The Friendship Doctor

Send in your friendship questions and quandaries and get expert answers and solutions

Wanted: A Spontaneous Friend

We all yearn for a close friend who's nearby

QUESTION 

Hi Irene, 

I never had a lot of close friends when I was younger but I always had a couple, and my best friend was my husband. I also have four children. My husband died two years ago after a bout with cancer (at home) and my children are now grown and live in different areas. Two of my best friends moved to other states and I now have only one friend left, who also moved to another city.

We talk and email and Facebook but if I want to catch a movie or go out somewhere, there are no local people with whom I am friends. I go to lunch with co-workers and went to Weight Watchers with a lady from work, but have no close personal friends locally anymore.

I feel that the people I have reached out to do not want a closer relationship with me.

It is me that is the problem, but I do not know how to fix it.

I am getting a bit down on myself because when I reach out it seems people do not want to connect to me.

I think that when you get to be 60ish, many others around your age like their existing set of friends and do not include you in their gatherings. I know a lady that is always friendly and I listen to her adventures. She goes backpacking (which I do not do) and also rides Harley motorcycles (which I think is great but do not want to do). She is a manager at work and so am I. She has a group of friends that she has known since high school. She tells me about a gathering she is having and invites other people but not me, although we talk all the time.

Another lady and I took a class together and if I suggested dinner or something else she declined, although she wanted to sit next to me in class. I just found out she invited many people to a gathering she was having, but not me. She always acts real friendly, but obviously doesn't want to be close. I do not think that she totally dislikes me as there is a 15-year age difference, but obviously I am not considered to be included in a closer relationship than work.

I have been the one who would have people over and only a handful of times asked to their houses. I am not getting close to others as I used to.

I have had some visits with a psychologist who did not feel after a number of visits that I needed to come back. I know that it must be how I am talking or something I do that creates this in my life. I used to make close friends when I was young but just don't seem to fit into life correctly anymore.

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Signed, Sara  

ANSWER 

Hi Sara, 

I’m sorry for your tragic loss and can understand the void you feel without close friends or family nearby. A couple of years ago, I wrote a popular post about the need many women express: wanting to have a spontaneous friend. This is the way I described the spontaneous friend:

She’s the kind of friend whom you can ask to come over right away to help you decide what to wear tonight—or the friend who’ll be sitting with you as you wait for your repeat mammography that was only scheduled this morning. She’s the person you can call on a Saturday afternoon to go for a walk in the park because the foliage is at its peak—or the one who will run over to TJ Maxx with you within a half hour of closing just to see what’s there. Plans aren’t needed because you’re always there for each other, even at the last minute, because your lives are so closely intertwined. 

Friendships like this are tough to come by, and if you’ve had one in the past, you truly miss that neighbor or friend who has moved away or moved on. They are hard to replace.

It’s great that you have been reaching out and trying to make new friendships but, perhaps, you simply haven’t been lucky enough to meet someone whose interests and lifestyle is compatible with yours. You can’t become a backpacker or Harley enthusiast if those interests feel alien to you. Fifteen years, or even ten, can be a huge difference in terms of stage of life and social interests.

In the earlier post, I listed some of the criteria a spontaneous friend has to meet: proximity (your friend needs to live close enough to you so that getting together isn’t a hassle; intimacy (she needs to feels as close to you emotionally as you do to her); accessibility (she needs to be at a similar place in her life as you are and share some of the same interests); and flexibility (she has to have a malleable schedule or one that seems to effortlessly mesh with yours.)

Don’t be discouraged, but you may need to make do with some of the friendships you already have. At the same time, try to find ways to meet and interact with new people as well. Be careful not to expect too much too soon or come across too needy. Friendships often develop slowly. I don’t think your problem is one of age, per se, merely tough circumstances. 

Hope this helps a little.

My best, Irene

Irene S. Levine, Ph.D., is a psychologist and professor of psychiatry at the NYU School of Medicine. Her latest book is Best Friends Forever: Surviving a Breakup With Your Best Friend.

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