Making friends as a professor or as an adult

One of the problems with being a young untenured sort of person is that, outside of your department, the majority of people you meet your age are graduate students.  Graduate students have this unfortunate tendency to graduate and LEAVE.

You can be friends with colleagues, but you can’t tell them too much before tenure.  And sometimes if you get too close you realize they’re not only crazy but you have to work with them for potentially the next SIXTY YEARS.  So a little distance with most of them can be nice.

If you have kids, you will end up socializing a lot with parents of other kids, but a lot of times even though your kids may be able to discuss Minecraft for hours, you actually have little to nothing in common with them.  Of course, if you’re not extroverted, then having kids and kids having activities uses up all your people time and you’re just kind of stuck not really wanting to talk to anybody else.  (Hopefully you enjoy spending time with your family!)

If you live in a thriving metropolis, you can meet people with your interests online or through meet-ups.  Even in smaller towns you can be active in interest groups.  Maybe politics.  Maybe school board.  Maybe board-games.  If your hobbies and interests go more in the direction of watching bad tv and reading novels, that’s not going to work so well.  (Recall that book clubs seem like *work* to many academics.)

In the end, after my new friends left and graduated, and I found the right amount of closeness/distance with colleagues, and I split children’s activities with DH, most of my new friends are conference buddies.  I see and socialize with people I like and enjoy talking with (small-talk even!) a few times a year.  Sometimes we email in between, sometimes we don’t.  Sometimes we miss each other for a year or two or three, sometimes we see each other several months in a row.  Sometimes we make time to have meals, sometimes we just chat at 10 min breaks.  It’s odd having closer friends that I travel and see than I have in my own home town, but I bet I’m not alone in this.

Have you made friends as an adult?  How have you gone about it?  Do you wish you had more or are you happy with what you have?

49 Responses to “Making friends as a professor or as an adult”

  1. First Gen American Says:

    The hardest transition for me was when kids started entering the picture. Some people only want to be around people who are in the same family status as them.

    I found it totally odd when people stopped spending time with me completely when they started having kids and then suddenly wanted to re-enter into my life again when I started a family of my own. I know you can’t do all the same things for a while but those people just didn’t seem like real friends to me. I still do things with my non kid friends and it’s fine but I tend to have closer and deeper relationships with people instead of many acquaintances.

    I mostly met new friends since college at work and they do move around a lot so I do have friends all over the world and that’s ok. It just gives us people to visit when we are on vacation. My life is crazy and I am in sales so I get a lot of my social needs met while working or volunteering.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      I guess I am one of those people. Required kid time takes up all my socialization energy. Though I would only start socializing again if your kids were my kids’ age. You cannot be friends with introverts, I guess. Maybe that’s why we’re more lax about losing touch with people.

    • Revanche Says:

      This confused me as well. I didn’t expect more from those friends or even the same sort of communication but it was weird to me that they had no time to say hello when I wasn’t looking to have kids and suddenly when I was pregnant, they had all kinds of time. And honestly now I know it’s not about time for at least one of those friends but more that they seemed to stop relating to me. (I’m very introverted, FWIW.)

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        Well, I don’t have any more time for pregnant people than anybody else unless their kids are the same age as my kids and friends. Not counting, of course, the post-birth casserole.

      • Revanche Says:

        @N&M: Yes, that’s what confused me at first. I don’t know why a friend would only have time for me if preg not not if not. The kid isn’t here yet.

  2. Taylor Lee @ Engineer Cents Says:

    All the friends I’ve made fall into two groups: coworkers and BF’s friends. Since my coworkers of the same age started working around the same time I did, we all kind of had the openness at the time to making new friends. Then when I started dating BF (whom I met online), I inherited a lot of his friends too. Of which there are many since he grew up and went to college in the area.

    A lot of this ended up being luck and, left to my own devices, there’s a very likely alternate universe out there where I’d have ended up friendless and kind of withdrawn. Making friends as an adult is hard!

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      I bet in that alternate universe you have friends too. Whenever DH and I have been separated, I tend to end up with more friends/acquaintances. [Sidenote: In college I had a *ton* of friends, but I didn’t like many of them very much. I probably actually liked about the same number of people that I like now locally, but now I don’t willingly spend time with people I’m not interested in unless I have to.] I think we all need a certain amount of human contact (different for different people) in terms of quantity and quality and when one doesn’t have a significant other, one goes out and meets more people.

  3. hollyatclubthrifty Says:

    “If you have kids, you will end up socializing a lot with parents of other kids, but a lot of times even though your kids may be able to discuss Minecraft for hours, you actually have little to nothing in common with them.”

    This is so true, although I think it’s because a lot of my daughter’s friend’s parents are under 30. We just don’t have that much in common at all. I try really hard to make conversation, but I think I come across as someone who takes life far too seriously!

  4. Pamela Says:

    I have had to do this. A lot. I have changed jobs (sometimes by choice, sometimes by layoff), changed homes, changed countries. And I’m wicked awkward so it added a layer of challenge for me (not a complaint, just a statement of fact).

    I did one of two things before the days of the internet and Meetup (and before I knew HOW awkward I was). I either met someone and decided OMG THIS PERSON WILL BE MY BESTIE FOR EVER and then be kinda sad when it didn’t pan out (I can take hints). Or I’d just be really quiet and hang back and then, after I got to know people, they figured out how obnoxious I was but liked me okay at that point and found it very entertaining.

    I have found several things work.

    First, I thank the FSM for the internet, as I can stay in touch with my friends much more easily. Facebook and email are great. There are colleagues from my old job of 15 years ago that I’m still in touch with–we were a close knit group at the time–and it’s good to meet up.

    I make friends with people at my jobs but like you, I’m careful about that. My first priority is to make the mortgage not make friends. They are a nice extra but as long as we all get along and work well together I have no complaints. I don’t need besties. The place where I was laid off from a year and a half ago is the source of some new friendships. A lot of people reached out to me when they heard and my old boss and I hang out fairly regularly (she was spitting nails over the layoff thing).

    Meetup is great, too. I am part of a social group with varying types of get-togethers planned, and a book group started by a twenty-something woman. Where I’m living now it can be a challenge to meet people which is one reason why she started the group.

    I had joined the UU church where I used to live–they were cool with my atheism–and met a lot of nice people that way. I might have been the only single and childless person there, which mean if I arrived late I’d get ribbed about what I was doing the night before. And I’d have to be all NOPE HAHAHA SORRY I WAS UP LATE WATCHING GEORGE ROMERO MOVIES. YOU KNOW, LIKE YOU DO.

    For me the key is to be open to knowing different kinds of people of different ages and in different life situations. For me the real challenge is finding people who get my values/worldview. So if I find someone who gets me, and who I feel like I get, it doesn’t matter if they live an hour and a half away we’re gonna make time to meet up. Even if it’s just me coming over to help them make the PBJ’s for the kids lunches for school on Monday and drink iced tea. Even if it’s them coming down and us corralling the kids and bringing them to a place where they can run around and scream like banshees.

  5. Flavia Says:

    Almost all the local friends I’ve made since leaving grad school are academics. Many are colleagues — I got lucky and a lot of people were hired around the same time, so we were all in the same boat — but a lot are at other local colleges and universities. When you move to an area that almost no one moves to, the people who are looking for friends are the other people like you. The locals already have ’em, especially once you’re in your 30s.

    So, most of my local friends were originally friends-of-friends (people who went to grad school with people I know professionally, for example), and then those circles expanded to include their friends and colleagues.

    I’ve made some great friends this way, but it’s weird. I never wanted to be one of those academics who only hung out with other academics, and I wasn’t in grad school, but it’s just hard now. I’m friendly with some people I know through social justice work at our church, but the one I felt I could really be friends with, and whom I had lunch with a few times, already had her own circle (she grew up here and moved back in her mid-20s). Then she had a child, and whatever opportunity there was for us to keep building something just dissipated.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      I hear ya. Sometimes being friends with other academics is easier, since you all have some of the same struggles, work stuff, moving where you don’t wanna, etc. I’m lucky I met #1 a long time ago!

  6. Leigh Says:

    A fair number of people I’ve met in CurrentCity moved here from somewhere else, e.g. moved here for a job after college, just like I did. The difference is that my boyfriend and I plan to stay here…and they all have plans to move back to their hometowns. Most people have waited until it was time to get married and have kids to move back, but now that we’re 5 years out of college / in our late twenties, that’s starting. I joke to my boyfriend sometimes that we’re going to end up here with childless friends and the ones who are from around here…

    I had a few really good female friends, but they’ve all moved away. It’s quite sad.

  7. Cloud Says:

    We are friendly with some of the parents of my kids’ friends, particularly from day care. There was one mother of one of my daughter’s friends that I really, really get along with and consider a true friend- as in we socialize away from our kids. But she just got a job in a different city and is moving away. I’m so sad about that! I like some of the other moms, too, and am thinking that maybe I just need to make more of an effort. Some of the other parents will never be more than acquaintances, but I think some would be actual friends if I put a bit more time into it, and maybe that would be a good thing to do.

    I’ve given up on actively seeking friends separate from my kids. There just isn’t enough time and although I’m not a true introvert (I suspect I’m somewhere in the middle), I run out of social energy.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      That is sad! When DC1 was born I had a couple of friends like that (who got pregnant around when I did– one of them even cut DC1’s umbilical cord– she and my doctor were both heavily pregnant when I delivered, which was a cool experience), but they graduated and moved away. :(

      With DC2 I have definitely run out of social energy.

  8. xykademiqz Says:

    We don’t have very good friends here, and I think I have made peace with it. I am friendly with colleagues and among colleagues from different departments there are even a few couples we go to dinner with, but none of it is very strong.
    There are also a couple of female colleagues with whom I individually hang out, we go to lunch and such, but we don’t socialize as families. I like a couple of moms of my kids’ best friends, they are nice and open and their kids are cool; most of the other parents are local not academics and are thus considerably more turned off by my and my husband’s foreignness/accents that we don’t really even bother trying to socialize with them.

    I have a few friends from childhood with whom I keep in touch; they are all across Europe, so I get to see them maybe once every two years during my travels. It’s always nice to meet up with people who have a direct line to your very core, who know you deeply, and you can just be yourself with them without them judging you and without any of the fluffy bullshit that plagues most civilized adult interactions.

    DH often says he just doesn’t feel all the work to break people’s barriers at this age is worth it, and he doesn’t want to just superficially socialize. He wants the real deal, and I understand that, but it’s really hard at this age. These days, with Eldest old enough to babysit, DH and I like to go to the movies or concerts alone rather than hang out with other couples.

    Where we live is a nice place to raise a family (not too expensive, good schools) and it’s the kids’ home, but DH and I don’t actually feel at home. I suppose that’s how it has to be. I like the job and my colleagues, I like my students, and on many days that’s more than enough face time. I might be a curmudgeon.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      There are definitely different parts of the country where I feel more at home. Casual conversation here tends towards things like churches and Jesus (at least among the non-academics). There are places where it’s safer to express a viewpoint because it’s the same as the majority!

      • xykademiqz Says:

        The other day, the guy from a couple we have dinner with (they are both faculty in another department) asked how I was doing, and I responded that I was being effed by too much service. He scolded me that I should not be so negative. I wanted to punch him in the face. I didn’t, but I fumed the rest of the day, then emailed him to faux apologize for the negativity and promise that “I shall endeavor to appear unfailingly upbeat in the future” (my exact words). Even though no one in the US talks like that, and I certainly don’t, he took it seriously; I couldn’t believe it.

        Maybe the reason we don’t have more friends is that I am an a**hole (I’m OK with that).
        I hate few things more than people telling me how I should be (it’s always more positive, nice, patient, etc.) Perhaps I need to leave the Midwest. Or maybe it’s not the Midwest at all, but just garden-variety sexist crap.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        I’m gonna go with garden-variety sexism.

        After years of telling my colleagues that I did not appreciate him telling me to smile and him making a joke out of it every single time he passed me in the hallway, last semester I just lost it and told him he was a sexist asshole and he needed to watch the daily show episode on the topic of telling women to smile that had just aired because it was pretty typical and I did not appreciate that he’d been doing it for 10 years now after me telling him to stop multiple times. (Of course, he went back and told some other sexist dude, and that other dude was an ass about it, but then eventually forgot so now they’re both leaving me alone. f*wads.) Tenure FTW.

  9. anandar Says:

    One of the benefits of living in a very congenial locale is that I generally do have something beyond kids in common with a good number of other parents, although taking those friendships to the next level is always hard because everyone is short on time. Ironically, since I was not especially social in law school, what I miss most are lawyer friends (I left all my close law school friends on the opposite coast). I relish conversations with people who are hyper-analytic, enjoy talking about policy, and back-and-forth debate– not so common in my CA city.

    My book group is one of my few reliably excellent social experiences (started pre-kids, going strong after 12 years). One evening every month or two (we always do dinner and stay late, and the majority of time is spent checking in rather than discussing the book, although we do that too) seems to be enough to maintain a real connection.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Grad school was also the first place where people were actually interested in talking about you know, academic stuff. Very cool. That’s also something I love about conference friends. I love those kinds of conversations with people who are actually intelligent and think about things analytically. (Getting into arguments with people who quote “Rush”… at a certain point they should be paying me for the privilege of even talking to me. Which is why politics don’t enter into polite conversation around here!)

  10. becca Says:

    I make weak contacts when I move through Toastmasters. Strong contacts I haven’t made in years.
    We have good friendly type neighbors too, but that’s mostly not my doing.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      I kind of like not knowing most of our neighbors very well. I think it’s more of that thing of… if things turn bad, they still live near you (and they know where you live!)

      • xykademiqz Says:

        lol! We are like that, we barely know our neighbors. We know the elderly couple right next door and sometimes chat, and I recognize the faces of the people maybe 5-6 houses around us, but a bunch of others I couldn’t identify out of context. Most are older and empty nesters.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        I love the tomatoes that our next door neighbors occasionally give us. But that’s a good amount of socialization, I think.

  11. Thisbe Says:

    I’ve moved a LOT (I think I’m on seven or eight states total, some of those multiple times and/or multiple locations within the same state), so I’ve had to navigate the Finding New Friends problem many a time. The tricky thing about making friends (and it sounds dumb to say it so plainly, but it’s true) is that you have to put yourself out there. Finding friends is like dating, it’s not usually possible to tell in the first few minutes of talking with someone whether they will be a great personality match. In order to even find people to try hanging out with, the first step is to enjoy doing something that involves other people, and then the second step is to do that.

    I have been thinking about this a certain amount because we’re in the process of settling into what we hope is Forever Town, and we’re working on figuring out what our social group is going to be. I sometimes have people as clients who I’m pretty sure I would love being friends with, but I think (I’m not sure, but I think) that it would be really inappropriate to pursue that so I don’t.

    I do worry a certain amount about friends of mine who restrict their socializing to “kids’ friends’ parents” because I think doing that correlates pretty strongly with, fifteen years down the line, having several years of empty-nest unpleasant loneliness.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      I actually find it a lot easier to make new friends, or at least acquaintances to socialize with, when I’m in a new place that I know I’m not going to be forever. I think I feel like it things don’t work out, oh well, I’ll just be gone in X amount of time, so there’s less pressure and it’s easier to seek out/talk to lots of new different people. Sort of the opposite of being tenured with people you will be working with forever. I don’t want to invest time in required regular social obligations, but short term ones are no problem.

      When we’re empty nesters, I am sure that we will make new friends because we’ll have more band-width for that. My parents did.

    • Rosa Says:

      I find that I drift in and out of groups, finding one or two good friends in each social circle along the way. I expect “kids friends parents” will be similar – some of them are true friendships, some are just people I know because of this one thing.

      The main problem with making really close friends is simply finding the time to see those simpatico people – we’re all busy people, busy with careers, busy with kids, busy with extended family, or trying to handle all three of those at once. And most of us are trying to maintain a bunch of long-distance friendships from previous life stages, too. So a lot of my newer friendships are with local people but I still only see them maybe once every 3 months.

      • Thisbe Says:

        Yeah we decided (in as many words) that because between the two of us we’ve lived so many places and have so many friends strewn around the country, we would not even consider settling down in a place where we would have to start over from scratch. We stuck to it, too – the partner had a tenure-track offer early in the search in a place where all our searching found ONE friend-of-a-friend. So we didn’t move there (of course, six months later my good friend’s wife took a residency there, but that’s still temporary).

        So now in our forever home, we’ve got “people I work with” plus “people the partner works with” plus “people I know from when I lived here before” plus “friends from other times and places who have fetched up within a hundred mile radius” to work with, and that’s BEFORE we have gotten involved with the local activity groups for the activities we want to pursue.

        It’s good, because it means that we won’t be lonely while we are patient and wait for the accidental meetings with amazing people that are sure to happen.

        (Re: parent friends – I was having easter brunch with my mom et cetera, and some of the guests were the parents of someone who was my “second-best” friend circa kindergarten through eighth grade [I am no longer sure what that even means, but that’s definitely what we called each other]. The were reminiscing about how they met – dropping off the kids for the first day of kindergarten, all the other parents crying, they saw each other looking gleeful and decided to go out for coffee. They are far closer friends than the kid and I are, anymore.)

  12. crazygradmama Says:

    Ha, I wish I had useful advice to contribute. The friends I’ve made since starting grad school consist of fellow grad students, significant others of fellow grad students, friends of fellow grad students, and a few women from a mother’s support group. I wish it were easier to make friends, but it doesn’t bother me for the most part any more.

  13. OMDG Says:

    I also wish I had some useful advice. I’ve lived in the same place for about 9 years now, have made some decent friends, and then they move away. I haven’t had much more luck since reproducing, I think primarily because my job is so time consuming and I don’t meet that many people, but also because I suspect I would have more in common with other people like me who also have time consuming careers. Most of my social interactions are at work as a resident at the hospital, which is actually mostly fine because I like most of my work colleagues quite well. It’s a little weird since I am a on-traditional career trajectory that I am 10y older, and hence in a different life stage, than most of the other junior residents. But it doesn’t matter *that* much (we still have a lot in common), and it’s also nice to be older and to have more in common with fellows, attendings, nursing staff, etc. The problem I encounter is on my days off when I don’t have anyone to talk to! Perhaps the solution is to work more? Hah.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      I don’t really need advice– if I wanted more local friends, I would probably get them! Mostly I just want to stay home away from people (other than my family) in a little introverted ball.

      Though I am looking forward to hanging out with friends (both with and without children my childrens’ ages) next year. :)

  14. C Says:

    Flavia’s description about locals vs. transplants rings very true for me. I’ve made friends through work (we have things in common that have nothing to do with work! It’s exciting) and through church. The locals I know are through church (though there are a fair number of transplants, too). In terms of the university, a lot of us are transplants, I would estimate that most of the academics are. Staff tends to be more local.

    We moved very often when I was a child and that was difficult because it meant I had to learn that make new friends thing over and over and over again, which as a pretty geeky and serious little girl was not the easiest thing. That said, having done that as a child it’s made it easier to put myself out there as an adult. If something doesn’t work out it’s not the end of the world. And in the first year or so in a new place I have to keep telling myself to get out there, because my instinct is to hide at home with a book (which is awesome, but not great long term. I’m an introvert who needs people!)

    My 100% closest friends live nowhere near me. But I still remember the sense of relief a few months after we moved when I realized that if there were an emergency and we needed help, that there was someone local we could count on. We also don’t have kids, but most of our friends here do. Perhaps it’s because we’re friends, but there aren’t really problems about us not having kids. We’re like the awesome non-related aunt and uncle.

  15. zenmoo Says:

    Since leaving university, I’ve gained friends through work (not direct colleagues but people at the same company), family (my cousin’s wife is a great friend) and very randomly (the tenants we rented our house to turned out to be awesome people). Interestingly, several of my friends from different contexts are now all friends too (eg cousin’s wife & tenant, friends from engineering and dorm who didn’t have much to do with each other while we were all still at college). I’d like to think it’s because I’m awesome & my friends are awesome so of course they’ll get on!

  16. Comradde PhysioProffe Says:

    I am super extroverted and reasonably charismatic, so I end up making friends everywhere I go and everything I do. I have close friends I keep in touch with from high-school, college, grad school, professional school, non-academic jobbe, post-doc, as a faculty member, people I’ve met in summer science courses, at conferences, and through professional service. The issue for me is finding the time and effort to stay in touch. But my philosophy is that I don’t care if I only hear from or see you once in a blue moon, so long as you feel the same about me. So those are the kind of great friends I’ve maintained for decades.

    BTW, I’m curious what you mean by this:

    “You can be friends with colleagues, but you can’t tell them too much before tenure. “

  17. Revanche Says:

    I’ve never had an easy time making friends even in those times where you’re supposedly best placed to do so. I was working 40-100 weeks in college, so it’s no surprise that I only came away from college with 1 new friend. After that, I sort of had some friends through work but the keepers were rare. Of course, the ones that did stick are wonderful, so I’m really about quality over quantity.

    In recent years, I’ve actually made some of my best friends through blogging and Twitter. I never would have seen that coming when I started out on Blogger.

    I would like some local friends, as no blogging or Twitter friends are, but I can’t get interested in people who are only now interested in talking because I’ve got a kid (neighbors who couldn’t say hello on their way in but are now all about LB) or people who think it’s ok to say that “if I didn’t lose all the baby weight after 6 months I’d kill myself!” Super nice people up to that point but any interest I had in socializing further fell out the window with that.

    It’s a good thing I spend most of my time online …

  18. middle_class Says:

    I have 3 local friends that I see every few months. That’s it! I have a lot of other people I talk/email on a frequent basis (at work, other parents) but I’m not sure I consider these people lifelong friends.

  19. MutantSupermodel Says:

    A note regarding untenured faculty– administrative staff tends to be varied in ages and they tend to be around for different lengths of time but usually longer than graduate students. I know a lot of the academics don’t really like to mix with us admins but we’re really nice people :) A lot of us are even interesting and interested in what you do.

  20. chacha1 Says:

    Both the couples I would consider “strong contacts” (i.e. close friends), and most of our other friends (“weak contacts”) are from the ballroom-dancing world. Ironically none of us dance much anymore, but that’s how we met.

    I get friendly with people in my workplaces, but always on a pretty shallow level. Maybe one person per workplace I’ve been friendly with to the extent of even going out to lunch. < That is always such a production in L.A. that most of the time I don't bother. 20 minutes to get somewhere, 20 minutes to get back, leaves you not much time to eat. :-)

    I don't have any issues with meeting new people and getting friendly on that shallow level. But space/time constraints lead me to resist adding any more people to my life.


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