I’m always the one to organise things, and it’s hitting pretty hard right now.
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I’m a student at university, and since the start of this school year, I’ve become a lot more social. I’ve made a lot more friends, especially compared to last year, which was a bit abysmal on all fronts. My friends seem happy to see me (even the newest ones); when I ask them if they want to hang out, they don’t brush me off; and we have good times. I’m better at making friends individually, so I have a lot of one-on-one coffee dates and study sessions, but I know a few lovely groups as well. I know I’m really lucky to have all this, and mostly I’m so happy about it.
The only thing is, it feels like I’m always the one to organise things. People won’t reach out unless I do first. It’s hitting especially hard currently because it’s Halloween, and while I’m throwing a party and people seem happy to come, I haven’t been invited to any others.
On the one hand, I know that I’m in a bit of an odd situation: I didn’t make many friends in first year and I kind of put all my eggs in one group basket which fell apart in second year, leaving me with only one or two close friends. I’ve been rebuilding my social life, but I know a lot of my newer friends have groups they’ve known since year one and may always see me as almost secondary because of that.
On the other hand, I can’t help feeling it might be nice to be reached out to first, instead of always having to be the one to arrange things. Am I being dramatic and self-obsessed, or is this reasonable? If it is, what might I do to fix it?
Dear Halfway Lonely,
I feel I’m the perfect person to answer this question, because I am a craven, lazy, good-for-nothing, fair-weather friend. I’m a scavenger in the interpersonal wastelands, living off the scraps of other people’s administrative heavy social lifting. Is this a good or admirable personality trait to have? No. Am I likely to ever do anything constructive about it? Also no.
Recently I’ve moved cities, which has more or less let me off the hook, and have pivoted to writing long and gossipy emails, like a 19th century missionary. But I can still offer you a little perspective from the other side.
There are some people out there who took the sitcom Friends to heart, and want nothing more than a regular, self-sustaining ecosystem of like-minded individuals, who never seem to go to work and will drop everything to search for a loose monkey at a moment’s notice. Perhaps there are people out there whose lives are like the plot of some unaired sitcom. But one of the hardest things about making friends in your 20s is negotiating these wildly different and often unspoken expectations of how often you and your friends should hang out.
Even knowing people have different expectations is something that doesn’t always occur to us. The idea of seeing the people I love more than once a week stresses me out. That doesn’t mean I don’t love these friends. Sometimes I think I just have a different sense of time; whatever the opposite of dog years are. Tortoise years. Crocodile years. I look up from the swamp and blink, and suddenly three months have passed, and someone’s had a baby or moved to Guatemala.
Personally, I’m comfortable with this level of contact. That’s not to say I don’t like being invited to last-minute Halloween parties. But would you ever catch me organising such a thing? Never, and under no circumstances.
That doesn’t mean you’re selfish or entitled for wanting more. But it’s easy to interpret lack of effort as lack of care, and I hope you don’t feel that’s the case, especially since all your invitations seem to be enthusiastically accepted.
You’re up against a couple of problems here.
First, I think young people are worse at organising things in general. It’s one of those skills people (usually) develop over time, out of necessity, once you realise nobody else is going to do it for you. You’ve learned this early; everyone else might take longer to catch up.
Second, this is an extremely antisocial country. Whenever someone moves to New Zealand and complains about the difficulty in making friends, my advice to them is lower your expectations, and just when you think they can’t possibly get any lower, lower them again, until you have to put your back out to peel them off the floor.
Third, you’ve unconsciously set up the expectation that you’re the person who initiates things. This definitely isn’t fair, but people are creatures of habit, and probably don’t even notice the profound lopsidedness of your interactions, and instead take them for granted, like the worthless, pavement-licking cretins they are.
Still, that doesn’t mean you’re doomed to be everyone else’s executive party assistant forever.
Some lazy fixes to your problem are:
- Try to set up a regular event. If you have a weekly or even monthly standing appointment with people, like a pub quiz or Thursday drinks or a monthly dinner, it takes some of the organisational burden off you, and eventually becomes self-sustaining over time. My high school friends had a weekly movie night, which is still going twenty years later.
- Move in together! Find a group of people you like, and force them to live with you. Then you don’t have to organise anything besides the occasional flat party, because most of the people you like live down the hall. This is how many people make their close friend groups during university. If you get sick of your flat, move out and start again.
- Know that some people will always be lazy, good-for-nothing slobs, and try not to take it personally. Accept that some people will never be good at reaching out, and only continue asking them to do things if you truly like them enough to bother.
As an advice columnist, I always feel obliged to suggest communication as a potential solution, even though I hate communicating and would never do it in real life. But this is the kind of thing you’d probably only want to raise with close friends.
I think your problem will absolutely improve with age. You seem to be a deeply social person who doesn’t have any problem making new friends, which is an amazing gift, and to be treasured! Even if a few people drop off your radar, you’re going to keep accumulating friends, some of whom are statistically bound to be more organisationally competent than the others. One day you’ll reach a critical mass and won’t have to work so hard.
Eventually you will find your people. The people I’ve maintained long and consistent friendships with mostly happen to be of the same constitutional makeup. There’s an element of natural selection at play. The organisers of potlucks, road-trip instigators, people who will drop over with a whole spare tiramisu: in my experience, these kinds of people also gravitate towards each other, and form terrifying, mutually supportive enclaves.
I know it doesn’t feel like it right now, when everyone is young and flaky. But people don’t cling to their first year groups forever. Friendship groups expand and change as people move overseas, break up, fall in love, have children. If you stay patient and keep putting in the hard work, you’ll have a future filled with wedding invitations, potlucks where you make horrible borscht from Soviet-era cookbooks, and impromptu monkey-rescue expeditions to look forward to.