Dear Captain Awkward:
So I am a recentish transplant to San Francisco at 28.
I have many acquaintances here from various parts of my life, as SF is one of those cities people just end up in. These people are not connected to each other in any way.
As I attempt to build a friendship circle out here I have to deal with lots of people being flaky – not responding to emails, or breaking plans etc. I know from my own life I engage in this behavior under a few circumstances: 1) when I’m just not prioritizing the other person for one reason or another or 2) I’m depressed and avoiding social commitments like it’s my job.
I know for a fact a few of these potential-friends are sort of lonely and isolated, and some have very vibrant social lives. For the people I know are lonely / isolated I pretty much keep on going back to them with invites of one kind or another. For people with actual lives I’ll leave it at two or so before moving along.
What’s your take on how best to handle flaky people you are attempting to friend?
My friend Miguel is from Brazil, and describes a strange social ritual where you will run into someone you haven’t seen in a while and he’ll say “You have to come over to my house tomorrow!” and you say “Okay, I’ll be there for sure!” but you should not show up at his house unless the invitation included a specific time. Otherwise it was just friendly chatter and not a real invitation, and everyone just knows this unwritten rule. I wonder if San Francisco has something similar going on, where “Let’s get together soon!” doesn’t really mean anything?
It was weird when I moved to Chicago from Washington, DC when I was 26. DC was full of young single people and was definitely the town of “Let’s go to happy hour after work.” When I moved out here and was working for an ad agency, I tried asking people out for drinks, and they’d say “Um, sorry, I can’t – I have to take the Metra to the suburbs” or “Sorry, I can’t, my husband is picking me up right after work.” I found the words “Metra,” “suburbs,” and “husband” very confusing at first but eventually found out that Chicago is a town where people who like you will eventually have you over for BBQs or board games (whereas in NYC you could know people for a decade without ever seeing the inside of their living space).
I think you’re doing the right thing by not pushing busy people and by giving depressed introverts several chances to come through. One way you might try handling this is to find activities that either a) require advance tickets or b) find things that don’t require the presence of the other person for you to enjoy yourself.
I know I personally get bogged down in the email back-and-forth. Here is how I like to be asked to do stuff:
“Hey Jennifer, would you like to do x with me at y place at z time? Let me know.” That is also how I tend to ask people to do things. Specific event + specific time = person can more easily commit or decline and will be more likely to suggest a specific alternative if they can’t make your suggestion.
Unfortunately, here is how a lot of making plans goes. Imagine every single line that follows is its own separate email and the exchange lasts over the course of 3-4 weeks.
“We should do something sometime!”
“We totally should?”
“What do you want to do?”
“I don’t know – anything is good.”
“Howabout a movie?”
“Do you want to see Another Earth?”
“Already saw it. Plus it’s a staring-into-space movie.”
“What do you suggest, then?”
“Howabout Straw Dogs?”
“No, too rapey.”
“You’re right, that is super-rapey, I’m sorry I suggested it.”
“Ok, your turn to suggest something then?”
“The Help? My mom liked it.”
“Shoot me in the face. I mean…um…no, I don’t want to see that.”
“Rise of Planet of the Apes?”
“I can’t on Saturday.”
“Hrm…Okay, if we do a matinee.”
“Do you want to have brunch first?”
“Sure, where do you want to meet?”
That’s 24 separate emails, people, and you don’t even have a time or a definite meeting place. Jesus wept, that is just TOO HARD and I DON’T CARE. There is no one on the planet that I like enough to go through that.
When you’re just meeting people and you don’t know what they like, I can see how it’s tempting to try to ease into it. But what I suggest is that you take the lead in finding out cool things that you would like to do in the city, and then asking your new friends to do a specific thing that happens at a specific time and place with you, and, if it requires tickets, ask “Shall I reserve tickets for us?” which tends to lock things down a bit more. And even if it doesn’t involve advance tickets, still use this approach:
“I’m going to this cool event at cool place at cool o’clock on this cool day – I’d love for you to join me.”
You could even present it as two options – “I’m going to karaoke at this bar on Saturday bar, and I thought I’d try this cool restaurant for Sunday brunch – would you like to join me for any of that?”
Assume that “sure, maybe” means “no.” If they can’t join you, go anyway. At least you won’t be staying in waiting for them to make plans with you, and it will help you have a fun social life while you figure out San Francisco’s secret code for how to hang out.