Dear Captain Awkward,
Over the last four years, my husband and I have narrowed our social circle to where we only have a few friends who we see regularly, most of whom were initially my friends rather than his. But basically, we’re each others’ social plans almost all of the time. This is especially true for him, because I have a couple of old friends I talk to regularly online as well as a lover. I think this has happened because a) we really enjoy spending time just us, b) we’ve moved a couple of times and c) my husband is extremely introverted/unjustifiably worried that people don’t like him. Also, maybe, d) we’ve both gotten weirder/pickier in certain ways over the years in ways that make it harder to click with people who might earlier have been natural friends. Like, we went to a friend’s party recently and her other friends were talking about their childhood standardized test scores and their political opinions in ways that are actually totally normal for our peer group but also obnoxious, and so we didn’t want to make friends with them. (Maybe we just have a new peer group now, but I don’t know where they are.)
This is seeming like a problem. I am slightly lonely and my husband is super-lonely, and even though this is more his problem than mine, he’s not fixing it and I think I should try, since I’m the more extroverted one. But I don’t know how to go about this. Most of the ways I’ve met people since college are communities/groups he definitely wouldn’t be interested in. We also have old friends we just haven’t seen in awhile, some of whom I feel awkward contacting again because it’s been so long.
Should I just continue listening but not trying to solve this problem when my husband complains about being lonely and not having any friends (which is definitely an exaggeration)? Are there ways to meet people I’m not thinking about? I have this feeling that I used to be much better at this and I’m not sure what happened.
I think that this letter is pinging some of the exact same places as #467, with some of the same generosity of spirt and some of the same entrenched gender stuff with Lady-As-Social-Glue.
Easy stuff first: Go ahead and reach out to those old friends. Send a postcard if they don’t live close, invite them to something if they do live close. “Friends, I’ve been thinking of you fondly and wondering what you’ve been up to. Would you like to come by and play board games some weekend next month?” I just had dinner with my high school friend, D., who I have not seen since 1991. We were not good at keeping in touch over the years, but he sent me a Facebook message that said “I will be in town, want to have dinner on x day?” and I said yes and it was great to see him and not awkward to be contacted. Yes, having proximity and regular time together helps people maintain friendships, but positive feelings don’t fade away if the connection and affection are real. People are busy and they drift apart without even realizing it sometimes. Your friends will probably be grateful to you for making the effort, and if they demur, you can know that those friendships drifted for a reason and let go of any guilt.
Next easiest: You are feeling lonely, so do what you need to solve that for yourself. I suggest picking one day/evening per week and go do something that will bring you in contact with new people. Don’t worry that it’s something your husband won’t like doing, in fact, it’s better if it is something he won’t like doing. You function great as a unit and love each other’s company, which is awesome, but it is ok and very healthy to have something that is just yours. Take a class, learn a skill, play a sport, sing in a choir, volunteer, try something you’ve always wanted to try, or reconnect with one of those old hobbies or groups you’ve let lapse. Meetup.com is your friend.
He can be alone for a few short hours every week, even if it makes him feel more lonely in the short term. Those lonely feelings and a little solitude to feel them in are actually helpful right now, because they can be motivating for him in actually seeking out a similar outlet.
Harder, but doable: When he expresses sadness and loneliness, ask him directly what he wants. “Husband, would you like me to to make suggestions or help with that in some way? What do you think would work best?” If he’s hoping you will just magically solve this for him, make him articulate that expectation. Him wanting that is not necessarily wrong or bad (or a sign that you have to do it), but if he’s been hoping his sighs will magically translate into some action on your part, it’s good to get that out in the open. Because if he successfully makes “Me not being lonely anymore” into “Your job,” if you do your work and he does no work and then he’s still lonely you set yourself up to be blamed when that’s the case. I think that’s not a good idea.
When you have this talk, and the expectations are out in the open, then you can make a suggestion. “Husband, I’m really enjoying (thing I took up recently) and I think you should find something similar. The best resource for me for finding stuff was (resource), maybe look into it and see what you come up with? You may not make friends, but at least you’ll learn knife skills/French/build a birdhouse out of wood/a wicked slapshot/see lots of plays/finally dance the Lambada/canvass for a political candidate/play Magic: The Gathering.”
You might throw a little money at this problem, too, by buying him a class somewhere as a gift for a birthday or holiday, but stop short of actually arranging “play dates” for an adult man.
If in response you get a whole litany of “that won’t work because” in response, wind down the conversation and come back to it another day. Whether it’s anxiety manifesting, or denial that having friendships takes effort, or a wish you would just magically do all the work, “that won’t work because” is just going to lead to a sucky conversation where he shoots every one of your suggestions down and both of you feel crappy. Don’t be surprised if that’s the initial reaction, but don’t engage too much with it. Let a little time go by, keep enjoying doing your thing and making some friends for yourself, and hope that he changes his mind and starts to make an effort.
I think this is all surmountable, but not “fixable” by you alone. Friendships and social life take effort, and most of that is enjoyable, rewarding effort, but you actually have to do stuff and try to connect with others. As we get older it seems harder – we forget how we did it once upon a time – but we’re communal animals. Put the effort out into the universe and trust that someone, somewhere will be super-psyched to connect with both or either of you.
I have a question that’s more a conditions-of-things and what-to-do-about it than really a question. I’m a third year college student at a selective university. We’ll start of the bat that I’m lucky: I get to go to college, I have a good academic scholarship, my family help me pay for part of it. I’m lucky that I have amazing classes and great adventures.
Not to put too fine a point on it, I’m pretty smart. I just winced at how braggy that looks but my grades/outside projects/employers would all attest to this. I was often bored in high school, and though I had good friends, we couldn’t debate environmental policy, discuss gender roles or use too many “long words” together. It was kind of lonely, but complaining about that kind of thing is a bit of an asshole move, so I won’t.
It’s not like I want to brainstorm about the national debt all day: I like parties, I love to dance and make music and climb on all the campus roofs and have midnight piggy-back races in the park. College is wonderful, because I’ve finally met people who want to hike and drink cheap beer and independently learn Russian with me, but I’ve also noticed that the vast majority of REALLY smart and multi-interest people I’ve met tend to be heavy drug users. We’re not talking some pot on a Friday night, I mean acid or coke or ecstasy on random Tuesdays.
I don’t attach a moral judgement to this choice, but it is one that I wouldn’t (and don’t choose to) make. No one’s pressured me or anything, but I only join the social group for non-hard-drug adventures. Where do I find people who want to go out on the weekend, but also love words/the lab/the studio/the outdoors? I feel really naive, like there’s something I’m missing. I have friends who are super-academic and are into learning for the sake of a grade, and I have friends who are multi-interest (like me) but hard drug users. Am I looking in the wrong places? Does this change when you graduate? Am I complaining about something that is such a privileged problem that I should just get over it?
Finding out that the people you thought were your people are not quite your people is a problem lots of people go through – you leave schools, change jobs or cities, change interests, and outgrow each other for whatever reason. This is not the last time you’ll look around and think “I like these people fine but I need a new scene.”
Fortunately your super-selective-awesome college likely has things called “student activities.” They are designed to occupy people in a non-substance-using activity and introduce like minded folk. You may think that signing up for new stuff is for first year students and all the groups are set in stone now and it’s too late. Getting past this attitude is probably the best way you can solve your current problem and also set yourself up for dealing with this in the future; when the current situation isn’t working, throw yourself into something new and see what happens. Somewhere on your campus there is a club or clubs that do something interesting that you could go check out for a meeting or two and see if something clicks. Don’t worry that they already know each other or that it’s too late, just try it and see. Every time you go to something, make it your goal to talk to one person you didn’t know before. You don’t have to make friends (too much pressure!), just get out of your shell a bit and look around.
Your college is presumably also located in what is known as a “city” or “town” or maybe just a “place.” That place, no matter how small, has things going on and some kind of social life. So look at art fairs/working at a farmer’s market/volunteer work/kickball teams/a part-time job. Because another skill you are going to need is finding community among people who aren’t just like you and who don’t care how smart you are.
You don’t have to leave your drug-using friends entirely behind, you can find ways to enjoy their company in smaller doses and then leave them to their mind-altering stuff.
I know my advice was super-obvious, and I don’t mean to be patronizing. This is big, important stuff, and I hope you solve it. Sometimes when you grow up smart people assume you know how to take care of yourself emotionally. All the Russian, etc. you are learning in classes is useful; how to make friends and build community for yourself is equally useful. It’s a process, we aren’t born knowing it, it’s not something where being smart automatically solves it, and it is never too late to start trying.
Moving vs. Staying: Instructions for Finding Your People and Your Place
On Bouncing Back and Finding Community