Struggling to find community in the East Bay

My family of four has lived in the East Bay for 13 years, first in El Cerrito and now in Albany. (I'm from the East Coast and my husband is from LA.) While we love many things about it, and chose this part of the Bay Area very purposefully when we bought our home, we're feeling a bit disenchanted recently. I'm wondering if our complaints are unique to us, unique to the East Bay (or Bay Area) or simply a product of the changing social landscape we're all living with these days. We have some good friends here, people we like and socialize with somewhat regularly as a family or just as a couple. That said, we've still struggled to find a true sense of community, or a group of friends/couples/families who all know each other and with whom we truly connect-- the automatic casual Friday night dinner crowd. We frequently entertain and are surprised by the number of couples/families whom we've hosted numerous times and have never reciprocated. We're always the family that gives rides to sports practices/games, hosts play dates and snacks and dinners for our daughters' friends. In several instances these efforts are simply never returned. We're starting to feel like we're beating our heads against the wall, making no progress at establishing strong friendships as a result of our many efforts. In short, we feel like we are very much more invested in sustaining relationships and creating a sense of community than most of the people we know. 

When I talk to my friends on the East Coast it feels to me like there is a marked difference in expectations and experiences with friendships, social engagements and traditions. My question to this group is whether you've experienced any of these same issues and dilemmas, what you have done about it, whether you've considered moving from the East Bay as a result or if you have found another solution. Is it us? Are our expectations out of line? Is it a sign of the times, where everyone is stretched thin and doesn't have the energy or time to foster deeper connections? Does the Bay Area (perhaps specifically the East Bay) self-select toward people who prefer spending time outdoors (camping, skiiing) or alone as a family to socializing? Are we somehow just unlucky in our specific neighborhood or school community? We truly feel like we've tried everything to connect, put down roots and build a life here, but keep feeling disappointed in how our efforts are received. We’re starting to wonder if we’d be happier in another area where people might put more of a premium on community. I'd appreciate hearing from those of you for whom my post rings true, and what if anything you were able to do about it. Thanks.

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Your post rings true. I don't have any particular solution, but some thoughts about the context. I think that the relocation, by itself, is a big part of what you're still dealing with. For example, if you were from the East Bay and had relocated to where you came from on the East Coast, I can't help but think that you'd be telling a similar or even more dismal story. 

One exercise I'd suggest is to think about your social connections on the East Coast before you left, and analyze how they came about. I realize that they'd be different now, if you'd stayed. But still, how did they come about? If they were connections of long-standing, from grade school on, and so on, that points to the absence of such a foothold here. If you think that they had more (then) contemporary origins, then that might provide some guidance for you now.

I know exactly what you mean.  I have lived in several other places, and the Bay Area is not the same as the rest of the US.  People here are generally nice, but they are very flakey and self-absorbed, too.  I have friends, but they arent the same depth of friendships I have made elsewhere.  It's not just you....


You're definitely not alone. We relocated over 7 years ago from the East Coast (the southeast) and found that it is very hard to establish community here. I think it's a combination of people being very busy and not really interested in making new friends. I also think it is a cultural difference - I was raised to believe that when you invite someone or do something for someone they reciprocate but that doesn't seem to be the norm in this area. I hosted crazy inclusive birthday parties and playdates for my kids when they were young and many of the attendees didn't reciprocate. It was very very frustrating.

I've kind of had to accept that this is the way it is here, but am also happy to report that we have found friends that we like. We have also lost some along the way, which is fine. I also think when you're a parent it's tough because your social life is kind of dictated by who your kids hang out with, which can be challenging. My advice is to do activities that interest you (yoga, community service, whatever) so that you can find people that you connect to and it's not about your kids. That way you will be more likely to find people on your wavelength. It definitely takes time but I'm sure you will find your people. Good luck! - Been there

I am from the East Coast and I could have written your post verbatim.   I don't know what it is about it here. I find even basic social norms, such as "hello" to be an all too frequent absence.

What have I done about it?  Lament it. Complain about it on BPN from time to time. That's about it.  

But, I'm raising my children to be different.

I too have found a lot of what you say to be true.  I also am from the East Coast and yes the reports i get from family and friends I left behind are quite different from what I experience here.  As to causes, I think it's an "all of the above" answer.  I have been here 20 years and it took me about 10 to get comfortable with the startling cultural differences between the coasts. I think I see this most in the lack of attention to reciprocity on play dates, dinners, etc.   We are friendly with school families but not in a way that translates to socializing outside of the kids' activities where the parents are lined up as spectators.  They all seem nice, but .....  Part of it too is that my kid is behind socially and quite awkward and I don't see the other parents encouraging their kids to notice this and be inclusive.  And so, because my kid has trouble making friends, our whole family is kind of left out of the social scene in spite of volunteering, being socially adept, bringing food by to someone who has experienced a birth or a death.  All that said, we found, as agnostics, a non-denominational progressive faith community that has met these needs for us and we have had a very soft landing there.  The disadvantage is that it's not in town, but the wonderful advantage is a large cohort of like minded people, intentionally social and kind and inclusive, with whom to share our day to day lives, and all the joy and the sorrow.  It's taken care of a bit of the longing I have for my family back East.  I know a faith community isn't for everyone, but for us it worked. 

I can't help with your situation. With that said, we've lived in Albany for 8 years, and feel as you do. I am a Midwesterner, and, like you, love many things about California, have not established anything more than superficial relationships. Not sure if it's a east side/west side of the Mississippi. But I just wanted you to know that we are in the same boat. I'm extremely active in my community, and lead an active lifestyle. So we are not wallflower folks, yet, here we are. I also have lived in various places and have never been faced with this lack of relationships of depth. anyway, glad to feel that someone else feels the same, but still sad to feel disenchanted also. "Just keep swimming..."

You are not alone! When we lived in Oakland, I found it hard to form a larger social group. We had several good friends that we'd see individually, but could never quite get a group together in spite of some effort! When my kids were younger, I hosted neighborhood-wide mom/kid groups. When my kids started school, I was organizing fun family outings (water parks, shows, museums, family camping trips etc) so we could all get to know each other. It was a big effort to bring people together but I too wanted to have a sense of community and a group of families that enjoyed each other. Reflecting back, but I came to these conclusions: 1. the area where we lived had a lot of two parent working families who simply weren't as available or committed to building social bonds; 2. often the families didn't quite "line up." My first born befriended a lot of kids who were the second or third child, and the families were "out of sync" in that way. Or I'd like the moms, but my husband didn't have anything in common with the husbands. 3. Organized sports and other activities meant people were already busy.

A couple of years ago we moved to Lamorinda. Here the situation is different, and overall, I've found it easier to meet people. I may not quite have that tight social circle of families, but I do have 3-4 different groups of friends who know each other. I find that I'm often the one who organizes things like BBQs at the pool, dinner parties or family outings, but I'm not the only one who plans and hosts. One thing that I've learned here is that there are a lot of folks who grew up in Orinda or Lafayette and they are now back here raising their families. Usually, those moms are less available and more likely to have a tight circle already. I worked on getting to know other "new people," and that's made a big difference. Hang in there! You didn't say how old your kids are, but when mine turned about 10 or so, they didn't always want to hang out with "the family friends."

Not all of us are lucky enough to have that tight group, but it is possible to have tight connections with smaller groups of people. Also, groups may flex and change as kids get older too. Best of luck.

We've had the same experience. It's so depressing. I've given up on having a close community by my house. I think that you can contact me through my user name. I'd love to hang out!

I also wish that I had a larger circle of folks in our family's social circle, but alas, there is just not enough time in the week!  From your description, you are putting in a lot of time to form social connections.  I imagine that other families would also like to reciprocate but simply do not have the time.  I know that in our family, with both parents commuting to work and kids in afterschool care and/or activities, we have very limited time during the week.  Play dates are not happening on weekdays.  Friday nights are not great for our kids, as they are usually worn out and frankly, not super fun to be around.  My husband works very long hours, so the weekend is when he recharges and gets to spend a lot of uninterrupted time with our kids. He is somewhat introverted so he is not inclined to invite other families over on the weekends.  Our family schedules some get-togethers with other families, but probably only about 4 times per year.  In addition to time limitations, it has been difficult to find other families where both the parents and the kids get along.  Over the last few years, we have found--through our kids' schools and sports teams--a couple of other families who are good "matches" for our family.  Those families all have limited time as well, however, so coordinating schedules is still challenging.  It is not unusual for us to need to schedule an informal joint family dinner 6 weeks out into the future.  I say all of this to explain that perhaps some of the families who haven't reciprocated to your generous invitations would also like to create "a sense of community," but simply do not have the bandwidth to do so. This may not be encouraging to you, but a realistic viewpoint from someone who also probably owes other people for countless playdates, rides and dinners.

Before you romanticize the lives of your friends on the East Coast , I would stop to think whether it is an "apples to apples" comparison. Do your East Coast friends live in urban areas?  When I talk to my friends who lives in the DC suburbs, their lives sound just as hectic and stressed as ours do in the East Bay.  In fact, we frequently commiserate about how hard it is to spend time with existing friends, never mind developing new relationships.  Life is likely slowed paced in many smaller towns outside of urban areas, whatever region of the country.  

I advise that you continue to reach out to families.  Eventually you should find the winning combination with a family with which you connect and that also has enough time to establish a deeper relationship.

I feel the exact same way. My son is 7. Feel free to message me.

Oh, we can so relate - when we lived in Berkeley, we felt like we were not making much headway socially and like you, we were very much the ones hosting and offering social events and not receiving anything back. I don't know if it's just the location, or the people we were trying to connect with, or what. We attended a church and people there did not make any effort to connect, either (I always thought church was a great place to connect with people of all walks of life). 

What helped was moving to San Leandro - our neighbors are friendly, our realtor who we love introduced us to some people in the neighborhood and we've met other neighbors and although everyone is busy, we find the time to socialize and invite each other over. I don't know if it's the town itself that is laid back and down to earth or  we got lucky or we just started meeting more people like us who were looking for friendly connections. 

Just so you know: friendly people are out there! (And my sister had a similar experience in Spokane and they gave up on it because of that). Look for people who will reciprocate and spend less effort on those who don't. Good luck. 

As an east coaster (my wife and I are both, relocated to the Bay Area almost 8 years ago, been in east bay about 6), we struggled with similar feelings with even our close friends on the east coast. And to some extent, on the west coast, too. But we are able to see a small cadre of friends more regularly here than we did when Boston winters and habits set in (people hibernated). I do think people are spread more thinly, for sure. Friendships grow more slowly, and it takes more to maintain and nurture close friendships. But we have become more patient and view things over a longer arc. But yes, it can take a while to see reciprocation and develop that "urban tribe". I found joining a nonprofit board and pitching in on a common purpose and shared experiences as a way of really deepening some new friendships. But I think you really raised a thoughtful and important question. Thanks for that! 

I could have written your post, except my family has only been here two years! Like you, I had a strong community back on the east coast, and socializing was natural and easy -- people dropped by regularly; we got together in parks and playgrounds every weekend, had regular outings, drinks, etc. When I was home with my baby and toddler, I had friends I saw almost every day! I have also found here (Oakland and Berkeley) that people just don't seem to need the same degree of socializing. I don't know why that is, but it does seem to be the case. I've met some great folks and feel like we genuinely connect, but they seem to be content to get together maybe once every couple of months, and I also feel like I'm usually the one putting forth the effort (a bit hard not to take it personally!). I'm beginning to resign myself to the fact that this may be the trade-off: beautiful place and high quality of life instead of a more social community of friends. We haven't been here that long so I still feel like I'm trying, but I too feel a little perplexed by the lack of engagement. As a side note, I'd be happy to meet up with you, though it sounds like our kids are at different stages (mine are 3 and 5).

All I can say is that I consider myself to have several close friends and a wide circle of friends, and yet I have nothing close to an automatic casual Friday night dinner crowd. I rarely host anything. I never go on double dates. I feel like my friends and I are often just tired by the end of the week. We try to see each other when we can, but there's an understanding that yes, everyone is busy. This is perhaps the busiest time of our lives - raising young kids, working, dealing with aging parents. Long commutes with increasingly bad traffic. And yes, economic conditions in the Bay Area in general probably make it worse for many people. I have lived in the East Bay for 25 years and some of my friends are from the early days. It is possible that the people you are seeking friendships with already have other long-established friendships. I feel like my advice to you is the same as the advice for finding a partner: do activities you enjoy, and you will find likeminded people. And try not to judge other people if they can't reciprocate by having you over.

Having lived in lots of different parts of the East Bay I can tell you that there are huge differences in the sense of community between Albany/Berkeley and the towns through the tunnel (Orinda, Lafayette, etc.) or further South like San Leandro. But there can also be huge difference within Berkeley just from one block to another. My experience has been that the neighborhoods or blocks that have a majority of stay-at-home moms or dads tend to have a lot more closeness. The kids are out on the street playing with each other, the neighbors are in and out of each others houses all weekend and there are lots and lots of parties. The blocks that have mostly two parents working outside the home have their kids in after-school care and so don't even get home until 5 or 6. There is very little time in those houses for get-togethers on weekdays and even on weekends many of those parents are working or are out-of-town on business or are trying to catch up on a rare bit of family time when they are all together in the same place. 

So it's not necessarily that you're in the wrong town, but maybe you are on the wrong block for the kind of community you are hoping to find. 

I think the issue is both the context of living in the Bay Area intersecting with the developmental stage of the families iwith which you are trying to build community. Seems like you are looking for the "whole package" in one group of people. Probably impossible. I break it down into thre categories: community, social support, and friendship. Community is the group you identify with 'parent at X school" "Warriiors fan" " practicing Wiccan"-allows you to come together to reaffirm that aspect of your identity. Then there's social support-concrete help needed at various times. Flat tire, need a ride or pick up, new baby and meals arrive or whatever pops up and you have a way of getting help. Then there is friendship, those you can call on, confide in, share feelings, exchange advice, etc..  There are different groups and people I rely on and provide for that fill those needs. Yes, there is overlap, but there are people I  provide social support and vice versa (gay couple across the street), but I do not confide or bear witness to their innermost thoughts, feelings and dreams,  nor am I part of the gay community. But we are part of the community of neighbors and enjoy and rely on each other. Same with church. We have a wondeful sense of community and belongingness and we celebrate that, and if we needed it would provide concrete help.not many friends there, as most are much older, have lived different lives but still liike and respect each other immensely. School revolves around the kids, and nobody has the time or bandwith to support each other concretely or emotionally for the most part. Yes, there are parents I like, but the burdens of family are real, and make it hard to reciprocate, especially if they live over 3 miles away (literally) and if the kids aren't close or husbands don't click.  My friends are a handful of farflung people, some single, some with kids, some living far away, that I get to see infrequently but can talk to, write to, reach out to and get/give emotional support. These folks are not the ones who are generally available for concrete support, but we are close and are true friends. If I want to hang out and share food, there are generally a few neighbors who will come over, but I do not pressure school parents or elders of my church to socialize. They would likely not be able to reciprocate, and I would not want to put them in that bind. Those people are busy, tired, have their own stuff to deal with. Quit putting your expectations on any one group of people and cobble it together with various groups. It's OK to have community without getting/giving social support and/or building close friendships with them. As long as you have access to getting those needs met, then you are good. Branch out, develop interests and hold those who are friends near and dear in your heart. Don't expect any one group to provide it all.

I am with you on this one, as I know that being part of a community can make you feel connected, a support system, and companionship.  I grew up in a small town in the Rockies, and by it's nature of being small, it felt like there was more community. I moved away from home and out of state for college at age 17 and never really went back.  My husband is from the Boston area, and when I visited out there with him, it definitely felt like there was more community there, with extended family and long time friends in the area, and many more of them staying nearby to live their lives and be near extended family.  Many people in the Bay Area are from other places, and before we had kids, we had a very strong community through work, activities, and common interests.  As a single person in my early 20's I joined many organizations with weekly "show up events" and had lots of fun and through that developed a close set of friends.  I met my husband through these groups and activities, and over time we naturally coalesced into a tight group that we saw on weekends and evenings. Then we had children and our community changed.  We naturally stopped spending time with friends who chose not to have kids, partly because the activities we done with them were not compatible with doing with kids in tow.  It was a loss, but we cultivated a new community through the kids elementary school and sports activities.  Then as the elementary school friends went to different middle and high schools, the community and friend landscape changed.  You didn't say how old your children are, but relationships do change, and sometimes it is hard to accept.  We had several dear friends with kids the same age as children as ours but the kids didn't really "hit it off", so we spent less time with those friends.  Now that we have one kid in college and one entering high school next year, we are struggling again with re-cultivating the community.  I don't think your expectations are out of line but I do agree that it is a sign of the times.  I agree that many people are stretched very thin in the Bay Area because of the stress of work, commutes, traffic, and the demands of kids school and activities. Finding the community can be based on finding those people who have the same interests and values as you do developing a relationship.  Some people find through their church, temple, book club, kids school, sports team or activities, hobbies, volunteer work, etc.  Sounds like you have tried to foster the connections but haven't quite found it yet.  I feel the same way and recognize it might be a stage of life and that I need to keep working on finding the community, doing what I enjoy and hoping there will be others there who I can be with, and suggesting and hosting get togethers whenever possible, or even just coffee with a potential "mom friend".  Good luck to you! 

This question seems to come up a lot, so I wanted to respond. A few years ago my husband and I moved to the East Coast (for job reasons). We had a really hard time establishing community there. We became close friends with one family, and we still keep in touch with them, but no one else really clicked. We eventually moved back to the Bay Area, where we have friends and community from long ago. My sense is not that people here are not friendly or polite, but rather that we are all overwhelmed - at least those of us from two-working-parents families. I have met several families that I really liked and wished I had time to connect with, but between work, kids and (now) a sick parent, there's simply no time left over. So it's not that I don't want to be your friend, but that I don't have the mental energy or time to do it. I think a lot of us feel this way. 

With that said, we have made a few new good friends over the years, mostly through the kids' school, and mostly through their friendships, when the friends' parents happen to be like-minded people. 

So... my suggestion, if you have the resources/energy to have people over, then do. If you can join a faith based community (if that appeals), then do. If you like some of your kids' friends' parents, hang out before or after or during playdates. Have patience. As our kids get older, we have (just a tiny bit) more room to breathe. 

I wanted to offer a different perspective on the Bay Area.  I'm from Oakland, and still live here, yet have experienced a lot of the things you have - people not reciprocating, seeming flakey and not so interested in a group of friends.  Interestingly, the vast majority of people we meet are NOT from the Bay Area - they're from somewhere else.  And that kind of goes to what a lot of people have commented about lack of connections.  There are a lot of transplants here from all over, many people don't have extended family or lifelong friends.  It does create a different energy.  I think people's responses about families with 2 working parents is correct, many of us just have less time for developing friendships.  Also whether your families "line up" (i.e., kids the same age) is important, and I agree that it can be a block-by-block thing.  Someone mentioned taking the long view, and that is what worked for us (our kids are now 9 and 13).  We tried many different combinations of families over the years, looking for that perfect foursome that would all camp and go to the snow together, but what worked was just continuing to invite groups of friends over and eventually a bunch of them became friends with each other, and now we have our foursome.  But it took about 8 years.  And we still don't have the "automatic casual Friday night crowd," probably because we're on the wrong block.  ;)  Maybe just keep trying to play matchmaker with your various friends; hopefully some of them will click and you can all do more things together.  Good luck, I totally feel for you.