Every week I pick up a copy of Isthmus, and the first thing I read is your column. I always enjoy your advice and humor. Well, I'm finally writing to you about something that's been bothering me for quite some time. Simply put, I want to make friends but don't know how. It would seem obvious that you would make friendsdoing what you usually enjoy doing, only I don't seem to. I'm somewhat recently out of a four-year relationship, and I'm happy to have more time to myself, but I'd like someone with similar interests to do things with. I've lived in Madison while in the relationship but didn't make any lasting friendships during that time. My two closest friends live 70 miles away, and we talk on the phone frequently, but I'm not able to see them regularly. We have many things in common, including a love of the arts. I'd be happy with only them in my life if I could see them more often. I'd prefer a small number of close friends to a large number of acquaintances.
Now that my relationship is over, I've been going to events around town (lectures, art openings and such), and although I'm surrounded by interesting people at these events, I don't know what to do. I'm rather shy when around new people, but I do make an effort to be sociable rather than lurking in corners. There's also something I've noticed over the years regarding my friendships: My friends and the people I get along with best are usually about 20 years older than me. (The friends I mentioned earlier are both in their 50s. I'm 30.) I don't know if you will find that information useful or not. Anyway, your advice would be much appreciated.
People Person: First of all, thanks for the ringing endorsement of my humble effort to save the world one question-and-answer at a time. As far as I'm concerned, you and I are now friends for life, so that's one. Now we just need to add a couple more to the list. Toward that end, I notice you didn't mention where you work. I bring this up because that's where the vast majority of us meet the vast majority of our friends. And the reason for that is because we're more or less forced to rub against each other on a daily basis. Some colleagues rub us the wrong way, of course, but there's always a chance there'll be that spark. So think about where you work and anywhere else where there's a lot of regular interaction. Join a club, take a class, volunteer somewhere, become a terrorist.
And now for a piece of counterintuitive advice: Don't be so picky. Not that you have been picky, but you did mention wanting to meet someone with "similar interests." In my opinion, similar interests are overrated. What you're really looking for is a deeper connection that you can't quite put your finger on but is nevertheless there. And that means you're going to have to use your intuition, act on hunches. It also means putting effort into mere acquaintances (even though you expressed a reluctance to do so). Think of acquaintances as the farm team from which you'll be calling up certain players for a stint in the majors. And once you see someone with big-league potential, don't be afraid to offer him or her a contract. Suggest coffee or dinner or a movie or, if you've gone the terrorist route, a suicide bombing.
The age difference may or may not be relevant. If you're consciously or unconsciously avoiding people your own age, it's relevant. Otherwise, who cares how old your friends are? Why be so picky? And a final piece of advice, my friend: You're going to have to get past your shyness to make new friends. It'll feel uncomfortable at first, I admit. But it sure beats staying at home watching old episodes of Friends.
To come over and watch old episodes of Friends, write to: Mr. Right, Isthmus, 101 King St., Madison, WI 53703. Or call 251-1206, ext. 152. Or email firstname.lastname@example.org.