Does anyone else think it’s hard to make friends in your 20s? Patrick Brothwell sincerely wants to know.
Being in the job market means there’s the possibility of having to move somewhere new. Moving doesn’t scare me. When I moved to Lancaster four years ago, I didn’t know anyone. I knew nothing about the place. I knew I had a job and it was a great opportunity.
You know what does scare me (OK, maybe not scared, but definitely makes me nervous)? Making friends. Making friends post-grad is hard.
I’m not socially awkward. I’m relatively friendly and approachable and have a wide range of interests. I’d like to consider myself a good conversationalist and I’d actually put myself in the mix for the “top five fun people I know” (well…maybe 10). I’ve also never had a problem making or keeping friends, which is why it’s always rather embarrassing to have made no significant friends during my tenure here.
In hindsight, I guess I never really had to try that much. And so what follows may sound like a huge load of rationalization, because it is.
I’m a twin. My brother Shawn and I went to preschool together and were in the same class up until 7th grade. We were in different sections throughout high school but both attended the University of Scranton. Having a twin is having a built-in friend. I never had the anxiety of approaching a crowded lunch table or walking into a school dance alone because I was always doing these things as a partner. People always seemed to approach us. A group of two is inviting but not intimidating and asking questions about us being twins is always an easy conversation starter.
Besides having Shawn as a safety blanket, I went to an extremely small school district. The Forest City Regional class of 2004 had just 46 kids. I’ve known the bulk of my high school friends since we’ve been in kindergarten and first grade and some even earlier. People you’ve known that long, frankly, you’re stuck with.
Because of my upbringing, I remember being somewhat nervous about branching out in college, but it turns out that my feelings were in vain. College is engineered to make you friends. Between your classes, dorm activities and the fact that a huge group of people the same age are all being thrown together with the goal of having the best four years of their lives meant that like or it or not, you found people to hang with.
And while I’ve been fortunate to remain in good contact with both my home and school friends, that brings me to my current predicament. I basically went through twenty-three years of life without ever having to really “make” a friend. I arrived in Lancaster without this skill set, and while I wish I could tell you that I just naturally flourished, that would be lying.
I’m not a hermit. I talk to people and have plenty of acquaintances, but never really found that group of guys I could call up for a road trip or to go for a couple of beers on a Saturday afternoon.
I attribute part of this to the fact that I was (maybe still am) a card-carrying member of the “college will never end club.” I loved college. I still attest that picking the University of Scranton was the best move I’ve made. I was devastated when it was over; openly sobbing the night after graduation with my friends in our favorite watering hole when some dick with no soul decided to play “I Had the Time of My Life,” but that’s a whole other issue for another day. I went back to Scranton a lot that first year, I still had friends there and at one year out people celebrate your return and don’t mutter to their friends “didn’t he graduate X-many years ago?”
I visited a lot. My friends were more or less scattered throughout the tri-state area and that first year you’re working, before student loans kick in and you purchase a new car and might still be attached to your parents car insurance and are still on the family cell plan (OK, fine I’m still on it), you have all this money compared to undergrad poverty and all this freedom. I’m glad I took advantage of it, maybe for a few more years than I should’ve and it’s resulted in awesome memories from NYC and Baltimore and road trips with the guys to Pittsburgh and camping with everyone every summer in NY.
I’m also something of a homebody, not in the fact that I like sitting in and watching Law & Order reruns on a Friday night—although that’s happened this year more than I’d like to admit—but am still very much attached to “going home.” If two months go by without my making the three hour trek back to northeast PA, that’s a long time. I always rationed that I’m far enough away to get out of things I don’t want, but close enough that I’m a dick for not going to a friend’s party.
Because of this lifestyle I’d built for myself I never really had the need to actively pursue other friendships. I was happy with the ones I had and having fun and honestly the weekends that I wasn’t traveling or hosting friends were used to catch up on work or just grab a breather.
It’s just been in the past year or so that I realized that maybe I should have spent more time cultivating local friendships as I find my lifestyle slowing down, just a little. Friends are starting to move further away, people are getting engaged, relationships are becoming more serious and houses and dogs anchor people at home. The days of haphazardly throwing together a NYC weekend bender on a Friday afternoon are behind me. Getting everyone together sometimes means planning and coordinating more than two months in advance. I’ve started staying in Lancaster more often, and honestly, between school work and my writing ambitions I’m more often busy than not. Still, one gets lonely.
I realize that maybe I missed a couple of crucial years, the years where everyone was just starting new jobs and moving to new places and looking for new friends. I was still content grasping at old straws. People my age seem to have a group and integrating a well-established group is intimidating.
Then there’s the question of where? Where does an adult male go to make friends?
I know a lot of people who hangout with people they work with. I’m not one of them. Call me old-fashioned but I like to keep a separation between my work and social lives. I want colleagues to think of me highly and take my work seriously. Teaching is also somewhat of a lonely job. I don’t have time to chat around the water cooler or go for lunch break (I’m usually working through mine) and could easily go an entire day without seeing anyone over the age of 18. While there are people at my job I enjoy talking to, most of them are at different places in their lives than me.
I want to say that I met most of my college friends in class or the library or in one of the many extra curriculars I was involved in, but in reality I met most of them by either living in close proximity, through other friends, or out drinking. My neighbors are currently a vaguely hipster Christian prayer center and a Vietnamese restaurant and while I do enjoy myself a good bowl of pho, I don’t think I’ll be making any friends due to location. I have no local friends so by proxy cannot meet people through them.
I know someone is going to say to me, “join a gym,” “find a meet-up group” or “do an adult kickball league.” I do belong to a gym, but I go there to workout. I put on my headphones, try and get in a good workout, and get out (just hardcore like that). I wouldn’t be opposed to finding someone with similar hobbies but one of the reasons I like my friends is that we all enjoy different things. We don’t have to be kayaking or hiking or listening to music every time we hang out. Joining an adult league? Pure unadulterated ego; I’d literally be embarrassed to join something friendless. Am I being too picky? Too self conscious?
This leaves me with making friends in bars.
I’m not sure the protocol. I could probably go somewhere and find a guy or group of guys that look like someone I’d want to hang with. I could probably start enough small talk easy enough. Then what? Do I give them my number and ask if they want to hang out? I know if someone asked me I’d probably politely entertain them for a minute or two before excusing myself to the “bathroom” or to “take a phone call.” We’re a very exclusive culture. We go out with our friends and don’t really want to get know others. Groups of guys will go out in search of girls to go home with, but no one really seems to go out looking for friends.
So I’m stuck.
Maybe I need to push myself out of my comfort zone. I haven’t had to do it yet. Maybe I’m over-thinking how hard this is. Maybe I need to not really care about being that “weird” or “awkward” guy and just pony up and start talking to more people. Maybe people have been trying to be my friend and I just didn’t notice because I was too busy doing my own thing. Or maybe making adult friends literally is hard.
I’m not sure what the answer is, but does anyone want to hang out this weekend?
photo: Nick-K / flickr