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Saturday, October 4, 2014

How Do You Make Friends?

For those of us of a certain age — you know who you are — I ask, How did you make friends when you were in your 20s?

This is what I’m thinking (from Bustle):
The minute you graduate college is the very moment your social life inevitably tanks. You go from effortlessly surrounding yourself with people you love 24/7 to most likely moving back in with your parents in a town you now find totally alienating and barren. Or, perhaps you luck out and find an awesome job in a city… only to move there and realize you know no one except that one girl who was in your AP English class in high-school.
Me? I finished school, did my final earn-$$$-so-I-can-afford-to-move-out-of-rural-Western-Pennsylvania tour with a traveling carnival and was ready to fly.

I wasn’t following the same path as the Ready for Jobsville business, engineering or education majors. Nope, I’d graduated with a degree in fine art which prepared me for a stunning career in waitressing and carnival barking. The send-out-a-bunch-of-resumes-and-go-where-the-job-is option didn't exist as far as I could tell.


My BFF, Kevin, had joined the Navy so I couldn’t camp out on his sofa until I figured out what to do next. I couldn’t/didn’t want to stay at my parents house (due to a violent and toxic sibling) and I didn’t think I had other art school chums with whom I could make plans.

Like the Bustle article’s author who had her high school English classmate, I had my friend Craig. He was at MIT and warmly, wonderfully introduced me to all his friends. Instant social group! This was fabulous BUT I wanted to meet folks like me — struggling artists and such.

I asked my Aunt Mary Ann — How did you make friends when you were my age?

She made them through work. Mary Ann was in publishing, a children’s book editor. Doh! Of course she'd meet like minds there!

I was working at a small print shop in Harvard Square at the time. I did have artsy work mates but they all had solid, written in stone social lives. We’d very occasionally get together outside the shop but that was rare. Everyone seemed settled with no room for newcomers.

Mind you, I wasn’t a comfortable, laid back person. I’d never made friends easily and was, frankly, afraid. Being judged and deemed insufficiently smart, talented, canny, interesting, chilled out, mature and/or accomplished was my fear. How could anyone be keen on me when I wasn’t so thrilled about me?

Eventually I ended up at a downtown Boston printing company, one with an exceptionally vibrant, artsy social scene. Most of the band Mission of Burma, the bass player from The Flies, couple of dudes from Birdsongs of the Mesozoic and so many more cool musicians worked there. The dudes I worked with were all aspiring writers. We had an informal book group (this was well before book groups were the thing to do) in that we all read John Gardner’s Grendel, Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow and John Barth’s The Sot-Weed Factor together. We'd discuss them at work and over inevitable, endless pints at The New Place (a truly awful dive but we were there every Friday night if not more often).

Finally, in my mid-20s, I’d found where I belonged. And then I met The Amazing Bob (poetry man), Jen (painter), Oni (tenor sax man).

Is making friends easier now with the internet? Are there meet up groups for young people or is that more of an older person thing? Did those exist way back when I was having my struggle?


  1. I also have trouble making friends, and now that I am an older adult it has not gotten much better. I make friends thru work but they don't get "me" completely. When I met up with a high school friend for the first time since about '71 I realized that coming from the same area made a big difference. When were you in the carnival business? I did that from about '80 - '92. Did you stay with one show?

    1. Hi Kathie. I was with it from '77-'80. I worked for a man, Morris Surber from the Houston area, who owned a bunch of joints. He'd book into different shows. Mostly we played spots in the Midwest and Texas. We got as far west as New Mexico and no farther east than Indiana (though I worked some spots in Western PA).

      What did you do with the show? Were you a jointy? Where did you play? What shows?

      As for making friends — I think, if I found myself short on kindred spirits, I'd probably join one of those Meet UP groups. A pal did that after his divorce and job reversals and it seems to have opened up a whole new world for him. Here's the thing though — it's one thing to know a bunch of similar-ish folk, to have people you can go to a show or dinner with and another to have people who really, truly *get* you.