So many friends … so little community

I’ve been living in  Berkeley and Oakland for over 20 years. I have many friends here from different stages in life. I have friends from college, work, graduate school, friends through my spouse, friends through my kids’ various schools through the years, friends from various interests and hobbies that I have, and friends through my volunteer work. Despite having all these friends, I feel like I have very little community here. 
 

I grew up in a different part of the country which always had a solid sense of community. People were always available to help with a house project, spend a whole weekend day hanging around grilling by the pool, or to get together on a weekday evening to hash out a problem. There was time to get into deep conversations and make real connections - both for adults and kids. There was always someone around to watch a kid or a pet - no strings attached. Even people you just met would do this kind of thing. The older I get, the more I miss this - and the more I desperately need it.

Has anyone here has success developing a real sense of community here? Do you have friends who are available without booking weeks in advance? People who will spend a relaxing weekend day with you and get into deep conversations about relationships and heavy topics? Someone who will watch your kids or come help out with a household project with no strings attached. If so, how did you build that community here?

I have done all of the above things for many friends here over the years. It doesn’t feel like a burden to me - it’s how I was raised. It’s a gift to help others when they need it. But I’ve learned that this mindset doesn’t seem to exist as much here. And I really miss it. Any thoughts on how to find it?

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I wonder if you’re missing a place or an era. I grew up in Oakland and now live in Alameda. I remember my parents life looking more like what you describe. Life was less busy and hectic, and you didn’t need to schedule with friends weeks in advance. I’m lucky to live in a neighborhood with a good sense of community and we help each other out, in smaller ways than you describe. Maybe you can find more of what you’re looking for elsewhere, but I think to some extent life is just more complicated. 

Short answer: No. I don't think you'll find this here. I am born and raised in the Bay Area, and I have never had this, although like you I have many friends and am a social person.

But the kind of community network and support system that you remember doesn't seem the norm here. My parents were from England, and my brother moved there many years ago, and has definitely found exactly that. It exists all over the world and probably across the US - but not here. I'm sorry.

It sounds like you've cultivated great relationships and I'm sorry you're feeling like those are still lacking in these important ways. I have lived in the Bay Area basically my whole life (since age 2, now 36!) and find that I have some long lasting friendships where I would feel comfortable swapping childcare, asking favors etc, but many of the connections where I feel that sense of community as you're describing are neighbors. I've found a couple families who live very close to us and we've become much closer during COVID. Due to the slowing down of so many things during lockdown, we did lots of spontaneous outdoor playdates, walks, trips to parks/coffee and then once adults were vaccinated we were able to expand those activities more! I find that lots of people are open to spontaneous plans but I'm usually the one initiating and there's no hard feelings either way if it doesn't work out. I find not planning too far in advance is better for my mental health most of the time and works well having a young child and two full time working parents. I used to plan everything quite far in advance and then sometimes once the day came, I wasn't as excited as when we initially planned. Now that I do more things spontaneously or with a few days notice, the excitement is still there once the activity rolls around! I'm not sure how helpful this is but happy to chat more if you'd like to contact me directly.

Hi, I've lived in Oakland for 20 years and am having the same experience. I've recently gone through a tough divorce and realize I don't have a community I can call on. Like you, most folks have plans and to grab a spot, I need to book weeks in advance. I have a teenager, which limits me a bit, but I'm looking for companions who can do just what you described: hang out, have deep and meaningful conversations, take a spontaneous walk. I didn't grow up here, which adds to my sense of detachment. Most of the people I know are from the area and have much more history. I may be a bit older than you, but if you'd like to start somewhere, let me know. 

Hello Friend,

I have had a similar challenge cultivating that sensibility among my friends in the Bay Area. I grew up in the Midwest and moved here in 90s and still feel somewhat unfulfilled in my friendships here, despite having a gazillion friends. My lay analysis of the cultural difference in the approach to friendships here is that people prioritize the activity over the company. I also feel that traffic, working hours and productivity demands, and bridges are a barrier to frequent meetings. There may be other factors that I don't understand yet. I also notice that meeting people requires booking out 2-8 weeks in advance, which isn't satisfying when I am looking to connect with a friend sooner than that. In general, I could easily say that I meet my closest friends in the Bay Area 2-3 times a year! Also, I notice that people are reluctant to commit and/or cancel last minute fairly often.

In the past 2 years I sort of decided that, rather than moving to a brand new place where the culture of friendship is closer to my experience of it growing up, or even warmer, I could act I like I moved to a new city and am starting all over making new friends. I was being a bit more deliberate about finding friends who live in close proximity, walking or bicycling distance, as I think that's a tangible, modifiable factor in friendships. Of course, then covid shelter in place put a "monkey in the wrench," like my mom says (kinda getting the phrase a bit mixed up). :-) 

I believe that you and I are not the only people that experience this dissatisfaction with how friendships are conducted here. I think it is worthwhile to consider how we can create a different experience of friendships for those that want that. I'd be happy to meet up to talk about this further, if you like. This is the first time I'm replying to a post on this forum, so I don't know if you are able to contact me directly, but if you are able to do so through this platform, feel free. If not, you can find me at www.beyondholistic.org and contact me there. I look forward to connecting with you. 

Warmly,

jaysi

I'll be curious to hear the responses to this because we are in the same boat.  You are not alone.  It seems like most people we know create this type of network through local family members and spend a lot of their time with family, leaving little time for non-family friends.  That makes things difficult for someone who wasn't born here and doesn't have a lot of family in the local area.

Nope - And I know exactly what you are talking about.  Seems people are too into what they are doing and don't have time or want to make time for others.

Just want to say - I hear you. I'm from the midwest and what you described was normal for me too. It changed a little when I had kids because my time split. Not sure if it is Bay Area, change in times, "big city life" or just life. I also noticed community seems more a political thing than a personal thing.

I have tried to go for quality over quantity when it comes to friends. I have many friends like you described, but I cherish the few who have depth. I have also started small groups. I am in a book group and was in a small women's group (both under 10 people) just to have the very experience you said. I also find more of this in religious communities. Synagogues and churches are based on community and community support.

Good luck

No, but I would love to be a part of a community like this too. 

Hi,

First off, thank you for your vulnerability and sharing.  I feel your heart out there and just wanted to say that I resonate with this longing and have been speaking to my friends back home about this issue that I face as well.  Please feel free to message me!!

I resonate with this so much. I’ve only been here for 3.5 years but have a lot of friends without any of the thing you mention. And I miss it a lot. I am from Houston and Austin and it was so easy to build a community there. I do t have any help but you’re not alone. 

I understand and empathize with your quest for community.  I think it's hard in an urban environment and one where people move often to find people with the interconnections that might define community.  So, as you observe, you have friends, but not a web.   Also, many people/families are tightly scheduled, so it can be hard to find quality friendship time.  (See my post from years ago: How to find adult friends, post-kids? from Sep 2002 under https://www.berkeleyparentsnetwork.org/advice/parents/makefriends)

However, I wonder if some of these friends could provide some of what you seek.  If you ask them, maybe some of your friends would help with a house project, the kids, come for a pool day or spontaneously gather on a weekday.  Have you said to each of your friends that you want more spontaneous and more time with them?  Have you tried broaching more serious topics?  There are people in Berkeley seeking what you seek.  (See the many questions about adult friendships on BPN)

I wanted more, deeper friendships as well.  It took effort.  I had to ask many different friends to go for walks (Good for talking about deeper topics!), come for dinner, and occasionally for help.  Not everyone was responsive.  In fact, most people were not, but eventually, I did find people who would do the kind of things you list, even without so much advance planning.