A little something to make me sweeter.
June 24, 2012 11:29 AM   Subscribe

My social relationships start out as acquaintance with classmates, coworkers, and roommates. Then they progress to casual friendships, in which I hang out in bars and do small favors (help carry stuff, give rides). Then they stagnate or die. I have little in the way of family, so "chosen family" is an ideal that appeals to me a lot. Sadly, I have no one like that and things aren't moving in that direction at all.

I'm in my late 20s and for most of my life I've been shy and rather lonely. I work to overcome my shyness and do my best to be an active listener and participant. I avoid bold opinions and dislike snarky chatter. There are things I care about, but I admit they're obscure: " ‘Enh, what're you listening to lately?’ ‘Oh, that Wendy Carlos album. It's pretty cool!’ " I am more of a doer than a talker, but I do like to talk one on one or in small groups. I am a helper and a fixer, within reason. I am not particularly reserved about myself and do the best I can to express interest in others and be considerate about their feelings.

I seem to provoke angry, irritated, or dismissive reactions from some people. I'll inadvertently say something wrong, like "I like Final Fantasy 8" or "I'm not actually a big fan of Wes Anderson," and cause consternation. I am, seldom but regularly, told I am difficult, "ornery," unapproachable, "a robot," etc. Acquaintances have pointedly told me that they've become better friends with others who they met after me. Sometimes I'm talked down to in ways that are very transparently designed to manage my reaction, like a doctor delivering bad news or a teacher trying to talk down an obstreperous student: "Even very smart people sometimes blah blah blah…"

I don't really have any "old college buddies" or "friends since grade school." Once I move on (new job, new address, etc.), my friends rarely look me up. I reach out a couple of times and then let them show interest in staying in touch. After one-two email exchanges or canceled arrangements we lose contact. Probably my longest-lasting friendships have all been online. Someone I first chatted with almost ten years ago regularly keeps in touch with me via a private message board. I really appreciate that.

I know that I don't thrive on socializing, but I miss the caring, mutual growth, understanding, guidance, and the support network that close friends can provide. I grew up with a steady litany of "why do you have so few friends," "why don't the other children like you," and "what's wrong with you," so there is also an element of moving on from childhood disappointments and proving to myself that I can have the life I want to live.

How can I improve opportunities to develop more lasting and meaningful friendships? I've checked Meetup periodically and appealing choices near me are very few, as are IRL meetups. I'm queer and single. I have no interest in spirituality, sports, or campaigning on behalf of candidates for office. I live near a large East Coast city.
posted by Nomyte to Human Relations (42 answers total) 51 users marked this as a favorite
 
There will always be some one who is reactive to your personality type, for whatever reason. The snarky behavior above doesn't tell us anything about you - just that you've run into some jerks here and there. We all have.

It's okay to have strong opinions. Many people enjoy airing different opinions and disagreeing. Many people don't. But being (politely) frank about your beliefs means that you get to weed out people who have a problem with them. None of your "wrong things" you've said above are on the level of "I kick puppies" or "I'm starting a cult". Just things that reasonable people might disagree on.

Do you know what kinds of people you want to be close friends with - the qualities that matter to you, that sort of thing? When you need help, do you ask for help or try to fix things on your own? When you suspect that someone you know may be in trouble, do you wait for them to confide in you or do you offer help? Do you reach out to people without stopping to think who reached out last?

There's no wrong answer to the questions above, but they might help you discover some patterns. Based on what you've said, I wonder if perhaps you are very cautious with people and hesitant to reveal yourself, waiting to see if they will take steps to make you feel safe before you reveal that you want a closer friendship. Sometimes it helps to be the person who makes invitations and sends emails without keeping track.

The Brene Brown TED talk on vulnerability might be worth a listen. A good therapist might be helpful.

The question of how to make and maintain friendships with people who are good for you is something that many of us deal with at various times throughout life. You're not alone in wanting more connection and closeness, and I hope you find it.
posted by bunderful at 12:00 PM on June 24, 2012 [3 favorites]


I could've written this.I probably should've. This is something I struggle with as well, and I think you might be falling into the same trap as I have. (We're pretty close to the same age, too! And my oldest friendships are online! ...and and and. Back to the non-parenthetical.) You say you reach out a couple of times, then let them show interest. When I'm in that type of situation, I tend to come on kind of strong at first then drop it, expecting them to come back at that level. Running hot and cold turns others off. If you're low-key throughout, and have some different scheduling options for the deeper level, you might build these relationships.

You might just be casual friends with some of your classmates and coworkers, depending on what other interests you have.
posted by RainyJay at 12:03 PM on June 24, 2012 [4 favorites]


I like obscure things too, but I haven't found that it is ever a crutch to making friends. The key is to be pleasant and not assume that your interests are 'the better' interests. They aren't. Just because you like XXXX and it's weird and old and the other person is jamming to Lil Wayne doesn't mean that they are undeserving. Sometimes (and I'm not saying that this is you) people hide behind 'uncool/cool' things just so that they don't have to expose themselves. You deserve to have friends and love yourself even if you are a total dope who loves, like, (insert whatever you think is silly here) The Notebook and One Direction at age 45.

" ‘Enh, what're you listening to lately?’ ‘Oh, that Wendy Carlos album. It's pretty cool!’ "

First of all, you should explain more. What Wendy Carlos album? It seems like you're testing somebody. The person doesn't know who Wendy Carlos is, so you're just shutting them down. Who is she? "Oh, she's like an electronic music artist who broke barriers in 1966 by making this really cool electronic Bach album on a Moog synth before they had keys (like omg they just had knobs) that totally reintroduced people to Bach's music and made it cool again and was actually transgender in a really era to be born in the wrong body?" That sounds much more interesting than "It's pretty cool!". With an open response, you can let people into your world and get into theirs. When you close yourself off, it's damaging to budding relationships.

"I'm not actually a big fan of Wes Anderson,"

"Actually, I don't know why--but I seriously couldn't get into any Wes Anderson! I watched Life Aquatic, but it just didn't do it for me. Did I not watch the right movie? Everybody is always talking about him." (with a smile)

That's much more of a conversation topic. Saying that you don't like something is a downer and doesn't give people anything to go off of. Explaining that you don't like something but explaining why and then asking for advice--that shows that you are an open person who just has an opinion.


My suggestion is to try new things. You think you might not like them, but it's okay. If you hate bike riding or sailing or circuit bending, you never have to do it again. Allow yourself to go to random events and dislike them. Make a fool of yourself in Spanish class. Be the slowest one to finish a 5k. Host a couchsurfer (actually, this is my best advice. Get an account and go to CS events. I've met the best people this way! couchsurfing.org). Once you have more experience with things, you will be more inclined to open yourself up and get close to others.

Talk to a therapist for support or go to a group session. Support is always a positive thing.
posted by 200burritos at 12:23 PM on June 24, 2012 [10 favorites]


"Sometimes I'm talked down to in ways that are very transparently designed to manage my reaction, like a doctor delivering bad news or a teacher trying to talk down an obstreperous student: "Even very smart people sometimes blah blah blah…""

Can you give an example of this? This is the one that concerned me, that people are trying to manage your reactions and appear afraid of how you might react.

Classmates (what sort of class? In your late 20s, it's not a traditional 18-22 year old residential college campus, which is the normal garden for super-close classmate friends), coworkers, and roommates are also very particular categories of people, being good friends with whom can be difficult because of the boundaries of the relationships. It may be easier to make longer-term friends over shared hobbies or enthusiasms, which could be a book club or an anime convention or a volunteer effort or a hobby class or a hiking group. If you give us examples of some things you're enthusiastic about, maybe we could try to think up some outlets for that where you might meet like-minded people.

Especially since you're more a do-er than a talk-er, you might find something where your hands and eyes are busy but there's a lot of chatting to be a good way to develop relationships -- I volunteer with a group that does a big rummage sale fundraiser every year that requires months of sorting boxes, and I know so many people who became best friends by working box-sorting shifts together. They have in common that they care about our mission (serving women and children, basically), and the sorting and folding gives you something to DO and keep busy with, but tons of opportunity to talk because it's not very mentally demanding. It also gives you something to talk ABOUT ("Do you think this top goes in shirts or jackets?" "OMG, LOOK at this miniskirt! Straight-up 1980s!") so you can open conversation several times. Lots of people get to know each other really well there! I also recall envelope-stuffing as being a good way to get to know people while volunteering. Some people have told me they get a similar experience with hiking/walking clubs.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 12:25 PM on June 24, 2012 [3 favorites]


My answer to AskMes like this is always that it's pretty hard for us to know what about your interaction with others isn't working. If you could tell us, then you'd know and have solved it, right? So we can't go very far beyond platitudes like "it's a numbers game" or "be yourself" or "have you considered that it might be X or Y issue?" (which likely you had considered).

I'd advise you to seek advice and new skills from people IRL, be it a work mentor, a friend who is honest but kind, a support group, group counseling activity, or a therapist. For instance, could you reply, "I'm ornery? I'm sorry. I don't mean to be. If you don't mind, could you give me an example?" A more iffy idea you might consider is an improv class. To me they're all about being sensitive to a situation's emotional undertones, opening up, connecting with others, and trying out new ways of behaving.
posted by salvia at 12:35 PM on June 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


I hate to say this, but it's possible that what you need isn't more opportunities to make friends. If the problem is as pervasive as you say it is, it's worth considering that the problem is you, or the way that you're projecting yourself. I don't say that to be cruel, but because it's a crappy situation to be in, and one that I think many people never manage to get out of.

This is maybe a weird question, but what's your self-esteem like? Some of the stuff you're saying--especially people talking down to you and people pointedly mentioning that they're better friends with other people--makes me wonder if you're a bit down on yourself and somewhat insecure about relationships with other people. Frustratingly, my experience is that feeling friendless and insecure makes you more likely to remain friendless and insecure. It's hard to be friends with someone who's alternately super intense in trying to be your friend and somewhat standoffish about themselves at the same time.

Listening to people is great, but if you don't talk about yourself, the conversation feels one-sided...and if you're avoiding snarky comments and bold opinions--especially if those are part of how you usually interact with people!--you're presenting a very milquetoast version if yourself. This is something that I've struggled hugely with. I'm somewhat shy and socially anxious, and I'm also very aware that my personality is, in many ways, somewhat abrasive. So for years, I tried hard to be less those things--to stop being shy, to be less abrasive and snarky, etc. And it got me to where you are: feeling friendless and alone, and unable to connect with people in the way that I wanted to.

So I stopped. Which was super terrifying and awkward for me...but it seemed to work. I'm not magically best friends with everyone I meet now, and there are still a lot of people who probably are completely uninterested in ever talking to me again, but the people who do talk to me seem to be more interested in sticking around and getting to know me better. Plus I have a better time being with them, because I'm not trying to be a better, more friendly version of myself, I'm just being myself.

It's taken me a long time, but I'm finally starting to feel like I've found--or am finding, anyhow--my family by choice. I hope that you find it, too.
posted by MeghanC at 12:37 PM on June 24, 2012 [10 favorites]


2nding possibly trying group therapy? Group members will give you honest feedback on your interpersonal style. Where else in your life can you get that? I suspect that there is some disconnect between how you view yourself and what others experience of you, given your statement: "I seem to provoke angry, irritated, or dismissive reactions from some people." and " I am, seldom but regularly, told I am difficult, "ornery," unapproachable, "a robot," etc." I would try to find a psychotherapy process oriented group rather than just a support group or something like that. It takes a lot of bravery to be a part of a process group, but what you learn about yourself can transform your life and your relationships.
posted by amileighs at 12:44 PM on June 24, 2012


I am, seldom but regularly, told I am difficult, "ornery," unapproachable, "a robot," etc.

Sometimes I'm talked down to in ways that are very transparently designed to manage my reaction, like a doctor delivering bad news or a teacher trying to talk down an obstreperous student: "Even very smart people sometimes blah blah blah…"


Can you give us any very specific examples of how some of these situations went down? Like as much as you remember of the conversation or actions leading up to people saying these things to you?

If it was really like:

Nomyte: "I like Final Fantasy."
Friend. "You're really unapproachable,"

then I would be really interested in how these other parts went:

Friend: "----"
Nomyte: "----"
Friend: "----"
Nomyte: "I like Final Fantasy."
Friend: "You're really unapproachable."
posted by cairdeas at 12:48 PM on June 24, 2012


RainyJay - I could've written this, too. I have a ten year email penpal (met in the glory days of livejournal) and I'm actually quite good friends with a long-term expartner who is similar to me in relational style (we became best friends overnight, and our partnership really worked because we withdrew from the world and spoke code to each other; it wasn't the healthiest cohabitation arrangement, though). In good contact with some professors who were mentors. But -- that's it. I'm fortunate to have a husband who is an extrovert (well, compared to me) and who nudges me out of my shell for things like pub trivia (I recommend Geeks Who Drink, which exists in every big city, if it's demographically applicable). I met my husband at a book talk though -- for his first novel. Completely corny love at first sight sort of thing. Because we were both nerdy and socially inept, my coming on too strong didn't matter. And I suspect that my social milieu (Portland) was more tolerant of cranks than most (I definitely am that as well). I'd always had a really hard time making/keeping friends before I moved there in 2006.

One thing that has helped me have patience with myself is to come around to a diagnosis of being somewhere on the autism spectrum in adulthood. Some people think getting such a diagnosis isn't worth it. If that applies to you (it might?), I'd encourage you to find a therapist who works with adults with ASD. I am a woman and I've been through the ringer of: OCD? Tourette's? Inattentive ADD? (That last one didn't work at all: I hyper-focus.) The therapy that uncovered ASD has helped *so much.* It's explained a lot and given me tools to work with now. I know I'm bad at reading people, especially their reactions and non-verbal cues. I know this makes them irritated with me sometimes. I know that I can be "selectively mute" -- seem really quiet and them go into a long diatribe when I think somebody is interested in something I want to talk about. My good friends and husband find this endearing and also don't hesitate to tell me to STFU if I've been preaching for too long. Telling them to do that, rather than to edge away from me has really opened things up for me. I know I can sound like a know it all and have learned some stuff. I know that my anxiety about social situations can tend to make me psych myself out.

I don't have a big circle of childhood friends yet. I still come on too strong and people think I seem like a pretentious curmudgeon who's trying too hard and I still feel used a lot. It makes me angry and I'm jealous of people with "normal" friendships. I think I have some idea of my part in my unhappiness now and at least a little of what I might do to change it. Great book that addresses these issues, not just for Autists, is Be Different: Adventures of a Free-Range Aspergian with Practical Advice for Aspergians, Misfits, Families & Teachers by John Elder Robinson.

Also, I hold off on favors for people. I realized that I was really desperate for friends and doing favors and it was having the opposite effect, making people uncomfortable, feeling like they were in my debt somehow, or like I was trying to push my way into their lives. Being honest with myself, that was part of my motivation. I think favors should probably be saved for later in a friendship. If you don't think somebody would do something for you, don't do it for them.
posted by sweltering at 12:50 PM on June 24, 2012 [4 favorites]


I also used to find it hard to make friends. Like you, I would go out for a few drinks after work, but rarely much more. Eventually I worked out that I needed to do two things. Firstly to share a bit more of myself: my worries vulnerabilities and concerns. I always assumed that people would find these dull, but they don't (in moderation) Secondly I needed to take the lead more. Especially when people get older, and have existing circles of friends, it is hard to make time. If I had a couple of invitations turned down I would take that as a polite rejection. Actually people were just very busy, and I needed to be a bit more persistent (again within reason).

Also, it does sound like your interpersonal interaction is off somehow. People are trying to manage your reactions, taking offence in ways that surprise you, and finding you unapproachable. You really need to get some direct feedback from someone who knows you well.

Best of luck.
posted by Touchstone at 12:54 PM on June 24, 2012


bunderful: The snarky behavior above doesn't tell us anything about you - just that you've run into some jerks here and there.

Well, that's the issue — the people who've told me this aren't huge jerks. They're definitely not out to be rude to me. That would be easier to cope with. For whatever reason, people are much likelier to lose patience with me than I am to lose patience with them. I don't consider myself to be superhumanly patient, but I do usually make an effort to consider your perspective, make allowances for your emotional state, etc. I sometimes feel like others are less likely to extend the same understanding. Thanks for your other points, I'll think about them.

RainyJay: Thanks for your sympathy!

200burritos: Those are examples, not model conversations. I live in shared housing, so hosting couchsurfers, albeit a great idea, seems out of the question. I'd love to go to meetups to expand my horizons, but the ones near me really are way out of my area: motherhood meetups, young entrepreneur groups, spirituality-based groups, motorbike enthusiasts, etc.

Eyebrows McGee: I work for a university and take classes on the side. I'm friendly with classmates, especially older ones. I've looked for volunteering opportunities that work with my schedule, and haven't been able to find much. I'm thinking of signing up with Burgundy Crescent (an LGBT organization), but their event calendar looks pretty sparse. I'd love to find more local volunteering opportunities! As far as examples of being spoken at instead of to, it's a little hard to quote entire conversations. I guess I strike some people as a little naïve or immature, and it's easier for them to talk to me in ways that don't leave me any room to equivocate. The phrase I gave as an example is typical: there's something I "just don't understand," so here's how it's going to be.

salvia: I understand, of course. Your suggestion actually tends to backfire in practice — it's usually already established that I'm "ornery" by the time I'm called ornery. So asking "why would you say that?" gets the response of "you know why," like it's a done deal and I'm just being dense.

MeghanC: This is maybe a weird question, but what's your self-esteem like?

Not bad, I think. I don't actively promote negative thinking about myself. Obviously, not everyone is going to love me at first sight, but I expect that I'm an adequate friend and companion for a reasonable fraction of all people I meet. Some of the people I know seem to enjoy my occasional company, laugh at my jokes, etc.
posted by Nomyte at 1:02 PM on June 24, 2012


200burritos: Those are examples, not model conversations. I live in shared housing, so hosting couchsurfers, albeit a great idea, seems out of the question. I'd love to go to meetups to expand my horizons, but the ones near me really are way out of my area: motherhood meetups, young entrepreneur groups, spirituality-based groups, motorbike enthusiasts, etc.


I really value your response because it's giving us all a little better look at your inner workings. If nothing I said was helpful (even though I responded directly to everything that you posted), what could I have said to have been more useful? If the examples of conversations weren't actual examples, why did you not give real examples? It's hard to type out a huge response and just get a paragraph of negativity back--although I doubt that was your intent, that's what it felt like when I read it. You seem like such a cool and interesting person who would really benefit from a little help in the interpersonal arena. Please trust me when I ask you to sit through some group therapy and individual therapy sessions. It does take a bit of work to see the positive in situations, but it feels so much nicer when you get there. :)
posted by 200burritos at 1:13 PM on June 24, 2012


Some general social ski

1) Make statements that explain more and try to involve an emotion. For example: "I like Final Fantasy because of X and Y and that makes me feel Z."

2) Do not challenge the validity of other people's emotional responses. You can challenge their LOGIC, but do it in a non-confrontational way. "I'm curious as to why you feel X. I'm not questioning the validity of your feeling, but in your case I would probably feel Y because of my background, which has always inclined me more towards Z."

3) Have a few funny stories about yourself that make you seem slightly vulnerable without oversharing (seriously, vet them with somebody first if you need to) People like hearing those stories (because everyone has felt awkward at one point or another and so they can empathize) and will be more inclined to confide their vulnerabilities to you afterwards, and this strengthens their emotional connection to you.
posted by wolfdreams01 at 1:20 PM on June 24, 2012


Nomyte: "I like Final Fantasy."
Friend. "You're really unapproachable,"


Well, it wasn't quite that pat! An important part of the story is that FF8, at least among genre devotees, is conventionally and almost universally considered to be a crock and the Worst Game Ever. I genuinely like it, fell in love with it at first sight before I ever knew anyone who played the same games as me. I realize that people are entitled to their opinions, but when someone goes on and on, "They really went overboard on the graphics! And the story, yeesh! Plot hole on top of plot hole! And the gameplay is sooo screwed up! You had to use the Draw option so much! Worst game ever!" — my instinct is to speak up and say that it was a really important game for me at a certain point in my life and that I have a lot of fond memories of it. And the reply is, "Yeah, but that's just like you to say that!"

200burritos: Ouch! I'm sorry if that came off too negatively. Couchsurfing really is a great suggestion, and I really wish I could make use of it. I really do. And I absolutely did not mean to say that nothing you suggested was helpful. I am looking for things I can get involved in wholeheartedly, and your suggestions resonate with me. The first and largest part of your response focused on the conversation examples I gave — but I really didn't intend for those examples to be analyzed as entire conversations completely out of context. They're examples of things I might say as part of a larger conversation, and I didn't think it was appropriate to mock up an entire conversation here. I definitely don't just blurt out "Wendy Carlos!" to unsuspecting strangers.
posted by Nomyte at 1:23 PM on June 24, 2012


I grew up with a steady litany of "why do you have so few friends," "why don't the other children like you," and "what's wrong with you,"

Social programming and concepts, all. So is the idea that you always need close friends to lead a quality life. I think most people need to socialize to some extent, but frankly, I have found that the need for close friends has waxed and waned over my lifetime. Right now, one confidante/mentor, who is not a social friend of mine, as well as one or two "activity pals" and friendly co-workers, is working for me really well. Am I "missing out"? I'm not sure. I'm getting a lot of quality reading, birding, and cooking done, which I wouldn't be if I were flying around the countryside being with my chosen family. :-)

In my experience, the idea of "creating the life you want" is straight out of Oprah and I also think it causes many people a lot of grief and harm. It did for me. Not all of us glide through life like swans, picking and choosing only the best experiences (actually, no one does that, whether they like it or not). I know you said you had no interest in spirituality, but forgive me if I suggest some readings in Zen Buddhism: there is nothing like Zen for helping you start to question your own beliefs, concepts coming from the dominant culture ("you gotta have friends!" "you're nobody till somebody loves you!") and the beliefs of the people you grew up with that you may have got stuck with. No need to cart yourself off to a Zen practice group unless, of course, that's what you want. A good Zen Buddhist book should not tell you what to believe, BTW.
posted by Currer Belfry at 1:27 PM on June 24, 2012 [4 favorites]


I'll inadvertently say something wrong, like "I like Final Fantasy 8" or "I'm not actually a big fan of Wes Anderson," and cause consternation.

You're almost certainly misidentifying the source of that consternation. Either you are hanging out with complete assholes who insist that your taste match theirs, or they are reacting to something else that you said or did.
posted by Wordwoman at 1:28 PM on June 24, 2012 [3 favorites]


my instinct is to speak up and say that it was a really important game for me at a certain point in my life and that I have a lot of fond memories of it. And the reply is, "Yeah, but that's just like you to say that!"


OK, I just read what you said. Find out new people to hang out with. Normal people in their late 20s do not behave like that.
posted by Wordwoman at 1:31 PM on June 24, 2012 [5 favorites]


How can I improve opportunities to develop more lasting and meaningful friendships?

You won't form strong bonds if you don't have strong feelings about people or things, and it sounds like you don't have strong feelings.

I think your best bet is to sit and think really hard about what things you feel strongest about or could work up strong feelings about given the right exposure. Find a thing that drives you. Work up a very strong commitment to something. Religion, sports, and politics are out, but maybe there's something else?

If you can get strongly into one or two things, you'll have more reasons to get up in the morning, you'll become more interesting than someone without special interests, and you could then share your strong interests with others who are into that thing.
posted by pracowity at 1:31 PM on June 24, 2012 [3 favorites]


"I've looked for volunteering opportunities that work with my schedule, and haven't been able to find much."

Here's a couple of things that worked for me when I moved to a city where I knew nobody and people had known each other since high school or before and it was hard to find people who NEEDED new friends.

First, I took some kind of hobby class every "season" (our park district goes by seasons). I did pottery, I did stained glass, I did social dance (with my husband), I did a running group. I'm not good at anything I tried, but it was fun and I got to meet and chat with a lot of people. I didn't end up meeting any of my BFFs this way, but I could have done! And it gave me interesting things to talk about when I met people. "I've been taking this class where we make stained glass ..." is a good conversation starter!

Second, I looked at some "general interest" volunteer groups/professional organizations. American Association of University Women, maybe? (Is that what it's called?) Jaycees, Rotary, Kiwanis, whatever. They tend to have fairly regular meetings and a selection of volunteer opportunities. Burgundy Crescent sounds great, but you can definitely fill it in with some other things! (Junior League turned out to be the right one for me; my husband did Jaycees.) We met people we might not have otherwise met because it was general-interest. It's a good supplement to "specific interest" groups, which you should also try!

Third, I wrote a local blog and got to know some local bloggers. It was when blogging was bigger, but being active on the local web could help you meet people. Or the local LGBT web. Or whatever.

Fourth, I kept looking at meet-up and similar and eventually found a book club that I went to, and that's where I found my people.

Fifth, I create things to do myself, for groups. Some of them are a bust and fail miserably, but others take off and are great fun! Just this summer I started a weekly playdate for toddlers at the park because there is NOTHING TO DO with toddlers around here in the summer and I was so bored! There are around 20 families involved. So if there's something you'd like to do, it's worth trying and seeing if others want to do it too. But don't be discouraged when things don't draw a crowd, just try again with something else. I mean not like every two weeks. But a couple times a year.

Sixth, it takes time and, to a certain extent, luck. You've got to find the right people.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 1:38 PM on June 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


Not particularly helpful, but I just wanted to give props to the Erasure reference and I actually like FF8. I agree with most people here. If other friends are not understanding you, maybe it's time to find new people. I have the same issue where I live, it's hard to find other older geeks like me and I'm shy, so I have a hard time relating. However, once in a small while I find good people and it's awesome! because they get me. Good people are hard to find and few and far between :)
posted by Polgara at 1:40 PM on June 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


And the gameplay is sooo screwed up! You had to use the Draw option so much! Worst game ever!" — my instinct is to speak up and say that it was a really important game for me at a certain point in my life and that I have a lot of fond memories of it. And the reply is, "Yeah, but that's just like you to say that!"


However! If the instinct you refer to is to always contradict what others are saying, that indeed could be tiresome.
posted by Wordwoman at 1:40 PM on June 24, 2012 [4 favorites]


I wanna suggest one thing that has helped me maintain social interactions IRL (that is, they are more smooth; I am still an introvert and although I care about people, really, I like my quiet alone time) is what I think of my Sarah Palin voice.

Think of a Tina Fey impression of Palin. Now, strip out all but the merest sliver of irony. Note that I'm not talking about substance; I'm talking tone and inflection.

See, I tend to be a really sarcastic person. With the Palin voice, all that sarcasm is whittled down to that mere sliver, and when I say whittled down, I mean it's almost not there at all. Mostly, I think, "this is my Sarah Palin voice" and that inner acknowledgement of irony is all I need.

That might address the robot-y side of things, assuming this person who said this had a real insight and what not just being an ass. People see me as being more oh-gosh-golly-gee-willickers, and somehow (why?) they find this endearing. I find it a bit hilarious, in an evil way. Win-win! YMMV
posted by angrycat at 1:44 PM on June 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


MeghanC: This is maybe a weird question, but what's your self-esteem like?

Not bad, I think. I don't actively promote negative thinking about myself. Obviously, not everyone is going to love me at first sight, but I expect that I'm an adequate friend and companion for a reasonable fraction of all people I meet. Some of the people I know seem to enjoy my occasional company, laugh at my jokes, etc.
posted by Nomyte at 4:02 PM on June 24 [+] [!]


Your answer to the self-esteem question is telling, in that it was all about how others perceive you. That's not what self-esteem is. If you are measuring your self-worth via external means (how much others like you) then you'll never be at ease with yourself.

It's possible that others are picking up on this unintended dependence you're placing on their opinion. Friendships are equal in nature: if you need them more than they need you (so you do favors, rationalize away their faux pas for them, seek their approval even implicitly) then they feel responsible for you. If at the same time you are holding back on true intimacy (expressing bold opinions, sharing vulnerabilities) then that can feel to people as though you are trying to manipulate their opinion of you.
posted by headnsouth at 1:46 PM on June 24, 2012 [4 favorites]


(also, as I use a wheelchair, I think they might see me as a Magical Cripple when I cop my Sarah Palin thing. I dunno. People are weird).
posted by angrycat at 1:48 PM on June 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


headnsouth: Your answer to the self-esteem question is telling, in that it was all about how others perceive you. That's not what self-esteem is.

I'm not sure I understand. Can you explain this in more detail? I thought it was equal parts internal and external: I think well about myself and I expect others (or some fraction of them) to enjoy my company. I don't think worse of myself if someone doesn't like me. Maybe we're using the word in different ways?
posted by Nomyte at 2:05 PM on June 24, 2012


I could have written this question in my mid-20's. I had a very small circle of great friends in high school and when we went our separate ways I despaired of ever making those connections again. And then, I started dating a musician. The core group surrounding him was so open and welcoming and we're still friends now after 30 years. Some of us are fellow musicians, some are domestic partners of musicians, some family, some are just fans that you might call hangers-on. I'm tone deaf, can't sing or play a note, but I somehow found my place in this little community and now they're my people. Most artists I know also have a little circle like this. My advice would be to find some type of artistic endeavor that you can appreciate, and just hang around long enough to forge the bonds of friendship. Worked for me.
posted by raisingsand at 2:25 PM on June 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


I know somebody who self-identifies as a person with Asperger syndrome and...I mention self-identifies because I do not know if he is a person who would be diagnosed with an autistic spectrum disorder, or a person whose social and emotional make-up simply mesh well with certain write-ups of the syndrome, and I suspect the latter more often than the former, and I wonder if you also would not find yourself seeing things you could identify with in said write-ups.

I don't know enough about ASD to offer anything else than that your social challenges, and your responses to questions are so similar to...well, I hesitate to post because it's not a very useful answer. It's a problem for him. He has difficulty socialising, he "doesn't understand," he's "ornery," and so on and on, and many things that fall under the umbrella of "Asperger's" are, I suppose, useful for him insofar as he can recognise himself. But finding out you have six toes doesn't make normal shoes start to fit well, I suppose.

How would "self-esteem" be external? "Self-esteem" is a pretty common concept and largely self-explanatory in name. I do not think you are using the term in a 'different way' -- I think you are using it incorrectly. Can you explain this in more detail? is kind of an obstinate response in the face of something so easy to Google.

my instinct is to speak up and say that it was a really important game for me at a certain point in my life and that I have a lot of fond memories of it. And the reply is, "Yeah, but that's just like you to say that!"

That's nothing to do with the video (?) game -- unless there's lots of context missing, that's much more likely that it's [perceived to be] like you to hear 'Here is a personal experience' and respond with your own personal experience in a manner that seems to seek to invalidate the first experience. Or that you seem to be disagreeing for the sake of disagreeing, which is what my maybe-ASD friend seems to do a lot, but he thinks he is (sharing, contributing to the discussion, giving the correct view, etc). Why is it your instinct to "speak up and say that it was a really important game" instead of do my best to be an active listener and participant. I avoid bold opinions? I don't think you need to avoid bold opinions; I think you need to consider when and how to state them. You need to create a buffer between

'That game sucks!'

and

'No, I loved it!'

which is a sort of 'I hear you on the graphics, oh gawd, very bad...which ones DO you like? Yeah? [...] Anyway, I don't blame you for hating on it but the funny thing about it is [NOW share your affection for friend's disliked X].'

Beware of going the route of many an Ask question about social life; one sees a lot of 'Have you tried [couchsurfing, say]?' and 'Oh, thank you for the idea, but [reason it would be totally impossible forever]!' Do not knee-jerk no. Let the new ideas crash over you like waves and ponder the entirety of the water. Wikipedia --> CouchSurfing --> Related concepts. Look! Things to click on -- new ways to think about the people you share the world with! Perhaps there will be something in there that twigs, something that does not require a guest space in your home. Let your mind do a little --> Related concepts instead of "no."
posted by kmennie at 2:47 PM on June 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


What is the saying? "If you meet one asshole, you've had a bad day. If you meet two assholes, you've had a really bad day. If you meet three assholes, chances are you're the asshole."

Which is not to say that you're an asshole, but the common denominator in these varied interactions you describe is you. If different, otherwise nice (by your own admission) people separately are calling you ornery or difficult, it is really worth considering that there is something about the way you're interacting with others that comes off as ornery or difficult. If you are coming off to most people in a really negative way, that makes it so much less likely that you are going to be able to develop meaningful connections. Is there anyone you trust to give you feedback on what aspects of your interactions come off badly?
posted by schroedinger at 3:48 PM on June 24, 2012


Is there anyone you trust to give you feedback on what aspects of your interactions come off badly?

You, basically.
posted by Nomyte at 4:04 PM on June 24, 2012


Obviously this can only be a guess, since I can't see you interacting with other people. But this is my instinct when I read your question: there's something about the way you behave--not specifically what you say or what you like or dislike--that causes a number of people to have some kind of aversion towards you.

It's possible that you are only dealing with complete jerks who really only care about stuff like liking Wes Anderson, to use your example. If that's true, flee these people! But trust me, plenty of friends could have a conversation like, "I hate Wes Anderson, his movies blow!" "Dude, you're crazy, his movies are awesome!" "Whatever, lame-ass. Want to get some pizza?" Plenty of friends could have actual fights over music or video games or whatever, and still go right on being friends, because there's something else there, both deeper and simpler than these kinds of topics and statements, which are usually ultimately shallow ones.

But there are people, and I get the sense you could be one of them, who can technically say all the right things, or at least inoffensive things, but just have some other deal going on that makes it harder for them to connect. I know people like this. There's just something a little off about them, nothing you could name specifically, and nothing they're doing wrong per se. But there's some quality in their manner of speaking or moving or looking at people that makes other people uncomfortable. Some form of Asperger's possibly, or low self-esteem or ridiculously high self-esteem, or just personal quirks or inborn or learned personality traits. I don't know. But the result is similar to how they'd be treated if they didn't shower. Someone could be the most interesting person for miles, but if he didn't shower, most people wouldn't want to get too close to him.

The good news is that the people that I know like this DO have friends. (Well, unless they're pretending, but I doubt it.) As far as I can tell they just happen to have friends who are either weird in the same way they are, or who don't see any major negatives in their behavior. It's harder for them to make friends, I sense, but it's hard for tons of people.

I don't know how you would go about changing something like this. The people I know, I would guess, don't particularly want to change. They're also maybe a little oblivious to their lack of social skills, in contrast to you, who seem quite aware of how you feel and what you want, if not how you appear to others. My (again, vague) instinct is that first you need to work on getting the outside appearances part right. Not your looks, but your manners. Don't be abrasive or fighty or act like you know better than people. Learn the acceptable small-talk phrases to say in various occasions. That kind of thing. Reading your question, I realized that most people are not that confrontational. (Just read all the AskMe's that start "I have to tell X person Y difficult thing, how can I do it?") The fact that you've had more than a handful of people say you're ornery or preface their words to you with a buffer as if you'll get mad...that makes me think you're coming off badly when you might not mean to. I'm not exactly shy but I can't imagine actually calling someone ornery or a robot, I'd have to be really angry to do that.

After that, I think it has to do with relaxing. Although really energetic, hyper people can be great, there's a different kind of strange energy that the people I was thinking of above have in common. They seem on edge, either anxious or tense or aggressively on edge. Slowing down and relaxing would make them seem a little more normal, for lack of a better word. (I find this helps me too. Though I don't really have these exact issues, I can come off as weird and dorky sometimes and I find that if I try to just slow down, people respond better. Drinking a little can help with this, though not at work obviously!)

Damn that was LONG. Sorry. I hope some of it was helpful.
posted by ocksay_uppetpay at 4:10 PM on June 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


You, basically.

Social interactions are so heavily dependent on body language and tenor, not just the words, that it can be really difficult to judge what you're doing over the internet. Do you have extended conversations you can think of that ended badly?
posted by schroedinger at 4:19 PM on June 24, 2012


The thing that jumps out at me is your mention of doing favors for people as part of your effort to develop friendships.

I think you may have it backwards. In my experience, doing a favor is not something you do for someone in the expectation that it will lead to friendship; doing a favor is something you do for someone after you've already established a friendship, or -- for people who aren't already your friends -- as a gesture of kindness with no expectation for anything in return.

Favors among friends (and acquaintances) should not be used a currency that you exchange for a deeper connection; they are, generally speaking, simply gestures of goodwill, kindness, etc. If they come with more baggage than that, then they aren't really favors at all, but rather actions in the service of an agenda.

So I suspect one of two things happens as a result of your use of favors in the context you describe. 1) the person for whom you've done the favor doesn't realize that you consider the favor a way of trying to build a closer friendship, thus disappointing you or making you feel taken advantage of; or 2) the person does realize that you expect this in return, and they feel uncomfortable or resentful at feeling put in your debt when they didn't ask to be, thus upsetting you or making you feel rejected.

If any of that rings a bell, then maybe it would help to offer fewer favors in general, and to reserve them for the times you truly do feel motivated to do a kind act for its own sake.
posted by scody at 4:52 PM on June 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


My guess is that you are too self-contained and self-sufficient to form strong bonds with other people, and that you learned to be this way, by necessity, as a very young child.

I think such issues are very difficult to overcome without help, and I recommend seeking out a therapist who specializes in problems of attachment.

If you decide to go in that direction, it may involve reliving some bad things, and quite a lot of personal suffering, but I feel that it offers hope of coming out the other side as a person who can establish a "chosen family."
posted by jamjam at 5:11 PM on June 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


If any of that rings a bell, then maybe it would help to offer fewer favors in general, and to reserve them for the times you truly do feel motivated to do a kind act for its own sake.

This makes sense, but the context is little different. Basically, when I'm doing something that could be helpful or interesting to others, I announce it to my circle of acquaintances over email: "I'm driving to the supermarket that's far away, anyone need a ride?" or "I'm going to trivia night at Bar X, anyone wanna come with?" I'm not expecting love in return, it's just an example of how I spend time with acquaintances. Is that sort of thing likely to lead to misunderstanding or awkwardness?
posted by Nomyte at 6:38 PM on June 24, 2012


They're examples of things I might say as part of a larger conversation, and I didn't think it was appropriate to mock up an entire conversation here.

If you're concerned about inappropriateness as in "MeFi would think this was weird," I don't think it would be inappropriate. (Anyone else?) I think it would be extremely helpful. And I agree with schroedinger a few posts up.

However if the inappropriateness you're talking about has to do with privacy concern for the other people in the conversations with you... I still don't think that's a big deal, but okay.
posted by cairdeas at 6:58 PM on June 24, 2012


"Inappropriate" in the sense that I don't memorize entire conversations verbatim, so any effort in that regard would be hopelessly fictionalized and self-serving.
posted by Nomyte at 7:17 PM on June 24, 2012


I have been like this at times.

Now I have a core group of friends (mostly ex-coworkers) as well as a few other groups of friends (again ex-coworkers) and I find the best way to maintain these friendships is have a regular event that keeps us in contact, even though we're physically spread apart. We started a Saturday lunch gang, which has expanded from 5, with the addition of spouses, SOs and now 4(!) children to a round dozen. And it's a rare saturday that everyone can make it, but by trying every Saturday to get people together, they've heard from me, and even a "can't make it" leads to a quick text conversation about how are you doing, what are you up to.

The other thing is to support other people's events and occupations-- one friend works a late night saturday that requires him to fill a chair in case of emergent events but is easy-going enough that he can afford a visitor once in a while. Another friend hosts a bar-trivia night every other week, and it's worth my time to go to that in order to maintain. Attend their kids' birthdays, go to their holiday/birthday parties. One friend of mine is a former projectionist, so i try to get him out to a movie and a beer once in a while (with or without his wife, who is also a good friend, but not always into the same stuff, naturally). Likewise, do invite people along to your special events.
posted by Sunburnt at 8:41 PM on June 24, 2012


You might find the concept of "matchers and mismatchers" helpful. I think you may be a mismatcher, based on your question and your responses in thread. The concept is based on NLP, which I don't generally subscribe to -- but I read about this long ago and it really resonated, because I used to tip heavily towards the "mismatcher" end of the scale.

Many of us find it challenging to communicate with mismatchers. It can be exasperating to have someone constantly disagree with you! You say, "It's hot outside. Did you know that it is 37 degrees (98.6 Fahrenheit)?" They respond, "It's not that hot--it's only 36 degrees." A matcher would probably say something like "Yes, it really is hot outside"--even if they know that it is "only" 36 degrees--because he matches your main point. The mismatcher naturally gravitates to the one thing with which he can find exception.
posted by Wordwoman at 9:42 PM on June 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


I don't want to get too hung up on one point, but your FF8 scenario struck a chord with me.

By responding to 'Gah, isn't FF8 a terrible game!' with 'it was a really important game for me at a certain point in my life and that I have a lot of fond memories of it', you're kind of switching up the conversation on people.

I used to know someone who would quite often respond to subjective-based conversations about, essentially, fluffy pop culture topics with uncomfortably pat sincere statements about how something was really 'compelling' to him or some other such window into his emotional world (and for world read baggage).

It was generally inappropriate to the lighthearted nature of the conversation and a) threw people off their stride and b) made them feel bad for having a shallow response to something that he obviously felt quite deeply.

It's not always necessary to state your opinion at times like that - especially when it doesn't gel with the general tone of the conversation. Could you be perceived as ornery because you always insist on speaking up and correcting people? One conversational tactic could be to frame your difference as a question - 'Oh, you hated it? That's so interesting, I've actually played that quite a lot! Didn't you feel even a little bit sympathetic towards X plot arc?' - in order to further the conversation (and bring it round to why you like/don't like something, if talking about that is important to you) rather than shutting it down or making it about your view.

People generally respond in kind, so if they're being irritable and dismissive to you, maybe they took whatever you said (or the tone you said it in) in that way. Have a think about how you manage your tone of voice or the message you're giving. This might be leading some of the 'robot' comments, too. If you're noticing other people doing this (talking down to you etc) maybe it's because you're not doing it a lot and others find it a useful tool, and would respond well to some more 'massaged' conversational gambits?
posted by citands at 5:52 AM on June 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


Basically, when I'm doing something that could be helpful or interesting to others, I announce it to my circle of acquaintances over email: "I'm driving to the supermarket that's far away, anyone need a ride?" or "I'm going to trivia night at Bar X, anyone wanna come with?" I'm not expecting love in return, it's just an example of how I spend time with acquaintances. Is that sort of thing likely to lead to misunderstanding or awkwardness?

Generally speaking, if you want people to feel closer to you, it's better to first ask them for a small favor rather than offering to do one for them. People do not like to feel indebted too much to others, but they do respond to shows of vulnerability like being asked for help and are more likely to feel closer to you in the future and help you with bigger things.

I don't really think going around asking people for favors all the time is the way to solve your social problems, as that can easily go overboard and cause resentment, but I would cool it with offering to drive people to supermarkets etc unless it really comes up naturally in conversation. Telling them about trivia night is a whole different thing; that's just getting people together to go out, no favor at all in that (unless you're like offering to pay their entrance fee, in which case, stop).
posted by ch1x0r at 6:01 AM on June 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


The more I think about it, the more it seems like a strange way to try and build friendships by offering favors and general invitations all the time. Do you ever ask people to do things one-on-one? I know that can feel riskier sometimes, but I think the best way to solidfy a friendship is to spend some time hanging out together just the two of you after you've gotten to know each other a bit in a group. The one-on-one time is the way you find out that you've got real friend-chemistry and also, generally, the way you find out that you both like the same strange Japanese punk band, or what have you.

Which sort of brings me to my second thought: do you like the people that you're hanging out with? From your description of how you interact with people, it's strangely hard to tell. You talk about being patient with people, but that sounds sort of condescending. This might be so obvious that it's just dumb, but I think the best way to make friends is to like other people and be interested in them. Not fake-interested either, genuinely interested. So I guess something else to think about is: do you want to be friends with these people because you think they're generally interesting, nice people? Or are you interested in them for sort of instrumental reasons, like you want them to be your friends so that you can feel better about yourself and prove the hobgoblins in your head wrong? I don't mean that in a harsh way, so I apologize if it comes off that way. If you're not particularly interested in the people around you and it's just that they're sort of conveniently there, then I think the first step to making some real friends would be to go out and find some people who you think are genuinely fascinating.
posted by colfax at 8:56 AM on June 25, 2012


If you're not particularly interested in the people around you and it's just that they're sort of conveniently there, then I think the first step to making some real friends would be to go out and find some people who you think are genuinely fascinating.

Yes, this to a large extent, but also how?
posted by Nomyte at 2:23 PM on January 15, 2013


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