Help me interpret my situation and figure out the practical implications of the social advice/philosophies that my friends have been giving me about it. (Warning: a super long and arguably dramatic story awaits you.)
So for the past year, I have been feeling rather dissatisfied with my social interactions with others. Entering a university right across the country for the first time last year (I'm now in second year), I had some fairly high expectations of the connections that I would be able to make. I was told that universities were chock-full of intelligent people who would share your interests; that the friendships that you made during university would be life-long, some of the strongest ones you would ever have; that you would be able to meet people who fully enjoyed and accepted you for who you were. You know. All of the typical "university is a great place to build connections" repertoire from older friends and family.
Sparkly-eyed by all of the idealistic talk, I made a commitment to myself to step up my efforts to get to know people - a pretty big leap for me, someone who had, l throughout the earlier stages of my academic procession, very rarely shown any interest in others at all! This aspect of me was actually pretty severe: to the point that some of my teachers even suspected that I was autistic and shuttled me off to a psychologist to get tested in grade 7. (If you're curious: the psychologist did eventually diagnose me with Asperger's Syndrome, but I never paid much heed to it simply because even at a younger age, I was still highly conscious of the absurdity of the testing. One of the memories I still have of the testing was a question where the therapist asked me to pick two objects out of a list that were the most similar - although I knew the "correct" answer would be "Fish and Fin", I chose "Fish and Spider" because I thought it would be more reasonable on a taxonomical classification since I was dealing with someone with a PhD. The psychologist simply shook his head disapprovingly, muttered to himself as he scrawled down notes on his pad, and I had to purse my lips to avoid giving a snarky comment on how patronizing he was being. Even now, while I reflect back on it: while certain aspects of the diagnosis do ring true, other aspects do not. The diagnosis has always struck me as a form of therapeutic cold-reading: by presenting itself as an array of symptoms that could be considered as personality traits, it offers reassurance to those feeling out of the norm. Consequentially, I've always had a disdain for it. But I digress.)
To me - or at least the me who was starting university - I always thought that my lack of social interest wasn't as much caused by ineptitude as it had been just a lack of resonance between myself and others. My interests never matched up with any of my schoolmates or peers when I was younger; and beyond that, I had a pretty bad habit of looking down on them as well. I was always extremely goal-orientated, something that still persists to today. Part of the reason why would have been due to my severe hearing loss: while I could certainly still communicate verbally with others with no problem, to do so would require a tremendous concentration on my behalf since I would have to drop everything and focus 100% on the person in order to speechread them properly. As a result, all throughout my earlier schooling life, I always regarded casual interaction as too much of a hassle for too little payout. (Of course, this philosophy has changed much in the past year as I increasingly begin to realize the emotive and mental benefits of socialization and making friends that I had never considered in the past.)
But when I needed to put in the effort to engage people (mostly because I needed them for whatever grand scheme I had going on at that point in life), I would have no problem whatsoever. Many would certainly describe me as overwhelmingly charismatic when I put in the effort to be (again, something that persists today - I have an extreme degree of success as a student politician in thanks to this trait of mines), and I never had any trouble in amassing hordes of people around me to do whatever I wanted to do. I remember running around my elementary school and amassing several hundred signatures from practically every kid in a petition to "end homework" in grade 6. And in high school, I shocked many by raising nearly a thousand dollars for a charity simply by going to the forefront of each class and delivering a smooth salespitch - while other clubs would struggle to raise even a hundred dollars by doing the exact same thing.
And my routine seemingly worked, or at least for the opening throes of university. In particular, I exercised it on my floor in residence last year. Everyone was seemingly caught up in my wave of charisma. I had developed numerous connections and made my acquaintance with a great array of people. I certainly gave damned good first impressions, if anything. But before I could sit down and pat myself on the back for a job well done, I realized that things felt horribly wrong.
While it was hard for me to completely elucidate and express the feelings of wrongness that I had, the physical effects seemed fairly noticeable to me. Everyone's relationships were advancing so fast without me; while they were achieving what seemed like whole new heights of complexity amongst themselves, my relationships with them continued to remain fairly shallow. To give you an example, by November, everyone had already chosen their roommates for next year - and I was just sitting there, boggered by how fast they got to knew each other to make that decision (naturally, I'm living alone off-campus right now.) I was constantly being overlooked - while everyone was running about with each other and inviting everyone else everywhere, I would just sit in my room daily, door propped open, but no one peering inside to engage me in plans at all. And while I was reassured by my suite-mate that it was simply my imagination - occasionally, when I passed groups of my floormates walking by, I would swear that I could see my name being spoken in a malicious light on their lips. Of course, it was absurd - I had done nothing to make them dislike me, and they were still very openly affable to me, but it contributed to my feeling of ostracization.
If I were to put a word upon it now after significant reflection, I would say that I lacked any feeling of community or comradeship with my so-called "friends".
Naturally, I had many very plainspoken conversations with my floor-mates about this issue. They were all very surprised that I was feeling this way. And while they reassured me that it was nothing malicious and that everyone loved me very dearly, the situation simply wouldn't reverse itself. I got the feeling that what was occurring was just something no one could consciously control. Before long, I began isolating myself out of frustration and an acute depression; while at the start of this, people would pound on my door to inquire what was wrong, eventually, they just all left me alone. Eventually, word got to my ears through my suite-mate that the majority of my floor had concluded that I was simply being immature and in my "angsty teen" stage that "everyone went through when they were 13" and that they felt the best solution was just to leave me alone like the spoiled kid I was. I was furious! I felt as if they were being too presumptuous in judging the situation without even comprehending what my true concerns were; and I felt like I was being patronized by them. But I chose to say nothing more to them, being too tired and miserable to want to make them understand.
Those feelings hung over me like a dark cloud throughout the entire year, keeping me in a constant state of melancholy while I was inside the residence (outside of residence was a different issue: even I was unnerved by the stark contrast just caused by locale - I was still pursuing a highly successful platform on student council and overachieving in all my classes). While I tried a few more times to reconnect to my peers under the faint hope that I had erred in my judgment, those feelings of depression paired with (from my point of view) the numerous misconceptions that were hovering all about quickly shut me down.
I'm glad to be out of that situation.
If anything, it left me very hopeless and exhausted about people for a great deal of time. I rationalized to myself that I had been too overconfident in my assessment of myself. I didn't know what was going wrong with my interactions with others, but I attributed it to a lack of experience: because I had avoided friendships when I was younger, I had missed something fundamental, something unspoken. And it terrified me because of the great time stretch it represented. I had unknowingly developed a social stunt that tailed all the way back to elementary school. And here I was, with everyone but me on the same page and continuously progressing in their maturity, with myself stuck all the way at the back. While I was at no loss for casual company at my university (I still had plenty of acquaintances outside of the residence from my classes and extracurricular involvement), I reasoned to myself that because of my ineptitude, I would never be able to develop any true emotional ties with people. That scared me.
But that hopelessness eventually did wind to a halt, and despite my rational objections to it, I've found myself beginning to reach out to others at the beginning of the year again. It was so frustrating. I wished nothing more but to return to my old, self-sufficient personality; and yet, I found myself increasingly wanting to be connected to others. Deeply irritated at my irrationality, but still recognizing that there was nothing that I could do to quench these feelings, I found myself in a juxtaposition of hopefulness at a second fresh start, and despair that I would make the same mistakes again.
I decided the best option would be to confer with two life-long friends in other cities I've had to see what their recommendations were.
One was vastly different from me; she was a girl with an extreme number of connections, highly affable and involved socially, having grown up in a way that I considered "normal" for everyone else - had she not have been the daughter of a family friend of mine's, I would have never had any connections with her, but now, I'm grateful that I remained tied to her, if only out of obligation; I ended up visiting her in her city on a three-day weekend that I had to talk over these things with her, and we had a blast where she introduced me to all of her friends and just had a generally good time. Another, in the States, was fairly similar to me in circumstance and nature, and he described having similar thoughts and problems when I contacted online for one of our routine chats. I gave both an (abridged) rendition of my first year, and asked them for their take on it.
Surprisingly, both gave me very extremely similar themes as to why my social life in university hadn't worked out the way that I wanted it to. They gave me very similar assessments of how I differed from others, and explained why I wasn't getting gratification through the same avenues.
For one, both pointed to how I would squeeze every drop of use out of every conversation that I would have. Both told me that for every single conversation they would have with me, it wouldn't be as much as just "juggling words" like they did with other people (pleasantries, like my first friend described it), but more like keeping up with me (this was the part where I frantically asked my first friend if she felt like I was acting superior to others, but she reassured me that she never felt that way because I was always very patient and willing to wait and listen to other formulate their thoughts). They told me that typical conversations were just empty words - and mine's never were. While they could be serious or casual or fun or philosophical, they would always make people think. I would constantly respond with an opinion, an assessment, just something that would keep it going on a higher level. And both told me that while some people enjoyed that aspect of me (they certainly did, having been friends with me for so long), most people didn't. My second friend cynically told me that most people were selfish, and wished to maintain relationships without much effort on their behalf at all, mental or otherwise.
My first friend also told me that most people preferred to be around people just because they didn't want to be alone, and that wouldn't ever apply to me. She said that for someone as goal-orientated as myself, I would never bother just "hanging out" with people, and she said that was the majority of what most people would do in a friendship - just sitting around and exchanging idle conversation and enjoying not being alone. For someone who always wanted constant movement, I wouldn't be content in a point of perceived stasis - and she told me that was the reason why people wouldn't become as "comfortable" with me as with others.
Beyond that, I think the overarching theme that they had for me was that I was greatly over-exaggerating the depth of relationships that other people had with each other. In spite of all of their perceived closeness from an outside perspective, they were extremely fragile and just based upon mutual selfishness rather than emotional connection like I had assumed. And for someone like me, who wanted to not only constantly receive, but constantly give, that avenue just wouldn't work out. I needed more time and depth for people to get to know me because I just wasn't conventional enough of a person to be subjugated to the typical methods.
While I thanked them for their take on it, I couldn't help but feel that perhaps the way they were seeing it was just highly biased because they knew me so well and we had been friends for so long. In fact: their answers frustrated me just a little bit. I had wished it to be an issue with myself, not with others, because in that case, I could work at changing myself. But rather, the way they painted it was an issue with other people, not with me - something that I couldn't do anything about. And while I was grateful for their assessments of me, because I found them rather flattering, to be honest, I felt annoyed. Somehow, I just wanted to be like everyone else in spite of the shallowness that they were speaking of. Even now, I worry if I'm socially stunting myself by not participating in the party scene and inebriating myself and hooking up with the most proximate person like everyone else, as weird as that might sound. But the way that they were portraying me answered to why I would never be at ease in those situations. Those situations, as my friends explained it, were just casual meet and greet events where you were being with others under the pretense of being social, but not really being social due to the loud music, darkness and expectation that you just drift from person to person every minute. They were the "feel good" things that I detested but others loved. They do have a point, I suppose.
I'm not debunking my friends' assessments as completely untruthful, but I'm wondering if perhaps there are other sides to this that I'm missing. And while their answers were very reassuring, they don't give me much to work with. While I certainly do converse with them on a certain level, my current interactions at my own university town are now completely static - engaging in the pleasantries that I despise so much, without any idea of how I can elevate the depth of those interactions to the level at which I would like them to be at. And while they tell me to just give it time, I'm not entirely sure if that's the answer. What is the trigger?
To be perfectly clear, while I encourage you to throw out whatever thoughts you might have on this issue (since it's quite long and complex), I'm looking for some answers just as a starting point:
- - Do my friends have a point? Do you observe most "typical" social interactions to be as they described? Would you describe this as a post-secondary student phenomena, or is it more universal throughout life?
- - Given that I found that my friends were particularly insistent that I had no fault other than being bestowed with my existing personality in my circumstances, that seems unrealistic to me. Can you pinpoint anywhere my story where you might find that I might be at issue?
- - Is there any way for me to escalate my current, extremely shallow relationships to what I actually consider as friendships?
Also, to be very clear: I'm not looking for the usual conventional answers of "get more involved in extracurricular events" (I have enough on my plate, and I have enough acquaintances to work with; it's just the escalation that's an issue), "find common interests" (interests seem like a very poor starting point for me; my friends share very few interests with me, and I can't pinpoint any commonalities other than just "it's all over the map". Plus, I enjoy the challenge of getting along with someone highly dissimilar to me) or "get therapy" (Been there, done that. The results have not been particularly invigorating; I'm not concerned about the mental health issues that internet stranger syndrome may diagnose me with, and please do not fall prey to the True Scotsman Fallacy if I point out that all of my almost dozen therapists were not helpful, they simply weren't the "right therapists".)
:P Thanks for reading this crazy long question. I hope you at least enjoyed it.