friends after 30

The friendship dance

The New York Times ran a series of articles last week on the topic of friendship, and one of them has hit close to home.

The article, “Friends of a Certain Age,” talks about some challenges that face those of us who are over 30 and trying to establish new friendships.

Confession: I’ve actually wanted to blog about this topic for a while, but nothing screams “fail” like a blog entry complaining that you have no friends. It’s some comfort to me that others have had the same experience.

I do have several really wonderful, strong friendships with people I’ve known for 20 years or more. They’re more like family to me at this point.

But, like most of my family, these friends live a time zone or two away. Two of my closest friends, who I’ve known for a decade, will be moving away from Chicago at weeks’ end and will not be returning.

We forge our friendship foundations when we’re younger. High school and college years are great incubators for friendships; you’re in an existing community and can make connections. Those intense life events that bond people together – the good, the bad, the lifechanging – are all in plentiful supply in those years, and are fuel for friendships.

Once we reach our thirties and forties, it’s not impossible to make new friends and sustain those relationships, but it definitely takes more work and more precise effort.

And in terms of growing my friendship garden, I have to confess that I don’t have a green thumb. And I take ownership for most of that. In the last 10 years I’ve lived in three different cities and have worked for four different employers. I left all of that behind a year ago to return to college, where I’m surrounded by students that have parents my age.

There are other quirks, too, that probably play a role. For example? I don’t drink. No, I don’t have an addiction issue, and I don’t have a moral objection to it. I just don’t like the taste of it, or the effect (depressed and sleepy) it had on me, and I haven’t had more than a half glass of wine in over a decade. It doesn’t mean I can’t hit happy hour or be at those networking events – but asking for bottled water when everyone else is having a belt is a bit unusual!

And here in Chicago, friendship is often strengthened by neighborhood ties – or to be more blunt, dictated by whether you’re within walking distance. We all fight traffic to and from work – and understandably, few people want to fight it just to hang out with a buddy.

My partner and I knew several wonderful, kind people who lived in LGBT enclaves like Andersonville, Boystown and Rogers Park. We made a choice to live significantly closer to the city and lost many connections as a result. Logically we’re right near the Loop, but to our north side acquaintances, we may as well be in Indiana.

Chicago is also a place where all of us are chasing careers, and that has to be priority numero uno. Few of us have free time during the day, and for many of us, the end of our day can be 9 p.m. or even later. That doesn’t leave much time for socializing.

If I wanted to be brutally honest, I’d also confess that I’m a wary person and though I can be friendly – and very generous and loving to the people I know and trust – I am more cautious in my initial dealings with people. It’s the reporter’s gut, telling me to check my sources and get a better sense of someone before I proceed. [EDITED TO ADD: that might come across as aloofness or unapproachability.]

I’m a pretty unconventional (read: oddball) guy and though that’s been a source of pride and a professional strength, it’s also been a roadblock to building community and a potential professional pothole.

My life has taken an unconventional path – and I have to say, I’m very happy about the journey so far. I’m in a great place and am working towards some really important goals in my life. And I’ll keep working towards building and growing the community that my partner and I have here in Chicago.

But I wish, sometimes, that some of my more established friends were in much closer proximity. That established history makes for a rich experience.

Friendship can be wonderful in its simplicity and strength once it’s been created and forged. But the art of meeting and making friends is not so different from dating – location, chemistry and what you have in common can play a big role in whether you become true friends or distant acquaintances with someone.

If you’ve experienced challenges making friends after 30, or you’ve had some success building your community, please share in the comments!