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Why is it so hard finding a spontaneous friend to hang out with?

November 16, 2012 | By | 20 Replies Continue Reading
Spontaneous friendships can be hard to find.

QUESTION

Hi Irene,

I never had a lot of close friends when I was younger but I always had a couple, and my best friend was my husband. I also have four children. My husband died two years ago after a bout with cancer (at home) and my children are now grown and live in different areas. Two of my best friends moved to other states and I now have only one friend left, who also moved to another city.

We talk and email and Facebook but if I want to catch a movie or go out somewhere, there are no local people with whom I am friends. I go to lunch with co-workers and went to Weight Watchers with a lady from work, but have no close personal friends locally anymore.

I feel that the people I have reached out to do not want a closer relationship with me.

It is me that is the problem, but I do not know how to fix it.

I am getting a bit down on myself because when I reach out it seems people do not want to connect to me.

I think that when you get to be 60ish many others around your age like their existing set of friends and do not include you in their gatherings. I know a lady that is always friendly and I listen to her adventures. She goes backpacking (which I do not do) and also rides Harley motorcycles (which I think is great but do not want to do). She is a manager at work and so am I. She has a group of friends that she has known since high school. She tells me about a gathering she is having and invites other people but not me although we talk all the time.

Another lady and I took a class together and if I suggested dinner or something else she declined, although she wanted to sit next to me in class. I just found out she invited many people to a gathering she was having, but not me. She always acts real friendly, but obviously doesn’t want to be close. I do not think that she totally dislikes me as there is a 15-year age difference, but obviously I am not considered to be included in a closer relationship than work.

I have been the one who would have people over and only a handful of times asked to their houses. I am not getting close to others as I used to.

I have had some visits with a psychologist who did not feel after a number of visits that I needed to come back. I know that it must be how I am talking or something I do that creates this in my life. I used to make close friends when I was young but just don’t seem to fit into life correctly anymore.

Signed, Sara

ANSWER

Hi Sara,

I’m sorry for your tragic loss and can understand the void you feel without close friends  or family nearby. A couple of years ago, I wrote a popular post about the need many women express: wanting to have a spontaneous friend. This is the way I described the spontaneous friend:

She’s the kind of friend whom you can ask to come over right away to help you decide what to wear tonight—or the friend who’ll be sitting with you as you wait for your repeat mammography that was only scheduled this morning. She’s the person you can call on a Saturday afternoon to go for a walk in the park because the foliage is at its peak—or the one who will run over to TJ Maxx with you within a half hour of closing just to see what’s there. Plans aren’t needed because you’re always there for each other, even at the last minute, because your lives are so closely intertwined. 

Friendships like this are tough to come by, and if you’ve had one in the past, you truly miss that neighbor or friend who has moved away or moved on. They are hard to replace.

It’s great that you have been reaching out and trying to make new friendships but, perhaps, you simply haven’t been lucky enough to meet someone whose interests and lifestyle is compatible with yours. You can’t become a backpacker or Harley enthusiast if those interests feel alien to you. Fifteen years, or even ten, can be a huge difference in terms of stage of life and social interests.

In the earlier post, I listed some of the criteria a spontaneous friend has to meet: proximity (your friend needs to live close enough to you so that getting together isn’t a hassle; intimacy (she needs to feels as close to you emotionally as you do to her); accessibility (she needs to be at a similar place in her life as you are and share some of the same interests); and flexibility (she has to have a malleable schedule or one that seems to effortlessly mesh with yours.)

Don’t be discouraged but you may need to make do with some of the friendships you already have. At the same time, try to find ways to meet and interact with new people as well. Be careful not to expect too much too soon or come across too needy. Friendships often develop slowly. I don’t think your problem is one of age, per se, merely tough circumstances.

Hope this helps a little.

My best, Irene

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Comments (20)

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  1. inertia says:

    Hello, Everybody — Irene brought this thread to my attention after I posted something similar elsewhere. I see the dates on this thread are from last year so don’t know if it is still active? At any rate, I can relate to all the people who are geographical transplants. I’m a small-town Midwesterner who’s lived around the country and traveled a bit and have always spotted compatible people pretty quickly and made good, close friends easily wherever I’ve lived and traveled. But not here in this small, rural southern town. Maybe it is my attitude (could be!) but we moved here (I’m married, retired) to be near our grands, who live 10 miles from us. I should know, at my age (67) that things might be different here, but I honestly didn’t think about it in advance of moving here. I figured people are the same everywhere you go. But not so. This is the smallest place I’ve ever lived and it feels so backward. The people who live here were born and raised here (going back to the 10th generation) and well I call it ‘The Land That Time Forgot.’ Irene’s criteria for a “spontaneous friend” really describe what I’m looking for — not a bosom buddy exactly, not somebody to go places with, but somebody who likes to get out and have a cup of coffee and chat once a week or so. Or go to lunch. I met one friend like this here, but she moved (and that was good because while she was in close proximity and available, she was very bossy and after a while, I just couldn’t put up with that any more.) I do have another friend who is in close proximity and available (although not often as she is very involved with her daughter) and I enjoy her company although I get the feeling, as with so many people here, that I put her off a little since I do not conform to the southern ways of making everything seem nicer than it actually is (to be blunt about it :)) I am deeply spiritually minded, but not a churchgoer, and my sense of things of this nature is fairly private, not something I readily share, especially here in the Bible belt (hope that does not offend anyone) but church, which is the primary social outlet here, is not for me. I tried joining a writers’ group (I’ve had some stories published and plays produced) but again, that is an activity that I do best alone, it seems. I’m not much of a joiner, but I’m in a bookgroup (where all the old ladies sit around and talk about their ailments – most decidedly NOT my thing; they use the books as an excuse I think. But it’s all I’ve got at the moment; they are all nice, but I feel very out of it there. I do have plans to join the Friends of the Library in the fall and help with booksales and see what, if anything, comes of that. Otherwise, I guess I’ll just make the best of being my own best friend *sigh*

    • Irene says:

      Hi Inertia,

      I think you are doing a the right things. If you hadn’t suggested those ideas, I would have! Continue to pursue your interests. You may find someone who is like-minded! After all, it’s like selling a house: You only need one!

      Warm wishes, Irene

  2. Mary Jo says:

    I’m not the only one! I’m smart. I’m funny. I’m kind. I used to have tons of friends, but as the years have gone by, they’ve moved away, or they have died. I, like many of you, have joined groups and volunteered. Unfortunately – the women who have seemed the friendliest the fastest have turned out to be fairly “unhinged” and I am now afraid of making friends too quickly. I’m one of those “artsy” people, with a differing religion from that of most of my Appalachian peers and liberal political views, so I’m pretty isolated. I grew up here and always had that experience; but I had friendships with old school friends and people from out of town. I’m so disheartened by shopping alone, or never having anyone to go to lunch with. Tonight, as I drove home from holiday shopping by myself, I saw some great Christmas lights, but it wasn’t very fun with no one to share the experience, and – I have to admit – I cried. My family is all gone, and I never married or had kids. I turned 60 in October, and it’s hard to keep being positive. I typed “I’m 60 and I have no friends” into the search engine and found this site. I just want to thank everyone who has written with such honesty. I guess it helps to see that there are other women who seem to be educated and intelligent who are experiencing this need for a good friend. Maybe I will eventually find a kindred soul in this small town. Hang in, everyone.

    • Suzanna says:

      I have had the same experience, that women who are initially the friendliest tend to not make the long haul. I can not look back on my longest friendships, non of them were ladies who right out of the gate, wanted to BFF…but gosh those super friendly types are hard to resist, they are usually willing to do a lot out-put in the first stage. I can say I was completely unaware that friendship would get more difficult to find as I aged. To be honest, it felt effortless in my 20′s..but now 10+ years later..very hard to find a person who seems ‘right’..so you are not alone, you sound very interesting and dynamic in your insights, some lucky lady will call you friend very soon! Merry Christmas!

      • Mary Jo says:

        Suzanna – thanks so much for your comments! It really did help me to realize this may be less an issue of figuring out what’s “wrong” with me, and maybe more a case that other people are wary because they have also experienced the “bad, too quickly made friend”. I wish a great holiday for you, also!

    • afriendforyou says:

      Hi!

      I sympathize with you. I am sorry for your loss.

  3. Angel says:

    I know how you feel. It has been years since I’ve had friends to go hang out with and, for a long time, I was pretty unhappy about it. I don’t tend to have the same free time that others I know do, and some of them don’t have the free time or money which I also understand. A couple of years ago, I made a conscious decision to stop bothering to try so hard with others and work more on enjoying doing things by myself and I also found a couple of groups through Meetup that interested me that fit my schedule. I still have a lot of work to do but doing these things has helped me a lot, I get out to do stuff and I’m not stuck waiting for others to decide that they are interested in me.

  4. birdie says:

    I’m in my 60′s and now live in a rural area. There are many interesting and friendly people here, but after five years I still do not have a “spontaneous friend.” Part of the situation is due to my raising my standards of friendship; I no longer put up with bossy or chronically unhappy ‘friends.’ (No friends are better than bad friends.) Part is that it just takes time for good friendships to grow. Part of it is the rural, spread out nature of our community. I wonder how much of it has to do with age; many no longer drive at night, the dark, country roads being too dangerous, especially in winter. My peers are grandparents now, and they spend lots of time with the grandkids. Some are ill and some have died.
    I’ve found a few non-profit organizations that have missions I believe in, and I participate in their activities. This is has been a lot of fun and is satisfying just as it is, plus I meet people who share some of the values that I have.
    The best thing has been finding a hobby that I am passionate about. This fills my time and my mind. Many things that have troubled me in the recent past seem less important now that I am focusing on something I find compelling. I do not know of anyone where I live who is interested in the same topic, but I have made some long-distance connections with people interested in the same thing. I don’t expect these friendships to become deeper, and I keep our interactions focused on our common interest. it’s satisfying.
    I have a neighbor who is a potential ‘spontaneous friend.’ She is very busy, but she is fun and affectionate and – even better – she doesn’t gossip. We have a happy acquaintance and at the moment it is enough. I’m not sure I will ever have friendships like I had when I was young. Sometimes I accept this and sometimes I do not.

  5. Sheryl says:

    Spontaneous friends are so wonderful and Irene, I love your description of one. I do think proximity is key and that’s not always possible. I don’t know how many of us are fortunate enough to have all that in a friend. And I can definitely relate to Christina, as a transplanted New Yorker myself. Many folks in New England are a bit different and more reticent, in some ways, to form close, fast bonds the way New Yorkers do.

  6. I experienced something close to Sara, though not from the loss of a spouse. It occurred when the kids headed off for college. I discovered my spontaneous friends were actually tied to our kids’ activities. At the suggestion of a distant friend, I joined a book group and a Bunco group. After five years, I have become very good friends with many of the ladies involved. Not only do we see each other twice a month, we even see each other outside the group to celebrate birthdays. Sara could organize her own groups from neighbors and acquaintances. It takes time, but many of them will become the sort of friends she desires.

  7. Annie says:

    Hi Sara:

    So sorry to hear about the void of friendships in your life. I too can relate to what you’re going through. I moved to the west coast 5 years ago from a large city. I never seemed to have any difficulties making new friends and maintaining friendships until I moved here. Most people I spend time with seem to genuinely enjoy my company and like me but rarely does this translate to invitations. It’s confusing and disheartening. I recently decided to “break up” with a friend with whom I shared the most private thoughts and experiences because it felt like we could relate to each other. We copiously e-mailed each other multiple times a day to talk about what we were doing and thinking. I eventually started inviting her to go for lunch, come over for tea, go shopping, and a variety of other activities. She turned me down flat on every single invitation. Every single one. I kept trying for a couple of years thinking I just hadn’t come up with the right activity or the right opportunity. Finally one day it dawned on me. She was never going to really truly be my friend and I think she wanted the perks of friendship without the responsibility. I ended it one day because she told me that being so depressed on occasion that I couldn’t leave the house (bad symptom of menopause) was not comparable to the severity of her hot flashes. I just thought really?? Really?

    I think part of my problem is that I might be seeking out relationships with people looking for an opportunity to fix past broken relationships. The woman I described above reminded me of my mother who has since passed away. I tried so hard to fix my relationship with her but she died before anything could be resolved. I tried, I really tried. Sometimes maybe it’s the people we are thinking would be a good match but in reality they aren’t. I personally have an issue where I want everyone to like me. Even when they aren’t worthy, it just bugs me when someone doesn’t like me. Well, the old me did. One day I finally figured out that I don’t need to wait for others to decide if they like me, it was my choice too whether I liked THEM. That seemed to open the door a bit more because I felt more natural and accepting of myself. I also accept that I’d rather be comfortable and happy spending time alone than working futilely at relationships that aren’t growing and are taxing me emotionally.

    I don’t know if any of what I said is helpful to you but just know that you are not alone in feeling this way.

    • Lauren says:

      Hi Annie,

      Thanks so much for sharing your experiences in friendships. Sorry this reply is really late, but I just stumbled upon your thread.

      I really appreciate your sharing and clarifying this type of situation. Some time ago, I also finally realized that I frequently, albeit subconsciously, chose the wrong people as friends. I had an extremely unhappy childhood at home and I finally realized that I was often selecting friends, who had the same abusive tendencies as my mother, and here was I unconsciously looking for a “happy ending”. I had been thinking, probably subconsciously, that, ” I’m good and kind and I can “fix” this relationship/friendship.”

      When I finally realized that the past was adversely affecting my present, I finally got it! At last, I clearly saw the connection.

      Now I have a much changed threshold for who I invite into my life as friends or acquaintances. Thanks again for sharing. This was very helpful and good to know that I’m not alone in this. All the best to you, Lauren

  8. Barb says:

    Hi Sara~smiling~Happy Thanksgiving…what state do you live in, I live in AZ

  9. Christina says:

    My sympathies! I’ve written in the comments section here in years past about how, moving to rural New England, my brassy New York self was a bit too much for the reticent Yankees.

    I volunteered, helped new acquaintances move, joined groups in my areas of interest. Once I got involved with helping an older woman friend and fellow writer move and unpack. She cancelled our second meeting! Same with another woman from that writing group! I just don’t resonate well locally, but the minute I set foot outside the state I make good impressions and lasting connections. I’ve also turned online friends into real time ones from as far away as California and Brussels!

    In the end, I found that the kind of Seinfeld/Sex and the City friendships that are the norm in a city where people meet and make friends quickly, and where support is a necessity — just don’t exist in the same way where I live. I’m here ten years now, and I can say I have a circle of friends, but they are at more of a distance. When I swim at the Y there are people I can have deep chats with — we just don’t extend it to coffee later. I’ve made friends at writers’ conferences like Bread Loaf, and I’ve travelled for an overnight sleepover reunion, stopped at a fellow-writer’s workplace when driving through her state on other business.

    I realized that I’m always going to be an ex-pat here, a transplanted New Yorker, and my expectations of friendship have lowered. A few times a year we have cook outs or dinner parties — we probably host three events for every one we’re invited to. People here just spin in their own spheres, we operate at a faster pace and higher frequency — that’s OK.

    Maybe “Lower your expectations” is my advice? I do go to a shrink — partly to help with my life issues, but partly because I miss talking to a smart NY Jewish woman, like so many of my friends in NY! My copay with Aetna is just $6 n hour. So maybe we do rent friends!

    • Irene says:

      Hi Christina,

      Nice to connect again and see you here. Thanks for pointing out the differences that arise based on both geography and culture—in addition to all the personality variables.

      Best wishes for the Thanksgiving holidays,
      Irene

  10. Suzannah says:

    I think you should make it a challenge, find as many activities you can become involved with, that reflex your interests…your religion (small group setting), volunteer……my experience has been that to be a guaranteed way to meet/ make friends….there is a built in sense of shared values, just make sure not a solo way of donating your time….example.: our animal shelter has volunteers who help out each weekend with adoptions, the atmosphere is friendly. At worst a pet was hopefully placed in a good home, but after a few weeks the other volunteers feel like friends, easy to say ” next week, let’s go to Chinese buffet after we get finjshed up”… just a suggestion! All my best to you, you are not alone, many others feel the same way…but it will pass, good friendships are still available…

  11. amy says:

    I could have written your post. Within a 5 year period all of my friends–every one of them–moved from an hour away to across country. I call it the mass migration. I don’t have anyone who I can call to see a movie at the spur of the moment, but that’s partially because friends are busy with kids and grandkids, and I’m childless. I’m not the most spontaneous person in the world, I’m usually a planner. Sometimes when I’m feeling lonely, I plan a date with myself. At times I’ll even dress up for it. I go the movies or out to eat, or just to the mall with a budget of $5-10. Going shopping with such a small limit is like a scavenger hunt to find the best discounted or cheap item. I always feel so much better after I do this.

    Have you ever tried http://www.meetup.com ? If you live in an urban or suburban area, they’ve got all kinds of local group activities. I signed up for several, but haven’t yet been able attend as I have a chronic illness.

    Sorry I haven’t been that helpful.

  12. Judy Kirkwood says:

    I find those kind of friends in my neighbors. Do you have a dog? A pet is often a way into a friendship. Do you cook? Offering food to someone creates a bond and a feeling that one wants to repay someone who would be so generous.

    • Irene says:

      Those are great suggestions, Judy. I would like to write a post about how to attract friends and I’ll add these to the list. Any other suggestions?
      Irene

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