#475: How do I help my lonely husband make some friends? and #476: Tired of the same old college scene

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. 

Thank you.

Hello there!

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.

Dear Awkwardeers,

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?


Dear A.,

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.

Related posts:

Moving vs. Staying: Instructions for Finding Your People and Your Place

On Bouncing Back and Finding Community

48 thoughts on “#475: How do I help my lonely husband make some friends? and #476: Tired of the same old college scene

  1. I wrote about loneliness this week – it’s sometimes quite complicated and not always about meeting people.

    One thing that I think is important for both LWs, is not to regard every social interaction, every experiment with a club or volunteering or whatever, as a means of gaining bosom buddies or a profound sense of belonging. There may be very few people you’re ever going to meet who are on the exact same wavelength, but there will be more folks who are on a similar frequency and yet more whose company you can feel happy in from time to time. And all those things matter.

    Apart from anything else, people who seem “all right” just now, may turn out to be awesome later on.

    1. It’s a lot like dating: if you go into an interaction with another person bearing super high expectations, you’re setting yourself up for disappointment at best, and putting them off at worst. I’m going through a similar situation with my group of friends right now, and I have to remind myself that my primary goal is to have a pleasant interaction with someone else. My secondary goal is to arrange further interaction, but I’m not so good at that part.

  2. #576, I wanted to add that it’s okay to ask your substance-using friends to hang out with you sober, and to plan non-druggy adventures with them. Decent people can enjoy altering their own minds without pressuring other folks, and most of us understand that everyone has different limits around substances.

      1. this cracked me up, sometimes back in the mind altering days I thought I could answer from the future!

    1. I think that’s true once you get into your twenties and beyond, but it’s a little more likely if these are kids in their late teens that they may need their friends group to be more homogenous in their attitude to drugs. I hope they are mature enough to enjoy drugs and not feel the need to pressure other friends into joining them into drug taking or to regard non-partakers as killjoys and moralists, but in my experience that’s often a slightly later developmental stage.

      Which is to say, LW, if they do behave like that, it’s them not you. And hopefully they will grow out of it – you are not always going to be stuck in a place where the options are coke or killjoy.

  3. I would second the advice about getting out of your college environment and into the local farmers market/ volunteer/kickball teams. It is excellent advice.

    For me, college was a harrowing experience almost as bad as high school, (but with more alcohol) and I never really found a group or community that I fit in well with. I dearly wish someone like the Captain would have told me to go outside of my comfort zone to the public spaces. I really liked rock climbing, I should have joined the local climbing gym and met some new cool people there.

    If your college is large, it might be easy to find some other groups to take part in, but if it’s small like mine was, you may have to go outside of it. I also second meetup.com which is an excellent resource for activities of all kinds.

    1. Depending on the school, college can be a bit of an echo chamber (is that the phrase?) because everyone’s the same age, consumed by similar activities/concerns, and may share similar demographic backgrounds. Even schools that try hard to encourage ethnic or geographical diversity in admissions can end up with thousands of people who all have the same socio-economic background. Not to mention being physically isolated on campus! Looking outside of campus for new activities is a great chance to meet people with different (or more) life experiences. #thingsiwishidknowneightyearsago

      1. Yeah, I think the echo chamber factor is probably a big factor here. That is, a few similar-minded people flocked together, and a large enough percentage of them were into the drugs scene that drug use became the norm for that little social group. Not only will people not mind LW wanting to confine their activities to the occasions which aren’t drug-centred, but I wouldn’t be surprised if after a while a few more not-really-into-drugs people become more apparent and the group gets a little subgroup. 🙂

  4. 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.

    Maybe the LW could suggest to her husband that he find a lover, too?

    1. Fortunately, the husband could use the exact same process outlined above. Unfortunately, it will still take effort and trial-and-error. Lovers: They’re not just lying around any old place.

  5. For the first LW, I have an anecdote. My husband is also much more shy than me. He’s also actually less of an introvert, which is a bit unfortunate as a combination. It means that I end up doing more of the social planning, which in turn means that we end up socializing enough to meet my needs – he would prefer to see other folks more often.

    Anyway, at the moment, I am living on another continent while I do some research. Husband was supportive of my taking time to do this, even though he couldn’t come with me for job reasons, but was also worried that without me his social life would fall apart. Actually, the opposite has happened. He’s been forced to take the lead on planning his own social life, and has ended up being more socially active than we usually are when we live together. He’s also used the time to take up a new hobby which has introduced him to a whole new set of folks (previously, like you, almost all of our friends were originally my friends). It’s been hard at times, because he is shy, but it’s also been great for him.

    The point, which might apply to your situation as well, is that my social planning seemed like it was working well for him, by allowing him to avoid the scary reaching-out. But actually, it was enabling him to avoid something that he needed to get in the habit of doing, so that he could plan a social life that worked better for him. “Helping” your husband make new friends may just help him avoid figuring out how to do that for himself.

    1. This is such a great point! Giving someone a push to get more social is one thing, but taking on the majority of the work actually keeps them from learning the necessary skills to be social themselves. Thanks for that, Sarabeth. 🙂

  6. I’ll be watching the responses to 475 with interest, because I have almost the same problem. (Almost because my partner is not an introvert, he’s a shy extrovert–I’m a non-shy introvert.) It’s kind of a tough problem.

    1. My husband and I are that combo! I’m the shy extrovert though, and he’s an introvert, but I think he’s less shy than I am. He just doesn’t want to talk to people he doesn’t share an interest with.

      We run our social lives almost completely independently, with the exception of some mutual friends from high school that we see together. There are also a few interests that we actually share where we still do not do social things within those interests together, maybe because we’re looking for different types of social interaction, or because he doesn’t want to socialize around those interests maybe.

      1. Er, and to give more useful feedback … is that the shy extrovert kinda has to make the effort on their own behalf. My husband has taken me out to social things that fit his idea of a good night out and in which he interacts easily with the people there – they are not things I am interested in (remote control cars / boats / planes, real cars) or that I can speak on, and he is often running around meeting the people and doing the activity, so I feel left out and don’t have great conversational material with those around me. Nor do I feel comfortable enough with strangers to start talking to them anyway.

        I don’t make close friends easily; I have few of them and they are people I have known a really long time and don’t see super often. But they are people I know I can go to if I am having serious personal problems or whose couches I would be comfortable crashing on. I see my weak ties (I think that’s a reasonable thing to call them) a lot more often because I meet them by volunteering, through work, or through meetup groups or the art community (in this case I am generally introduced be a mutual acquaintance), so we are at similar events. In unstructured events I have a hard time chatting with people I haven’t met in a structured event, and hopefully I am acquainted with a few people in the unstructured situations.

  7. LW 475:

    I can’t help but wonder about the possibility that he’s probably not that lonely, otherwise he’d done something about it. Or maybe he’s lonely, but the anxiety of meeting new people is too much for him to deal with yet. I’m not trying to be mean, but he has the same access to sites like Meetup that you do, right? It sounds like he hasn’t used his words and you’re left guessing about what’ll make things better for you both. I have no doubt that you want what’s best for him, but sometimes we think others work the same way we do and want the same things. And, maybe he doesn’t? I feel like I’m rambling, hope this makes any sense to you. Just ignore me if it doesn’t. Could it be that he places more importance on other stuff in your life at the moment? You say you’ve moved a few times. That can be exhausting. Maybe he isn’t ready to make new friends yet? Or deal with his worries about people not liking him? That’s not to say that you shouldn’t take CA’s excellent advice. Hopefully that’ll inspire him. Good luck and please report back!

  8. “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. “

    No. No no no no no. I understand where this thought is coming from, because I’ve had it myself many times. I am mildly-introverted and with few exceptions I tend to date super-introverted people. I then have a tendency to make the people-meeting and social-date-arranging MY problem, because I like taking care of people and making them happy and I am comparatively better at/more comfortable doing this task so I should do it, right?

    ….yea, that never actually goes well. Because, for one, I AM STILL AN INTROVERT, and therefore all this social-managing is still draining for me, even if it is less draining for me than it is for them. But more importantly, even if I were super extroverted and loved doing the work on this… making friends and connections is not something you can do FOR someone else. You can help facilitate it, maybe, a little bit. Beyond that, you are just enabling them to not do the work for themselves, and so it won’t be as successful as you want it to be and then you will get resentful about putting in so much effort and them still being sad/lonely. I cannot tell you how much this behavior has fucked up my life/my relationships.

    I’m with the Captain so much on “making him articulate exactly what he wants from you” on this. Because if he is ACTUALLY placing the expectation of fixing this problem on you, then you can explicitly correct that assumption: “Hey husband, I want you to be happy and will support you when I can, but it is actually NOT MY JOB to manage your friendships, and you need to take the lead on that, k?” And if he is not actually asking that of you–if actually he is just complaining because he’s sad and you are there to listen, but he already gets that this is his issue to deal with–then you avoid taking on a responsibility that no one is asking you to take on only to become miserable and resentful about it later.

    I’ve had both situations myself. I had an abusive ex who totally thought solving his social misery was my responsibility and who would actually lash out at me for being happy/socially fulfilled while he was still being antisocial and miserable. I’ve also had totally nice reasonable significant others who were a bit socially anxious and therefore used me as their social scheduler because it made their lives easier in the short term, but who never actually intended to set up a situation where that was solely my responsibility. They were then sad and hurt when I took their behavior as an implicit request to take on that responsibility, and then got exhausted and eventually resentful when they continued to be socially anxious and lonely and sad.

    Anyhow, that’s a very long winded comment just to largely say “I agree with the Captain”… but oh well. Point is, I’ve played the game you are considering playing multiple times and I can tell you that it is a miserable awful game that you should not play.

  9. LW475, when I had this problem I tried really hard to get my partner to do things that I thought he’d enjoy. I pushed and dragged him to stuff, spent a ton of my social energy, and it looked like it was working! When I asked him whether he’d had a good time, he almost always said yes! But eventually I realized: he still wasn’t happy. It did not address his feeling that people didn’t want to see him specifically and didn’t care much about him, because I was the social interface. So not only was I running down my precious human interaction meter and getting overinvested in whether he chose to go to events (because sometimes he decided not to, and was I ever upset about that), IT DIDN’T HELP.

    I don’t think you should try to fix his problem, because his problem comes from him. The solution has to as well. What did work for us was (1) therapy, so I could disengage some from being the one in charge of his social life — you may not need this since you seem less embroiled — and (2) a broken-record-like approach where when he complained I had two or three suggestions that I cycled through. Depending on the circumstances, I’d mention different ideas for outings. (One was sailing, so the weather was relevant; one suggestion was for a weekly event, and I’d bring that up when it was within a day or two of the conversation.) He still felt like I was listening because what I said was situation-dependent, and I was sympathetic. He also heard the same things again and again, and I think that helped them occur to him spontaneously too. He started doing them, and now he has stuff that he plans to do on his own when he feels like it and a couple of new social groups. Good end!

  10. LW 476:

    While I get you don’t want to sound braggy and all, kids who are very smart have legit problems that result from that. It is a very real thing, because very smart kids often have interests different from more normal kids, and so the very smart kids do not have normal socialization patterns. Very smart kids are routinely bored in primary school and often underperform because of it. Even if they don’t, they often do not learn how to study or handle academic challenges.

    This stuff is real. It causes real suffering when very smart kids become very smart adults and run into social, academic, work, life challenges. Some problems you can solve by being Very Smart at them, but for the majority of adult problems, you need more than just Smart.

    So. You’re in Smart Kids College, and that means that everyone around you is on that level. That is awesome. That also means that, assuming you have common interests, everyone around your school can keep up with you when you compare Russian Philosophers of the Czarist and Marxist eras while hiking in the woods, or whatever works for you.

    That’s why the Captain’s advice is so good — for once, you can forget how freakin’ smart you are and just go play. It’s coming on the end of spring term which makes it harder to hook up with student groups (but go all-out next fall when the freshmen arrive!) but you can network all those kids you know from different classes and living groups and stuff. Look for different study groups. And, if you’re on campus for the summer, find the summer outings group.

    What you do about your drug-using friends, I think, depends on how they can respond to your requests that they stay sober around you. And also whether their use is abusive. But that’s your boundary, not mine.

    Finally, one more Smart Kid thing. After you get out of college and into the adult world, remember, life isn’t graded. Your smartness still matters, but other things matter more, and people matter most of all.

  11. For 475: I’d like to put something out there the Captain advocated but did not elaborate on, and as I do I’d like to emphasize that YMMV (your mileage may vary) on this. I agree one of the easy things to do is to contact your old friends who haven’t seen/spoken with in a long time. However, I would encourage you to be strategic about it, and not contact all or a majority of them at the same time, but rather space it out over the next 3-4 months, even half a year.

    Here’s my thinking. On the one hand, there could be a groundswell of interest: several or all of them want to catch up. That can be overwhelming, especially if you’re not used to that amount of social contact at the moment.

    On the other hand, it’s important to prepare yourself for only a very few of them being interested in reconnecting, and that can be harder to deal with when it’s all at once. I think we all have to be realistic and know that while you may have just drifted away from relationship X without any real intention, it may look very different to the other person. They may have grown apart from you, or may have actively decided to exclude you from their life, or they may want to connect but their lives are seriously too busy right now. Or there’s no particular disinterest, but you’re just not high enough on the internal list of “people I must keep in touch with.” And of course you do the same things too; we all do, we all have that intuitive list. But it can sometimes be a stark reminder if several reconnections don’t pan out, especially when you’re already feeling lonely to begin with.

    So I encourage self-confidence, bravery and realism all mushed up in a shiny tinfoil ball. I wholeheartedly agree with the Captain that there will likely be other old friends out there who just drifted away from your relationship too, and will be excited to reconnect. But I would caution against high expectations of old friendships blossoming into the kind of closeness that existed in the past. The Captain says that “positive feelings don’t fade away if the connection and affection are real,” and I agree, but I also think there’s many valid reasons for positive feelings to not translate into reconnecting.

  12. I have some advice for the second letter writer. I have an odd combination of interests and sometimes I feel lonely because I don’t know many other people who have this combination. One thing that I find helpful is to have some friends that share certain interests and some friends that share certain other interests. So maybe hang out with your current friends when you feel like having intellectual conversations and find some other people to hang out with when you feel like going out and having fun. You could also try talking more with your professors.

  13. LW475, thanks for writing this one in, because I almost sent in a similar question a while ago, though our particulars are different.

    Especially the part about people being obnoxious, because I’m never sure whether my tolerance for “obnoxious” is calibrated properly or not. Over the last several years, Spouse and I have lost or at least grown distant from friends we were once close to due to the following:

    – Spouse entirely stopped speaking to one friend because friend was an unrepentant and habitual drunk driver and this is very Not OK with us.
    – We had to kick out a friend/housemate/bartering-rent-for-child-care person because of a lot of things that finally escalated to her loudly threatening suicide in the social services office if they didn’t fix her Medicaid benefits. (That was REALLY bad and traumatic and we don’t let people share housing with us anymore.)
    – A couple other people did the manipulate-by-suicide-threat thing at different points.
    – One person sent unsolicited completely inappropriate photos to my spouse and basically got all stalker-weird.
    – One person persistently pursues much younger (legally adult but not by much) relationship partners, then gets Very Upset when it doesn’t work out and makes the usual barrage of Nice Guy complaints about that.
    – One person was planning to get pregnant by donated sperm and her answers to questions about a support system led Spouse and I to realize that she expected US to be most of it. We were…not comfortable with that.
    – On the flip side, things got awkward when we had to lean heavily on a subset of friends due to our house temporarily being uninhabitable and the combination of being in close quarters with them and finding out that we didn’t see eye-to-eye on some things that matter a lot more in close quarters (like specific nuances of child discipline, choices about food, etc.) made things uncomfortable going forward.
    – And then there were the people who stopped talking to us when we decided that it was better to put our kids in Catholic school than to have our older daughter repeatedly assaulted by a persistent bully and afraid to go to school, because we can’t afford secular private and homeschooling isn’t workable for a Long List of Reasons.

    We’re making a close new friend now and that’s scary because we didn’t expect any of the above to happen so there’s the fear of “how are we going to end up not-friends with THIS person?” Sigh.

    1. “the fear of “how are we going to end up not-friends with THIS person?” ”

      Hoo boy, do I know that one! I sometimes think that maybe there just aren’t all that many emotionally healthy people around to be friends with in the first place, so that the only real options are putting up with drama/toxicity or having very few friends.

      1. Amen. I had the same thought about a now-former close friend of mine after a string of friendships that ended poorly, and my relationship with her ended worst of all. And frankly, it’s not like I’m the most emotionally healthy person, my positives just tend to greatly outweigh the negatives.

        But that being said, I have very few people I would consider to be a legit friend.

    2. First, I am so sorry you all had to deal with that. It sounds like the pits, and your family sounds lovely. Boo to that!

      Second, thank you so much for sharing. I have anxiety problems, and I also have a social life eerily like yours, in which I meet people who seem pretty even-keeled, but who end up…well, being wobbly in bad ways. I have been chewing on my own brain for years, trying to figure out what is wrong with me and what I need to change, because hello, if I was being okay, my life would not look like this! I mean, no one I know has a life like this! At least, I don’t think! But now I can tell myself to slow the fuck down, because at least two other people on this earth have had a life like this. I don’t empirically have to be at fault for everything, because I was/am wrong about the possibilities here. It doesn’t have to be that I’m a mutant. It can just be that I have met not-great folks, or met people at the wrong time, or whatever. I really did think it all had to be my fault until I read about it happening to someone else, so…thank you, boo that it happened, best of luck for the future.

  14. To the second letter writer, I’m in a similar position! But the good news is, if your drug taking friends are not buttholes, they will totally understand your unwillingness to do drugs with them. I usually use the excuse that I am too much of a neurotic personality to take hallucinogens or amphetamines and that’s usually met with a, ‘fair enough’. And even those drug taking friends will realise it’s no fun to hang around with a whole group of people who are tripping or wired when you’re mostly sober, so hopefully they won’t blame you!

    And those hard-working, academically minded friends; wow they can be stressful to hang around with, (because -they- are usually stressed all the time). I can really see where your want for finding a new group comes from. I personally just float between the two but I wish you the best of luck!

  15. To #476, I would totally recommend trying the university clubs/societies thing, if you haven’t already. Because of my love of all things Japanese, I joined my uni’s Japanese club in second year. They were so welcoming and I fit right in. Seven years later, a few of my good friends, as well as my boyfriend, are people I met in that club. For what it’s worth, I’d suggest trying medium-sized clubs – the big ones throw great events but it can be difficult to get to know people intimately, and you won’t get to meet many people in the small ones. My club had regular weekly meetups of 15-20 people, and that was perfect for me. Good luck 🙂

    1. Your user name has got the theme song stuck in my head. I can’t even be grumpy about it; it’s such cheerful music!

      LW, this is good advice. I met a lot of close friends and VERY smart people through small and geeky clubs at school (but be sure they do reflect your own interests). Also, do not discount activities outside of school. I have also met extremely wonderful and intelligent people through internet communities.

      College is a bit of a hothouse environment, it’s not a bad thing to get outside it once in a while.

  16. 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.

    LW #476,
    This is a good bit of advice and I hope you take it, because your letter rubs me the wrong way. I can see that you are trying to be mindful of your (financial) privilege, but it’s hard for me not to get the impression that you define “REALLY smart” as “going to the same university and having the same interests as me.”

    I think you need to get out a bit, if not to gain a more nuanced measure of human worth, then at least to realize that many absolutely fucking brilliant people have been shut out of the opportunities you enjoy. Just because they don’t have the economic markers of success you and your peers do (admission to what sounds like a rather expensive private university and enough extra money on the side to blow on coke(!)), doesn’t mean that they are stupid or beneath you.

    tl;dr: As one Wunderkind to another, don’t assume that everyone outside of your little bubble is a lesser being. And yes, you totally are in a bubble: Doing a lot of hard drugs is not a universal characteristic of “REALLY smart” people >__<

    1. tl;dr: As one Wunderkind to another, don’t assume that everyone outside of your little bubble is a lesser being. And yes, you totally are in a bubble: Doing a lot of hard drugs is not a universal characteristic of “REALLY smart” people >__<

      Seriously. I feel like I must be in a bubble, I’ve never heard of heavy hard drug usage being associated with intelligence whatsoever, never mind with those who are “really” smart.

    2. Yes… as someone who went to a selective (although not private) secondary school followed by a top university, it took me a while of getting out in the world to realise that you can find whip-smart people in all kinds of contexts, and how extremely counterproductive it was to use education or profession to classify people.

      LW, I can see from your letter that you’re comfortable with the concept of privilege – in that you understand that you have it, and you’re consider that people might say ‘this is a privileged problem so shut up about it’. But, erk! No, I definitely don’t think that not having found Your People yet is a problem that should be waved away as insignificant because you can afford university. As the Captain says, this is important stuff. But I just wanted to say, be open minded to having that concept of ‘privilege’ develop over the years in a way that enriches you, by opening your eyes to the ways in which your conception of smarts and worth is currently limited, to your detriment. Including in ways which maybe undermine the things you currently have your self worth/self image pinned to.

      It can suck realising you’re not that special but it’s also very freeing to realise that there is so much awesomeness out there for you to admire and learn about.

    3. I agree with Alex! The drug-using subculture and smart people are really not always the same people. Not in any way, shape, or form. Lots of clever people don’t use drugs. Some clever people do, but it really is a subculture, not a rule.

      LW, you also don’t have to wait until you get out of college to make friends outside of college. Especially if your college is one where the assumption is that multi-interest people do drugs and your options are limited. A good half of my close friends never finished college (or weren’t there the same years I was), and they’re absolutely freaking brilliant… just not in a traditionally academic sense for all sorts of reasons. They keep up with ‘Smart’ me, no problem, and I was definitely one of the Smart Kids growing up.

      Academia isn’t critiqued as an Ivory Tower for no reason. It’s an environment where your perceptions of success, failure, and reasonable goals are determined by a relatively narrow set of opportunities and consequences. It’s perfectly okay to branch out and try again. I promise you that there are clever, multi-interest people who don’t have deal-breaker habits that you can be friends with. Just start by picking something you’re excited about and then show up over and over until people are familiar enough to talk to. You never know when you might make a friend that way, discovering other shared interests as you chat. (I always end up friendly with baristas, because writing and tea. Baristas are the coolest people.)

    4. Yes, this! I too went to a hyper-selective school that, while providing great academics, also fostered a deeply obnoxious sense of specialness among the students – as if we had somehow been anointed by a powerful, obscure and geeky god for greatness. Going along with this was the notion that if you had any difficulties in school they were automatically the result of not being smart enough – learning differences, family problems, the pressures of working a full time job, mental health issues, etc. were not even considered. When I had to drop out due to personal issues three years in, this distorted thinking made me miserable as I thought I had failed out of the One True Test of Merit anywhere.

      Remember that while intelligence may be necessary to make it into your school, it is far from sufficient. For every one of your fellow classmates, there are thousands of equally bright young people who had crappy public schooling so didn’t do well on the SAT; or grew up in a small isolated town and never even heard of your college, only Harvard and the local state university; or who had to work from a young age to help support the family; or whose parents refused to turn over their financial info so they couldn’t get financial aid even if they qualified; or who simply weren’t raised with the expectation of college no matter how REALLY SMART they were. Those people might not be able to name-check Derrida but they are just as smart as you, and you’ll rub up against them frequently out in the fabled Real World.

      So in short – while it is definitely exhilarating to finally get the chance to hang out with your geeky peers who share the same obscure passions, and great to have a pre-screened group of people at your school who are guaranteed to care about learning the way you do – it’s also a good idea to be always on the lookout for fellow smart people who don’t give off the obvious, college-approved signals and markers. (And who are considerably less likely to be into recreational drug use since they don’t live in an environment as protected from some of the consequences as college.)

  17. #476 – I second the reminder that you don’t have to have one group of friends fit *all* your needs and interests. In college, I had my science friends, my social issues friends, my music friends, my reading/tv friends, my crazy adventures friends, my home friends (I was a rural kid in a big city college) and my close friends, who heard all my private life stuff.
    There was a ton of crossover, don’t get me wrong, but it was also unrealistic that I was going to find another intelligent science major who was loved reading, children’s television, country music, and could understand my family issues. So I found people who matched with most or some of them and then I found more people – I joined a lot of groups, I talked to people in my classes, I went to any event that sounded remotely interesting or that someone that I liked invited me to (time permitting) and I eventually ended up with a diverse mix of people that met all my needs. I kept doing this all four years – I had some friends that would meet all but one or two interests and some that only met one and I ended up being very satisfied both intellectually and socially.

  18. I feel this way about my partner’s father — he is so incredibly lonely, but his response to any suggestions is always “that wouldn’t work because….” It’s frustrating not just because it’s annoying but also because there is this sense of him literally wasting his life away as though he were sentenced to sit in a prison cell for 20 years. You can’t force someone to accept your advice, but it’s also very uncomfortable to visit and see how miserable he is. I hope he secretly enjoys being miserable, but honestly I don’t think that is the case.

  19. CA’s advice is great. Just wanted to add one thing that might help 476 in particular: you don’t have to have one friend group that meets all your social needs and that you are super close with or NO FRIENDS. You can have friends that you share certain interests and times with and not others. You can have friends of varying degrees of closeness. And not all your friends have to be REALLY SMART to be fun and interesting people. And there are plenty of REALLY SMART people in the world who don’t do drugs. I also like the company of smart people, but not all of my friends are REALLY SMART. And that’s OK too because they have other redeeming qualities.

    Anecdata: After college, I moved to a new city where I didn’t know anyone. I made friends through the grad program I was in. Some of them were people that, under other circumstances, I would not likely have been friends with. We didn’t have that much in common in some ways, but we enjoyed each other’s company, enjoyed some shared interests, and bonded over our shared career. I met a few other friends through the program that I likely would have been close with regardless of the circumstances, because we did have a lot in common. So, you can find different groups of people that help fill your socialization needs, joining your russian learning, hiking friends on their non-drug involving adventures and using other avenues to find friends that help you fill other social needs.

  20. For 475, I have been through some of the same with my spouse too. At one point, we had a conversation that went like this: “Let’s make plans with (XYZ).”
    “They’re acquaintances. I don’t want to hang out with acquaintances, I want to hang out with friends.”

    Captain Awkward mentioned that “denial that having friendships takes effort” might be a factor in your situation; it seems to have been in ours. I asked him to identify friends in our area, and he named one or two and then I asked him to consider that most of the time, in my experience, friends come from getting to know acquaintances better. Not all acquaintances will turn into friends, but meeting someone and having friendship-at-first-sight is even rarer than love-at-first-sight.

    Since then, I have been conscious of the balance of our planning. One thing that has helped is listening better and amplifying the slightest hint he gives to any kind of social planning. For example, last Friday he said, “Let’s drive to Old City for the weekend.” That didn’t work, so I specifically requested, “I planned [specific examples]; to balance it could you please call Old City friends by Wednesday to ensure they have enough advance notice?” This is still not ideal because I’m still the forewoman, so to speak. It’s a start, though.

  21. 476 – I wanted to clarify something: does your friends’ drug use actively bother you? If it’s just a thing they do that you aren’t into, then all the advice about having different groups of friends for different interests is spot-on. I’m really into knitting, but I have really close friends who don’t give a crap about it, and that’s ok! I have other friends to talk to about knitting.

    If, however, their drug use makes you really uncomfortable, upset, or afraid, I’d suggest you either try to find some other friends to talk to them about it. I don’t know how close you are to them, but expressing concern about unhealthy drug use is an ok thing to do! Sometimes things can get out of control, especially when someone is living (semi?) independently for the the first time.

    That said, it is possible to be responsible about drug use (even with “harder” drugs) (and even on “random tuesdays,” depending on their schedule), and attacking your friends or being super judge-y about it wouldn’t be helpful in that situation. Some drugs can be very helpful for personal growth, for example. Even if your friends are just using drugs for fun, that can be ok – alcohol is a drug a lot of people use just for fun, and a lot of the time that’s ok. This is a short comic about drug use which I really like: http://www.stuartmcmillen.com/comics_en/war-on-drugs/ I’m not trying to get to you do drugs – if you don’t want to, don’t! – but if this is something you’re confused or upset about, it might be worth learning about. Asking individual friends about their drug use could clarify some issues for you – and if not, you could always ask them to hang out with you while they’re sober.

    I also wanted to ask if you’ve tried hanging out with them while they’re high? Just because someone is high doesn’t necessarily mean they become a totally different person. Sometimes talking to high people can even lead to some really interesting, intellectual, or deeply personal conversations.

    Also, with respect to your “smart” issues: it’s ok to be smart! It’s also ok to want to be friends with similarly smart people. The thing to remember is that there are different kinds of smart – I know some ridiculously math-smart people who don’t have a clue about how to even start thinking about emotional or ethical problems, for example – they can be *painfully* clueless. By being really specific about the kind of smart people you want to be friends with, you might be limiting yourself to a certain social group (which also happens to include hard drugs). Less academically inclined people can also be super smart in different ways: don’t assume “good at school” = “smart,” because that’s often really really not true.

    (Hopefully I’ve expressed myself clearly….I’m not feeling particularly articulate today.)

  22. LW #375: I could totally relate to your letter as a now-distant friend of a couple that sounds very similar to you and your husband. So, from that perspective, I can say:
    1) definitely reach out to your more distant friends! Yeah, it may be weird that it’s been a long time, and you may have to do some bridge mending, but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth reaching out. How my friend/couple did it recently was throw a birthday/dinner party and invite all the people they hadn’t talked to in a while. It lessened the social pressure of it not being a one-on-one thing.
    2) I echo Captain’s advice that you should seek out your own friends/new friends because you need to, and it is OK to do this separate from your husband. In your letter, over and over again you said “we.” Not everyone seeks to be friends with a “we.” Honestly, as a single person who is very independently minded (even while in a couple), I always found it very odd that my friend came as a couple. Meaning, all social things involving the wife, whom I considered my friend, automatically included her husband. They came as a couple. Always. (I would try to make plans one-on-one, but he always came b/c he had no friends of his own) You can like someone’s spouse, and enjoy spending time with them sometimes, but not want to be equally as close to both parties in a marriage. It might be easier for both you and your husband to each make a separate effort, per Captain’s excellent advice, to make friends independently. You may find this opens up new avenues of friendship for both of you.

    LW #376: I get that you’re REALLY SMART, and I too have been that kid who felt under-challenged and unconnected to my peers in high school. Finding connections with other RS people at college is great! But Lordy, do I wonder what school you are going to, because the RS people you are interacting with are not the RS people that I know. None of the RS people I know are heavy drug users. Either there’s something with your school, or the places you are trying to find RS people, or times have changed a lot in the short six years since I was in college. Captain’s advice is great, and I’d like to add that perhaps you need to seek out some nerds in new places? One place I always found RS, awesome people who don’t use drugs is via online fandom. Following on someone else’s comment above that you are wrapped up in privilege and should try finding RS people outside of your uni, online fandom is a great place to do this. Some of the most challenging intellectual conversations I have had have been at fan conventions. Or, are there other colleges in your town/city? You may need to try a different pool of college kids. I bet you could find a meet-up group to do outdoor stuff with. Also, honestly, not to stereotype my nerd-folk, and I understand you enjoy parties/going out, but my RS friends who don’t do drugs also never partied. You may need to try out a social scene at your school that doesn’t involve parties — or divide your social group and accept that you will have some RS friends who Do Not Party and some friends with whom you can party but maybe aren’t going to discuss politics in Russian with you. (that said, I’m sure there are RS people who party and don’t do hardcore drugs, but I’m just offering from my experience that some RS ppl don’t party at all). Is there theme-housing at your school? I found a great social set when I moved into my school’s German House (lots of science kids there).

    Re: changing after you graduate. In my experience, it is much harder to find those intellectual people out of college. Not impossible, just harder. Which is why Thank God for the Internet.

  23. #476, I feel you. My school experience was largely the same, and upon arriving at my (very old, very famous, world-leading) university, I was delighted to find people with whom I could have both light and serious conversations about mutual interests. For instance H— , a young woman reading HistPol who during Fresher’s Week had shown on the surface mainly an interest in gossip and clubbing – and then I got chatting with her over dinner about something trivial which quickly turned into a discussion of French cinema. At institutions like ours, it’s worth stirring apparently shallow depths because there must be something that got them in.

    But, like you, I have trouble bonding with many of my peers because I can’t partake in the same activities. For me, it’s clubbing: I can’t stand the painfully loud music and am honestly quite frightened of drunk people, not to mention that I drink only lightly myself. A lot of interpersonal bonding happens at pre-drinking and out at clubs and crew dates, and I have to miss out on it. Therefore, I make a concerted effort to keep up contact with my college-mates outside these activities, and they all respect my boundaries. It helps that my college is very small and close-knit so everyone knows each other, and as one of the second years once explained to me, ‘There isn’t room to be a dick’.

    For broadening one’s social circle I can honestly recommend uni societies: at archery I found, completely by chance, a group of people who all turned out to be fellow light social drinkers and not into clubbing (thus eliminating the chance that I’d have to bow out of a meet-up because of its alcohol content) – and interesting, friendly people to boot. And if you become a boatie, it’ll take over your life and you’ll never be short of people to talk to about it! (I speak from experience, and I’m only half-joking – becoming a cox was both the best and worst decision I have thus made at uni). And of course there’s more general stuff like LGBT society if you’re into that, which is where my girlfriend found a lot of friends at her uni.

    There may well also be people in your classes. I’m a little fuzzy on just how American colleges run, most of my knowledge having been gleaned piecemeal from the internet, but at my uni we have both tutorials (or ‘tutes’), which are 1-3 people and a tutor for an hour and a half, and classes, which are up to 14 people and a tutor. If you share your tute, your tute partner(s) will almost certainly be in your college so you’ll already know them anyway, but classes are comprised of people from various different colleges, and I’ve got to know some of them quite well – not to mention my Latin language tutor! (A darling, erudite retiree who says about his former profession only that he was ‘in the civil service’, and whom I would dearly love to be my grandfather). We got to have a lovely lunch with our tutor at the start of this term and came away promising to friend each other on FB – a promise which has been fulfilled – and to meet up in future – a plan which I intend to organise personally so that It Will Be So. Sometimes, you gotta take the initiative to actually get things like that done – and in my experience if they’re sincere about wanting to keep in touch, people are grateful.

    And then there’s serendipity: our women’s rowing captain happens to share almost all the same interests as me and be an absolutely wonderful person, to boot. It happens!

    Basically, this is what’s worked for me in terms of Finding My People. I hope it’ll give you some help and hope too 🙂

  24. LW 475: I just want to be a voice of hope and encouragement, because I was where you are about three years ago, and it got better – a LOT better – and the Captain’s advice is Spot. On.

    My guy had a complicated combination of Reasons for his isolation – he had been methodically isolated over YEARS by an emotionally abusive ex; he was profoundly depressed after an unexpected and sudden divorce and the processing thereof; he was extremely sick – although we didn’t know it at the time; this was in the six-months to one-year before he was diagnosed with cancer – he was in a very people-oriented career field and frequently just socially exhausted (and otherwise emotionally exhausted). Those last two things gave him very legitimate reasons to stay home and not engage. The first two were things he really needed to work through. Therapy was not an option, for various reasons, but I had been through therapy myself and had some of the awareness toolkit to work with.

    He complained constantly that he didn’t have any friends, but didn’t seem interested in doing anything about it. He was miserable and it was excrutiatingly painful to watch.

    Eventually I had an opportunity to reconnect with a social hobby I’d been very involved with some years before, and I told him, “I am going to do this thing. You can tag along, or not, as you see fit.” At first it took a lot of gentleness and handholding, and it was two years before he went to an event alone, but people warmly welcomed him and encouraged him to participate and by the time he got really visibly sick, he had built up a Team Him independent of MY friends, all of whom supported him wholeheartedly and welcomed him back with great fanfare when he started to get better. And last weekend I had the pleasure of tagging along to a social gathering that was ALL about him and his friends and learning a new thing that he has been super-excited about for a long time but his health only now finally allows him to do, and spent most of the day sitting on the sidelines with a friend’s wife talking about how much he has blossomed since we met this couple ten months ago. I told her, “You don’t even KNOW, he was already so much more outgoing by the time you met him than he had been when we started this grand adventure.”

    He still falls into old Jerkbrain traps, especially when triggered by change or social fatigue (see: putting himself out on the job market so we can move closer to ALL THESE AWESOME PEOPLE) but, my god, so much better than it was.

    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.

    I particularly want to call this out for truth. Getting back into my hobby was important for ME, and I’m delighted that he decided it was his thing too because we get to play together, but if he hadn’t – I still would have done it. And he would have found something else to do. Maybe with other people, maybe alone, but he would have had to CHOOSE and own the choice.

  25. LW #475, here is a script for the next time your husband complains about being lonely: “How do you think you could go about fixing that?”

    Here is a script for him complaining he has no friends: “I think [FriendName] and [OtherFriendName] would be surprised and a little hurt to hear you say that.”

    Having been in this situation, I suspect that your husband may be deep down thinking one of two things: that it is Your Job to get him some friends, because you’re the lady and you are slightly more social that he is; or, he really doesn’t want to do the things that are an alternative to his current situation (e.g., going out and meeting people) and he would rather complain about it. This is a way for you to fall into the trap of his lack of a social life being All Your Fault. It is a no-win situation. He has just as much choice as you to do go out there and actually develop contacts with other human beings.

  26. LW1, I want to pick at your example of the party of people comparing SAT scores a bit, because I don’t see anyone mentioning it yet.

    Keep in mind that the conversational flow of a group of people can easily be dominated by a few strong personalities, so that even people who were right in the conversation comparing their 1560 to someone else’s 1420 might still have been sitting there thinking “damn, this is boring; I’d rather be talking about Star Wars/I feel like an asshole for bragging about this/I don’t want to mention my low/high score because I’m embarrassed/etc”. But when you’re in a big group, sometimes boring/pretentious/obnoxious/stupid conversation happens and you don’t want to change the subject for whatever reason. So please don’t write off ALL of these people as pretentious test score comparers, unless you have other indications that they’re not Your People. Some of them may well be Your People; you just met them in a context where they weren’t having Your Conversation. I think it’s kind of a Geek Social Fallacy– and the one I most often am guilty of!– to assume that a group of people you meet as a group are more or less a homogeneous unit, but that’s rarely the case.

  27. tl;dr About Me!!! Plus some advice at the end.
    I appreciate LW476 for writing in and all the responses. I’m in a similar boat (though not currently in college); finding that I have no close friends other than my polycule (my two partners and one of their partners), and trying to figure out how to go about remedying that. My main issue is that I’m pretty introverted, so I only have so much social energy in any given week. Given that, the amount of time I (enthusiastically!) spend with my partners, work, my other projects (already sadly neglected), and the amount of time I need to decompress, it’s hard to make time to spend with the not-particularly-close friends I already have, let alone build a new social life from whole cloth. Added complications include my pickiness about people (mainly resulting from the limited social energy) and my anxiety about plans changing on short notice (so it’s hard to go to events spontaneously, especially if I had already been going to do something else.) All together, that means the advice about having different friends for different things is sort of non-applicable, since what I really want is a few good friends that I click with (who don’t necessarily share more than one or two of my interests, as long as they share my traits of liking to think about stuff, trying really hard not to be doucherockets, and taking some interest in what the person you are talking to is passionate about.)
    Luckily, I live in a city with lots of stuff going on and a good number of people who are like-minded to me, I don’t have a lot of social anxiety or shyness to contend with, and so far it seems like I can get some sense of whether I can be close with someone from the first few meetings. Now it’s just a matter of getting out there.
    476, I recommend coming up with some things that are really key to you in friendships—for me these are some specific shared values, communication styles that mesh, and diverse interests—and then trying to figure out a) settings where people like that would hang out and b) where that list of settings overlaps with settings in which you would like to hang out. I need to go join a science fiction book club.

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