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I don't have friends.
July 28, 2014 3:53 PM   Subscribe

I'm interested in improving my social or networking skills for a better perspective on life.

I've always had a small group of friends even when I had been in the same school district for ~13 years. Frequently, I'd make friends in the start of the year depending on class or location and by the end I'd have to start over again. For example, I did have one friend for over 3 years and I become friends of her friends by association. (Eh, except that I haven't contacted my HS friend since she sent me a belated friend break-up email 2-3 years ago.)

As a result, I've become accustomed to spending time alone or having solitary hobbies from a young age. This is normal for me but every time someone asks me about my friends, I feel awkward, because I can only name some online friends. For clarification, I like my online friends and I'm not interested in meeting up because we don't really share that many aspects. I can speak from personal exp. that while it's OK to spend time discussing x topic online it's challenging to find other interests IRL meetings.

I like online communities, blogs, and forums. I able to relate with people online easier than IRL and there's all kinds of hobbyist places for niche interests. However, they tend to be connected to a specific interest and once I've move on or care less I end up losing their friendship too. Right now, I have a few pen pals and online friends I keep in contact over email often.

It's odd to admit that I just have no idea how to maintain long term friendships in person.

I have tried joining clubs, school, and reading self-help books. Many of my friendships revolve around a common interest for example games or reading. At the start, I'll become extremely excited about discussing the topic and then the other person will slowly lose interest over time. In the end many of my old friends age out of common hobbies and I notice the distance because there's no relevant topics to discuss.

Alright, I'm not great at small talk but I do make a effort to be engaged and ask polite questions during conversations. I don't think I'm actively driving away people who I've met by being rude or ignoring them. I do stop talking about my favorite topics if the other speaker shows signs of disinterest or boredom.

I keep thinking there is some fundamental flaw that I'm not aware of that prevents me from being friends with people over awhile. It's as if every time I meet a person I'm trying to estimate how long they will keep in contact with me or get bored.

In the past people have called me "aloof" or "distant" but I'm not actively shutting out people on purpose. I try to be relevant and a helpful friend as possible. For awhile I wondered if it was related to my depression or pessimistic outlook but I think I've always been like this even before.

For example, I dislike it when people ask me if I date, because it's difficult to explain how I can't even maintain a friendship longer than 2-3 years and only if we attend the same school or location.

Overall, I've accepted that it's a challenge for me to maintain friendships because I'm not exactly extroverted/outgoing. I don't want to impose myself on other people if they suddenly stop responding to my calls/emails. So, many of my friendships tend to "fade out" than end abruptly one day.

However, I'm now concerned about the negative effects on my future career or networking opportunities. I don't expect to be best friends with my co-workers or every person with a slight connection to my interests at all. I'm worried that it will cause me to be isolated at work or close doors for careers due to my inept social skills.

Side note: I have a history of social anxiety/ASD and in treatment atm. Previously.

I'm curious if anyone has any advice to improve my situation or recommend resources for social skills/networking. Thanks.
posted by chrono_rabbit to Human Relations (8 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
 
There do exist people out there who will like you for you. Who find you charming and fine as you are. But you need to plant a flag somewhere and say "Hey, this is who I am! If you're down with me, then let's hang".

And honestly, a lot of friendships do fade away, but the ones where you both share of yourself on a deep level last much longer generally.

So stop trying to frame this as something that you need to do in order to further your professional life. This is something you want to do because of your personal life. You can have social anxiety and be lonely at the same time. And you have to face some of your fears in order to alleviate your loneliness.

I wish you a lot of luck and hope you find some new friends. It does get harder as you get older, but it can be very much worth it.
posted by inturnaround at 4:58 PM on July 28


When I learned how to ride a motorcycle, many years ago, one of the things I was taught was to not focus on things on the side of the road or on obstacles in the road. Riders are taught to focus past obstacles so that they don't unconsciously start veering toward them and end up crashing.

I mention this because one sentence in your question stuck out to me:

It's as if every time I meet a person I'm trying to estimate how long they will keep in contact with me or get bored.

Stop doing that, please. By focusing on that obstacle, the end of the friendship, you're heading straight for it. You're making it seem to the other person as though you're approaching them with a single purpose in mind (and you are, you are focusing on the end of the friendship); Not to make friends, but to get through this interaction and be done with it. Don't ask how people sense this, but they do. Next time you meet someone, imagine them inviting you to their 75th wedding anniversary instead, or them being your best friend who moves into the same nursing home as you. Or something. Anything. Imagine anything other than the ending.

Also: one of the things I've learned over the years is that maintaining friendship means withholding almost all your judgment and feigning interest in a lot of crap that you would never otherwise be interested in. Ha! That sounds really cynical, doesn't it? But it's true. That's how friendships get along over years.

Single-serving friendships like those you have online are easy. The rules of many interactions mean that you have to keep your interactions confined to a single subject or risk getting kicked out of a community. Even outside of online communities, you can click off when topics veer into something that doesn't interest you. You never have to listen to your friend who you made in pottery class talk about her jerky boyfriend/girlfriend or her cat who needs daily meds or her interest in early American furniture. We're here to talk about pottery! But. But in the real world, you need to cultivate the ability to listen and sympathize with people when they ramble on about things other than what you have in common with them.

Which leads me to talk about not judging people. So your friend has a jerky boyfriend/girlfriend. You can't click away from that. You can't walk away whenever she brings him up. You can judge her or confront her or give her advice she doesn't want to hear, but that will lose her friendship. You have to stay in and navigate it, uncomfortable as that may be. Listening and sympathizing goes a long way. NLP that shit if you have to. But just do it.

And finally, it doesn't matter if you are introverted. Basically, things work the same way whether you are introverted or extroverted. And stop trying to figure out how your new friends are going to eventually dump you.
posted by GoLikeHellMachine at 5:04 PM on July 28 [9 favorites]


I wish I could find the source right now, but I read a study a few months ago saying that most people's friend circles turn over within a period of time very similar to the one you're describing (just a few years). Mine certainly did, all through my school years and beyond. So what? It seems actually like you make friends quite easily! If they fade out, so be it. People change, especially in the age group I assume you're in (high school/college).

I dislike it when people ask me if I date, because it's difficult to explain how I can't even maintain a friendship longer than 2-3 years and only if we attend the same school or location.

None of these things follow from one another. First of all, you don't owe anybody an explanation of your friend-history. But also, you can date people who you weren't friends with before. You can date people you've only been friends with for a short time. You certainly don't have to go into dating somebody thinking you're going to be with them for 3+ years. Also, the stuff you said about being friends with people online contradicts the stuff about being in the same location, so if I were in your shoes, I would give online dating a shot, when and if you are interested in dating.
posted by karbonokapi at 5:21 PM on July 28


It's odd to admit that I just have no idea how to maintain long term friendships in person.

While the idea of lifelong friends is nice, and I get that, that is often not how it works for most of us. I'm 42 and I have no friends from my school or college days, and none from most of my 20s either.

Many of my friendships revolve around a common interest for example games or reading.

What I called special interest friends in this previous answer are really better called hobby friends. Real friendships can grow out of hobby friendships but at a very, very low ratio.

However, I'm now concerned about the negative effects on my future career or networking opportunities. I don't expect to be best friends with my co-workers or every person with a slight connection to my interests at all.

Networking and friendship are not at all the same thing. You don't have to be able to make friends to network. You need to be able to foster cordiality and professional regard.
posted by DarlingBri at 1:11 AM on July 29 [1 favorite]


Friendships frequently start because of a common “thing” but can grow beyond that. An example, I became friends with a colleague. I was in IT, she was an end user. One day, I was talking about walking for exercise and needing a walking partner to make it less boring and she overheard me and asked if she could join me. (We lived not far from each other.)

We met every weekend for coffee before walking. We'd walk for a couple of hours. Through spending this time together we got to know each other by talking at first about work (since we had that in common) and losing weight (reason for walking), then our interests/backgrounds (she's craftsy, I cook, she has a cat, I garden, she's an only child, I have 4 siblings, kinds of movies and books we each liked, blah, blah, blah, etc.), then we started doing stuff together (movies, events, wine/beer festivals, free concerts).

We only walked together for six months or so but we've been friends for 15 years and I've moved away twice. It was an evolution from random person at work to really important friend.

Friendships have to be nurtured. This usually happens naturally but it can be deliberate. If a sci-fi movie comes out that I want to see, I call the friend that likes those, same with romantic comedies. If I see an article that relates to a friend's interests, I forward it.

But some friends do come and go. Work friends, hobby friends, proximity friends - these don’t always last past that shared “thing” and that’s OK - but sometimes one or two people will go beyond what brought them together. People move away, relationships, children and jobs can impact the ability to connect. I still have one very good friend from college (I’m 50); a few others that were really good college friends have become Christmas card with the occasional email kind of pals and that’s fine. We were important to each other until life took us in different directions.

Looking back, I didn’t initiate most of my friendships. I wish I were better at this. I am a really good friend but it doesn’t occur to me to make the initial overture to a stranger but I’m so glad people reached out to me to break the ice. Friends are the family that you choose. Make overtures and see where it goes.
posted by shoesietart at 10:22 AM on July 29 [1 favorite]


GoLikeHellMachine: " if you are introverted. Basically, things work the same way whether you are introverted or extroverted. And stop trying to figure out how your new friends are going to eventually dump you."

Haha, I agree that online friendships are low-maintenance and tend to be simple in nature vs IRL relationships due to my ability to multi-task or "click off" topics when I feel bored. Typically, if my IRL friend is discussing a less than interesting subject I will respond with polite questions and offer advice if appropriate to the situation. If it's too complicated for me to process, I will tell them that I'm afraid I can't be of much use to their problem.

Hmm--this may be irrelevant but I thought "the key to happiness is low expectations"? Nevertheless it's a interesting point that I could be self-sabotaging my friendships. I'm not exactly flaking out on people but I tend to move on quickly if everything looks unstable/unreliable over time. Thanks, I'll keep it in mind.

DarlingBri: "
While the idea of lifelong friends is nice, and I get that, that is often not how it works for most of us. I'm 42 and I have no friends from my school or college days, and none from most of my 20s either.

What I called special interest friends in this previous answer are really better called hobby friends. Real friendships can grow out of hobby friendships but at a very, very low ratio.

Networking and friendship are not at all the same thing. You don't have to be able to make friends to network. You need to be able to foster cordiality and professional regard.
"

I see, thanks for sharing your POV on long-term friendship. I admit, I am feeling insecure because during HS graduation and a few years after people seem to still keep in contact but I never had a strong connection to my peers then and now. (TBH, I've almost forgotten many of their names despite it only been 4-5 years.)

The term "special interest friends" is very accurate to my situation and I think I might be overestimating hobbyist friends to become regular friends later on. I'll keep searching then.

Sorry, I assumed that better social skills would be related to networking. Would it be possible to elaborate on "cordiality" and "professional regard"? I'm not 100% sure if I understand the full meaning.

shoesietart: " But some friends do come and go. Work friends, hobby friends, proximity friends - these don’t always last past that shared “thing” and that’s OK - but sometimes one or two people will go beyond what brought them together. People move away, relationships, children and jobs can impact the ability to connect. I still have one very good friend from college (I’m 50); a few others that were really good college friends have become Christmas card with the occasional email kind of pals and that’s fine. We were important to each other until life took us in different directions.

Looking back, I didn’t initiate most of my friendships. I wish I were better at this. I am a really good friend but it doesn’t occur to me to make the initial overture to a stranger but I’m so glad people reached out to me to break the ice. Friends are the family that you choose. Make overtures and see where it goes.
"

True, I like how you mentioned how your relationship changed over time but were still important on different levels now. Yes, I agree how I have to accept that friends will come and go throughout my life. I also have a similar problem where I rarely initiate friendships if I'm not confident on a positive reaction.

BTW: Thanks everyone else for your advice for my question =)
posted by chrono_rabbit at 7:16 PM on July 30


the other day i've been described by a friend as a 'friend magnet'. Me! I still consider myself socially awkward and most of the time I leave an extended conversation with a feeling of mortification that I talked too much. The couple of times I mentioned that though, it seems to just be my anxiety because my friends could not fathom it. So, I think it's very possible to both be introverted yet cultivate friendships of all levels.

I've been thinking of this because I had another anxiety episode where I nearly convinced myself that I had no friends, which is patently untrue. And if I could offer some things from my own experience, the one thing that seems to be true is that all friendship needs effort, but a gentle and open hand. My closest friends and I, we keep in touch on an almost daily basis. In this, social media has been helpful. One thing I suppose is that I've learned to never be self-conscious about how much interest I have in my friends, so I don't keep a tally. How does that relate to social media is the passive acts of 'liking' or 'favouriting' or reblogging a friend's posts can be enough of a constant low-level signal to show that you're there. Certainly it helps maintain the weaker links of the more casual acquaintances.

But quality matters too. And while some friends just will never reciprocate at nearly the same level of attention you give (and that's up to you at how okay are you with that, and how much you want to turn the volume down, so to speak, for that particular friendship), showing that you're thinking of them also helps - like a message to an item or a post that you'd think they might like, and from there just casual aimless(-seeming) conversation. the big thing I suppose above everything is to be kind - kind to them if they're not responding the way you'd like, but also to be kind to yourself so you're not taken advantage of.

I'm struck by your description of your ability to commit small talk. The fact that you call them polite questions seems to be that while you do want to engage, you are not truly interested. May this be the thing that is noticeable to others? And it's not just an endless series of questions - think of it as riffing or improv. It's not so much that you have to keep asking questions, but did what they say spark a tangent in your mind, perhaps a similar experience to you or someone you know, or even what you read or watched? I agree it's not an easy thing to learn at first, but maybe if it helps for you to see or read good examples of conversationalists? of which I can't provide at the moment, I'm truly sorry.

and going back to what I said earlier - effort yes, but it musn't be forced. That's why I'd say it's like holding something gently, with an open palm. Come in with no expectations, but the genuine pleasure of someone's company. Friendships are made in the spaces of just hanging out, shooting the shit. And it also means that even when we separate we'll always know we have each other's back. No expectations but being there when needed. That's where friendships are made too. Perhaps that's also a signal that others are not getting?
posted by cendawanita at 6:29 AM on July 31


cendawanita: "How does that relate to social media is the passive acts of 'liking' or 'favouriting' or reblogging a friend's posts can be enough of a constant low-level signal to show that you're there. Certainly it helps maintain the weaker links of the more casual acquaintances.

But quality matters too. And while some friends just will never reciprocate at nearly the same level of attention you give (and that's up to you at how okay are you with that, and how much you want to turn the volume down, so to speak, for that particular friendship), showing that you're thinking of them also helps - like a message to an item or a post that you'd think they might like, and from there just casual aimless(-seeming) conversation. the big thing I suppose above everything is to be kind - kind to them if they're not responding the way you'd like, but also to be kind to yourself so you're not taken advantage of.

I'm struck by your description of your ability to commit small talk. The fact that you call them polite questions seems to be that while you do want to engage, you are not truly interested. May this be the thing that is noticeable to others?

No expectations but being there when needed. That's where friendships are made too. Perhaps that's also a signal that others are not getting?
"

Yes, although I'm not crazy about social media overall I agree that it is useful in life to maintain hobbyist friends. There's also the less worrisome aspect of being rejected if you send a comment and the other person doesn't respond.

I don't mind having many acquaintances or friends of convenience but at times it's awkward when I can't name someone who isn't in one category or the other. I guess, I feel inadequate?

Well, I thought "polite" was a apt description, it could be leaning toward cordial too? For example if a friend has mentioned a future trip/vacation I will ask them about their plans and travel arrangements. I can have many 5-10 conversions based around this idea and I'm generally going for casual topics so I can get a good sense of how they react.

I do worry about over-sharing especially when I've just met the person because it would be awkward for everyone. I will try to be relevant but if the person doesn't answer my questions it's a challenge to think of new topics.

Good point, I admit I try to be self-reliable and this can be presumed as stand-offish? It's a odd balance to be helpful but at the same time I don't want to be seen as clingy/needy.
posted by chrono_rabbit at 9:47 AM on July 31


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