Why Is It Hard to Make Friends Over 30?

Kara Baskin said that being part of a couple presents obstacles in making friends. She described it as “like matchmaking for two.”

It was like one of those magical blind-date scenes out of a Hollywood rom-com, without the “rom.” I met Brian, a New York screenwriter, a few years ago through work, which led to dinner with our wives and friend chemistry that was instant and obvious.

We liked the same songs off Dylan’s “Blonde on Blonde,” the same lines from “Chinatown.” By the time the green curry shrimp had arrived, we were finishing each other’s sentences. Our wives were forced to cut in: “Hey, guys, want to come up for air?”

As Brian and his wife wandered off toward the No. 2 train afterward, it crossed my mind that he was the kind of guy who might have ended up a groomsman at my wedding if we had met in college.

That was four years ago. We’ve seen each other four times since. We are “friends,” but not quite friends. We keep trying to get over the hump, but life gets in the way.

Our story is not unusual. In your 30s and 40s, plenty of new people enter your life, through work, children’s play dates and, of course, Facebook. But actual close friends — the kind you make in college, the kind you call in a crisis — those are in shorter supply.

As people approach midlife, the days of youthful exploration, when life felt like one big blind date, are fading. Schedules compress, priorities change and people often become pickier in what they want in their friends.

No matter how many friends you make, a sense of fatalism can creep in: the period for making B.F.F.’s, the way you did in your teens or early 20s, is pretty much over. It’s time to resign yourself to situational friends: K.O.F.’s (kind of friends) — for now.

But often, people realize how much they have neglected to restock their pool of friends only when they encounter a big life event, like a move, say, or a divorce.

That thought struck Lisa Degliantoni, an educational fund-raising executive in Chicago, a few months ago when she was planning her 39th birthday party. After a move from New York to Evanston, Ill., she realized that she had 857 Facebook friends and 509 Twitter followers, but still did not know if she could fill her party’s invitation list. “I did an inventory of the phases of my life where I’ve managed to make the most friends, and it was definitely high school and my first job,” she said.

After a divorce in his 40s, Robert Glover, a psychotherapist in Bellevue, Wash., realized that his roster of friends had quietly atrophied for years as he focused on career and family. “All of a sudden, with your wife out of the picture, you realize you’re lonely,” said Dr. Glover, now 56. “I’d go to salsa lessons. Instead of trying to pick up the women, I’d introduce myself to the men: ‘Hey, let’s go get a drink.’ ”

In studies of peer groups, Laura L. Carstensen, a psychology professor who is the director of the Stanford Center on Longevity in California, observed that people tended to interact with fewer people as they moved toward midlife, but that they grew closer to the friends they already had.

Basically, she suggests, this is because people have an internal alarm clock that goes off at big life events, like turning 30. It reminds them that time horizons are shrinking, so it is a point to pull back on exploration and concentrate on the here and now. “You tend to focus on what is most emotionally important to you,” she said, “so you’re not interested in going to that cocktail party, you’re interested in spending time with your kids.”

As external conditions change, it becomes tougher to meet the three conditions that sociologists since the 1950s have considered crucial to making close friends: proximity; repeated, unplanned interactions; and a setting that encourages people to let their guard down and confide in each other, said Rebecca G. Adams, a professor of sociology and gerontology at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. This is why so many people meet their lifelong friends in college, she added.

In the professional world, “proximity” is hard to maintain, as work colleagues are reassigned or move on to new jobs. Last year, Erica Rivinoja, a writer on the NBC series “Up All Night,” became close with a woman, Jen, when they worked together on a pilot. Almost instantly, they knew each other’s exercise schedules and food preferences. Jen could sense when Ms. Rivinoja needed a jolt of caffeine, and without asking would be there with an iced tea.

“But as soon as the pilot was over, it was hard to be as close without that constant day-to-day interaction,” said Ms. Rivinoja, 35. They can occasionally carve out time for a quick gin and tonic, she said, but “there aren’t those long afternoons which bleed into evenings hanging out at the beach and then heading to a bar.”

The workplace can crackle with competition, so people learn to hide vulnerabilities and quirks from colleagues, Dr. Adams said. Work friendships often take on a transactional feel; it is difficult to say where networking ends and real friendship begins.

Differences in professional status and income also complicate matters. “It really does get weird when your friends are making tons more than you, or tons less,” said Adriane Duckworth, a former marketing executive now working as an artist in Hamilton, Ontario. She recently welcomed a promising new couple into her circle of friends, but they quickly turned people off with their obsession with money.

“At our wedding, other friends of ours who were seated with them actually complained to us afterward about the couple who was asking everyone how much money they made,” said Ms. Duckworth, 32. “People who made less felt uncomfortable discussing it, and people who made the same or more just felt it was weird to talk about it so nonchalantly.”

Once people start coupling up, the challenges only increase. Making friends with other couples “is like matchmaking for two,” said Kara Baskin, a journalist who works in Boston. “Not only are you worrying about whether the other woman likes you, you’re also worrying if her husband likes you, if your husband likes her, if your husband likes him.”

Not long ago, she invited her husband’s new work buddy over for dinner with his wife. But the wife was visibly unimpressed by Ms. Baskin’s half-furnished home (they had just moved in) and thrown-together spaghetti dinner. “It was basically clear that his wife had been cajoled into attending,” said Ms. Baskin, 33. “She settled on to our rickety Ikea kitchen chairs like she was lowering herself into a coal mine.”

The couple departed quickly after dessert. The next day at work, the husband made an excuse about his wife being tired. “But it was unspoken that we wouldn’t be seeking their company again,” Ms. Baskin said.

ADDING children to the mix muddles things further. Suddenly, you are surrounded by a new circle of parent friends — but the emotional ties can be tenuous at best, as the comedian Louis C. K. related in one stand-up routine: “I spend whole days with people, I’m like, I never would have hung out with you, I didn’t choose you. Our children chose each other. Based on no criteria, by the way. They’re the same size.”

Even when parent friends develop a bond, the resulting friendships can be fleeting — and subject to the whims of the children themselves.

Caryl Lyons, an event planner in Danville, Calif., and her husband found a budding friendship with a parent-friend couple hit a roadblock when their young sons, who had been close friends, drifted apart. When the families planned a barbecue together, her son would say, “Can I have my other friends over?” said Ms. Lyons, 44.

External factors are not the only hurdle. After 30, people often experience internal shifts in how they approach friendship. Self-discovery gives way to self-knowledge, so you become pickier about whom you surround yourself with, said Marla Paul, the author of the 2004 book “The Friendship Crisis: Finding, Making, and Keeping Friends When You’re Not a Kid Anymore.” “The bar is higher than when we were younger and were willing to meet almost anyone for a margarita,” she said.

Manipulators, drama queens, egomaniacs: a lot of them just no longer make the cut.

Thayer Prime, a 32-year-old strategy consultant who lives in London, has even developed a playful 100-point scale (100 being “best friend forever”). In her mind, she starts to dock new friend candidates as they begin to display annoying or disloyal behavior. Nine times out of 10, she said, her new friends end up from 30 to 60, or little more than an acquaintance.

“You meet someone really nice, but if they don’t return a call, drop to 90, if they don’t return two calls, that’s an immediate 50,” she said. “If they’re late to something in the first month, that’s another 10 off.” (But people can move up the scale with nice behavior, too, she added.)

Having been hardened by experience, many people develop a more fatalistic view of friendship.

“When you’re younger, you define what it really means to be friends in a more serious way,” said my screenwriter friend, Brian. (His full name is Brian Koppelman, and he wrote and is a co-director of “Solitary Man,” a 2010 film starring Michael Douglas about a middle-aged man trying to reconnect with friends and family.)

“My ideas of friendship were built by ‘The Godfather’ and ‘Diner,’ ” he said. “Your friends were your brothers, and anything but total loyalty at all costs meant excommunication. As you get older, that model becomes unrealistic.”

By that point, you have been through your share of wearying or failed relationships. You have come to grips with the responsibilities of juggling work, family and existing friends, so you become more wary about making yourself emotionally available to new people. “You’re more keenly aware of the downside,” said Mr. Koppelman, 46. “You’re also more keenly aware of your own capacity to disappoint.”

“I haven’t really changed my standards for what it means to actually be friends,” he concluded. “It’s just that I use the word ‘friends’ more loosely. Making the real kind, the brother kind, is much harder now.”

Some, like Ms. Degliantoni, the fund-raising executive, simply downsize their expectations. “I take an extremely efficient approach and seek out like-minded folks to fill very specific needs,” she said of her current strategy. “I have a cocktail friend and a book friend and a parenting friend and several basketball friends and a neighbor friend and a workout friend.”

“It’s much easier filling in those gaps in my life,” she added, “than doing an exhaustive approach for a new friend.”

Or, they hit rock bottom and turn back the clock to their breathlessly social 20s.

After a move to New York in his 30s, Dave Cervini, a radio station executive, was so lonely that he would walk his cat in Central Park, hoping to stoke conversations. Finding only curious stares, he decided to start the New York Social Network, an activities group for people to find friends by hanging out at Yankees games or wine-tasting mixers. The company now counts 2,000 members, most in their 30s. He considers 200 of them close friends.

“It takes courage for people to take the first step,” he said. “Hopefully, I make it easier, having been there myself.”

In that spirit, I recently called Brian. We joked about our inability to find time to hang out, and made a dinner date at the next available opening.

It is three months from now.

(The New York Times)

Prozac Nation Is Now the United States of Xanax

New York- This past winter, Sarah Fader, a 37-year-old social media consultant in Brooklyn who has generalized anxiety disorder, texted a friend in Oregon about an impending visit, and when a quick response failed to materialize, she posted on Twitter to her 16,000-plus followers. “I don’t hear from my friend for a day — my thought, they don’t want to be my friend anymore,” she wrote, appending the hashtag #ThisIsWhatAnxietyFeelsLike.

Thousands of people were soon offering up their own examples under the hashtag; some were retweeted more than 1,000 times. You might say Ms. Fader struck a nerve. “If you’re a human being living in 2017 and you’re not anxious,” she said on the telephone, “there’s something wrong with you.”

It was 70 years ago that the poet W. H. Auden published “The Age of Anxiety,” a six-part verse framing modern humankind’s condition over the course of more than 100 pages, and now it seems we are too rattled to even sit down and read something that long.

Anxiety has become our everyday argot, our thrumming lifeblood: not just on Twitter (the ur-anxious medium, with its constant updates), but also in blogger diaries, celebrity confessionals (Et tu, Beyoncé?), a hit Broadway show (“Dear Evan Hansen”), a magazine start-up (Anxy, a mental-health publication based in Berkeley, Calif.), buzzed-about television series (like “Maniac,” a coming Netflix series by Cary Fukunaga, the lauded “True Detective” director) and, defying our abbreviated attention spans, on bookshelves.

With two new volumes analyzing the condition (“On Edge: A Journey Through Anxiety,” by Andrea Petersen, and “Hi, Anxiety,” by Kat Kinsman) following recent best-sellers by Scott Stossel (“My Age of Anxiety”) and Daniel Smith (“Monkey Mind”), the anxiety memoir has become a literary subgenre to rival the depression memoir, firmly established since William Styron’s “Darkness Visible” and Elizabeth Wurtzel’s “Prozac Nation” in the 1990s and continuing today with Daphne Merkin’s “This Close to Happy.”

While to epidemiologists both disorders are medical conditions, anxiety is starting to seem like a sociological condition, too: a shared cultural experience that feeds on alarmist CNN graphics and metastasizes through social media. As depression was to the 1990s — summoned forth by Kurt Cobain, “Listening to Prozac,” Seattle fog and Temple of the Dog dirges on MTV, viewed from under a flannel blanket — so it seems we have entered a new Age of Anxiety. Monitoring our heart rates. Swiping ceaselessly at our iPhones. Filling meditation studios in an effort to calm our racing thoughts.

Consider the fidget spinner: endlessly whirring between the fingertips of “Generation Alpha,” annoying teachers, baffling parents. Originally marketed as a therapeutic device to chill out children with anxiety, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder or autism, these colorful daisy-shaped gizmos have suddenly found an unlikely off-label use as an explosively popular toy, perhaps this generation’s Rubik’s Cube.

But the Cube was fundamentally a cerebral, calm pursuit, perfect for the latchkey children of the 1980s to while away their lonely, Xbox-free hours. The fidget spinner is nothing but nervous energy rendered in plastic and steel, a perfect metaphor for the overscheduled, overstimulated children of today as they search for a way to unplug between jujitsu lessons, clarinet practice and Advanced Placement tutoring.

According to data from the National Institute of Mental Health, some 38 percent of girls ages 13 through 17, and 26 percent of boys, have an anxiety disorder. On college campuses, anxiety is running well ahead of depression as the most common mental health concern, according to a 2016 national study of more than 150,000 students by the Center for Collegiate Mental Health at Pennsylvania State University. Meanwhile, the number of web searches involving the term has nearly doubled over the last five years, according to Google Trends. (The trendline for “depression” was relatively flat.)

To Kai Wright, the host of the politically themed podcast “The United States of Anxiety” from WNYC, which debuted this past fall, such numbers are all too explicable. “We’ve been at war since 2003, we’ve seen two recessions,” Mr. Wright said. “Just digital life alone has been a massive change. Work life has changed. Everything we consider to be normal has changed. And nobody seems to trust the people in charge to tell them where they fit into the future.”

For “On Edge,” Ms. Petersen, a longtime reporter for The Wall Street Journal, traveled back to her alma mater, the University of Michigan, to talk to students about stress. One student, who has A.D.H.D., anxiety and depression, said the pressure began building in middle school when she realized she had to be at the top of her class to get into high school honors classes, which she needed to get into Advanced Placement classes, which she needed to get into college.

“In sixth grade,” she said, “kids were freaking out.”

This was not the stereotypical experience of Generation X.

Urban Dictionary defines a slacker as “someone who while being intelligent, doesn’t really feel like doing anything,” and that certainly captures the ripped-jean torpor of 1990s Xers. Their sense of tragic superiority was portrayed by Ethan Hawke’s sullen, ironic Troy in “Reality Bites,” who asserted that life is a “a random lottery of meaningless tragedy and a series of near escapes,” so one must take pleasure in the little things: a Quarter Pounder With Cheese, a pack of Camel straights.

For these youths of the 1990s, Nirvana’s “Lithium” was an anthem; coffee was a constant and Ms. Wurtzel’s “Prozac Nation: Young and Depressed in America,” about an anhedonic Harvard graduate from a broken home, dressed as if she could have played bass in Hole, was a bible.

The millennial equivalent of Ms. Wurtzel is, of course, Lena Dunham, who recently told an audience at the 92nd Street Y in Manhattan, “I don’t remember a time not being anxious.” Having suffered debilitating anxiety since age 4, the creator, writer and star of the anxiety-ridden “Girls” recalled how she “missed 74 days of 10th grade” because she was afraid to leave her house. This was around the time that the largest act of terrorism in United States history unfolded near the TriBeCa loft where she grew up.

Sexual hedonism no longer offers escape; it’s now filtered through the stress of Tinder. “If someone rejects you, there’s no, ‘Well, maybe there just wasn’t chemistry …,’” Jacob Geers, a 22-year-old in New York who works in digital sales, said. “It’s like you’re afraid that through the app you’ll finally look into the mirror and realize that you’re butt ugly,” he added.

If anxiety is the melody of the moment, President Trump is a fitting maestro. Unlike his predecessor, Barack Obama, a low-key ironist from the mellow shores of Oahu, the incumbent is a fast-talking agitator from New York, a city of 8.5 million people and, seemingly, three million shrinks.

In its more benign form, only a few beats from ambition, anxiety is, in part, what made Mr. Trump as a businessman. In his real estate career, enough was never enough. “Controlled neurosis” is the common characteristic of most “highly successful entrepreneurs,” according to Mr. Trump (or Tony Schwartz, his ghostwriter) in the 1987 book “The Art of the Deal.” “I don’t say that this trait leads to a happier life, or a better life,” he adds, “but it’s great when it comes to getting what you want.”

Everything had to be bigger, bolder, gold-er. And it made him as a politician, spinning nightmare tales on the stump about an America under siege from Mexican immigrants and Muslim terrorists.

But if Mr. Trump became president because voters were anxious, as a recent Atlantic article would have readers believe, other voters have become more anxious because he became president. Even those not distressed by the content of his messages might find the manner in which they are dispensed jarring.

“In addition to the normal chaos of being a human being, there is what almost feels like weaponized uncertainty thrown at us on a daily basis,” said Kat Kinsman, the “Hi, Anxiety” author.


The New York Times