#971: Fear of missing out on the work social scene: Everybody is hanging out without me.

Dear Cap,

I am an insecure introvert with a big ol mouth and the occasional attitude problem. I’ve worked a lot on being more careful with what I say and keeping work relationships more professional than personal. Then I switched to teaching.

Teaching, as I have found, builds a kind of in-the-trenches bond with your fellow teachers. My school is a ton of twenty-somethings, so there’s lots of engagements and weddings and baby showers. In fact, I was on bedrest with my first pregnancy and they got together an insanely generous amount of money to help me out without even having a shower. I really feel close to a lot of these people. But I still don’t get invited to any of the outside-of-work social events. There was a teacher who got married today and I saw a post on Instagram of a group photo of a bunch of my coworkers together all dressed up and having a blast. I really felt hurt.

On the one hand, I take a lot of during-the-day work time to be by myself and recharge from the stress of the job, plus I never go out after work (even before the pregnancy) because I’m just a homebody and I like to be at home with my husband. So it isn’t unreasonable to think that maybe people assume I don’t really do work friends at any level higher than Facebook. On the other hand, it’s her freakin wedding! I absolutely don’t want to cost someone money, or be a pity invite, because of my insecure feelings about being left out. Same for the several other events this has happened with.

Mostly, I just hate this feeling of “Oh so they don’t like me and I’m awful” combined with a new fear that staying home/my family being a large part of my social life is going to leave me without meaningful relationships outside my family. Now that’s kind of stupid because my best friends have been with me since elementary school, but three out of four have moved away and the one left in town… we are both total homebodies and are really horrible about getting off our butts and planning to do things together!

So my big question is, how do I manage these left-out feelings without letting them negatively affect my work relationships? My corollary question is, is it normal to suddenly be this worried about maintaining relationships and worrying that I’m a selfish person because I’m not very social?

Thanks for giving me some of your time,
Everyone Is Hanging Out Without Me

Dear Everyone Is Hanging Out Without Me,

When was the last time you organized or invited any of your work friends to do anything social outside of work?

We’ll come back to that question.

Teaching requires a LOT of mental energy and social units, so it’s understandable that you’d want to use your breaks during the day and your time after work to recharge. Also, you had a pregnancy that required bed rest and now, presumably, you have a small child/children? And maybe they are a little older now and you are coming out of the No-Sleep-All-Diaper-Toddler-Fog and feeling more energetic and more social, yes? And some of your closest friends moved away not long ago? This desire to readjust your social life all seems pretty normal and not-selfish to me.

As for your work friends, patterns and habits get established in social groups. If you have a habit of declining outside-of-work hangouts, it’s not silly or beyond comprehension if the people who usually do the event organizing eventually decided not to pressure you to come to stuff. It doesn’t mean that they don’t like you or that you’re being purposely excluded, but it does mean that they successfully picked up the “Thanks but I’d rather be at home!” messages that you were putting down. It also means that if you want to be included now you’re going to have to make some effort.

The good news is, habits have been formed, and habits can be broken. Here are three steps to start resetting those habits:

Step 1: Invite your favorite work people to do social stuff sometimes. This is the right place to start because if you’re doing the inviting, you can control when and how you take action instead of waiting for the next work party or wedding to happen. For best results:

  • Start small, with your favorite person or couple of people. Don’t think of it as “I must now infiltrate this defined group who all hang out together except for me,” think of it as “I want to reconnect with Karen, who tells great jokes.”
  • Issue a specific invite for a specific time and place- “I want to go to the botanic garden on Friday after work for a free concert/Take the kidlet to story time with drag queens at the indie bookstore Saturday morning/See Wonder Woman and eat tacos on Sunday – NO BOYS/Drag the laptop to the coffee shop and catch up on grading Wednesday night after work…would you like to join me?
  • Give it time and a few tries before you give up. It’s a cliche that people are busy, but, people are busy. We’re all fighting our own instincts to curl up at home with the Golden Age of Television, and if you haven’t been part of the social whirl in a while it may take a little while for them to make space for you again. Give it some time between invites, choose low-pressure things that you would want to do anyway.
  • Be honest…with a positive spin. Not “I feel really left out and sad when I see everyone hanging out without me” (TOO HONEST/TOO SOON), more, “Hey, I am trying to stop being such a homebody and spend time with the people I like more often, can we do this again soon?” 

FEELINGSTALK: You’re not a bad person for feeling left out and sad when you look at photos of work friends all together right now, like you had a chance to get closer to these people and it somehow passed you by. Those sad feelings don’t make you broken, or unlikeable, or impossible to be friends with. However, if you want to rebuild these connections, making people take care of you around those negative feelings is not the right place to start. Your feelings may scream “Why don’t you invite me to anything anymore?” but it’s going to help a lot (alotalotalotalotalot) if your actual words come out as “Hey, do y’all still do Friday drinks at [bar] sometimes? Can I join you next time?” 

Step 2: Next time you *are* invited to something with work people, GO. Have one drink, catch up on people’s lives, talk about the hilarious things your students did that day. Your husband and your favorite chair will still be at home in two hours when you want them to be. If you want to be included, include yourself. GO. NO EXCUSES. GO.

Step 3: Follow up. If you get invited to something and you can’t go for whatever reason, follow up effusively with the host. “Thank you for inviting me! I sadly can’t go this week because I’ve got to pick the kid up from day care, but if you let me know when the next one is I will be there with bells on. I miss hanging out with y’all!” Then, make steps to be at the next thing. Send the message “You are important to me and I like you.

Also follow-up by inviting the person who invited you to something that you can make it to. Message: “So sorry I couldn’t go to your birthday dinner the other day, but can I buy you lunch tomorrow? (P.S. You are important to me and I like you.)”

Speaking of following up: If you haven’t already, get your coworker who just got married a card. If you want to, put something like 2 movie passes or a small gift card to the fancy wine-and-cheese shop in your town in it and write a note saying “Congratulations on your wedding! I’m so happy for you, please have an awesome date night on me.” Translation: “You are important to me and I like you.

There are bonus steps you could take down the road to help you break out of this rut:

  • Institute a sacred, immutable monthly hangout with your best friend who still lives in town. (A two-person theater or concert subscription, or 2nd Sunday of the Month pancakes & a bike ride…)
  • Sign up for a class or a book club or some other event that meets regularly. Get some social interaction, meet some new people, take the pressure off of the work friends or the best friend to be your only friends.
  • Put that “homebody” thing to work and make the party come to you.
  • Become the organizer of a monthly activity for your work friends.

Making friends, keeping friends, starting over socially, breaking and remaking social habits are a lifelong project. You have a ton of evidence that these folks are a caring and close-knit bunch who come through for each other and who have come through for you in the past. Hopefully you can rejoin their hijinks very soon.


94 thoughts on “#971: Fear of missing out on the work social scene: Everybody is hanging out without me.

  1. When I had my major bout of depression, it was at at time in my life where I was making lots of new friends and I missed out on a lot of that. My closest friends were all talking about curry club with these cool new people and other Rad Stuff they were doing, and I must admit, it did hurt but I also had to recognise why I wasn’t invited. I had been turning down invitations left right and centre and as a consequence has only met these new friends once or twice.

    When I was feeling better, I made an effort to reconnect with people. I never actually became close friends with the New Friends, as the overall friendship group shifted around, but if I was invited somewhere and I had most of the amount of energy required to go, then I went and I feel it really paid off. I did things the captain has suggested here — instigating events and saying yes more. It does take a lot of energy, but I kind of view it as exercise, and now I’m a little bit stronger in that area. 🙂

    1. oh!! that last comment about exercise really gives a useful perspective on some of the work I’ve been doing lately, thank you for that!!!

  2. It can be super hard to ask if you can go to a thing without feeling intrusive. It’s totally ok if you can’t do it and prefer to just invite them at first. Don’t beat yourself up if you have some awkward feelings.

    You can also try sending out some new vibes and hints. I’m assuming you talk to these people during work about not-work stuff. Can you wiggle in a mention of how you’ve been feeling like you need to get out more? All those declined invitations had some subtext that you can start re-writing.

    Don’t rely on that because people are not guaranteed to pick up on them, but it might help plant a “LW might want to come” idea next time they do something.

  3. The link to the Friday Night Suppers is the best social advice I’ve ever taken. Once a week was a bit much for us – my family does it once a month, on Sundays. We started when my daughter was 6 months old, and we’ve kept it up faithfully for two and a half years. It is a really, really great way to keep childless/child-free people in your life after you have a kid.

    And once you get a routine going, it gets easy. There’s an amazing boost of confidence to “Oh, yeah, I can knock together dinner for 16, no problem!”

  4. Human relationships are built primarily on showing up for each other. Sure, we have certain qualities and things that make it easier for us to bond with some people than others, and certain things we won’t tolerate no matter what…but for the most part, the people we bond with the most are the ones we see the most often. Which means that if you want to build up these relationships, you need face time with your coworkers! The Captain is absolutely right–invite them places, show up when you are invited, take some time to chat when you pass each other in the halls, etc.

    When I’m really low on energy but know I need to show up to build/maintain a relationship that’s important to me, I can usually convince myself to go for just half an hour. That’s short enough that I can tolerate it even when I’m tired and out of it, and it doesn’t cut into my day much–and if I’m actually ready to leave after that, I can make excuses about being busy/tired/headachey/whatever but so glad I could stop by for a little and see them. But it’s also long enough that I usually end up getting engaged and involved and not wanting to leave when the half hour is up. It’s definitely improved my ability to show up, which has infinitely improved my ability to build connections.

    1. I like this a lot. A half hour is short enough to not feel like a burden, yet long enough to be meaningful. Grocery shopping takes me longer than half an hour. I can do this. Thank you for the mental trick!

  5. At one point earlier in my career, I had the joyous experience (!) of hearing everyone else make plans around me to meet up for drinks. They talked around me, they talked over me (we worked in cubicles), and I felt very invisible. But as much as I hated the feeling of being left out, I was raised that one Does Not Impose on other people’s plans.

    So I don’t know if I would directly say, “Can I join you?” If you’re comfortable with that – great. If it were me, though, I might try the sneaky trick of asking Karen to go for a drink on a day and time when I know she already has plans to go for drinks with people. That leaves her the opening to say, “Why don’t you join us?” Of course, it’s also possible she won’t take the bait, so that one may backfire.

    1. Ohhhh, the absolute mental/social block of One Does Not Impose. I was also raised this way and I’m still working on this one. I like your sneaky approach. 😉

    2. Ugh.. I’m bad for this. I’ve learned with my closer co-workers that if they are planning an out of work group thing and talking about it around me, that it’s implied I am welcome as well. (I have, however, mentioned to one or two that I hate to impose so if I am included in the invite, a quick ‘Hey we’re having another girls night, you in?’ is helpful because I am socially awkward AF and will usually assume I’m not invited.)

      1. @Andie, I totally get where you’re coming from with this. I had a bad experience once at work when a bunch of girls asked me “Are you going to XXX’s wedding?” and I replied that I hadn’t been invited. It was only a long time later that I realised that probably *had been* the invitation; I’d been thinking in terms of an invitation from the bride, either written or verbal, whereas she’d actually just asked her friends to round everybody up informally. But social awkwardness gets in the way of stuff all the time…

        1. I think even with the most casual of weddings, it’s pretty reasonable to expect an invitation from the bride or groom themselves, tbh.

          Even if it was a planned-at-the-last-minute-please-round-up-everyone thing, it’s reasonable to be explicitly invited, even if in the vein of “So-and-So and so-and-so are getting married this weekend, it’s very last-minute, do you think you can make it?” THAT is an invitation.. “Are you going?” implies that you would have known about it previously.

          So for what it’s worth, I don’t think you’re in the wrong here.

    3. I think in situations where everyone is talking about an event around you, you can always say “I couldn’t help hear you guys talking about x event, it sounds fantastic.” and fallow up with questions about the event like is it for a birthday, why did you guys choose the location etc. The idea isn’t to grill them about information but to show interest in people and wanting to get to know them. The tone of how you ask this is very important, you want to come off as wanting to learn about their trip not as passive aggressive for not being invited. And finish up the conversation by saying “well I am sure you guys will have lots of fun. Let me know when you are going to be doing something like this again I would love to join.

      1. That’s basically what ended up happening – I was working at a client site with a really nice guy who took a call from one of these people a few months later, talking about the same thing – making plans for drinks at a time and a place that day. I said, “Oh, was that Karen? What do you guys have going on?”

        That was when he shared that weekly Thursday afternoon drinks at O’Smith’s a block away from the office was a Thing but it was a totally open Thing and I was welcome to come and also to invite anyone I wanted.

        So I went a few times and it actually was fun – in fact, a few weeks later a bunch of us (after a few drinks of course) decided that one of our number needed an impromptu bachelorette party. I didn’t make it into work the Friday after.

        All is (basically) forgiven, but I still remember how awful I felt – I keep it in mind not because I am angry but because I want to make sure I don’t ever. ever. ever. treat anyone else like that.

    4. the sneaky trick of asking Karen to go for a drink on a day and time when I know she already has plans to go for drinks with people.

      I don’t know about this one — I think it could backfire pretty badly. Like, if I were Karen, my thought process would probably be something like, “Oh, I’m not sure if these other folks want me to invite someone else along, so I better not, but I do want to have drinks, so I’ll punt to another date”; and what would come out of my mouth would be, “I can’t tonight, let’s do it another time!” …and let’s be honest: it’s very easy for someone who’s already insecure to read/misunderstand that as “You’re not welcome with us.” This is why I think being straightforward and using words is a much stronger tactic in this situation, especially because there seems to be some murky subtext already.

      1. Yep. Putting someone in a situation where you’re trying to manouver them into inviting you to a thing they don’t necessarily have standing to invite you to is just making them be uncomfortable instead of you – especially if they find out later that you knew they had plans.

        If I found out that a colleague had asked me to go for drinks because they knew I was planning to go for drinks with other people and they wanted an invite to *that*, I would feel used and pissed off.

        1. I think it’s a context thing. I have the Convention Dinner Trick, wherein I invite people to have dinner with me at conventions and sometimes end up invited along to their existing plans, but while it’s highly probable that they’ve already got dinner plans (I have no idea *how* everyone manages to get dinner plans before the conventions, but they do seem to), I have no solid information one way or the other; they might not. Or they might invite me along to their group, or they might say they’ve got plans.

          But the context of “dinner at a convention” is *very* different from “drinks with colleagues”.

      2. Yeah, please don’t do this. The fact that it was described as a “sneaky trick” is already telling.

        I might bring along a new person to an already scheduled get-together if I am already good friends with that person, so I can vouch for them to the rest of the group; and if I get the ok from the rest of the group (extra important if reservations or people’s houses are involved). If someone of equivalent social standing with the rest of the group was trying to invite me to a different get-together, I would have to decline, on the basis of I’ve already made a commitment to the prior event.

        If that someone was a coworker who knew that Prior Event was a thing, two possibilities come to mind:
        1) This person knows they weren’t invited, and is trying to backdoor their way in;
        or 2) This person has a weird fixation on isolating me from company social events.
        Neither of those is good.

        1. or 3) person is trying to pull people away from other said social event for whatever reason. Also not good.

    5. I think that if coworkers are talking about a directly-after-work event they are all planning at work over the cube walls, saying “Hey, that sounds fun, can anyone join?” is not a case of you Rudely Imposing On Their Private Social Plans. If they want it to be a small group only, they’ll take it to text or email, or they’ll have the guts to say “Not this time, but another time for sure!”

      1. I can see that now, and I appreciate that perspective going forward. From where I was sitting at the time, they were being very rude because in addition to the One Does Not Impose I was raised with, I was also taught that you shouldn’t talk about plans in front of people that weren’t invited.

        But I work at an accounting firm, and plus I got used to being excluded from things growing up, so at the time I didn’t see an alternative.

  6. The Captain has great advice and this is exactly what I did when I moved to a new job and city. I’d like to add that it is a lot of work. The amount of work tapers after a bit but it’s basically a second full time job for a while, while things are established. It can also get expensive. I’m not trying to scare you – just keep that in mind when you’re planning your personal commitments and budget for the next few months.

    For work acquaintances, I highly recommend starting with stuff during work hours. I have a group of friends that’s cross-functional, and we go eat tacos for lunch about once a month. The general theme for that group is “we are all young professionals that are in some way minorities in our group” and we talk about the challenges we face and the stupid insensitive crap our bosses have said recently. It’s very No Managers Allowed. I have another group that’s entirely Engineers and we play board games. We are the Get Stuff Done group and our conversation generally focuses on work topics and catching up on the politics/projects that we’re not immediately involved in. A lot of good work-related changes have come out of those sessions. I also have a smaller group that meets about once a quarter that’s entirely women in engineering. We usually all take a half day on a Friday and go on a bar crawl or to a painting bar or to a museum. So, there’s a lot of options!

  7. Oh, hello, it me.

    Not so much the workfriends thing, but I’m an awkward, mouthy introvert with a small child (and soon, two small children), and I definitely get the experience of, ‘shit, the only people I’ve talked to outside of work in the past three weeks are my spouse and my three-year-old’. Making friends (and keeping friends, especially as the parent of little kids) is Hard.

    No advice, really, but loads of sympathy.

    1. I think it’s me, too — though minus the child(ren). Still, I needed the Captain’s excellent advice on this point, right now, again. Thank you, Captain, and sympathy and good luck to you, LW!

    2. Ha, yep. I’m really struggling with this too. I have workfriends and we have designated lunch plans often, but I really need to arrange something outside of work hours. Right now, it’s two of them doing all of the events/plans/hey, we doing this? stuff, and I want to make sure I’m contributing to a balanced group dynamic, but it really is tough!

  8. Another thought…

    When you do get those precious invites, show up with a hostess gift and try to be a good guest. (i.e. reach out to the other quiet, socially awkward guest in the corner/try not to monopolize the hostess’ time) I host a lot (because I love it), but it does get expensive. (So when guests offer and follow through with bringing a dessert/wine/appetizer, whatever, it is SUPER appreciated.)

    Hosting is also tough, because you’re running around and trying to do your best to make sure all the guests are having a good time, which can be difficult if guests are sulking like they’d rather be doing anything else or tagging at my arm the whole time. (Offering to help put out dishes/clean up/whatever is always welcome!)

    Regardless, there’s a world of difference between good and bad guests, which I didn’t really get until I started hosting a lot. But I think anything a guest can do that makes them easier/more pleasant, the more likely they are to be remembered the next time invites come out.

  9. Here to sing the praises of the once-a-month group activity for busy friends. I recently moved to a new city where I didn’t have an established friend group, and my one close friend moved away about a year after I arrived. I had luckily found myself welcomed into a social circle, but scheduling was always a challenge.

    I invited everyone out to a Sunday night happy hour when my best friend from out of town was visiting. It went so well that I decided I wanted to create a more regular opportunity to get together, so that it wouldn’t be three months between parties (which I don’t host) or scheduled (and re-scheduled) dinner dates. Hence, “First Sundays” was born – we rotate around to people’s different local pubs, it’s a great way for people to join for an hour (or three), and since it happens monthly there’s less stress if you miss one – there’s always another one next month.

    People love it, and I’m quite pleased with myself (as the “new person”) to have initiated this, and to know I’m guaranteed some good group catch-up time on a regular basis.

  10. Letter writer the Captain has some great advice. I would like to add to the top sentence of your letter. You self described your self as some one with a big ol mouth with attitude problems. Is it possible people are picking up on that?

    I had a coworker who had zero filters and often came of as insultive and rude. She one timed made fun to a fellow coworker for really being into her family’s country of origin. To her face. At first I was convinced she was trying to pick a fight with everyone, but then I realized that she just has no filters.

    Letter writer I am not trying to suggest that you are as bad as my fromer coworker. But maybe you can ask a coworker you like how you come across and adjust your attitude if needed.

    Sorry for any typos I am on mobile

  11. I date my transition from “lonely friendless workaholic” to “introvert with several close friends” to when I got jealous of my boyfriend’s weekly D&D game night, and decided to start hosting a women’s game night at my apartment at the same time. I made enough dinner salad for everyone, and everyone else brought sides and drinks. We never played a game because we were too busy talking. I broke up with the boyfriend and we only did the “game night” a few times, but it got me in the habit of organizing and inviting people to do things in a way that was enjoyable for me. (I hate loud noises, large parties, and drinking in bars, so learning that I could lure people to my house with free food and the company of their peers was a lightbulb moment for me.)

    1. It’s such a wonderful realization, isn’t it? I literally just moved into a new place today, and the thing I’m most excited about is living alone so I can ask people over without it being weird around my former roommate (who wasn’t opposed, but there was a lot of Stuff there). I’m so ready to host happy hours with girlfriends and dinners for people I love.

  12. “So it isn’t unreasonable to think that maybe people assume I don’t really do work friends at any level higher than Facebook. On the other hand, it’s her freakin wedding!”

    This line stood out to me. I understand the urge to skip the little, minor events and be there for the big, important ones–believe me, I understand!–but most of the time people get invited to the big things BECAUSE they’re there for the little things.

    1. This struck me, too. You don’t get invited to the wedding if you’re never around to talk at lunchtime. With already deep connections, not being able to attend the little things regularly isn’t necessarily a problem. With workplace friendships that rely on that day-to-day small chat socialising, it is.

    2. I came here just to say:

      wedding ≠ baby

      Don’t count that lack-of-invite as the bride ignoring you; she may have thought through how //she sees// your situation and determined you couldn’t go alone, or she didn’t know how to sweetly phrase “come to my wedding, don’t bring the Little.”

    3. This kind of reminds me of those ridiculous newspaper rants that go, “Sure, people SAY they have friends on the internet, but if you look at the actual conversations, they’re mostly just chatting about their favourite TV programmes, not having proper deep and meaningful conversations”. And you think – have you MET any humans? Talking about our favourite TV programmes is how we work out which people we like and trust enough to cry on them when our partner breaks up with us or the house burns down.

      Not that I think you’re doing that, LW, but like the Captain says, the little things are the ways we establish intimacy and trust and build a foundation to take it to the next level. The good news is that that makes it easier for you to send out the “hey, I’d like to go to the next level” signals: you don’t have to invite people to your wedding (or similarly big event), just turn up for a drink or make a date to talk to Thingy about the next episode of Drag Race. Or you establish that you both loved GotG and say, “Hey, want to go and see GotG2 together?” It’s all about the little stuff!

  13. Okay, but what about when you’re sick of bring the one who always initiates?

    I write the letters, I write the emails. I ask people to coffee or lunch. I plan little dinner parties and invite neighbors. I am teh one that when the conversation tapers off to, “hey, we really should get together for lunch,” I am always the one who asks for the lunch. And there is NO reciprocity. I’m not sitting around scorekeeping, I’m not sitting around stewing until someone asks me, I keep doing the asking — but still.

    I just experienced this at a coworker lunch thing last week. Sitting at a table with nine people, all of whom I know to say hi to. Over the course of the lunch, I ask one what he is reading. I inquire after another’s two kids. I ask the chemistry prof what kind of chemistry she teaches. Someone talks about raising money and I make a suggestion.

    NONE of them responded with a question to me. Not one. I even volunteered a topic — what I would have majored in if I could go back — and no one picked it up.

    Of course for the longest time I was all “Do I stink? Am I not asking enough questions? Am I not volunteering enough tidbits about me that can be turned into a mutual conversation? Am I saying rude things? WHAT??!??”

    I think it’s a real thing that some people — over=forty women like me — give off The Boring Mom Vibe; and while we’re expected to deeply care about everyone’s else thoughts and experiences, it WILL NOT OCCUR to any of them that maybe I have a life too.

    And that sucks. I’m sitting here starting to cry thinking about how much I just wish a single coworker would just ask me to go for a coffee. Just one. Just once.

    1. I’ve got ‘conversation starters’ on my desk, and I’ve noticed some of the other middle-aged people I work with have as well. (photo of interesting place, unusual paperweight etc). If it’s eyecatching, we get people (who came over to ask where the envelopes are kept) asking about it, and can start an interesting conversation.

    2. Cora, I’m so sorry, that sounds really hard.

      Your situation doesn’t sound at all like this letter, where the Letter Writer has taken a deliberate back seat on all socializing with coworkers and initiating social activities would be a big change for her.

      I don’t have an easy solve for this. Your coworkers don’t sound very friendly, and I don’t think you’re wrong about the invisibility and rudeness factor. It’s easy to fall into habits and into taking people for granted.

      So let’s talk habits and what you can control.

      One thing you could do is to give yourself permission to stop trying so hard to make friendly connections happen at work. Eat lunch with a book on workdays and save your energy. Maybe try communal lunch once every couple of weeks, when and if you feel like it, whatever the bare minimum of collegiality entails. If you do set up coffee with someone, and they say, “This was nice, we should do this again sometime” maybe say “I’d like that, why don’t you take the lead and set up the next one when it’s good for you.”

      Also, take a break from being the social organizer in the neighborhood for a while. Do it only when it’s fun for you, when it offers you as much as you put in. “But if I don’t do it, no one will!” I can hear you say through the internet. That’s fair! And that’s okay, taking a break doesn’t mean “forever.” It means a break. If you didn’t organize these get-togethers, what would you do with that time? Would you find a meet-up of other women your age who are looking to make new friends, or work on a political campaign, or learn a language, or would you channel your anger and loneliness into digging a wicked garden or finally reading Proust?

      Trying and trying, and feeling like you’re doing all the work, and getting nothing in return is exhausting. What can you do to change up the habit in a way that is nicer to yourself?

      1. I’ve had a lot of hoped-for friendships peter out similarly to this; when I was younger, I had some mortifying-in-retrospect episodes of being That Girl Who Won’t Go Away, so I’m generally paranoid about reciprocity – if I make a couple invitations to ‘do a thing this weekend’ and repeatedly get ‘not this weekend, but we should absolutely do a thing sometime!’ and no further followup, or if we do hang out a time or two but I’m always the one making the overtures, I pull back and see if they reach out. It generally doesn’t happen, and I let it finish fading.

        It does hurt, and it does suck, and I’m in a life place right now where I have no one I can consider a remotely ‘close’ friend. So I clearly don’t have any practical advice for fixing that part of it, but –

        Captain is dead right on saving your energy at work and maybe directing that energy somewhere else. The low-key loneliness I do feel now is actually a vast improvement from the utter alienation I was going through before I started attending events through Meetup.com, and if that website has any presence in your city (or one remotely nearby), I can’t encourage you highly enough to check it out.

        What makes it awesome is most of the events, you don’t go with the grim determination to Do Something Social Today. You go because look at that awesome stack of boardgames to choose from. You go because walking your dog at that park would be fun. You go to pick up crafting ideas. You go because you’ve been dying to see that movie.

        So in the worst-case scenario – you went out and did a fun thing! And if after several Meetups with the same group, you feel comfortable trying to make individual plans with someone, or someone issues you an invitation for same, that’s just icing on the cake.

        I’m late-twenties, but there are a lot of groups for specific demographics, including women in their 40s-50s.

        Your co-workers, and maybe your neighbors too, having an unwelcoming dynamic *does not* mean there’s no one in this world you can feel close to. Give yourself opportunities to find your people. I’m still hopeful that I will someday, and offering internet hugs and hope that you will too.

      2. Thank you, Captain, for this, which is genuinely helpful. I also appreciate all of the comments below, although I confess I havem;t read through them closely because today is a Bad Vision Day. Fucking diabetes. Forgive my typos.

        Yes, my coworkers are a brand of unfriendly weird that I just cannot get a grip on; most of the time I live in The Fuckits. I will also say that yesterday was a No Good Very Bad Day — health issues (FUCKING diabetes) and realizing that this one guy I thought was normal here at work actually just wants Mommy Ego Prop. I have no doubt you’ve all met him.

        Somebody mentioned their mom being a downer, which I totally get; but I’m Carrie Fisher style. I like to make it funny without being mean.

        {As I’m typing this, three male coworkers are standing right outside my door having a conversation at the top of their lungs about food, I think, culminating in the loudest yelling “I just want to FART!!” Gales of laughter. Higher education isch an adventure.}

        Anyway, thank you. I truly appreciate this.

        1. Here is my take: organizing events is a pain in the butt. If you reliably organize events, then people can meet their social needs through the events you organize and not bother any further. E.g. in a neighborhood-type situation, imagine you invited 15 people and everyone had a good time. It’s an “everyone therefore no one” situation: you cannot single out any of the 15 ppl and say, “it is your responsibility to reciprocate now” so no one will do it, esp. if it is emotional-labor intensive.

          From this POV, I also suggest retreating from the things that don’t pay off. If you are not doing other people’s work for them, they may–or may not–have a greater incentive to actually do it themselves.

        2. I just wanted to say that I am sorry you are having a bad day and your coworkers are apparently missing the cluebat of you being a cool person. All my best, and Jedi hugs if you want them.

    3. The Captain is right–don’t put so much effort into these people who don’t care to make the effort for you. Or at least only do it when you’re enjoying it, not in the hopes of someday getting some reciprocity (at least not with the people who’ve shown they’ll just keep accepting your hospitality and never make the effort to pay it back).

      It might also be good to pay attention to cues that people don’t want to talk, even if they’re in a communal lunch situation–like someone who’s reading during lunch, don’t try to talk to that person, even about the book they’re reading; it’s more likely to just annoy them. Or if two people are having a conversation in the break room about something I’m not involved with, I’ll just listen while I do my own thing. And I think it may really and truly be that everyone’s just in their own heads at times like that, or don’t want to chat during lunch.

      I like most of my coworkers, but I can’t handle dealing with other people during lunch–hell, my husband who I love spending time with works one building over from me and I get lunch with him maybe once a month–because lunch is my only downtime, and I need that downtime. It has nothing to do with how I much I like other people, and everything to do with my need to recharge. I’m lucky that I have space and flexibility to eat lunch at my desk so I don’t get stuck in a break room with everyone else, but not everyone’s work has that flexibility.

    4. If there is a Boring Mom Vibe going on here, it’s because someone is looking at you and making their own assumptions, not because you’re giving off a vibe. To be clearer: The problem is them, not you.

      Honestly, your coworkers don’t sound very friendly. They never invite you to things, and when you arrange something, they ignore you. That would be enough for me (in your shoes) to be all “Screw them, they’re not very nice, I’ll bring my own friends!” Do you have friends who are nearby to your work–like, maybe they don’t work at the same place as you, but there’s a restaurant or coffee shop that’s near enough to both your workplaces to be a good meeting place? Can you arrange coffee, lunch, drinks, etc. with that person instead of your coworkers? You deserve to be around people who will actually treat you like a person.

      1. To me it sounds more like the coworkers don’t like her very much. And in situations when someone doesn’t like you there isn’t much you can do to convince them to like you. I think maybe she can back off from the coworkers because it’s just fruitless to keep trying with them. And if everyone in her life genuinely are this dispassionate about her than maybe there is something she’s doing wrong. I was very awkward and grumpy to the highest degree and I really drove everyone away. I had to do drastic personality changes which ultimately made me happier.

        1. I would argue that even if you’re not a huge fan of someone, if you work together and you end up eating lunch or getting coffee together, you’re still obligated to a bare minimum level of socializing. It doesn’t have to be intimate or in-depth, but small-talk conversation isn’t optional in that context–it’s just unprofessional to treat your colleagues like that, regardless of whether you like them. If you can’t or aren’t willing to do that, then you should just say you’re too busy right now and not go to lunch with them.

        2. yes. I am not saying OP or Cora is like this but my mom is an example of a huge conversation killer. She asks questions of people but her answers are always downers. She complains a lot and thinks complaints are amusing banter. If anyone’s conversational openers are landing like lead balloons, consider how you’re carrying the conversational load. Positive and upbeat takes a lot of work but it can pay off.

    5. Back when I still worked in office with human colleagues*, there was an unofficial -as in, purely voluntary and not really work related- “weekly lunch club” I was in. We divided responsibility for planning all the things by making an actual roster for a) deciding where to eat and b) suggesting a conversation topic. It was just an excel sheet that we’d email around, each member being in charge of the roster for a month and notifying each week’s person a and person b that it was their turn to Decide a Thing. New members would get added to the roster by whoever had it that month.

      The conversation topics weren’t binding, as in we could change the subject, but it neatly avoided awkward “what shall we talk about today”-itis AND avoided putting anyone in your shoes as constantly having to come up with conversation fodder.

      Would something like that work with your workmates?
      In my office full of mostly quiet people who did quiet, solo tasks all day, it worked pretty well. Also, the group never got bigger than 7-8 people, usually much less since not everyone made it every week. Might work less well for bigger groups?

      *Now I work from home with a feline assistant. I can talk to him about anything, but he doesn’t always listen.

    6. That totally stinks. But as a fellow middle-aged mom, I just want to offer that it’s okay if these people are not Your People.
      I’ve never had a job, however nice the work culture, where my co-workers were My People. On the one hand, that can be a bit lonely because you do spend so much time around them. On the other, it’s rather freeing because there’s always dynamics and interpersonal stuff that I could just opt out of caring about.
      It sounds like you’re willing and able to put a lot of energy into connecting, and I bet you’re really good at it. But maybe Your People are elsewhere. And that’s no reflection on you, or your value. And it doesn’t mean you did anything wrong, or need better technique, or anything.
      After you rest up a bit, maybe you can try those skills elsewhere and make some good connections that don’t require you to do all the heavy lifting.

    7. I am sorry that no one in your social group is being reciprocal and that sucks. But if really absolutely no one reacts to you in social situations then the common denominator is you. This would be great to work out with a consular/ life coach in grater details as they can give you personalized assistance. But based on what you wrote it really sounds like a “you problem” and not a women over 40’s who are mom problems”

    8. FWIW, I feel you. My family and I host a big party every year and several smaller ones (usually 1-5 families), and I try to invite people if we’re planning to go to an outside concert or something. If half of those people reciprocated, we would be busy basically every weekend all year. Instead, we get maybe 2 invitations a year?

      Like you, I don’t stew about it, but I do occasionally wonder. I usually attribute it to my being boring and annoying, but perhaps that’s junior high coming back to haunt me.

      That said, I don’t think it’s an over-forty woman thing, at least not in the sense of=BORING MOM. IMO, the social patterns are somewhat more set for older folks. If your coworkers are younger, though, they may think that entertaining is something that adults do, and they don’t see themselves in that space yet.

    9. That sounds really hard, and I’m sorry you feel so alone. 😦

      I don’t know what the vibe is where you work, but it occurs to me that for the coworker thing if it was just lunchtime and not an organised lunch, that some office cultures prefer lunch as a time to *not* talk to people and recharge. Certainly if I’m reading I want to read my book, not talk about my book. And the Ask A Manager commentariat leans so much that way that I have become acutely aware that a significant subsection of society does not want to socialise at work. (Personally I like to talk but sometimes I really just want to read my book and feel terrible when people clearly want someone to talk to.)

      I am sure there is nothing wrong with you! You’re doing awesomely being so proactive, and I’m sorry you’re not getting anything back. Is there anyone at work who seems friendly but just doesn’t respond to overtures at lunchtimes? Because if you’re not too over it to put yourself out there *again*, you could ask to go for coffee outside of the office? And/or it might be worth cutting way back with coworkers and neighbours and maybe seeing if there’s a Meetup near you you would enjoy?

      I’m sure you’ve thought of at least some of those things, but it sounds like you need to meet some of your people and you’re really not getting that right now. *jedi hugs if you want them*

    10. Wow, Cora, I am so relieved to see this comment. This is so much like my experience, not with my work colleagues, but with my friends. I honestly think some people just never initiate anything. Perhaps they have never done it before, they’ve always had friends or family members as the “event organizer” in their lives. Perhaps, as I have found with my generation (gen x/millenial) and region they only really socialize on Facebook and text each other.

      Whatever it is, just know it isn’t you! That was a thought that tormented me for a long time, but when I have conversations with people, they clearly enjoy themselves, smile, laugh, etc, in a real way, and one of my job duties as a receptionist is actually being friendly and charming, and I keep getting raises, so I know I am good at it! Again, it isn’t you, it is them! There are a lot of flaky, inert people out there. You just have to find some people who actually want to hang out, like you, not just sit at home waiting for invitations.

    11. My mum used to talk a lot about coming out of her Boring Mum phase, and she was very conscious of it as a deliberate thing. She always said that when I was about ten (and my youngest brother was six) she looked around at all her friends and thought, “I’m not sure I even like you! You just have children the same age as mine!” She did an almost person-by-person assessment of whom she was just “we’re all in this together” friends with and who she actually liked as an individual, and then started doing activities she enjoyed (mostly joining choirs) and meeting people she had things in common with and making new friends.

      I think it’s totally natural that we fall into particular patterns of being friends (or attempting to be friends) with particular people at particular times just because they’re the nearest people to us – school friends, university friends, first job friends, we-all-have-small-children friends – and some of them stick with us beyond that and some of them are literally just situational friends.

      But however natural this process is, the transition points when you’re moving from one to the other are HARD, and they really do make you doubt yourself and your likeability! It sounds like your friendship-attempting is falling on really stony ground right now, so can you find some better ground? Can you carve out some time for actual social activities you enjoy, where you can meet some more people whom you perhaps have more in common with? Are there any of these people individually that YOU really like, and who make you feel good about yourself, and if so can you pursue the next level of intimacy with them on an individual basis rather than trying to make the group thing happen?

      Good luck!

  14. LW, I think the Captain’s advice is spot on! One thing I would add, since it stood out from your letter: you said that these coworkers really pulled together for you when you were on bedrest. That could be a great place to start a reconnection, especially if you’re feeling confused or weird about what your intimacy levels are.

    I suggest that next time you’re hanging out with these people, you say some variant of, “I just wanted you to know that it meant a lot to me how you helped me out when [stuff]. Thank you for being there for me.” Expressing gratitude and appreciation for that work is a great way to rebuild an ongoing connection; IME, people tend to respond to gratitude with warmth, and the acknowledgment of their effort and your feelings opens up a possibility of renewed closeness. (Also, if they supported you like that, it sounds to me like they really like you!)

    1. Agreed. I think that their awesome support of you is a great lead-in to more socializing, LW. Everyone likes to feel appreciated, and like Muffin says, it sounds like they like you.

  15. OK, I’m wording this loosely because it’s a half-formed thought that I am up for evolving if other people have thoughts based on it.

    I think it’s useful to remember that social scenes happen largely around people who can be bothered to make them happen, and also that most people will do the minimum amount of organising necessary to make the scene happen.

    In the places I’ve worked (ymmv) social scenes consist of a small number of people who can be bothered to organise things, and a wider list of people the organisers know will a) probably say yes if invited and b) not be a hassle if they come.

    Organising social events is emotional labour (and asking people you fully expect will say no is *pointless* emotional labour, which is why the wider list still omits plenty of perfectly lovely people who are capable of behaving themselves).

    In my experience people are neither looking to create a Bitchy Inner Mean Girls Circle nor a Workplace Cohesion Initiative Which Must Include Everyone – they are looking to create Minimum Viable Drinks where they can have a nice time.

    This might sound like bad news, in that they don’t necessarily feel they have a duty to include you. But it’s actually good news, because it means that if you take on some of the emotional labour of organising without adding to the hassle, you make Minimum Viable Drinks easier for everyone, and you probably get added to the list.

    (Here endeth my attempt to clash social dynamics with agile product design. I’m not convinced it was a success.)

    1. I have no idea what agile product design is, but your advice sounds spot-on!

        1. I want to cry because we’ve been using Agile for nine months at work and there’s been no training and it’s being applied to our entire Really Big product instead of ramping up and no-one has ever even *mentioned* MVP and all anyone is talking about is how great it is that there’ll be less documentation. (I don’t think this is great.)

          But, uhm, yes. The application of Agile to the development of social relationships seems very sensible.

          1. Argh I didn’t mean to panic you, MVPs are one agile approach but not the only one, I wouldn’t take not having heard of them as an Indicative Thing!

          2. I’m sorry, it wasn’t meant to suggest panic! More deeply exasperated resignation. The implementation of the process at work is slipshod, and I promise that not hearing about a thing came across as much more of a “of course there’s something else related topics​ Agile that they haven’t mentioned” and not. ” I don’t know this one thing, I must catastrophize”.

    2. I’d like to double down on this. Putting together events is emotional labor. For some of us, it’s also fun, but it’s still work. And, yes, once we hear “no thanks” a few times, you’re going to be dropped from the invitation list. Because that’s what a consistent “no thanks” signals: I am not interested in building [more of] a relationship with you.

      I’ve heard the “I’m introverted and socially anxious, please keep inviting me” plea from friends. And I finally had to say, I’m happy to invite you sometimes, but if all you say is “no” because your anxiety isn’t letting you out to play (I get it. I’m an introvert and recovering shy person.) then I bear the brunt of your constant rejection and that’s not cool.

      To mitigate that, I’d like to hear “I’m sorry I can’t make this one. Please invite me next time.” Or, better, offer an alternative invitation. “I just can’t go fishing this weekend. Can we meet up at the Art and Wine festival next week?” Doing the work of thinking of and suggesting an activity is a big signal that you are interested in building a relationship with that person.

      The things don’t have to be equivalent. Can’t make dinner? How about a hike? This goes for after accepting an invitation, too. Once you start saying “yes” to things, you should start occasionally inviting the host/organizer out, too. It doesn’t have to be one for one (sorry Miss Manners), but do make some effort. If you’re invited to a barbecue, take your hostess to coffee, organize an outing to paint-and-wine, go roller skating. Plan something.

      We reciprocate, because that’s how relationships are built. With this kind of emotional labor.

      1. Also, it’s sad for me when someone I care about is isolating themselves to the point where their anxiety rules everything. Asking someone to hang out for the fiftieth time only to be met with panic, hopelessness and self loathing feels like another kind of emotional labour, where I become a source of stress for a friend.

        At that point, it’s not the rejection as much as feel quite unable to help a friend and wishing I didn’t have to deal with the Feelingsbomb that results from a casual invite.

      2. I agree! I’m sure this isn’t the case for OP, but one thing I have noticed about people who complain they don’t get invited to things, and my pet peeve, is that they aren’t fun when they get there.

        They make everything awkward and unpleasant! The tables are sticky, they say, they don’t like any of the foods on the menu, the music is too loud, five minutes into the hike their feet are sore, they talk through the movie, they delay you because they forgot to eat lunch or pack something essential for the book signing or whatever.

        I love watching educational videos for high schoolers made in the 1940’s and 50’s on Youtube, and this was the subject of one of the videos. That’s right, a whole 5 minute movie on “How to Be a Good Sport”. The narrator explained that no one wants to hang out with a “debbie downer”. If you complain all the time, you won’t get invitations and you won’t have any friends. At the time I wondered why they needed to tell people something so obvious, but since then I have realized many times over, this is something some people’s parents never bothered to teach them.

  16. “story time with drag queens at the indie bookstore Saturday morning”

    Captain, please tell me this is an actual thing that actually happens!

      1. That is so fantastic it actually makes me wish I had a convenient child to take to one.

  17. OMG, I basically could have written this entire letter. Down to the teaching with mostly 20-somethings and being left out of weddings. Here’s a few thoughts I have found helpful.

    1) it is totally true that by constantly skipping the “office supply runs” aka Friday happy hour, I have signaled that I’m not interested in hanging out outside work. So if I’m going to change that, I’ll need to start accepting those invitations.

    2) The vast majority of my coworker’s are single people in their 20s – whereas I am married with kids in my 30s. It’s a different dynamic, and one thing it means is that I’m not necessarily available to spontaneously go to someone’s best friend’s band’s gig an hour away on a Sunday night.

    3) I had to honestly ask myself at some point… OK… so a bunch of my coworkers went to the Beyoncé concert together and didn’t invite me, and I later saw the pictures on Facebook. Would I have actually GONE with them if they HAD invited me? (I.e. Is that an activity I actually care about?) and in a lot of cases the answer was no. So why was I getting salty about not being invited to things I wouldn’t have wanted to do anyway?

    4) Ultimately I had to accept that I work with people whose interests and hobbies don’t always align with mine, and be willing to start seeking friendships / social outlets elsewhere. It was tough and sad at first, but I feel better for having processed it honestly.

    5) I have made good strides toward hanging out 1:1 with the few colleagues who I do get along with that way. I have approximately monthly lunch or dinner dates with 2 different coworkers. 🙂

    Hope that’s helpful…

  18. Sooooooooo much yes on the, make them come to you advice. Short story:

    My ex did not like people. At all. Which is not to say that he wasn’t a great person to hang out with; he just had to get to know you first. I bet you see where this is going… He never “got to know” new people, so he never wanted to hang out. My friends all thought he was pretty arrogant and stand-offish, which was true if he didn’t know you! So I never had people over, because he just didn’t like it.

    One of the first things I did after we separated was to start hosting parties. Nothing big, mind you. I call them my First Friday parties. Sometimes there’s a theme (Revenge of the Fifth! Toga! Speakeasy!); other times, it’s just a party. I put together a Facebook invite, invite all and sundry, and whomever shows up, shows up. If people miss this month, oh well, they can come next month.

    These parties have honestly saved my life. I look forward to them. Several friends really get in the spirit and commit to the theme, which I just love. I also have no problem being the only person there in a Princess Leia costume because these parties are for me. I set the rules and the boundaries, and at this point, everyone knows that at 11:30, I’ll be walking through the house saying, “OK, party’s over. Get out of my house.” And they do! Because they want to come back next month!

    LW, make them come to you. Invite them over when your partner can take the wee one out for a movie/park day/playdate. Make it A THING. Build it, and they will come.

    I wish you all the best in finding your way through socialising. It’s tough! And you can do it!

    1. Can I just say that a party ending at 11:30 sounds like my dream? I get several hours of socializing in, have a few drinks, and get to be home and in bed at a decent hour!

    2. As a newly single person with a social side that is ready to come out of hibernation, this post – and the rabbit hole of casual dinner party advice blog posts it led me down – has inspired me to actually start doing this.

  19. Oh man, this is advice I need. I am in a similar Where-Are-The-Friends Rut. Within the span of a couple years, several things happened at once. One of my best friends (the one most likely to do social things with me) moved to a different state. A couple other best friends moved just close enough that we fooled ourselves into thinking we didn’t need to plan regular meetups but just far enough that it was somewhat inconvenient to see each other, such that when they both had kids, we stopped seeing much of each other at all. Several of my less close friends got married and had children and are very much tied up with toddlers. And then I got into a really great relationship and did the thing where you just want to hang out with each other all the time so you stop spending time with much of anyone else. Fast forward to now and boyfriend (whose friends also moved, married, and/or had kids) and I are looking around going, “It would be nice if we had people to hang out with….” Making friends in adulthood is very hard, but this seems like a pretty good how-to guide for it. I will have to give this advice a try.

  20. Hi LW! You could be me – not the teacher part, but the approach to social interaction sounds a lot like me. I haven’t read the comments yet, so apologies if I’m restating things, but please, definitely follow the Captain’s advice! I’ve gone through very similar dynamics with friends, and the scripts here are a lot like what I successfully used. My friends had been very kindly recognizing my desire to be left alone for a while – they weren’t excluding me out of malice, but out of kindness based on me refusing invitations over and over, and reaching out myself, attending events when I could, and offering follow-up options when I couldn’t attend was how I shifted that dynamic (coming out of a years-long depression stretch). These days I still sometimes do social events when I’m not totally feeling it for the intentional purpose of maintaining social connections (and I often wind up enjoying myself), and I make an effort to invite people to things with some frequency, especially if I have to refuse other events a few times in a row. It’s more of an effort for introverts, and I’m not suggesting you OVERextend yourself, but giving the extroverts what they need on your own terms can go a long way toward fostering reciprocal care for your needs.

    Since everything I see in your letter suggests good faith all around, I think you have a good opportunity to set up norms with your social group(s) that work for everyone. Best wishes!

  21. I just wanted to address something the OP mentioned that I haven’t seen upthread (also long time reader, first time writer – feel free to say if I go wrong).

    OP mentions being an introvert with a big mouth, which is relatively unusual. I’m exactly the same, to the point that colleagues think I’m an extrovert. (My dad’s a psychologist and I did the tests, I’m a strong introvert, but I learned to pretend – my favourite weekend is one with minimal human contact).

    If you’re feeling the need for alone time during the working day, large social groups are going to be your version of hell. Plans which involve one-on-one time will not only feel better for you, you’ll be able to show how you can be a good friend with your listening skills. I like the idea of going to group events but staying for only one drink, but it isn’t going to build friendships. Finding something in common with one person and being open to the group events with them is better.

    I also wanted to say something about the wedding. Each extra guest will have cost money. Your colleague will only have invited colleagues she spends time with outside work because she knows them better. It doesn’t mean she doesn’t like you, just she doesn’t know you as well. I’ve had similar wobbles about not being invited to social events, and mostly it’s about time put in and money limiting the number of attendees.

  22. ALL THE SYMPATHY for this: “is it normal to suddenly be this worried about maintaining relationships…?”

    I’m in my early 30s now and I found that social life changed drastically in my mid-late 20s. You and/or your friends get jobs, get busy, get tired, get married, get kids. Friendship gets knocked down on everyone’s list of priorities. The days of everyone being fun and free – and social times just happening without a lot of effort – become a thing of the past.

    I also became a homebody in my mid-20s because damn it’s nice to just be comfortable and warm at home with your hubby. Then on my 30th birthday I had an emotional breakdown because I suddenly realised so many of my friendships had withered away. Now I put the effort into my social life because it’s absolutely worth it. Sadly though the days of effortless socialising are over.

  23. Sending a card and gift post-wedding could come across a little passive-aggressive to me. As in ‘I saw you got married and didn’t invite me, so I am going to make you feel guilty about that with this card’… could be just a cultural thing though: I am British, and the norm here is that you would send a card if you were invited but couldn’t go.

  24. I’m not sure what etiquette works best for most people with tagging along to an existing event. For many people, “Hey, can I join you” is not pushy. But I’m always scared of the cases where they really don’t want someone else but might feel awkward to say so. Really, that’s not a problem in asking once or twice, as long I don’t keep pushing if someone says no thanks, but I still find it hard to say.

    My compromise is often something like:

    Them: Woo bar.
    Me: Hey, would you like an extra tagging along for a couple of drinks?
    Them: Yes, def. See you at 7?
    Me: Cool, looking forward to seeing you. See you then.


    Them: Woo bar.
    Me: Hey, would you like an extra tagging along for a couple of drinks?
    Them: Not tonight, it’s Sarah’s thing, I don’t think you really know her.
    Me: Another time, have a nice night.

    I don’t think this is standard social interaction, but the approach that works for my brain is to (a) make sure I actually come out and suggest I come, if not, I’ll worry over whether they missed what I was saying (b) be really casual about it, and give them the flexibility to say yes only if they actually want, not feel awkward in rejecting an advance. Also asking if they’d *like* company (rather than “would it be ok”).

    But I agree, sometimes it *feels* easier to be included in a group thing, and that’s often fine, but starting with something where you make the initiative to hang out with someone (or just to chat to them during the day) is usually an easier starting point.

    I’d also say, don’t despair. My experience is that if you keep trying to make connections, it feels like it takes forever, but then you wake up and discover you have quite a few and you’re not quite sure when it happened.

    1. It’s a hard thing to get over, the fact that asking to come along is not pushy, but in many situations, such as an after-work happy hour, it’s totally appropriate i believe.

  25. I’m not sure anyone has actually mentioned this directly, but if the “boring mom” is a decade or so older than the co-workers she is trying to woo, there is definitely a psychological age factor. Older women, (mothers, older sisters, aunts, etc.) generally are nurturing younger people. And frankly, I have noticed this expectation never changes. By the time I hit my forties, I found it extremely difficult to befriend anyone in their twenties. They loved coming to me for advice or to air their problems, but I was definitely not seen as an equal friend. I was older and they expected me to listen and nurture. Sometimes I was happy to do it, but there wasn’t much there for me.

    When I reached my sixties I found women in their forties expected my emotional support, and any time I dropped an item into the conversation that was about me, it was listened to politely and then the conversation moved quickly back to them. Younger people just naturally adopt the parent to child view of things with older folks. I guess since they have no experience being your age, they aren’t interested in it. I’m quite certain I did the same when I was young.

    So my only advice is that inter generational stuff can be hard, and perhaps finding people in your phase of life might make friendship building easier.

    1. Yes this is a thing – ageism + emotional labor expectations around women.

      I’m forever grateful to a 20 yrs older coworker and mentor who said, directly, “Jennifer, if we’re going to be friends, you have to ask me questions about myself sometimes, too.”

    2. Wow, I’d never considered this before. Thank you for clarifying this thing that continues to happen to me!

      I seem to have several younger people who are in the same field who would like to be friends. but I find being around them very draining because they only talk about themselves. Now I know why! And hopefully, now I can stop letting them treat me like a mom.

    3. Not to derail from your point, I also get the impression that if male colleagues don’t see you as a romantic prospect (age factors in here but also other characteristics), they are quick to unload without reciprocating.
      In general, when people see you more as a feelings receptacle than as a fellow human being, I find it completely fair to tone down the advice-giving and gentle-nodding until they either reciprocate or go away.

  26. I went back to school to get a second master’s degree at age 29. I was going to school in another country (American going to the UK), and I knew zero people in Europe as a whole, let alone Scotland. I was absolutely terrified of being lonely, because I hadn’t really made a real friend since college (though my college friends were still around, and were my main friend group). I decided that I wouldn’t turn down a single social invitation, regardless of how I felt, from the beginning of term (August) to Christmas. And day one, after orientation, I went out with a group of people even though I was exhausted. We had a blast, and those people are still close friends, years later, and whole continents away. My plan worked to perfection. By Christmas, I had reached the point where I could decline to do something and still be invited to other events. I ended up with a huge group of great friends, even when I consider myself pretty bad at meeting people.

  27. Have you tried social medias, LW? My job has a Facebook group where we post stuff like “hey can anyone cover my shift on Sunday” but also “haha here’s a funny post I found on Twitter” or “you’re not gonna believe what a customer just said to me”: It’s a fun way to bond with people, and it’s also where we post about After Work activities. It makes it sooo much easier for random people to tag along (even those who aren’t working there anymore) when there’s a Facebook post inviting everyone in the group.

    Also, Facebook Messenger helped introverted bad at socially engaging-me to befriend people because I can chat with them there even when I’m not at work (or when I am at work but we’re at different station). And I kinda hate Facebook actually, I only really use it to talk to people from work, but it’s a good use for it.

    1. a) Glad it’s working so well for you b) The LW is on Facebook and friends iwth those coworkers – that’s where she saw the wedding photos. A group is a great idea!

  28. I just wanted to emphasize the “emerging from young children” angle. This is s big thing. Even if there are actually other factors, you can ‘blame’ everything on this.

    Anyone who’s been a parent will understand and probably go to some lengths to help you reintegrate into adult society. And for the non-parents, they’ll still get a reasonable shape of things even if they have no idea.

  29. I’m late to this discussion, but I just want to comment on the wedding aspect of this letter. As someone who’s recently planned a wedding: each new person you invite costs money, and venue space. This is especially true if the norm in your culture is to invite people’s +1s as well, because inviting one extra person actually means inviting two. And it’s even more true if there are large families who need to be included. When I was making the guest list for my wedding, I ended up having to make completely arbitrary rules about whom to invite, just to keep it down to a number of people that would even fit in my venue. For example: Friends from grad school only got invited if they were current students in my particular program, even though there were alums and people outside my program who were friends of mine. I only invited friends with whom I hung out on a regular basis or whom I’d known for more than 10 years. And so on. I absolutely ended up excluding people I liked, people whom I would have wanted to invite, simply because I didn’t have the space to invite everyone and I had to choose somehow.

    LW, I think something similar may have happened to you. You had stopped hanging out with this group regularly, so you got left off the list for arbitrary guest-list decision-making reasons. I know it can be hard to feel left out, but if it helps to be able to tell yourself it wasn’t personal, here’s some support for that conclusion.

  30. Wow! This is so timely for me. I’m a shy introvert and I don’t do well in larger group situations. I’m going to start doing some of the things the Captain suggested. I’ve always been on the outside looking in since elementary school (I’m 43). I’ve tried pursing friendships by extending invitations, but was rejected one to many times that I stopped. I’ve been on the look out for new things, like joining a 5K training group to expand my options. Another commenter said she asks herself “would I really want to do that activity” when seeing pictures on social media and a lot of times the answer is no. I’m a work in progress, but so happy to find out I’m not alone.

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