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Moved to a new location, still unable to connect to people
February 22, 2010 6:16 AM   Subscribe

This is an update correlating to a previous post about my social problems and lack of interests in life. I moved to a new location in an attempt at clarity and change, and to some extent have gained some, but I still have a question. THIS IS A VERY VERY LONG POST, like 25+ paragraphs long, so thanks out to those who take time to read it.

I hope this isn't too long, but this topic is a follow-up to a previous one I made before, the link is here.

Thanks out to anyone who replied in that topic.

It's been half a year since that topic started, so my apologies if this topic seems like a repeat but I wanted to get fresh responses. And as stated, this is going to be LONG because I don't want to leave out details.

Let me explain my new circumstances:
As shown in my last topic, I was getting fed up with my lack of an active life and how it was affecting my social life. After making a weak effort at trying a few new things and getting easily discouraged and giving up, I decided I needed to make a more forceful change.

My father had suggested some time ago that I could go to Hong Kong if I want and learn my home language, Cantonese. So on a whim I decided to go and stay there for as long as necessary to learn the language, with the goals of:

1) Having at least some goal, to get myself moving, and feel like I'm doing something useful. Hence, learning Cantonese.

2) I wanted to see whether moving to a different area and meeting supposedly completely different people would have any effect on my social problem.

3) I wanted to be able to pretend I had a fresh start, and not have to think about anything related to the friends who weren't really friends or other regretful memories I had in my home area.

So last year, in September, I arrived. After getting settled in, I immediately applied for Cantonese classes, but I was too late for full-time because of my arriving on a whim, so I took a part-time. Being awful at self-studying to make up for the lack of a full-time class (Experience made me wary that I would not have the self control to do it), I decided I needed more to fill my schedule and I took up running/exercising again for the first time since high school and also signed up for a martial arts class for every evening.

I settled down fairly quickly because despite the fact that a ton of people couldn't even understand my language, when I asked myself how I felt one week after arriving I immediately knew that it felt the exact same as in the US because I only had one friend there anyways. I made a point to get to know everybody in my class -- an actor who was dedicated to his family, a Korean banker, a teacher, etc. As it was part-time the crowd was generally quite a bit older than I and all had jobs, but I attempted to get to know them anyways. I also got in touch with a few peers my brother had met in his university and recommended to me.

Much to my dismay, the same problems occurred again. I felt that same lack of connection, and while I was hanging out with one of my classmates, wondering why the hell I was even there if I didn't have fun hanging out with him, I thought to myself: Am I trying too hard? Is making friends really supposed to be this difficult?

I realized the answer was no. Friends become friends because they naturally like each other's qualities, not because they tried insanely hard to be interesting to each other. Because I had such difficulty finding someone who was genuinely interested in me I had, over the previous years, come to the conclusion that I simply had to be more interesting.

After all, I was always somewhat well known in every community I got involved in because of my odd personality and, I'm assuming, looks (I've always thought I was quite a bit better looking than the average Chinese guy). It was difficult to believe that after going through all these people throughout my life, that maybe they all just didn't get along with me, and that I didn't really have a problem myself.

Back to my point: I asked myself that if I wasn't supposed to try so hard to make friends, then why in the world was I doing it? Why was I hanging out with people that I felt like I didn't even want to be with? The answer was obvious, I wanted at least some company.

So I decided to reach a compromise: I would still hang out with people to fulfill my desire of company, but even if I felt it was my own personality that was hindering a possible friendship, I wouldn't push myself. I understood that "just being myself" would mean I would be subject to more of the "feeling left out" feeling, but in the past 10 years I had definitely tried my hardest to be an entertaining, lovable friend and I didn't exactly come out with much to show for it, so, at least for the time being, I probably should just settle for company, accept that I might be lonely for a while, and keep myself open to the possibility that there are people out there that I don't have to pour everything into just to be friends.

After sleeping on it, I noticed the following day that the deep, self-deprecating shadow that always seemed to haunt me even in my happy moments, was gone. I wondered if it was just a temporary relief, like had happened innumerable times during my depressions after reaching small epiphanies and then plunging back into depression again a few days/weeks later. But the peaceful feeling persisted. If I were to try put it into words, I'd say that though I was neither happy or sad, perhaps I was simply accepting of the circumstances for once.

This is the first conclusion I have reached: my compromise, and the open-mindedness to the possibility that maybe I just need to keep looking.

Fast forward to the present. As of now, I'm now enrolled as a full-time student, giving me access to many more classmates and the main campus, and thus, a much more involved social surrounding. My martial arts school has people coming in from different countries all the time and I meet new people almost every week there. I've probably been acquainted with at least 50 people since arriving here, and I hang out with my classmates and a few other acquaintances on a regular basis.

Just as predicted, I still can't connect with people, and I'm still always "just there" when hanging out with friends. Though I am no longer troubled by my lack of ability to hold a conversation/connect, and my current situation is far better than previously, my compromise does not mean that I want to give up looking for a decent friend. I may not be agonizing over my predicament anymore, but that sure as hell doesn't mean I think feeling lonely is satisfactory.

So on to explaining my second conclusion. If you've read this far already, I hope you've had a nice drink to accompany you, or maybe a fuzzy cat, chinchilla, or chinchilla cat to pet or something. Anyways:

I have done a lot of thinking on the replies to my last post. In my last post many replies were skeptical that I honestly had nothing to talk about. Maybe I do, maybe I don't. Regardless, I'll try to explain a bit more of my personality, and also write a conversation similar to one I had today, perhaps it will give a better look.

(At lunch table with classmates/students from other classes)
Me: *Sits down, having just gotten lunch*
Lily:, I go to Starbucks all the time, and there's always this guy...*tells story, finishes*
Me: (Genuinely entertained) *Laughs* That's cute. Why did you talk to him anyways?
Lily: Oh, I like to study there a lot. He's just always there.
Me: Oh, that's cool. (I consider whether to ask why she likes studying there, but Lily doesn't look interested in further describing her reasons there. In fact, she looks a bit put off that I managed to direct the conversation away from her entertaining story without making an interesting opinion about it.)
Randy: Haha, you know what you should have done instead? ...*carries on conversation, chatter is directed away from me*
Everyone: *Laughs*
Lily: Oh, that reminds me of...*etc etc*

That's generally how quickly any topic or story gets shot down when talking with me, regardless of the person. I usually ask an open-ended question about the other person because I cannot think of any other reply, story, or memory that would usually have any relation to the topic at hand. As much as I'd like to give a colorful comment/opinion about what I thought about her story, "That's cute," is as interesting as most of my opinions get about most topics. Mainly because...

I am generally very simple and agreeable about everything, possibly to a fault. I do not have a favorite movie/tv show/song/book, though I can list plenty that I have enjoyed. I have never looked up to anyone as a role model and generally find most people agreeable/understandable to some extent, which is why my opinions are so stale and are rarely sought out by others. I despise shopping for things such as clothes because I always think "Hmm, that looks decent," and can never pick what I want to buy because they all seem to look ok, and they all seem to be somewhat comfortable. I like so many different kinds of foods that I never really seem to know what my favorite one is. I do not mind physically uncomfortable circumstances, such as fasting for a week without food or sleeping on a bench not even long enough for half of my body in freezing temperatures with only a ski jacket.

Even during my depression, I rarely would even think to myself that I disliked something, aside from my current circumstances and anything that goes against my general ethical views. I have only had, to my knowledge, one person who ever disliked me in my life, and he later became slightly friendly when he realized I did not reciprocate the feelings and that we shared many mutual friends.

So I think everything is so-so, or that everyone has their reasons for saying/doing this or that, basically. I don't question things much. When I compare it to how most people I know generally react to situations, I wonder if that is why people find me rather uninteresting or unexcitable.

In addition, my sense of humor is generally very dry and not very witty, so I also tend to take things too literally and have killed innumerable jokes before or reacted in a manner too casual or self-conscious whenever I was the butt of them. A very noticeable pattern to me throughout every social group I've been in is that people generally stop being playful with me very quickly as soon as they get to know me a little, even if they were initially. I'm pretty sure that tells me that I probably don't connect well with them.

So if my opinion is generally not very interesting, and I'm not very fun to play around with or to tell stories to, then that means, at least to basically all the people I've met so far, that I don't really have any appeals in terms of being a friend someone respects/finds interesting (Reasonable and/or interesting opinions), or as a friend someone likes to hang out and have fun with(Playful/Humorous).

So if that's the case, that leaves me the option of being the last kind of friend, the kind that you can come to with problems to talk about and the kind that will help you if you ask for a favor. It's ironic, because I've always considered this one of my strongest traits and I when I was younger I always thought that I could still get by and make good friends with this, at least.

I've made plenty of friends in this respect over the course of my life. The good feeling between us remains, but as soon as the other friend's problems no longer need my ear/assistance, we had nothing to talk about any longer. Needless to say I have many friends like this who I have barely talked to over the previous years, both because of this lack of connection on a relative level and because of life's chores getting in the way.

Thinking about all this, I conclude that it may also be possible that I really do need to improve/change on some aspects of my personality.

So, weighing these two conclusions that I have reached:
What is my priority right now? Do I continue to seek more and more people, regardless of circumstance? Do I focus on meeting as many people as I can? Would there be some chance that there is actually somebody out there that would actually enjoy hanging out with me as I am now?

Or do I focus on searching for an interest, and by doing so, meet other people who share the same interests, and possibly connect with them through that interest? Will that somehow break through this apparent "personality wall" that I always have? there some other option I have not considered?

Thanks out for reading.
posted by formaltide to Human Relations (29 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
is there some other option I have not considered?

My opinion is that this:

Friends become friends because they naturally like each other's qualities, not because they tried insanely hard to be interesting to each other.

is the wrong way to look at friendship. You sound like you're searching for a friend the way some people search for a "soul mate," and you're unsatisfied that you don't feel some magic connection. Friendship is a process, and you have to work at it. Friendship happens as you spend time getting to know people. It does take work, even after you become best friends for all time with someone--because you have to keep talking, listening, sharing, having fun together. It takes real effort.
posted by sallybrown at 6:31 AM on February 22, 2010

Sallybrown is right - friendship happens over time as you get to know and trust one another. And I don't agree with your paradigm that you have to be either really interesting or funny or useful to slot into someone's life - if you give things time, just getting to know one another as you are is what leads to friendship. Let me say this - you sound like an incredibly interesting person. I read your other question and it breaks my heart that a man who is living abroad and taking language classes and studying martial arts and meeting people from all over the world worries that he mustn't be interesting because he doesn't care about cars or clothes or celebrities. You're amazing! What you also are is depressed, though, and while you are (in many ways) an exceptional person, it's foolish to think that you're excepted from the treatments (different modes of therapy, maybe medication) that are known to be effective for what is a pretty common condition.
posted by moxiedoll at 6:40 AM on February 22, 2010

First, making friends IS hard, and it's harder the older you are. It DOES take work, it IS difficult, and you DO have to push yourself. And face rejection.

To your larger question, it's possible you have skewed expectations of friendship. It sounds almost like you want a friendship like you've seen on TV, or in the movies, instead of one that actually suits your personality. Some people are quiet. Some people are over-literal. Some people kill jokes (*coughmyhusbandcough*). That doesn't prevent them from having friends who like them and overlook their deficiencies or consider those deficiencies fondly. (In fact, maybe that the definition of a friend -- someone who knows your deficiencies and spends time with you anyway!)

People have different sorts of friendships. I have friends with whom I'm not particularly playful; they're often restful sorts of people whose happiness isn't quite as frenetic as some of my other friends.


I've made plenty of friends in this respect over the course of my life. The good feeling between us remains, but as soon as the other friend's problems no longer need my ear/assistance, we had nothing to talk about any longer. Needless to say I have many friends like this who I have barely talked to over the previous years, both because of this lack of connection on a relative level and because of life's chores getting in the way.

Sounds pretty normal to me. Most friends come and go, and if you're a good listener, you do stand a good chance of being the friend who collects other peoples' psychic detrius. If the good feeling remains after your lives have moved on, I'm not sure what else you're looking for.

As to small talk, I was always rotten at it growing up, but I've found it gets easier as you get older and collect experiences, and can chat about college, about weddings, about babies, about other people's bad relationship decisions, etc. (After I got married, I felt like I'd been initiated into an entire universe of "small talk with other women" that I had previously always felt excluded from. Just being able to talk about my "colors" made a huge difference!) I think some people are born knowing how to do this, but I never really understood the point of it and it seemed hard to me. Now I think it's just little human things that aren't very important but that humans like to talk about because they're humans. It's not meant to be fascinating, just to fill space and create connection, like going to a minor-league baseball game when it's really hot out so you're just melting in the seat and so hot that you don't mind ten-minute breaks in the action because you're really just lounging anyway. Something easy to enjoy when you're relaxing.

What sort of connection, exactly, are you trying to make?
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 6:40 AM on February 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

I may be off base here, but I wonder if you watch many movies, and if so, if you have developed a lot of hollywood-based expectations for social interactions? I know I've had to consciously reject many of them - there are so many unrealistic ways that people on the big screen interact with each other that it's hard to remember that it's usually not how real life works!

For example, it sounds to me like you have some anxiety when in casual conversation about not having interesting things to say, or being sidelined in the conversation. I would bet that it would help if you could let go of some of that expectation of fluid wittiness, and I wonder if maybe you got that expectation from watching scripted dramas/comedies where the characters always know what to say...BECAUSE THEY HAVE A SCRIPT! I know I've noticed that sort of expectation in me.

Conversation is a skill, there's no doubt about it, and it comes more naturally to some people than to others. I certainly don't say that to make you stress out more about it, because that won't help, but I think you'll certainly get better with time, but more importantly, with more relaxation. I've found it's difficult to really listen and integrate what other people are saying if I'm constantly worrying about having something interesting to say when they're done.

I'd also recommend trying to ease up on your desire to direct the conversation, and learn to be okay with the conversation taking a right turn away from something you wanted to say. I think you'll find it takes some of the pressure off you and lets you rely on others to move the conversation, which may help you relax about it, which will probably let you feel more connected. Good luck.
posted by Salvor Hardin at 6:42 AM on February 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

(I'm not trying to be heteronormative with my small talk examples, those are just the things that turned out to work for me as I went through those experiences. I can't think of other examples because I'm still not very good at small talk!)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 6:42 AM on February 22, 2010

I would not be too discouraged about the class -- people from part-time classes usually have a lot of other things on their plates and they are, as a whole, more focused on the end than the process of learning. They have more of a "get in, do the lesson, get out" attitude, and, coupled with the age difference, this will be an impediment. You might have more luck once you can start regular classes (assuming you are going to do this).

Also, what sallybrown and moxiedoll said.
posted by GenjiandProust at 6:46 AM on February 22, 2010

Thank you for the replies! I didn't expect so many so quickly.

First off, I'm not depressed. Not anymore. No, I don't watch many movies, I don't even watch TV. I've probably watched less movies than anyone else I know. I didn't even pick up reading until last year. Thus, I'm pretty sure I'm not quite as heavily influenced by media drama as I might be otherwise.

Perhaps I'm sounding a bit desperate for a really deep relationship, but this is the case: I do NOT like hanging out with my friends. I've had certain friends for years back in the US, and I really feel that I did try to work at the relationship. I think when I hang out with someone several times a week in group settings, try to talk with them as much as I feel I can, and find 2 years later that I feel like I did with them when I met them, then I feel like something is wrong. Especially when it happens for half of my life with most of the people that I think are enjoyable people, but that I personally don't enjoy hanging out with because all I ever do is sit around trying to think of something to talk about.

Yes, I am quiet. And I have every right to be. But I don't WANT to be quiet. Sitting around observing people for years gets boring and lonely. I want to at least be able to say to ask someone to coffee without a group setting without us finding out after we meet 1 on 1 that we just kind of sit there for an hour sipping coffee and not really saying anything.

There really is no pressure on me to direct a conversation anymore. That's what the first half of my post was about. I hang out with these people that I mentioned. I don't really talk much. I'm cool with that. But I can't really see them as friends either. I enjoy the company, but I don't really have fun with them. It's still better than being alone though, so hey, take what I can get, yah?

Anyways, please take into consideration that I am NOT quite the same person as in my previous post and I am not desperate. But I think it'd be cool to get some answers more quickly if I can, and I think you all might have some useful advice. So please, keep replying, but don't give me advice about depression, I don't really need it. I just want to know your opinion about the issue at hand.
posted by formaltide at 6:56 AM on February 22, 2010 [2 favorites]

This is really telling:

enjoyable people, but that I personally don't enjoy hanging out with because all I ever do is sit around trying to think of something to talk about

The problem isn't a lack of potential friends--it's your anxiety about social interaction. (To get it over with now: Therapy, therapy, therapy, try it.)

Maybe my life is your personal hell, but pretty much all I ever do is sit around trying to think of something to talk about. If fact, I kind of think sitting around trying to think of something to talk about is the human condition. If you're looking for friendships where you won't have to do this, you're not going to find any.

we just kind of sit there for an hour sipping coffee and not really saying anything

You know why? Because you're both sitting there trying desperately to think of something to talk about, and because you have just met, it's much harder to do. Why not just say something? Ask the other person a question? When you get to be good friends with someone, it's much easier to think of things to talk about because you know all about your friend and her life.
posted by sallybrown at 7:10 AM on February 22, 2010

Oh, I meant to reply to this, too, but I forgot to in the last comment.

Eyebrows McGee said:
"What sort of connection, exactly, are you trying to make?"

That's an excellent question. I just want someone that's fun to hang out with. I don't want someone that I can tell all my problems to over and over and that will give me hugs and stuff. I mean, that'd be nice, but I have people who care about me and would listen to my problems already. What those same people cannot do though is just kind of chill with me and have fun.

Salvor asked where my impressions of friendship had come from. They come from the people I've hung out with. I watch how they interact with each other, maybe they're not like best friends, but they sure know how to make each other laugh, how to give each other things to do, and how to I've majorly been around people in group settings, so maybe my view is skewed and that's just their party spirit, but I wonder why I can't have fun like that too.

Sally, I suppose I'm not communicating properly. I don't sit around WISHING I had something to talk about, I try to think about something to talk about because I just don't want to sit around doing nothing and boring the other person. A few minutes of quiet is ok, but after half an hour I begin to wonder why we even bothered to hang out if we weren't going to talk. I'm not distracted and lost in my own thoughts, I'm usually paying more attention to other people, especially in group settings where something is almost always going on. In more private settings, though, one person cannot keep the conversation going forever.
posted by formaltide at 7:16 AM on February 22, 2010

I agree with asking the other person a question. My father once gave me some really valuable advice with regard to making friends. The gist of it was that most people really enjoy talking about themselves and a solid way to engage them and help instill feelings of goodwill from them to you is to ask them questions about themselves. Think about how it feels when someone shows interest in you-- do you tend to have warmer feelings towards the asker? A good silence-breaker is to ask some thoughtful questions that are tailored to the individual with whom you are speaking, and then really listen to the response, and then show that you were listening by asking more questions that go deeper into their original response.
posted by mireille at 7:20 AM on February 22, 2010 [3 favorites]

Thanks, Mireille, that's more of the kind of reply I was looking for. Advice on the matter.

Mmm, I think most of my sentences are generally questions, as I've shown in my example in the original post, but I think you have something here. I tend to ask very generic or general questions, but I rarely ever tailor a question to a person...usually, because I feel I don't know them well enough, or perhaps I'm anxious about being too presumptious.

One thing that generally happens a lot is I hit off VERY well with people I just met. And a few weeks later, we're still cool. Half a year down the line? It's gotten a lot more quiet.

Perhaps I'm not asking the right kinds of questions, and thus I'm not getting enough information about people. Without the right information, I can't ask further questions more tailored to the individual.
posted by formaltide at 7:26 AM on February 22, 2010

Something I've found useful in gaining new friends is establishing some sort of shared or common experience that's new to both/all of you. It gives you ground to relate to each other on. For me, this has usually been (at least in the beginning) work and dealing with the general workplace drama and issues. Beyond that, even just going out for a drink with people has done lots for my friend group, however small. The people I went for drinks with after work my first month in my new job are still the people I feel closest to, almost a year later.

Since you don't seems to have trouble getting out with people, maybe you could try to make plans for a social group outing to a nearby destination: a picnic, a movie, a park (theme park or otherwise). Something outside of the normal time and place you would meet with these people. Think of it kind of like a group "date" coming with the "getting to know you better" part but minus the romance.
posted by miratime at 7:45 AM on February 22, 2010 [2 favorites]

It also sounds like you might do better in a one-on-one setting than in a group setting, where you can ask more questions and not feel pressure to be witty or jump in at high speed. The very quiet people I know generally enjoy listening during group events and may sit on the fringes, and are much more talkative in one-on-one conversations ... and because they listen so much, often remember things that were said during the group event and make me feel flattered that they heard me and remember to ask about my cat.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 7:49 AM on February 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

Good idea, Miratime. Back when I was younger I did used to host a lot of parties and get-togethers (I hosted the Grad Night party in high school), but after a while I realized I was just being used and I was usually way too busy holding the party to actually be able to mingle and have fun during it.

Of course, looking back at it now, it wasn't a bad move, I simply had bad friends. I seem to have forgotten that and developed a dislike to holding events myself because of that bad patch, but thinking about it again, I can't believe I didn't think of it myself. I'll start off simple, I'll invite some classmates to go drinking one of these weekends.
posted by formaltide at 7:53 AM on February 22, 2010

You hit me on the spot, McGee. I vastly prefer one-on-one situations because I can get more persona. I think most of the questions that naturally come to mind tend to be more personal, which is why they fall flat or never are even said in group settings.

That said, though, I generally never feel like I've gotten to know a person well enough to be able to naturally ask them out for a one-on-one. When I get in a social circle I'm usually perpetually stuck as a "groupie" because it is difficult to get to know people in the manner I prefer to in a group setting, and because I don't get to know them, it is difficult to invite them to a one-on-one to get to know them. Sort of a self-attacking cycle.

Your point is great, though: If I can prosper in one-on-ones more often, then it sounds like a reasonable idea to focus on getting into one-on-one situations with people from the start: perhaps meeting someone from online, or if I can find someone by themselves in certain social situations and start the relationship in a more private manner, I will have more success.

Thanks so far for the replies, I've gotten a lot to think about.
posted by formaltide at 8:00 AM on February 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

Have you thought about getting to know people online first, and THEN meeting them in person? You’re obviously very comfortable with the written word, so this might be a good way for you to click with people before meeting them in real life.

In the same vein, what about organizing/attending a Mefi meetup?
posted by yawper at 8:08 AM on February 22, 2010

"it is difficult to invite them to a one-on-one to get to know them."

Try this: Near the end of the group event, or by e-mail afterwards, say to Person X, "Hey, I was really interested in hearing more about your scuba vacation/your experience training dogs/your really interesting course of study, but I didn't want to derail the whole conversation -- would you like to get coffee next week and chat about it?" Of course said however feels natural to you. That lets you tie together the group and one-on-one experiences and have both, and is a very natural segue into a more individual relationship with someone.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 8:24 AM on February 22, 2010 [2 favorites]

I'm much more articulate when I write, probably because it's almost like talking to myself. And ho, am I good at talking to myself! I've done it so much that even when I'm with people I have this nasty habit of sometimes talking about things that make no sense unless someone had been hearing my mental thoughts for the last few minutes. And I don't even realize I did it until a minute later usually.

I don't actually know much about MeFi meetups, I'll search on the FAQ about it, thanks. Hopefully there's one around here. I did receive a comment on my last topic last year telling me to go to one, but I disregarded it in all the boundless optimism I had back then.

Anyways, I need to sleep for now, so I'll have to sit out on the discussion for now. Thanks out for your replies, even the ones that tried to convince me that I'm depressed even though for the first time in a decade I believe I'm not. I know you all have good intentions and it makes me happy to see people taking me seriously.

G'night, and have a good day, for those of you back in the US.
posted by formaltide at 8:24 AM on February 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

BTW, I got this technique of going from group to one-on-one from my quietest friend. She's also very upfront, if people ask her if she's okay, or having a good time, or mute, about just saying, "Oh, I'm just very quiet in groups, they make me feel shy, but I always enjoy hanging out and listening." I know that kind of openness isn't for everyone, but it really helped me understand her when I was getting to know her, although she probably said it four or five times before I believed her and started to get her! I feel like it took me longer to get to know her than a lot of people, because she is very quiet and earnest, she doesn't small-talk a lot, she likes to have real conversations, and she is pretty shy, but she's one of the nicest people I know and the effort to get to know her was worth it. (She also laments her difficulty in making friends because she's so shy and quiet.)

She also isn't a particularly witty-funny person, and when she finds something amusing she usually just smiles rather than laughs, but she's still fun/pleasant to be with. She's always willing to keep me company or try a new thing with me, even if it's a crazy thing, and she's genuinely interested in my life.

I will say I do sometimes hesitate to call her because she seems so self-contained that I don't want to intrude on her and feel like I might be imposing, and I know that's just because she's so quiet, but I sometimes feel that way anyway. (With her, I get around it by e-mailing, I feel less intrusive that way and she can ignore me if she's feeling super-quiet!) But hopefully knowing there's someone else out there who's like you in some ways who is a very valued friend, without having to change a thing about herself, is helpful.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 8:34 AM on February 22, 2010 [2 favorites]

No, I don't watch many movies, I don't even watch TV. I've probably watched less movies than anyone else I know. I didn't even pick up reading until last year. Thus, I'm pretty sure I'm not quite as heavily influenced by media drama as I might be otherwise.

This might be your problem.

It's potentially problematic in two ways: 1. It sounds like you've cut yourself off from easy topics of conversation--because books, movies, television, and sports really are easy topics of conversation with people you don't know well. I've completely relied on similar television viewing habits to forge friendships in places I wouldn't have otherwise (office jobs). "Did you see last night's episode of LOST?" is a great way to draw someone out of their shell and find a common ground. And 2. It sounds like you're not really interested in the inner workings of the lives of people. And talking about people is interesting. If you look at the clip of the conversation you provided, your friend was interested in talking about her interaction with another person--and you were interested in probing her about what she likes about a cafe.

The key is gossip. Gossip--that is, talking about the interactions and the personal lives of others--is where you'll forge deeper friendships, because gossiping not only exchanges information and provides conversation fodder but also makes it clear where alliances lie. You're willing to gossip with someone, which means that you trust them and they trust you. I've known few people who didn't gossip who maintained deep, enduring friendship; those who did had to work extra hard to forge alliances about other things (shared interests), but I also noticed that people around them often seemed a bit uncomfortable. If someone won't gossip with you (and it doesn't need to be vicious or judgmental gossip--just conversation about the lives of other people works), it's often seen as them not liking or trusting you.

Also, hating things is a good way to forge deeper friendships. Really, I mean it! I've made lasting friendships over holding strong opinions about, say, disliking a band or TV show or book. People love to talk about what they don't like, and why. It says at least as much as it does about holding interests in common, if not more.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 8:54 AM on February 22, 2010 [8 favorites]

Try not to take yourself too seriously--it's off-putting when a new acquaintance is too intense or unable to poke fun at himself.
posted by sallybrown at 9:06 AM on February 22, 2010

I just want someone that's fun to hang out with. I don't want someone that I can tell all my problems to over and over and that will give me hugs and stuff. I mean, that'd be nice, but I have people who care about me and would listen to my problems already. What those same people cannot do though is just kind of chill with me and have fun.

People who are fun to hang out with are people who care about you. Conversely, you are fun to hang out with when you care about people. It's tip of the iceberg when people chill out and have fun. What's observed is based on emotional sharing. Meanwhile, what you say you want is:

1. NOT someone you want to tell your problems to
2. NOT someone you want a hug from
3. NOT someone that cares about you
4. Someone to ONLY chill with, nothing else

Sounds like you want a situation that contains no emotional sharing, yet contains companionship and fun. The situation has been unobtainable because it doesn't exist. Companionship and fun depend on emotional sharing.

In terms of concrete advice, I recommend you work on problematic idea #3 first. The people you've been hanging out with DO care about you... it's too late, you can't stop them. If they didn't care, they wouldn't have sat through so many awkward conversations and uncomfortable silences without calling you out.

So you need to decide what you want to do about it. Do you want to ditch those people, because you were NOT looking-for-someone-to-care-about-you, you were looking-for-someone-to-CHILL-OUT-with-ONLY-dammit? Or do you want to revise the way you're thinking about this whole thing?
posted by halonine at 9:10 AM on February 22, 2010 [2 favorites]

At a quick glance, it seems like maybe you need to do things with other people that aren't as much about sitting around and talking. What if you go DO stuff together--play mini-golf, visit a museum, take a hike, do a wine or cheese or coffee tasting event, go to an arcade. That automatically gives you something to talk about.

I am a fairly quiet and self-contained person, and I am uncomfortable, even with people I've known for years, on a "coffee date". I'd much rather go hang out with the person doing something that both encourages conversation and gives us something to talk about than stare at them across a cafe table. Maybe you could give that a try?
posted by peanut_mcgillicuty at 9:13 AM on February 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

If you lack a fundamental sense of spirituality (and I'm not talking about organized religion here!) than you will never feel a sense of "connectedness" to anyone or anything.

I've read your questions and follow-ups. Your heart sounds profoundly disconnected from your head. You sound all "up in your head." Your mind is getting you into trouble.

Hey! Did you know science has proved the same cells in our brains are in our hearts? It's TRUE!

Forget people for a minute. Go sit underneath a tree. Listen to the birds talk to each other. make friends with a neighbor's pet. Drive out away from light pollution on a clear night and look at the stars. I mean REALLY look at the vastness and beauty of the Universe. Wow.

Just do something (ANYTHING!) to "jump start" the connection between your mind and your heart. Nature will do the rest.
posted by jbenben at 9:41 AM on February 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

Sorry if this makes no sense; it's late but some things leapt out at me.

1) It feels like you're viewing other people as objects, not people. You want to have friends so you're not alone, but you don't really care about connecting with them or knowing them ... you just want to fulfil a social need, just like one might buy an appliance to fulfil some function.

2) Being very agreeable about everything to the point of having no opinion is a fault. It's not a Fatal Flaw, but it's an irritating one. You're trying to be agreeable so you can please everyone ... but people hate people who have no opinions on anything, because you come off as being too insecure to float your thoughts on something, and so you end up pleasing nobody instead of everybody. Does that make sense? Your previous experiences have taught you to be cautious, play the numbers, don't rock the boat, but you need to take a stand somewhere.

3) Everything can be learnt. Everything! You sound like a reasonably smart guy. If you can't tell the difference between the various things in [some subject] and why X might be better than Y - learn the difference. Google it, read blogs, ask friends, etc; think of it as a self-study course where there are lots and lots of little details to remember. I say this because it's one thing to not care about the various differences between varieties of something (like ignoring extremes of temperature), and not noticing the differences entirely. It also sounds like this might be part of your problem with 1) - people are all the same to you, which is why you never connect with them, and they never connect with you.
posted by Xany at 11:02 AM on February 22, 2010

jbenben: [em]Did you know science has proved the same cells in our brains are in our hearts? It's TRUE![/em]

Given that they're also up our butts, I don't think that proves anything about human nature. Except that we're pretty well-innervated.
posted by kataclysm at 11:25 AM on February 22, 2010 [2 favorites]

Other people have addressed other things, I just wanted to address this:

I also tend to take things too literally and have killed innumerable jokes before or reacted in a manner too casual or self-conscious whenever I was the butt of them. A very noticeable pattern to me throughout every social group I've been in is that people generally stop being playful with me very quickly as soon as they get to know me a little, even if they were initially. I'm pretty sure that tells me that I probably don't connect well with them.

If you were to actively work on improving one thing, I think it would serve you well to react better in these situations -- not just when making friends, but in all aspects of life. Being the touchy one in a social situation is never a positive, for you or other people. If someone seems touchy, people are disinclined to get to know them better.

If someone is reaching out to you by being playful, and then you make them feel bad/guilty/what-have-you -- not because you mean to, but because your reaction is to be self-conscious or kill the humor -- then it's a really uncomfortable feeling for them, especially because most people are not expecting that reaction in the least. No one likes to feel like everything was fine, they were doing everything they normally do, and then suddenly they've bothered someone they wanted to get to know better. It makes people stop and ask themselves things like, "Do I come across as mean to other people and I haven't noticed it? Do other people not think I'm funny? Does he just not like me? Did I do something?" and the 180-change in mood is unpleasant.

Then you get a situation where people feel self-conscious in their behavior toward you. They're not going to act as genuine as they would otherwise. They won't interact with you as much as they would otherwise for fear of it going poorly. None of this means they don't like you or that you don't connect with them, you've just inadvertently created an obstacle to interacting with them.

You recognize already that if people can't joke around with you, then there's not a lot left they can do with you. You mention that you're a good listener when people have problems, but if people don't feel comfortable enough with you to joke around with you, and they associate unexpected negative feelings with their interactions with you, they're definitely not going to approach you when they're feeling emotionally troubled; they're going to go to someone who feels safer, whose reactions to their mundane behaviors don't make them feel off-kilter and self-conscious.

On top of all this, humor and teasing (not mean-spirited) is a prominent and important part of the way people grow closer and express affection for each other. It seems like you recognize that it plays a part in friendship but maybe you underestimate the part it plays. I'm not saying you have to be funny yourself -- you don't have to be funny to have friends -- but if people try to grow closer to you and express affection for you through humor and they get shut down, then it kills a connection before it can form.

The optimal response to good-natured teasing is to laugh; people who are willing to laugh at themselves come across as unthreatening, friendly, and generally more mature, and their reactions make other people feel safer and closer to them. One could also tease back after laughing, but I wouldn't recommend it if it's not your thing.

I would examine what it is that makes you feel self-conscious in those situations -- is it that you're sensitive about not having any close friends, so when you're in a social situation and trying your best and someone teases you, you worry they might not be joking? Do you simply feel uncomfortable with having the attention turned toward you? Do you feel as if you're being put on the spot to react? It could be any number of things, but it should be worth thinking about. Could you use your newfound sense of peace to feel less self-conscious in those situations?
posted by Nattie at 11:30 AM on February 22, 2010 [3 favorites]

I think I kill jokes not because I look like a deer in headlights or a confused child, but because I'm so literal and technical about things. I'm the type of guy that you could say something to like:

Friend: (Sees humorous situation) Hey, dude, did you see that guy yelling at the bus stop? That guy was nuts! (Waits for me to agree and make a funny comment or poke fun at the yelling guy)

Me: (Empathetic and curious with the stranger being made fun of) Hmm, maybe that wasn't the first bus that passed him by. He could be late to something important.

Friend: (Buzz killed) Eh, maybe.

Me: (Realizes that the situation was supposed to be humorous and that I killed it, but that it's too late to do much about it)

That conversation didn't actually happen, but it's a close example to when someone I know talks about gossip of some sort or a movie or something. In that conversation my desire to discover the reasons behind people's actions and behaviors actually led me away from the goal in front of me, which was to relate to my friend instead of some random stranger.

It was the same with my other conversational example: I thought to myself, hey, if she spends a lot of her time at Starbucks, it's something important to her. Maybe I should dig deeper on the topic. Too bad that was the wrong idea, I should have talked about the kitty like PhoBWan said. Unfortunately even after going through situations like this for years on years I seem to STILL have a really bad sense of understanding what people want to talk about. Probably because I don't find the things they talk about interesting.

In high school I remember that I thought if I had nothing decent to say about a topic, it was better to stay silent than to kill it by trying to add an opinion that wasn't really natural to me. In addition, I thought, why push myself to make awkward comments? I should just be myself. Unfortunately being myself meant that I pretty much was just present and I barely said a word to people for the next few months at school, despite that I hung out with them for over 2 hours a day. Maybe I was being TOO relaxed, so I quit on that plan.

When it comes to other jokes, I am generally good-natured about it and chuckle/laugh (I actually laugh a lot), but I think people also get bored when they realize later that they can practically entertain me with ANY story. Which is totally true, I'm like a puppy in that I can be entertained by just standing around for hours watching my friends talk about virtually anything or do anything, mundane or not. Just listening and watching doesn't fulfill my need to actually interact though, it just, as mentioned, fulfills my need for company.

Other advice after my last comment mentions I should:
1) Realize that "hang-out" friends also should be personally understanding friends

As for this, this is actually a personal story with me. Throughout most of high school I had an awesome friend who I considered to be my best friend. We started to get to know each other after he commented that he felt like I was a nice, reliable guy after a retreat. We also had many mutual friends already so we tended to see each other a lot in groups, but we always had deep talks when we were by ourselves.

After a year I decided to confide in him about the main problems of my depression and he listened very intently and did his best to counsel me each time. We had never actually hung out together on a one-on-one basis much even though we saw each other all the time in groups. The conversations were usually by internet or phone. He invited me to go hang out with him alone one day, but we couldn't decide on what to do, so he said we should just get together anyways an just wing it.

As it turned out though, we weren't really able to wing it much. We played a bit of console games and then couldn't think of anything to do for the rest of the time. I left a little disheartened that I couldn't even think of something fun to do with my best friend. The next time, I initiated and suggested we could go hang out somewhere, but when we couldn't decide on where to go that would be interesting, he said, "Well, we can't hang out if we don't know what to do. Just call me back when you think of something, ok?" To my dismay I couldn't think of anything.

Since I was not coping with my depression well, the deep talks we had started to kind of run in circles and center around me as he stopped talking about his own because he felt he didn't really have any big ones left. I realized that I was probably putting unnecessary pressure on him because he couldn't really help me, so I mentioned that I thought our talks were kind of going in circles and he also agreed. With nothing left to talk about, we started talking less and less, and the last thing he ever said to me was, "Hey, I know you probably feel abandoned, but know that you're not." High school ended after and we no longer saw each other frequently by chance and haven't talked since.

It was then that this whole "maybe I have a problem" thing came to my mind. Even someone with as good intentions as him couldn't get along with me. I began to think deeply on the topic, and I lost my self-confidence up until last year.

So...that's kind of why I think that it's really important to be able to connect on a let's-have-fun level as well as a personal level as well. I don't disagree with you, halonine, I think it was just my frustration at my inability to solve that missing piece of the puzzle that killed one of my best friendships. I have to say that I do honestly feel, despite what some replies say otherwise, that it's not possible to have a "deep" relationship with someone and yet at the same time have the inability to have fun with them.

That's why I'm hoping more of these replies are about how I can attain that and less about telling me how I am a nervous, depressed wreck with no confidence.

2) Gossip more and have more general knowledge about it, like watching movies

This is actually related to the last topic I made half a year ago that I linked to. I remember at the time many of my friends absolutely loved to gossip about celebrities, talk about movies/shows, and talk about cars. I actually made an effort to study about celebrities and cars a bit, I say study because I really found it boring and I couldn't figure out why the hell my friends had an interest in things they could not buy and about people who they would probably never really know. I watched some series and movies whenever they talked about them, but my general problem with having uninteresting opinions about things interfered when it came to attempting to talk about them. So...this route didn't really work for me, in fact it frustrated me because I practically felt like I was doing chores.

3) Be more interesting by having stronger opinions at times and being more sensitive to humor

I totally would love this, so I need to ask: how do I go about changing my natural opinions about things? How can I develop a better sense for humor when, despite reading many jokes, listening to comedy talk shows, and watching over and over how my friends tell each other jokes, I still have the ability to only think about the most mundane thing in a humorous situation? How can I change these aspects of my personality? I'd highly appreciate it if someone could elaborate on this.

Once again, thanks out for taking your time to reply.
posted by formaltide at 12:22 AM on February 23, 2010

You remind me of a friend of mine who I strongly suspect is somewhere on the Aspergers spectrum. Here are the bits that stood out to me in your post and follow-ups: My friend who is like this is a nice person, but it's hard work for me to hang out with her because she doesn't get a lot of social cues: body language, inference, facial expressions, hints.

I can't say to her "So, I'm really busy," and expect her to realise that we need to wrap things up. I need to say "I need to work right now." Once I realised that, I also realised that while it would be rude to say things so directly to other people, it was required with her and she didn't perceive it as rude. But I need to switch modes with her.

I can't playfully tease her because she gets confused or hurt. So I don't.

I think our discussions are difficult for her too, because she knows that she's missing a lot of information and she doesn't understand why it's hard for people to talk to her. She keeps trying to do conversations 'right', but she's missing a lot of the social cues, so she's in the dark. It's not that she's not interesting (she totally is), but she doesn't follow conversational norms. She doesn't do small talk. She doesn't do back-channeling. She doesn't get sarcasm or implications. She says everything very directly and therefore can seem very rude. She doesn't have a great sense of things you can ask about versus things that are private. And, to top it all off, I don't think she's very aware of this. She just knows she has to work hard at conversations and seems to be doing them wrong.

With your question to Starbucks girl, I see you trying to figure out why she would interact with another person, rather than understanding that and laughing about the interaction's weirdness. I see you studying gossip and celebrities and not getting it at all. Not "Yeah, not really up my alley" but "what the hell is this? I don't get it." I see you realising too late that there was a joke somewhere in the conversation but you missed the indirect meaning of your friend's statement and therefore missed the joke.

Happily, even if you don't 'have' Aspergers, you can still take advantage of the tools they use for picking up on these mysterious social cues. Have you tried looking into that and seeing if it helps?
posted by heatherann at 6:28 AM on February 25, 2010 [2 favorites]

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