When I finished college, moved into my own apartment, started a job, and then got married (in the span of about three months), I found myself for the first time not living near any friends. The only person we met in our apartment building was an old woman who died about a month after we moved in. All of my coworkers were at least 10 years older than me. My high school and college friends were scattered throughout the country. And I started to feel bad about it.
I started feeling the pressure of everything I've ever read saying I shouldn't rely solely on my significant other, that I needed close friendships for my mental health. Friends of mine who were still living near their college talked about going out on the weekend with groups of college friends. I had nothing like that. I "got involved" in what interested me, which meant joining the prayer shawl ministry at church and knitting once a month with two or three women in their 70s through 90s. I enjoy it, but it's not exactly the kind of people you go out with on a Friday night.
Finally, thankfully, I had a realization: I don't like going out on the weekends. I never have. Why was I craving this cultural sign of "normalcy"? Yes, the only people I saw in a regular week were Mike, my family, and my coworkers, but I would also exchange e-mail updates with my close girlfriends, comment back and forth with people on Facebook, and gchat at work with my best friend. I've always done better with most friendships one-on-one anyway. I wasn't feeling deprived or lonely. Mike met the majority of my needs for support and companionship, and for everything else, I could use technology to connect with other people.
I still need to see my friends occasionally, but as I've been putting more effort into it, it hasn't been too much of a problem. My friend who lives on the East Coast was in Chicago for an interview in the fall, and we went to dinner. I've gotten together for lunch a few times with my friend who teaches about an hour away, and I sometimes judge speech tournaments where her team is competing, and we catch up then. When my family flew out to Colorado in the spring for Ultimate nationals, I called up my friend who lives out there and got to catch up with him for an hour or two during one of my brother's games. My friend who works in Alaska has to make trips to Ohio and Indiana occasionally and always tries to arrange a layover in Chicago so Mike and I can pick her up for dinner.
There are occasional group gatherings as well. One of my friends has hosted a New Year's Eve party every year since high school, and even though he lives in Nevada now he still hosts it at his parents' house because many of us are home for the holidays. Anytime there's a wedding, I get to see many friends. This weekend, my friend who lives in Wisconsin had nine of us up to her house, so two friends who live a few hours south of me picked me up Friday night, we had dinner, and then we drove up to our friend's place.
So it works for me. It's a little harder on Mike because he craves more time with his friends -- to use a broad generalization, women connect more through talk (which can be done online) while men connect more through doing things together. He tries to drive to Indiana at least once a month to see his friend there, and he sometimes gets together with a friend from grad school who lives near us. He joined a volleyball team through our park district and sometimes goes out with the guys after games, but they're all 10-15 years older than him so it's not exactly a peer group. We went out to Pennsylvania in February for a get-together with his childhood friends, and then we hosted them here in June. We're trying to make it work.
For anyone else who may be feeling deprived of a friend group for the first time, here are some things I've learned:
- Reframe. First, take a step back and figure out what it is you really need to feel supported and happy. Not everyone wants a Friends-style group of people their age to hang out with on a regular basis. Do you like spending time with a big group of friends, or do you prefer one-on-one time? What are the emotional, mental, social, etc. benefits you expect or need from friendship, and which of those are already being met in one way or another?
- Make an effort. Once I let go of the pressure to make new friends and have a regular "group," I started thinking about which friends lived a reasonable distance from me and how I might be able to see them more often. I sent out e-mails just to say hey, I'm interested in getting together with you, what days are most open for you? Mike really worked hard to arrange a weekend that all of his friends could come to Chicago. And if I knew a friend was going to be in the Chicago area for any reason, I'd try to make time to get together with them.
- Maintain friendships from a distance. Part of the reason I know when friends will be in the area is because I've gotten better about e-mailing friends more often just to see what's new with them. Sometimes I get no reponse, but sometimes I have really great exchanges. Since I'm not the kind of person to share every detail on Facebook, it's nice to have one or two friends in the loop if something big is going on, so I feel like I have someone I can call if I need to and it won't be out of the blue.
- Feed your needs in other ways. Not all of your needs have to be met by a close friend or significant other. Mike likes getting out to play volleyball once a week even if it's not his best friends he's playing with. I appreciate that my boss and I always chat about our weekends so I have someone to share with (other than Mike, who was probably there) if something interesting happened. One of the things Mike and I love doing with friends and family is playing games, so we've started playing Scrabble over Facebook with my mom and aunt.