's given me impetus to reflect on things as a 40-something-year-old. I've been an introvert all my life, with few friends growing up. After college, with moving and starting a family what few friends I had soon fell way. I was able to reconnect with a close childhood friend but it never was a strong bond. Due to some life circumstances that relationship also died off a couple years ago.

So, do I have any "friends"? No. Maybe it's me, maybe I'm not able to connect or maintain friendships. With kids in college, dealing with aging parents, stress at work, and just being tired, there's no motivation to put energy towards friendship, especially when it feels no effort is being directed in the other direction to me.

So I guess it's just a thing that happens, which is a lot of the take-away I hear around these articles - like anotherpanacea said above: "every adult I know is intimately aware of this" - so realize it's a fact of life and get over it. A hard fact but one I try to accept.
posted by jazon at 6:59 AM on October 26, 2015 [13 favorites]

This is why I keep all my friends in large jars in the basement.

Movie night, IRL, anyone?
posted by clvrmnky at 7:02 AM on October 26, 2015 [5 favorites]

I think geography and demographics are a factor, too; just the other day Mrs. usonian and I were lamenting the fact that although we do have local friends who are great, and some of whom we'd even call close, we don't really have a core of "our people" who get our nerdy obscure references, and who can appreciate some of our niche interests even if they're not into them -- We often feel a little bit like the token weirdos in our local circles. We have a few things going against us; we're relative newcomers in a place small enough to have a townie vibe, the only non-dive bar that was fun to hang out at around here closed years ago, and we're introverts. Interesting events come across our radar but they're usually 30+ minutes away, so when the date rolls around it's way too easy to say "Meh, don't feel like driving and interacting with strangers."
posted by usonian at 7:05 AM on October 26, 2015 [7 favorites]

If you're a person without a partner or kids, and without close family, then this stuff is actually really hard. I feel hyper-aware that I am not a priority to most of the people who are a priority in my life, yet if something bad happened to me I would really need them because I don't have anyone else. And I don't think they would be there. It's a sad and difficult thing for me to think about.
posted by theseldomseenkid at 7:09 AM on October 26, 2015 [103 favorites]

We often feel a little bit like the token weirdos in our local circles.

We play trivia (and win!) once a month with a single friend of ours. Twice he has brought dates to this outing, and twice they have never returned. We keep telling him that as a couple, we are an acquired taste and should really only be introduced on the fourth date at the earliest. We'd like to stop jinxing his chances.
posted by Kitteh at 7:12 AM on October 26, 2015 [4 favorites]

I don't miss my high school friends at all. Because of facebook I know what they are like now as adults and I wonder what the hell I was thinking in high school.

I am like the categorical dual of this: my facebook friends from high school regularly impress me as awesome people, and I have no idea why they tolerated me in high school because I was a jerk.
posted by Jpfed at 7:12 AM on October 26, 2015 [6 favorites]

I don't miss my high school friends at all. Because of facebook I know what they are like now as adults and I wonder what the hell I was thinking in high school.

Actually quite a few people from high-school who friended me and act like they knew me well, I have absolutely memory of them at all. I was really in such a (non-drugged) haze as a teenager that I barely remember a thing about those years.
posted by octothorpe at 7:16 AM on October 26, 2015 [5 favorites]

I can't believe this is a subject of research because literally every adult I know is intimately aware of this.

I don't think this is how research works. I'm always confused by this sort of comment. Usually research starts with some sort of hypothesis or a set of assumptions that can be confirmed or disproven.
posted by zutalors! at 7:43 AM on October 26, 2015 [13 favorites]

I think prioritizing romantic relationships is a huge problem in the era of serial monogamy. I wish people would shift their priorities a bit towards friendships. Obviously, that gets harder if you have kids, but if you don't--take advantage of your freedom!
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 7:45 AM on October 26, 2015 [29 favorites]

Aside from changing life circumstances (i.e. having kids) and our tendency to move a lot, I blame Facebook for most of this. You feel like you're "in touch" with so many people, yet - as people have said above - it's really only in the most shallow sense, which makes you less motivated to do the real connecting in person or by phone. It's a net disadvantage in terms of quality relationships. Yet it's almost unavoidable. I use it all the time, and I hate it.
posted by gottabefunky at 7:59 AM on October 26, 2015 [2 favorites]

You can make yourself part of the family by being a good aunt or uncle to your best friends' children. Babysit the kids, take them places with and without the parents, let them stay over, remember their birthdays, etc. If your friends all have children of a certain age, invite everyone over for child-appropriate dinners and parties. Then instead of that old friend no one has time for anymore, you're the much-loved aunt or uncle they all depend on and invite to Thanksgiving and Christmas dinner and so on, and your old friends and some of their kids will be there for you when you all get older.
posted by pracowity at 8:07 AM on October 26, 2015 [6 favorites]

Most of my close friends from high school have drifted away (though a few of them I stay in touch with), but at least one of my Freshman in College friends and I are still best friends (and in fact, planning to spend our upcoming 40th birthdays together in France and Italy). She has a kid and a husband, but we still hang out all the time (it helps that she moved to my hometown). Another of my freshman year of college friends is coming to stay with me for a week next week because she's in town for a conference. Among my very best friends circle, the vast majority are now people I've met post-college, one of whom--also a MeFite-- I talk to almost every day (despite the fact that she's in New York and I'm in North Carolina). Friendships are hard, just like any relationship. It helps if you're flexible and inclined to put forth the effort (because it takes effort). I'm also a pretty social person (though socially awkward as hell, I'm more of an extrovert). I like to entertain. I get excited about getting invited to things because of the opportunity to meet cool new people (even if they are, like me, the people standing awkwardly in the corner reading the titles on the bookshelf). And I come from a close, noisy, chatty, heterogenous, affectionate (if frequently bonkers) family, which means that I tend to feel at home in crowds with similar attributes. I feel extremely lucky to be the age that I am and still close to as many people as I am. They are probably the number one thing that keep me sane, as a single lady who works from home and doesn't have kids .
posted by thivaia at 8:27 AM on October 26, 2015 [1 favorite]

I've been thinking about this lately, because it's been two years since I last talked to someone who was my best friend for 10 years, and I still miss her so much sometimes. We never had a falling out or anything; I just moved across an ocean and she finished medical school and started working in a hospital and she's got two little kids, who are 3 and 1. And when there's a 6-hour time difference, it's a lot harder to stay in touch, because it makes random phone calls just to say hello more difficult, so our friendship has just atrophied and it makes me really sad.
posted by colfax at 8:34 AM on October 26, 2015 [2 favorites]

I find that I don't know what to say to people now I am an adult. As a kid, you could just go to the park and join in with a game of football and sit around after chatting about whatever it is that kids chat about. Now, people marry, move away, die, or the relationship just sorta dwindles away, and then you are left with very few people, and it is hard to feel close to them for some reason. FML, as they say.
posted by marienbad at 8:37 AM on October 26, 2015 [6 favorites]

I blame Facebook for most of this.

It's that, I think, but also just Modern Life - 50-hr workweeks, a necessarily mobile workforce, high COL in areas of low unemployment (which means people who want to own homes often have to settle down somewhere sprawl happens, and consequently isolation), the independent nuclear family being held up as the default social unit (vs more community-oriented models in less capitalist/individualist cultures), etc. At other times and places, there might have been / be more ways and opportunities for single people to be integrated into the social fabric in some capacity.
posted by cotton dress sock at 8:46 AM on October 26, 2015 [10 favorites]

(and for marrieds to not be tired and want to hang out.)
posted by cotton dress sock at 8:49 AM on October 26, 2015 [1 favorite]

I have quit drinking for the foreseeable future and it made me realize how much adult socializing--especially if you're childfree--revolves around alcohol. So now I currently feel double whammied.
posted by Kitteh at 8:58 AM on October 26, 2015 [8 favorites]

Ugh. Definitely something that has been weighing heavily on me lately. I also noticed a massive drop-off in the number of friends who communicated with me by phone or email after facebook got big. They just post on facebook now. Facebook seems like such a weird, one-sided conversation to me.
posted by fimbulvetr at 9:00 AM on October 26, 2015 [9 favorites]

This year has put into stark reality for me how important friendship is. I've had my own trauma, and have been supported by my own friends and am grateful for that.

But the worst is one of my best friends who is currently serving a prison term. I told him, and myself, that I would continue to support him and be in contact with him through all of this and when he's released. This got me some side-eye from some people but to me this is the point of friendship, being there through the shitty times.
posted by girlmightlive at 9:25 AM on October 26, 2015 [6 favorites]

I've experience more connection with Facebook although I'm not a super active user. I at least have some contact with older friends who I now live 4500km from. It's nice because I can see all the little, everyday things that they do, stuff that I would know if we were still hanging out. It's not a replacement for real people though.

I went through around ten years of not having what I would say close friends near me and if I didn't have as much family around that I do it I would not have had any 'close' social relationships at all.

In the past 6 months I've become friends with another woman. We just clicked. At my age (40ish) I've learned how freakin rare it is and I treat this relationship as something precious. In the past I was just friends with people, it happened without much thought. Now I consciously know this is a relationship that shouldn't be taken for granted and we both make sure we do what needs to be done to nurture it.
posted by Jalliah at 9:29 AM on October 26, 2015 [4 favorites]

My mom died recently. She'd suffered from dementia for years and had outlived most of her friends. Who showed up at the funeral? My cousins, a couple of people she'd gotten to know before the dementia got bad, AND several of the neighbors we had when I was growing up, some of whom I'd hadn't seen in more than 20 years.

The neighbor relationships were still strong because they worked sane hours at the peaks of their careers (late seventies/early eighties) and had decent commutes to those jobs. So there was a lot of opportunity to spend time together. These folks were all nearing retirement age as the 60+ hour workweek started to become the norm, so they escaped its ill effects, I think.

I would say that more than anything else, the loss of friendships later in life in the 21st century is due to

* work, work, work: even people who could do otherwise accept 60+ hour workweeks as the norm, and many people have no choice
* multihour commutes to those jobs. Again: boiled frog/no effective choice in the matter.
* nomadic lifestyles because of work, work, work
* social media replacing F2F social contact because of the first three factors.

As more people go through life without romantic partners, they have a lot to overcome to have any kind of meaningful social contact. I hope we see a renaissance of community activity as a result.
posted by Sheydem-tants at 10:19 AM on October 26, 2015 [19 favorites]

If you have an office job, you can keep up friendships by doing as little work as possible, and take the time you've saved to instead continually chat over text with your friends and comrades (or, if you're lucky enough to have a long leash, even sneak out to be with them in meatspace). Your ethical obligations to your friends are vastly more important than your practical obligation to appear devoted to your employers. Therefore you must do everything you can put up a false front to satisfy your practical obligations to your betters, and behind that false front to do everything you can to satisfy your ethical obligations to your equals.

Doing any less is indicative of weak morals.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 10:26 AM on October 26, 2015 [29 favorites]

Because of facebook I know what they are like now as adults and I wonder what the hell I was thinking in high school.

I, too, have always been immensely grateful for the chance to grow away from the people I thought were cool when I was a kid.
posted by kythuen at 10:31 AM on October 26, 2015

After moving away for university and other things I moved back to my hometown of Toronto about 7 years ago. I regularly meet up (at least once every 2 months) with a group of 4-5 of my best friends from high school and a couple of times a year I'll meet up with a different group of friends as well. I think it helps that in Canada there aren't that many other cities to move to from Toronto so people either stay here or leave but come back fairly often to visit. If you're from a smaller city then you likely will see a lot of friends move away but from here there isn't really any place else to go. In our case it also helps that we were all in the gifted program so we were already grouped with people who were fairly similar to us.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 10:40 AM on October 26, 2015 [1 favorite]

As someone who was phone-averse even before the ubiquity of email and social media, I don't agree 100% with the blanket Facebook blame for everything wrong with the way we socialize nowadays - I agree with other comments above that long commutes and long hours are equally culpable; I know that when I spent two+hours a day in the car and stayed late at the office to avoid rush hour traffic, the last thing I wanted to do after getting home was to socialize. I regularly interact with old friends and new via Facebook and chats far more than I ever did when relying on telephone or email. No, it's no substitute for hanging out in person and shooting the shit, but with everyone flung across the country/planet it's better than the alternative, which would basically be falling completely out of touch.
posted by usonian at 10:45 AM on October 26, 2015 [2 favorites]

I can't believe this is a subject of research because literally every adult I know is intimately aware of this.

Research is meant to study the recurring and the consistent. It's not surprising that the objects of our study tend towards the mundane, because there lies the greatest opportunity to understand the patterns that rule our lives and the universe.
posted by Freelance Demiurge at 10:45 AM on October 26, 2015 [5 favorites]

it's better than the alternative, which would basically be falling completely out of touch

I'm not entirely sure this one's true. Only ever seeing the best parts of other people's lives, while never having real conversations that would keep our perceptions of others more accurate, is probably worse for a lot of us than just letting those old relationships fade away.
posted by asperity at 10:57 AM on October 26, 2015 [2 favorites]

Yeah, Facebook's funny that way. It brings a lot of people into reach, but keeps everyone at arm's length.

I do keep up with some of my favorite folks from college by playing online tabletop games over Skype and WebRPG. We meet up every Friday night. We're all scattered globally now, and I'd be out of touch with completely if it weren't for games. My coworkers know that Friday is Phobos' D&D Night and D&D Night is sacred. I feel fortunate we can all make it line up still and I hope it lasts.

So I have friends in other hemispheres I spend time with weekly and friends 2 miles away who won't spare the time outside of regular Facebook comments about how we all really otta get together. The internet giveth and the internet taketh away. Go figure.
posted by Phobos the Space Potato at 11:13 AM on October 26, 2015 [1 favorite]

Like Phobos, my (mostly) weekly rpg group has been a fantastic way to spend time with friends on a regular basis. It has also been a great way for me to make friends as an adult which I found to be shockingly difficult when I moved to Philadelphia 6 years ago.

Getting back into gaming 3 years ago was one of the best decisions I have made. I am less socially isolated and have a small but good group of friends as a result.
posted by nolnacs at 11:22 AM on October 26, 2015 [1 favorite]

I've moved around a lot. In the fall of 2007 (effectively pre-Facebook) a friend died. When I flew back to one of my former cities for his funeral, I learned from my friends there that I was the person who'd kept in touch with everyone, who knew at least a little about where our mutual friends had moved to and what they were up to. I was surprised. I thought everyone did that.

I think it's because for generations, my family has been geographically dispersed but emotionally close. We've always made it a priority to stay in close touch over distances. It does take effort, but it's just something you have to do to stay sane, even more so if you're single.

For this purpose I really don't like Facebook. I'm fine with online socializing in general as we did it a dozen-odd years ago -- actual personal email, messy personal blogs, specialized communities where you can talk with your cheesemaking friends about cheesemaking without being distracted by world events and everyone else you know, non-specialized communities like this one, each with its own character. Facebook "groups" don't feel particular or personal enough. And I get plenty of links and reactions to links here; I don't need a barrage of them every time I check in on a friend.

I realize I'm lucky, though. I've almost always worked with friends and made friends at work. There are downsides. The network's awfully concentrated, and there's always an interesting transition when I change jobs or move -- who's going to stick around? But on balance, it's much better than the alternative.
posted by tangerine at 11:31 AM on October 26, 2015 [5 favorites]

I was the one that moved away after high school (whereas everyone else went to the same in-state university), so I bear a lot of the blame for losing touch with my high school friends. I kept up with one of them for a while, but that eventually fell through. Now I only text with another friend of mine that I've known since I was 3, but even that's getting harder. Our interests are diverging after 10+ years apart and while we still get along reasonably well, I feel the distance between us.

Once I was in college, I made a few friends with roommates and so on, but it was a difficult time for me in general that I'm still climbing out of. Most of those people have moved away by now, so my social interactions are pretty much limited to the occasional concert or something every few months with a friend who's still in town. It's not enough. I know it's not enough. But it's where I am now and I deal with it as best I can. I just wish it was easier. People need social interaction.
posted by downtohisturtles at 11:41 AM on October 26, 2015

High school, college, grad school, jobs -- after about 3-5 years in a place I seem to build up a social network, only to have it blown to pieces as everyone suddenly or gradually moves away, resulting in a fairly uniform distribution of one-time friends across the country. Facebook is basically the postcard of the modern era -- picture on the front, wish-you-were-here on the back. Among other things, one result seems to be these message-in-a-bottle posts here, 600+ and counting, a very odd form of largely one-way communication tossed overboard at regular intervals for purposes that remain opaque even to myself.
posted by chortly at 11:57 AM on October 26, 2015 [1 favorite]

I don't blame Facebook for not seeing old friends that frequently; I blame a cross-country move and two hour daily commute. Facebook means I at least get a peak at their families growing up and the lives of our mutual friends. Throwing together dinner and beers is now something I cram into trips back for weddings and other major milestones; building groups of new friends is just really hard too.
posted by jetlagaddict at 12:06 PM on October 26, 2015

When I had a Facebook account, I was deluged with good wishes from friends and family every year on my birthday. I closed my account 10 months ago and not a single friend or family member acknowledged my birthday last month, except my mother and my husband. That includes people I see on a regular basis and the couple we see at least weekly who asked a mere two months earlier when our birthdays were so they could put it on their calendar. This same couple texted me a few days ago to ask what my husband, who is on Facebook, wants for his birthday.

I make the effort to check in with my friends over text or email but I'm very aware that it's one-directional. Out of sight, out of mind and all that. It's acutely painful at times.

I know a few people who say they're "not really on Facebook" when what they actually mean is "I don't post very often but I check it 40 times a day to make sure I don't miss anything." The stranglehold Facebook has on so many people, along with the residual social effects, makes me slightly nauseous.
posted by _Mona_ at 12:18 PM on October 26, 2015 [4 favorites]

Yeah, Facebook's funny that way. It brings a lot of people into reach, but keeps everyone at arm's length.

My spouse prioritized interacting with a volume of people at arm's length over all else. It was the first thing checked every morning and the last thing checked at night. On any day, it was checked every 15 minutes with rare days where there were a few hours gap. It interrupted work, family, live friends, and spouse. It created a conduit for communication and fostered questionable relationships that in real life there would not have been a facility for it to occur. All of this fractured our own real world relationship. I don't think it's true for everyone, but while Facebook can keep you in touch "virtually, be careful not to lose touch with the real world.
posted by jasminejakes at 12:20 PM on October 26, 2015

If you're a person without a partner or kids, and without close family, then this stuff is actually really hard. I feel hyper-aware that I am not a priority to most of the people who are a priority in my life, yet if something bad happened to me I would really need them because I don't have anyone else. And I don't think they would be there. It's a sad and difficult thing for me to think about.

I manage a once-a-year event for a community I'm heavily involved in. That event was yesterday. I saw and talked to literally hundreds of people who were thrilled to see me, and were adamant that we should hang out soon. 99% of them are people who I haven't seen or spoken to since this same event last year.

At this point, I'm so used to being low-priority for my friends that I just do everything by myself. Which then becomes a vicious circle. Aloneness begets more aloneness. I live alone, I sleep alone, I eat nearly every meal alone, I travel alone, I've cultivated a bunch of awesome solitary hobbies. I refuse to have a boring life, even if it's a solitary one.

It's incredibly lonely, though.
posted by mollymayhem at 12:52 PM on October 26, 2015 [28 favorites]

At least some of the reason my ex wife and I broke up was that I started saying FUCK THIS to the isolated and for me rather lonely life we were leading and started putting a lot more effort into (re)making and keeping friendships. Living closely with people is real work and it can require a significant shift in culture, but it's so damn worth it if you can.
posted by deadwax at 1:41 PM on October 26, 2015 [4 favorites]

One thing I would say is that there is no shame in being the person to organize things. Work with people's schedules and actually pin them down to a date. If after all this they flake out on you then maybe you aren't as good friends as you thought, but I find that most people are more than willing to let someone else organize things and just show up. I'm usually not the person to organize these things but I will do it on occasion and I am thankful to my friends when they do it.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 2:05 PM on October 26, 2015 [9 favorites]

Facebook's funny that way. It brings a lot of people into reach, but keeps everyone at arm's length.

I will say this in social media's favor: it lets me know that some people are still out there. I would rather see only the good things in someone's life than absolutely wonder what happened to them. One formerly-close friend (who is not on Facebook) emailed me about a year ago to say, "Hey, I was in a car accident and barely survived" and has since maintained radio silence after all my attempts to follow up with her. I would be delighted to see that she posted something as simple as a picture of a sunset on Instagram two months ago just so I could be certain she's still out there.
posted by psoas at 2:14 PM on October 26, 2015 [4 favorites]

Out of sight, out of mind and all that.

Not always true. I've been really lousy at keeping in touch with friends recently. But I've been thinking about them a lot. Now, I'm aware it's not actually the thought that counts, that I need to do something, anything, even something tiny, to let my friends know that I'm thinking about them. I know how much it means to me when a couple of my friends write to tell me some stupid story about their day or an introspective observation on their lives or what's going on with the boyfriend whose name I never remember because I am a terrible person. I LOVE those stupid emails. I read them and then mark them as 'unread' in my inbox to remind myself to reply and instead spend weeks feeling progressively guiltier for not having written a fabulous letter yet.

All of that said - one of the things I love about my friends is that when we do get together after however embarassingly long, it doesn't feel like things have changed. They're still the same friend. Of course now they're married or have kids or are really really into yoga, but fundamentally, it's still the friend I grew up with or suffered through college with or somehow didn't hate me after being roommates.

I don't know that I have a point here. I just want to say that even when I'm bad at keeping in touch and haven't seen them for years, I'm grateful for my friends. I think of them often. I'll be sending them Christmas cards soon, as many as I can stand to write and address and mail. And that includes some folks from Metafilter as well. I am a undersving, self-absorbed louse and I am immensely grateful to every one of you that puts up with me. I hope I see you soon.
posted by maryr at 2:26 PM on October 26, 2015 [3 favorites]

If you're a person without a partner or kids, and without close family, then this stuff is actually really hard. I feel hyper-aware that I am not a priority to most of the people who are a priority in my life, yet if something bad happened to me I would really need them because I don't have anyone else. And I don't think they would be there. It's a sad and difficult thing for me to think about.

I accept all of this as my reality. I don't like it, and it's certainly not what I had in mind for my adult life, but it's what happened and here I am.

One of the things it has done is made me into a heavy facebook user. I can either talk to whoever's on facebook, or I can talk to the wall. Sure, it's all inconsequential stuff, and sure I post more than I should, but the need for human contact is real, the need to reach out to others is real, the need to be noticed is real, and so facebook becomes a very necessary life tool for a lot of people who are in this same shitty boat. Is it what I would really like? No, of course not. It's just a life preserver, saving me from going under.
posted by Capt. Renault at 3:39 PM on October 26, 2015 [7 favorites]

I work from home, which is absolutely amazing from one angle (no commute, no dress up, no incessant office chatter, etc) but it is quite isolating... When I get in the car at 5:30~6pm to go to my 2nd job (in an empty dark office building with nobody else in it) I am starting to feel the pangs of social desires. By the time I get home at 9~9:30pm, I quite acutely require some actual physical human interaction.. and so, more often than not, I go to the bar.

There are a lot of different kind of people that go to a lot of different kinds of bars but, as a "regular", you get to know people you can see almost any day of the week without an appointment. You will become friends with the staff and/or patrons.. You'll hang out together on the weekends doing non-drinking things like sailing, or a sports game, or an arts event.. and you aren't even required to drink at a bar!

Say what you will about the grimy gross disgusting denizens of the nation's watering holes but, more often than not, people are just taking one of the easiest roads to a little social interaction. Vilifying them doesn't really fix anything.
posted by mbatch at 4:13 PM on October 26, 2015 [6 favorites]

I've never made friendships easily and found it almost impossible to cultivate deep relationships post-adolescence. This is a fact that saddened me, but I've never known how to change it. Something about anxiety, and control, and feelings of weakness and fears of rejection. Barring catalytic events and romantic intimacy, I've never been sure how to foster those relationships.

Earlier this year I had some serious health difficulties, and the number of people who ended up calling and texting to find out where I was, how I was doing, what I needed etc, was touching and more than a little humbling. I had no idea there were so many people out there who cared about me. And please understand, I'm not talking about 75 Facebook likes and virtual well wishers. I'm talking about less than 10 people, who called me on the phone or found me in person; who apparently love me despite my best efforts, and have done all the work up till this point. The whole situation provided a little contrived exposure therapy in which I could be at my most raw and vulnerable, and I know that those people who stuck around have done so having seen me at my worst and weakest. It's changed everything. Not only do I know now - really KNOW how important these relationships are and how critical it is to nurture them, I have also moved forward into all my interactions with an earnestness and honesty that would have been terrifying, if not mortifying, a couple years ago. And I've found that it's enriched all of my interactions; making a point of letting people know how much I love and appreciate them, how I value them as people, and how much they have enriched my life. Were it not for my recalcitrant heart, I might have never have learned this. So... thanks, shitty heart (I guess).
posted by lilnublet at 5:27 PM on October 26, 2015 [5 favorites]

We play trivia (and win!) once a month with a single friend of ours. Twice he has brought dates to this outing, and twice they have never returned. We keep telling him that as a couple, we are an acquired taste and should really only be introduced on the fourth date at the earliest. We'd like to stop jinxing his chances.

I'm going to go with "he hasn't brought the right person yet." Twelve years ago the girl I had just seen in a play for our second date sent me to the bar where all the actors went after shows, with her friends, while she stayed at the theatre to help strike the set. She showed up at the bar an hour later.

One of the friends tasked with talking to me for an hour officiated our wedding years later. Apparently the general reaction that night was, "oh, we like him. You should keep him." So she did.
posted by fedward at 5:48 PM on October 26, 2015 [7 favorites]

i just moved an hour away, one of the last of my friends and family to leave town.

I now have the opportunity to make new friends, but it's frightening!

Thankfully, I just made a really, really good friend a few months ago, and that makes me more confident that I can do it again.
posted by rebent at 7:31 PM on October 26, 2015 [1 favorite]

Although the article gets better, it seems to fall in the category of "Friendships are Always Golden and therefore Always Worth Keeping" side of the picture; the other extreme being the "You Must Dump your Toxic Friends" type of article. This quote was the closest thing I saw that accurately presented what the problem can also be: that we may sometimes need leave people behind to grow if the dynamic of the relationship is not conducive to it: Because your camp self is not your school self, and it dilutes the magic of the memory a little to try to attempt a pale imitation at what you had. It's a rosier version of it, but it comes closer than the other simplistic extremes.

I'm turning 50 & I have no kids, not married and there are certain friends that I cannot live with. I changed, my priorities changed, but those priorities were not children. They're not really terrible people (ok, some are bonafide assholes) but they were from a time in my life when I was a very different person in many senses, and I don't mean just someone who went to clubs and drank more, etc. I had to cut people loose (and I'm sure the same applies to others toward me) to grow and change because some people need you to be who you were 15, 25 or 35 years ago or else they feel threatened. It doesn't just apply to addicts, but I suspect lots of people have this issue. It's not always as cut and dried as 'toxic friend' either; for example, clinically depressed me really of 30 years ago really did need bossy overbearing friends to get me out of the house. Their flaws actually worked beneficially in a certain context, but I'm not that passive, self-loathing person anymore and they can't seem to handle it (if they can, they stay, but control freaks don't usually change.)

I think this is probably more an issue with people who've had serious social difficulties; you feel like you can't make friends easily, so you stick with friendships that are built on a dysfunctional dynamic even if it undermines you to a crippling or exasperating degree. My friend says "mutants have to stick together" (very much a Geek Social Fallacy thinker) and I call it the Misfit Code of Honor that comes from middle school outcast status where dysfunction is tolerated & enabled because of the neediness of outsiders.

I have complained about the lack of friends, but sometimes I realize I'm like John Cusack in 'High Fidelity'- many times it was me who did the abandoning, even if I feel abandoned. I have to remember that I couldn't be in psychological seventh grade forever.

Also, while I agree that the aging angle of the article is very obvious (like those super-insightful evo psych articles that explained that people want to mate with hotties-- is there a Research Center for the Painfully Obvious?) I think we need these articles to remind us that it's not just us. Because we already know that people grow apart, reprioritize their time and focus on families, but we want to hear someone tell us "no, it's not just you that feels lonely".
posted by GospelofWesleyWillis at 9:01 PM on October 26, 2015 [6 favorites]

"If you're a person without a partner or kids, and without close family, then this stuff is actually really hard. I feel hyper-aware that I am not a priority to most of the people who are a priority in my life, yet if something bad happened to me I would really need them because I don't have anyone else. And I don't think they would be there. It's a sad and difficult thing for me to think about."

Seconded. I live in a town where most of the population moves away after awhile, so a lot of my friends are in other states or countries. If I can get two of my friends in the same location, it's a shocker. I miss having a common gang of friends, but those last maybe two years at the max and then people start moving again. Also, as you said, once they're married and/or have kids, you are waaaaaaaaaaaaaay down the priority list and you have to lower your expectations of them by a ton. I'm a lameass who never replaced friends with a husband and baby, so that's what I get.
posted by jenfullmoon at 10:40 PM on October 26, 2015 [3 favorites]

I'm in Southern California, where everything is spread out and hard to get to. I'm also in my 40s and single sans kids. So it's tough! I've met some people at church, which I returned to after a 20-year bitter hiatus. But no one close. Over the last five years, I've gained three close friends (work, and two neighbors), and the circumstances of meeting them was entirely happenstance. I think I've lucked out and done well the last five years, and still I feel isolated.
posted by persona au gratin at 12:37 AM on October 27, 2015

"If you're a person without a partner or kids, and without close family, then this stuff is actually really hard. I feel hyper-aware that I am not a priority to most of the people who are a priority in my life, yet if something bad happened to me I would really need them because I don't have anyone else. And I don't think they would be there. It's a sad and difficult thing for me to think about."

You'd think so many of us being present in this space at the same time would go some way to solve this problem, but you all had to be so far away.
posted by Freelance Demiurge at 1:15 AM on October 27, 2015 [4 favorites]

a few different (disconnected) anecdotes to add to this thread.

1. I moved a lot as a child, so I was never raised with this concept that friendships should be forever. I watched from the sidelines as my parents dealt with the trauma of losing most of their adult friendships after we emigrated from my birth country, but also I got to see how they came to appreciate the friends who did stick around or made the effort to travel and see them. I learned at the age of 13 that friendships are going to be work because, as the article points out, it -is- voluntary, and the 90% of the people that you will call friends will be strangers to you by the time you're an adult.

Enjoy the friendship in its moment. We're all on our own individual life thread. Sometimes those threads weave together really intensely, and then they come apart, and we go on our separate ways, and that's all ok.

2. It took a lot of time for me to choose to put roots down in adulthood. I was always used to the idea of moving on, drifting from place to place, but I almost accidentally managed to cultivate a really good community where I am now, and conversely, it was actually kind of scary to make that choice into investing emotions into a new set of friends that one actually cared about as opposed to opting into the ostensibly safer option of moving somewhere else and leaving all of that baggage behind. But I don't regret it.

3. However, a little after that time, a lot of the friends that I did have started to drift off. Some moved away. Some got married and vanished. There was one guy who, when we lived in the same city, would make a habit of just coming by unannounced on a Sunday afternoon and checking to see if I was free and interested in just walking around with him. Oh! To have the time to just spontaneously burn a Sunday afternoon strolling through the city like a couple of flaneurs! What a gift of youth!. Anyway, we had this six month stint of just indulging each other in long, rambling walks, and then one day he just kept walking. Cashed in a modest windfall of stock, and just went backpacking for a year before landing in Germany. We lost touch, didn't talk for years, and kind of knew of each other through friends in common, then found each other again on Facebook. Two years ago, I found out he was living in New York with his now German wife, and after Sandy hit, I wanted to go down to New York to volunteer, and I emailed him to ask if I could crash at his place. We hadn't seen each other in eight years. He said, yes, and joined me on my volunteer trips , and we now make a regular thing of visiting each other once or twice a year.

again, threads weave, threads come apart, threads come back together again.

4. Two years ago, I was facing the prospect of self-deportation as my visa was expiring, and my Green Card process had stalled. I chose, for myself, to reinvest in my friendships. I just started setting up scheduled and regular things with people -- 'hey, let's just do this thing where we come over to each other's house every month or every two weeks and make dinner" or "hey, let's alternate buying each other drinks at this bar halfway between our places."

Whenever it was a "hey, we haven't hung out in a while, let's find some time." it was always really tough to manage the multiple rounds of coordination, but when it's a, "hey, can we just put something in our calendars to just block this off for each other?" then that's usually effective for me.

That stuff eventually wears out too. You find enough conflicts or excuses to reschedule, or there's a vacation or other event that disrupts the pattern and you get out of the habit, but that's ok too. Just enjoy the fact that you had it.

5. There was a girl that I dated in college. We didn't last long as lovers, but we reconnected after a year of no-contact and re-established a friendship. She moved away after a couple of years, and we fell out of touch, but then found each other again on Facebook. I dropped in to see her once in the town where she was pursuing her PhD, and it was like we had picked up where we left off. Then we'd sort of stay passively in touch via Facebook for years. She moved closer, to a town within a day's drive, and I saw her again for another weekend. We forgave each other for the foolishness of our premature college romance. Then, finally, one night, after my residency situation had stabilized and we had a really fun comment exchange on Facebook, I wrote to her saying that I wished that she didn't live so far away. She said that she felt the same way. We met each other again a month later, and we fell in love, and we just moved in with each other a few months ago; twenty years after we first met, and 17 years after she moved away.

Social media is definitely not a replacement for actually being physically present with a friend. But it does a lot for helping someone keep in touch. It's never going to be intense, and it's never going to be fulfilling, and it's sometimes going to be lonely. But, also, sometimes, it will help pave the way for something better when the time is right.

I look back on my experiences as a kid moving around without social media, and what my parents went through then, when the only options for keeping in touch were letters and expensive long distance phone calls, and I look at it now, and I feel that, for all its faults, my life actually has been better because of Facebook, Livejournal, and everything else.
posted by bl1nk at 2:35 PM on October 28, 2015 [3 favorites]

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