I’ve lived abroad for seven years and have no social circle. I am used to traveling alone, spending birthdays alone, going shopping alone and doing everything else alone. I learned to enjoy those things, but when I think about it, it’s scary: I’ve gotten so used to alienation that I’m not even trying anymore. I feel like I live in a parallel world where I’ve accepted that romance, love, friendship and fun are not for me. I just watch other people and rejoice for them as if the world were a sci-fi movie.
But why are these things not for me? I don’t have major social issues — people usually like me. I am sociable. In the past too many years, I worked 12-hour days and never had energy left. I stopped going out because I was always too tired. I have taken firm steps to change this, but once I’ve managed that, where do I start?
I don’t have hobbies and am not at all fit for sports. I’m not sure what I like anymore, and I am used to the independence of my solitude. I feel overwhelmed, and I am so afraid I’ll regret all this time spent in isolation. I do regret it already.
How do you start and cultivate friendships and hobbies as an adult when everyone is so busy and has friends already? I live in a small and “closed” city in Europe, people my age all have three kids and a spouse, or some major problem. No, really. Or at least this is what I see at work and on Tinder. Please help!
Ready for a Change: At age 40, I was in nearly the same boat as you, for different reasons. I had a fairly comfortable but very solitary life and was content with that. At nearly 50, I have a large group of friends, a small group of very close friends, and a partnership where we lift each other up while still allowing each other to live our own lives. I still get to have that “independence of solitude” you mentioned, only it’s when I choose it and not forced upon me out of circumstance.
This has happened due to many factors, not least of which was me determining that I wasn’t living my life as my true self and working to change that. I came to a realization that I’d been content to be content. The biggest factor, the one that made all the others possible, started as a lark.
I found a hobby — one that involved being thrust into social environments and required getting to know people. In my case, that was community theater (my city has a large and vibrant theater community) where I auditioned for a play on a whim and actually got a part. I imagine any group activity that requires you to interact deeply with the other participants could serve the same purpose.
Theater was the catalyst that led to so many amazing changes to how I lived my life. Becoming involved in my local theater community (and I became heavily involved for almost a decade) provided me with a creative outlet and almost enforced socialization. The openness of the community led to me becoming more open as well.
In the end, the advice I would give is to find something you are passionate about, that puts you in contact with other people who are also passionate and just let things grow from there. Open yourself up. Examine the way you live, the way you interact with others, and if there are places you’re not being true to yourself, change that. You can’t force it, but you also can’t just wait around for it to happen.
— Not Content With Contentment
Ready for a Change: It’s interesting that the writer begins with sharing that “after several draining relationships” they escaped into their job. Perhaps real change comes from examining those relationships with a therapist or group like Al-Anon to understand why they happened and how to have better relationships. Joining a support group of like-minded individuals committed to doing deep work on themselves also builds a supportive community of friends at the same time. We repeat the patterns we don’t see and examine.
— Been There Stopped Doing That
Ready for a Change: Through giving, you will gain — let this be your mantra. So how would you like to give to the world? Do you love animals and want to volunteer at an animal shelter? Do you enjoy history and might be able to help at a local museum? Is there any organized religion you might be interested in getting back into?
And when the opportunity presents itself, help with leadership roles! Offer to host a volunteer meet-and-greet at your home, or organize a bake sale, etc. If you meet someone you form a connection with, ask them out to a low-stakes coffee sometime. These activities will help you feel connected to your communities because you will be giving, and they will put you in a beautiful position to meet people as well.
Every week, we ask readers to answer a question submitted to Carolyn Hax’s live chat or email. Read the last installment here. New questions are typically posted on Fridays, with a Monday deadline for submissions. Responses are anonymous unless you choose to identify yourself and are edited for length and clarity.