Part 1: Posing the Question and Asking for Your Suggestions
I once taught an extension course on living single. Of the dozen who signed up for the course, many were retired. They ranged in age all the way into the 80s. When I asked them, on the first day, to introduce themselves by talking about their single lives, I didn't know what to expect.
One after another, the first 11 students mostly described how proud they were to be single and how much they valued their independence. A few even gently mocked some of the people they knew who would never travel or even step into a casual restaurant on their own. Most of them had important people in their lives whom they enjoyed seeing (two of the men in the class already seemed to be good friends), and they also appreciated the time they had to themselves. Sure, they also expressed some ambivalences and pointed to some challenges. For the most part, though, they seemed to have settled comfortably into their single lives.
Then it was the last person's turn to speak. She said she HATED being single. No, she DESPISED it. Why? Because she was bored.
She wasn't one of the older people in the class, and she seemed to be in excellent health, but she no longer worked - didn't need the money. She also didn't like TV. She loved reading, and did a lot of that, but it was not enough. She also signed up for a number of volunteer activities, and she didn't mind those, but did not find them all that meaningful.
I thought a lot about her in the intervening week, and was very eager to see her again. For starters, I wanted to thank her for her honesty. It must have been difficult for her to say how much she hated her single life after the professor and 11 other people had effused about their own. But she never did come back to class.
She saw her problem as being single, and maybe it really was. My guess, though, was that regardless of whether she ever became seriously involved with a romantic partner, she would have been much happier with her life if she had some close friends. I also wondered if she just wasn't quite sure how to go about making friends.
That was a few years ago, but I've been thinking about her lately because of an e-mail I got from Karl, a "Living Single" reader. Karl said that his mother, who is 55, would love to have some close friends. In most ways, she is very different from the woman in my class. Karl described her as someone who "works in an office, is extremely popular, does a great job, and also writes and enjoys movies, sports, books, etc." She has many acquaintances, but what she craves are "really good friends."
So how do you make close friends when you are single, especially when you are no longer 19 years old?
I have to admit that this isn't an easy question for me to answer. I don't like to think of making friends as something you strategize about. Seems like it should just happen naturally. But of course, it doesn't always.
I've read stacks of academic papers on friendship. I can (and perhaps will, in the next post) tell you about the kinds of conditions that make friendships more likely to develop. I can also tell you about some of my own experiences, and about the books I've read about other people's close friendships. But I'm not sure that any of that will add up to a totally satisfying set of answers.
So as Step One in trying to answer this question, let me throw it open to you. What are your suggestions for making friends? Not just casual friends, but close ones.
On an unrelated topic, how's this for a great tribute to "Living Single" readers: Scott Barry Kaufman, a fellow Psychology Today blogger, recently wrote about a comment posted to this "Living Single" essay. Scott described a series of published studies showing that the person who posted the comment was exactly right! Thanks, Scott, and thanks again to all of the "Living Single" readers.