It’s no shocker to say that it can be difficult to create and keep friendships as you go into your 30s and beyond. I wrote about this a while back in a piece called “4 Ways to Socialize Effectively — If Boringly — In Your 30s and Beyond.”
The more I think about why this is hard, the more I think the fact is that we actually lack a lot of development structure in our lives after college. In a typical educational experience from ages 5–22, we have plenty of clubs, teams, classes, and organizations that are pre-created for us to join. But you go out into the big wide world, and it’s… nada.
One thing I like to think about a lot is the concept of adult development. We assume that after we graduate college we’re fully fledged and don’t need any more structure or development in our lives. Isn’t that weird? There’s very little guidance about how to continue and build things like friendships or social activities. There are no formal rituals or pre-formed activities that we know we should engage in (other than perhaps dating and marriage, which is perhaps why they are so overfocused on, in my opinion). We have to create our own — and even realizing that we must develop those structures completely on our own, actively, instead of passively waiting for them to happen — is a growth realization in and of itself.
That’s where clubs as a basis for developing and maintaining friendships for me comes in. As I wrote in my friendship piece I linked above: I’ve created or joined any number of real-life or virtual clubs and consider them the fabric of my social life. I think this works as you get into your mid to late 30s because as you get older, more boring, and make more money (if you’re so lucky, that is) you develop particular interests and hobbies and go deeper into them. Mine are pretty straightforward — reading, being outdoors, working out and cooking. (Probably a real normcore slew of late 30s activities.) So reorienting my social life to be around those clubs that require an investment of time and energy has worked for me.
So I thought in today’s newsletter, I’d write about three kinds of clubs that have worked for me, and how you can start them: Accountability Club; Book Club; and Cookbook Club. (ABC… woo!) (In the friendship piece, I also referred to myself as UPTIGHT PLANNING LADY, and that still holds. But uptight planning is what helps maintain friendships and socializing.)
#1: Accountability Club: Every two to three weeks, three type A friends and I get together for coffee before work, and go through our goals and things we need to get done in life. These are simple as “make that goddamn dentist appointment” or as complicated as “start the process of buying a house.” Somebody takes notes and sends out the goals afterwards, and we check in via email throughout the weeks.
Why Accountability Club works: We become vulnerable with each other, explaining why these goals are important to us, and why we might be struggling with achieving them. We share ideas and contacts and resources with each other. It makes use of an underutilized socializing time, in my opinion — the weekday pre-work breakfast. Additionally, one person is designated as the note taker and record keeper to keep activating the goals and setting the dates.
#2: Book Club: This is the basic bitch of clubs, but it’s obviously wildly popular and perhaps one of the easier ones to do. I’m in two book clubs: a lady book club that only reads women-created fiction; and in a sci-fi book club that I recently joined but that has been going on for years.
Why these Book Clubs work: They each have a targeted type of book that is easy to orient around. In the sci fi book club, the ownership of the book club rotates — one person must volunteer to be the “dictator,” who chooses the book and picks the date (and it’s almost always at the same bar and the same time, which helps with attendance and involvement). The other book club has struggled a bit with consistency because it lacked an appointed dictator type, but one friend seems to be stepping up more into the organizational role (thank you Carol!) and it’s picking up momentum.
#3: Cookbook Club: My cookbook club has been going strong for almost three years now. We took the original inspiration from this Serious Eats article, and the premise is simple: every 6–8 weeks, we pick a cookbook, and each person chooses a recipe to bring. THEN WE FEAST!!!
Why Cookbook Club works: You get to eat delicious food with friends! And, you don’t have the pressure of cooking an entire meal, just one dish, but with the payoff of an amazing epic dinner party.
I have some rules for clubs that are likely to make them more successful, if you decide to go down the starting a club route:
- Are you an activator type? AKA, do you Get Shit Done? Are you the friend who makes travel plans, brings ideas into reality, sends logistical emails? Then you are an ideal club organizer. If you are NOT THIS PERSON: Do not attempt clubs. Find that activator friend, promise to support them emotionally somehow, and see if you can start the club together. Shower them with praise and gifts. Being an activator/planner is hard work!
- Make liberal use of Google Sheets. Our cookbook club spreadsheet is where people sign up what dish they are bringing so that we can coordinate and not end up with seven desserts. We create a new tab for each new cookbook club, so we also have an archive of past recipes and dishes. The sci fi book club also has an archive of Google Sheets of every book we’ve read going back years.
- Private Facebook groups can also be useful for planning.
- Designate either one sole person who is responsible for the maintenance of the club for all time, or officially rotate it. There 100% needs to be a point person for the planning of the club, whether it’s for all the club events, or just individual events, or else nobody is going to magically step into the void to make it happen. This is why the sci-fi ‘dictator’ appointment helps with the momentum of sci-fi book club, and why the other book club has struggled with being as regular, in my opinion.
- Decide what you’re going to do and a tentative time you are going to meet next time at the current meeting. At cookbook club, we discuss ideas for the next cookbook as we wind down our massive feasts, as well as possible dates, then email out it out immediately afterwards.
- Don’t overplan. I find these clubs work best when they happen every 4–6 weeks and not more often (with the exception of Accountability Club, which is pretty short and sweet and doesn’t require a host’s apartment or food [we meet at a local coffee shop]). If you’re aiming for every week, or honestly sometimes even every month, that can be too much and the pressure of that time commitment will kill the club in its infancy.
- I think groups of 10 or so are a good size, because inevitably a few people aren’t going to be able to show up or participate every time. So if you have a larger sized group, and even half can’t come, you can go on with the five who can attend. It’s all about momentum and continuity, not finding the one time once a year where everybody in the whole group can attend.
- Doodle is your friend for scheduling.
BONUS BONUS BONUS CLUB: Some friends and I occasionally do a ‘fitness club’ or ‘fitness challenge,’ is more accurate, I guess. This is great if you want to do it virtually and need a kick in the butt about working out more. The concept, which I stole from Emily Henderson: Everybody puts $100 in a jar (or in a virtual paypal jar of sorts). You have to workout 4 days a week for at least 45 minutes — and not just a power walk. If you fail in making it 4 times you drop out (although you are allowed to buy back in one time). You have one ‘pass’ week. Last one standing gets ALL THE MONEY!
What do you think? Do you have friendship/social clubs? How do you keep them working? I’d love to hear — email me and I’ll include your club ideas in a future newsletter!