I'm a 35 yr old single male with no ties to anyone, totally alone and miserable. I need friends but I'm too untalkative and I can't change..
March 25, 2009 6:27 PM   Subscribe

I'm a 35 yr old single male with no ties to anyone, totally alone and miserable. I need friends but I'm too untalkative and I can't change..

I'm in a real tough spot. I'll just give a rundown of the current situation. I'm 35.. I look a lot younger though. I make a good buddy.. like the steve buscemi character in big lebowski.

I known a few guys who were like the dude. Actually, more like john goodman's character. Older, big fat guys who still check out hot 21 year olds, who are perpetual losers, but lovable guys. I got a friend like that..not a loser though.. but you know, kinda a manly man kind of guy. Big, chunky balding, has a med. marijuana card, that kind of guy..

I'm like this short, youngish looking.. minority.. totally random. I usually make odd-couple friendships. Like those old cartoons.. the big dog, and the little dog hopping around him. I'm the little dog, only quiet. I usually pair up with the talkative big dog who talks a wee bit too much to repel everyone around him, so he turns to me and because I don't talk much, I pay attention.

So I wind up in that tough spot because I too become sort of annoyed, but then he's the only friend I got. I got no confidence to be friends with the people I think I really should be with.

I'm just not talkative, and I can't help it. That's how I am. I never thought early on.. hmm, I should talk more. No, I just do my thing.. I had friends before.. I'm fine how I am.

When I try to force myself to be more talkative in that way you need to be to make friends, it just doesn't go good. I become unfunny.. or just awkward. I relate more to guys like robert deniro who become really awkward when interacting with really normal social kind of people.. and sometimes you think they're better off as quiet..

It's hard. I don't got any friends anymore and finding new ones is.. not only difficult, but it's making me sink further into this isolation, depression, you name it.

What can I do??? What??
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (31 answers total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
I'm also bad at making small talk and being talkative in general. The easiest way for me to make friends is to get involved in a cause or volunteer. That way when I talk to people it's about the job at hand and it breaks through the initial getting-to-know-you awkwardness. Having contact with other people, even if it is just quietly working together to get a project done, might also lessen your dependence on your one big dog friend.

Good luck.
posted by christinetheslp at 6:35 PM on March 25, 2009 [2 favorites]

I can't change.

I beg to differ.

I suggest "Feeling Good" by Dr. David Burns. Therapy in a book and you can do it alone. Apply yourself to the exercises in it.
posted by Ironmouth at 6:39 PM on March 25, 2009

Volunteering (as christinetheslp already suggested), joining a basketball or volleyball or dodgeball or kickball or whatever league, joining a sailing or rowing or skiing or bicycling club, doing tech crew for the local theater club...

Making friends through goal-directed activities is a lot easier for shy/taciturn folks than is just sitting around shooting the breeze.
posted by Sidhedevil at 6:46 PM on March 25, 2009

This is all about self-esteem. Get therapy.
posted by mpls2 at 6:48 PM on March 25, 2009

I am not sure you need to change to make friends. Talkative people do not have a monopoly on friendship. I agree with chsristinetheslp that you should join a group of some sort that puts you in contact with people who have at least one common interest and who are there for the group and not under pressure to become friends. It will happen. I do think you should learn to accept yourself for who you are which sounds like a really decent guy.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 6:50 PM on March 25, 2009

Yeah, this is about self esteem. You can't go through life thinking of yourself as a hoppy dog. Go tell a therapist all of this, and a good one will guide you to the right activities.
posted by sweetkid at 6:52 PM on March 25, 2009

Volunteer with several organizations. Then start asking questions about the organizations and their mission, outlook, problems etc. Don't be too prying, but if an employee or long time volunteer brings and issue up in front of you, ask a simple question about it. Bam! You're asking questions about an organization or mission that the people you're talking to believe in strongly. A great way to start conversations as long as you're not confrontational.

As an outlier, the worst thing that happens is you ask a non-profit's director why they suck at what they do. That will burn bridges but you don't work for them and you can learn and not ask those same kind of questions at other places. But on the plus side you've still given that organization good work hours.

You will learn and adapt faster than you think.
posted by Science! at 7:05 PM on March 25, 2009

Are you living in a movie?

Robert Deniro is an actor, as are John Goodman and Steve Buscemi. These are actors who are acting out roles. This is not real life.

The key to most things that don't come naturally to people is practice.

As suggested earlier, join clubs. Obviously toastmasters isn't for you yet, so I suggest clubs where talking isn't really on the agenda, such as chess or bushwalking. The beauty of this approach is that it supplies the participants with a shared experience, which then becomes the basis of conversation - and the more this happens the more comfortable you will feel comfortable with conversing.
posted by mattoxic at 7:25 PM on March 25, 2009 [2 favorites]

I noticed just one sentence with your activities and lifestyle, and about 20 describing self-image, so I am redirecting the spotlight to your activities and lifestyle.

Being a 35 yo single male is part of the problem, I think. I've noticed at that age, unless you're around a large circle of other single similar age people (like presumably what's common in vibrant inner cities like Manhattan), it's extremely difficult to make new friendships. Most of us are still carrying forward mostly high school and college friendships. Being 30s-40s and single puts you between 30s-40s married people and 20s single people. That's between a rock and a hard place. So I don't think this is a problem completely specific to you.

I think you should do whatever it takes to force yourself OUT of the house and into activities. I would scour meetup and other venues like that for slightly geeky/green/alternate activities, that said because they presumably have less involvement from conservative, traditional folks who tend to be solidly married and with kids -- that said because it's much harder to make/maintain friends across the marital status divide.

Nothing is going to happen overnight, but you have to force yourself to stay involved socially and busy with group activities. The rest of it you can control, which I suspect is mostly just not worrying so much about things and going with the flow. If you fixate on trying to get friends and worrying about the social ladder rather than get in the mindset of enjoying being around people and just enjoying new experiences, it will work against you.
posted by crapmatic at 7:28 PM on March 25, 2009 [2 favorites]

What are you interested in? Start there. If you are into juggling, I am sure you can wax poetic about juggling. I hate small talk, but get me started on medieval weaponry, and I can go for hours. Find people who share those interests. The internet is your friend. There are groups of people who share your interests. Those interests are the seeds to nurturing friendships. If you are not a people person, then embrace it. Sounds like you might be into movies. Run with that as a starting point. Don't be afraid to acknowledge your awkwardness as a conversation piece.
posted by kaizen at 7:29 PM on March 25, 2009

'Friend' is not something you have, 'friend' is something you do. I think it's mistaken to look at it as acquiring friends in the way you acquire possessions. If you behave as a friend and do the things that friends do for other people, they will become your friends.

Garrulousness isn't required.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 7:47 PM on March 25, 2009 [2 favorites]

I know this sounds weird... but join a roleplaying game club/group. Find a local hobby-shop and then look for a bulletin board.

All they (we) do is banter, talk, chat and make nerdy jokes all the time.

I dunno - I generally suck at "small talk", but give me a good geek, tech or nerdly topic and I'm off to the races. Therefore, I hang with geeky, nerdy or tech-type people.

Find a group of people who share a common interest.
posted by jkaczor at 8:09 PM on March 25, 2009 [2 favorites]

You are over analyzing everything, it is annoying to be around people like that. Just smoke some of your friends medical pot and relax.
posted by BobbyDigital at 8:13 PM on March 25, 2009

You sound like you've decided upon a pattern, and you're going to confirmation-bias yourself into it because it's a sort of identity for you.

On one hand, you're being too hard on yourself. On the other, you're making this all about you. Volunteer, join groups, do something. You just may have other roles to play, eh?
posted by desuetude at 8:24 PM on March 25, 2009

Is there anything you feel you especially enjoy or are good at? I ask because I've felt myself to be in pretty much the exact same position before, and the single biggest thing that helped was stumbling into a situation where I actually did know a little something and actually could hold my own. Specifically, I ended up in a new job where some of my coworkers staged a weekly, informal "Board Games Night;" before I started to attend these things I felt like the most inferior, unnoticed, awkward 'yappy little dog' in a yard full of big dogs that you could possibly imagine - to me the other people in the group were in another league when it came to social status. I really had to FORCE myself to go to those Board Games Nights - I can remember so many times, early on, where I'd ring the doorbell and then have to clench every muscle in my body to keep from running back home before anybody answered ... but I really LIKE board games, so I kept on going and eventually got to the point where I could focus more on the game than on telling myself how 'inadequate' I was compared to the others. And from there, suddenly I was more than "that quiet, awkward girl at the corner desk at work," suddenly I was also "that person who made a really good move in that game last night," or even "that person who blew the lead like crazy, but was a good sport about it" - and in turn, suddenly to ME those people went from being "those big dogs I'm too intimidated to talk to" to "that woman who got insanely worked up over the interpretation of a rule on a blasted board game," or "that bastard who tried to pull a fast one and move his piece when he thought we weren't looking" - it helped give me and them more 'dimensions,' somehow; it made us all the more human to one another ...

Looking back on that, what I realize is that whenever I dwell on my inadequacies I only amplify them, both to me and to others, and in turn I amplify others' superiority in my own mind. Finding some activity where you can contribute a little - or at least get so involved that for a few brief moments you forget to focus on castigating yourself - can really make a world of difference.

Heck, if it helps, maybe you could remind yourself that feeling inadequate is very human and not just something you do - watch carefully and you might see that many people are so focused on themselves that they either don't notice you being awkward, or else give you the benefit of the doubt by assuming the fault lies with them(!) Seems to me that nearly everybody has an internal critic of their own telling them that THEY are the one who doesn't belong and that YOU are the one who realizes this and are acting accordingly ... it's easy to forget, but even those "big dogs" probably see themselves as "the yappy little dog" at times ... somehow it helps me to remember that.
posted by DingoMutt at 8:29 PM on March 25, 2009 [3 favorites]

The way you described your situation was actually quite creative, and entertaining. Sounds like you have a great imagination - so don't worry about being a bore. Doesn't matter that you're quiet. I'm the quiet dog as well, but every once in a while I bust out with a wickedly subversive and funny comment. Quiet dogs have their place.

Most people will tell you just "relax", but it's not like you can turn "relaxedness" on an off like a switch. So, I'd just recommend that you throw yourself into situations. What are you interested in? Do that. With others. If you're uncomfortable, that's fine. In fact, that's preferred. If you feel like you live in a movie, then ham it up. Become a character... give yourself little missions. "Today I will infiltrate a book club" "Today I will talk to a stranger on a bus" The more you put yourself into unexpected and uncomfortable situations, the sooner they become comfortable, and familiar (which has its own set of problems, but you can deal with them later.)
posted by baxter_ilion at 8:39 PM on March 25, 2009

I'm kinda like you in that I'm a pretty quiet minority that looks a lot younger. I'm about to grad from college but get carded like a champ for cigarettes and probably will continue to be carded for years.

I second volunteering, but also agree that you might be overanalyzing a little bit. You're right that it's perfectly fine to be on the quiet side. It's good that there are quiet people to balance out all the loud ones out there. I don't like to make small talk with people I just meet a lot either because it usually just feels kind of fake. But once I get to know people that I actually like, I'm a lot more open. Nothing wrong with that.

On the bright side, while things don't look great right now, your problem is definitely solvable with some effort. Don't worry about it too much and take your time. When you meet people don't feel like you have to impress everyone or that they are all judging you, just try to be confident and satisfied that you are a good person and say what comes naturally.

If I were you I would get a golden retriever puppy or a kitten. Also, Dale Carnegie's "How to Stop Worrying and Start Living" is a fun read.
posted by some idealist at 8:46 PM on March 25, 2009

You know what the therapist is going to tell you? He's going to parse you through his filters, find one that seems to fit as a label, run his/her particular brand of help therapy, collect his fee and see you next week/month. Okay, if you have been traumatized about something, by all means see a therapist.

You can't get to what you want by complaining about what you don't want. The more you think about what a loser you are, how depressed you are, the more you focus your energy on those very things.

Think of your subconscious like a big ocean liner. It has one hell of a lot of kinetic energy going forward in one direction and takes a while to turn anywhere else. At the moment, you're stoking your liner's engine with lots of negative thoughts about what you can't do, what you can't have, what you don't like about yourself. That's going to take some doing to turn around to a new direction.

The good part is that you can start right away. The 'muscles' you need to be social are unused. They've gone flabby or inert. You can start exercising them by imagining yourself in social situations. Your body/subconscious can't really tell the difference between imagined behavior and the real deal. So imagine your perfect outcome with people. Do it at least twice a day, when you wake up and before you go to sleep. Get a perfect picture in your head and live it as if it were really happening to you.

Practice positive speech. It's not something that will just happen. You have to consciously state the positive in your mind instead of the negative and you have to keep doing it. And remember it's going to take awhile to turn that ship around. You have to be consistent and determined to get results.

There's a little more to it than this. It's good to have a role model for making these types of changes. You can find this kind of information all around if you look for it. And, anything you do that you are new at is awkward at first. First you crawl, then walk, then run. Reward yourself mentally. Be okay with having to learn and make mistakes.

Good luck. I know you are going to find new good friends and have a stellar social life.
posted by diode at 8:54 PM on March 25, 2009 [3 favorites]

You sound like you're in a bit of a rut. I hope things turn around for you soon. However, do you always have these feelings or are they fleeting? Therapy's all fine and good but it can cost a lot of money and you aren't guaranteed to find the right therapist on the first go around.

Are you good at anything? Have any interests or passions? Know lots of stuff about something in particular?

Depending on where you live, there may or may not be clubs or organizations that you're interested in for you to get involved with.

However, have you considered hanging out at a bar/tavern with trivia night? You don't have to be social or garrulous unless you want to be. Watching other people can be fun, and if a topic comes up where you're good at - hey! Why not speak up and answer it?

Alternatively, in Canada, there is the Canadian Legion - you don't have to be a veteran to join, and I've heard anecdotes of girls who like to go to bars to read/study/quitey-hang-out but don't want to be hit on or whatever who join Legions.

Bonus - lots of interesting older people who have tons of interesting stories to tell. Legions also host events (swing dancing, trivia nights, lot of other stuff). Again, not all members of Legions are old vets; there's a reasonable contingent of people of all other ages (and both genders).

jkaczor makes a good point; gamers tend not to be very exclusive. Also, pretending to be someone else can be good practice for... pretending to be someone else. It's also a situation where you can work out your own feelings/problems cathartically from a different point of view (subconciously, or whatever).

Are you into team sports at all? Beer league baseball, softball, ice hockey, dodgeball (srsly), volleyball, ultimate are also possibilities that you can explore. There are even distinctions between beer leagues; there are ones where it's ultra competitive (for beer leagues) to those that are 'just for fun' and those in-between. From subbing and hanging out at my friends' sports leagues, the range in age, ability, and sociality is vast. Vast.

Good luck! You sound like to want some (positive) change in your life and for most people, most of the time, it takes action to get those (positive) changes.
posted by porpoise at 8:55 PM on March 25, 2009

1) What are you good at, or interested in?
2) Ask yourself what you like *about* 1).
3) Repeat 2); come up with a longer, more detailed answer this time.
4) Repeat 2); toss in some analogies now-- and, since you seem into this-- movie references.
5) Go to meetup.com, and look up your various interests.
6) Attend the meetings based around these interests, and recite your various answers to 2).

Don't be surprised if comparatively quiet Steve Buscemi types start hanging around as your pals, and don't be too offended when they seem somewhat amused at your newfound tendency to start flirting with the youngest women in the group.
posted by darth_tedious at 8:55 PM on March 25, 2009

Go to the gym or learn a martial art, then punch loneliness in the dick.
posted by GooseOnTheLoose at 9:22 PM on March 25, 2009

You've GOT to stop putting labels and boxes on yourself. You are not living in a cartoon or a Coen bros movie. You are not a weirdo sidekick.

I got no confidence to be friends with the people I think I really should be with.

The only people you "should" be with are people that you find interesting and appealing and who like you. These really should be the only criteria. People who make you nervous or feel lousy are not friends - unless everyone makes you feel like that. Then you are doing something wrong.
You should realize that most everyone is nervous socially and hoping to make a good impression and wanting to be liked.
posted by CunningLinguist at 9:25 PM on March 25, 2009

Get a hobby. Get two, actually. And listen to the great advice in this thread so far.
posted by gnutron at 10:38 PM on March 25, 2009

While I absolutely second all the suggestions to develop your interests and pursue activities that provide plenty of opportunity for social interaction, I would also encourage you to do some reading on the topic. If you feel you're simply not a talkative person, then you may be surprised to learn something about the particular mechanics of conversation-making - - thus demystifying what it is that socializing, and small talk specifically, actually entail. I'd recommend such books as The Art of Conversation by Catherine Blyth, How to be a People Magnet by Leil Lowndes, and How to Start a Conversation and Make Friends by Don Gabor. Books which break conversation down into manageable & comprehensible components may mean the difference between you being insecure and you being bold and confident in your dealings with people. Also, did anyone yet mention the importance of smiling or expressing a genuine interest in other people? Check out some of these books and I promise that things will start becoming a whole lot clearer.
posted by afabulousbeing at 12:36 AM on March 26, 2009 [1 favorite]

It was in the book Eat, Pray, Love that had this great quote: *You gotta stop wearing your wishbone where your backbone oughtta be.*

Read the book. It's written by a woman - but you know - women do tend to have a whole lot of wisdom. Give it a read. It's going to change your way of thinking.
posted by watercarrier at 3:14 AM on March 26, 2009

I've been reading through all the above suggestions, and I am so impressed at how good most of them are. i would agree to try to start finding groups of people that you share a particular interest with -- and it doesn't have to be cool or hip, it just has to be interesting to you. If you like pickup-basketball-in-the-park, great, but I suspect if you did you wouldn't be in this dilemma. Maybe your interest is balsa-wood gliders, or collecting 19th century newspapers, or making miles of paper-chains to drape around your room. Whatever. The point it is it should be something *you* like, so you'll be comfortable around other people who are into it. And like someone else said above, the internet is your friend. Name an interest, no matter how obscure, you can find a community of other enthusiasts online, and then go from there.

The one thing I would also add to this plan is that it would seem to me that if you're not a talkative person by nature, the problem would be amplified if you're hanging around with just one person all the time . Because then it has to be either someone who just loves to talk and dominate the conversation and doesn't care that you don't talk (because it just gives *him* more time and space to talk) -- and you could see how this could easily be attractive to real egotistical types who turn out to be not so nice in the end -- OR, you find someone else who is just like you, and then you both wind up being silent all the time, and not really sharing anything, and then that's not really a solution either.

So what I think makes seeking out groups especially a good idea for you is that you can hang out with a bunch of likeminded people while really reducing the pressure to talk much. It's ok to be "the quiet one" in a group. You can have fun while not talking much, especially if there are a few other people around powering the conversational engine around. You can still laugh at their jokes (if they're funny ;o) and contribute to the good times without having to talk much yourself.

And then, like others, I think that over time, as you got more comfortable and friendly with folks, you would just naturally wind up contributing more conversation, even if you never became the big talker of the group.

good luck with it!
posted by leticia at 4:20 AM on March 26, 2009

Find a social activity that you enjoy. For some reason, bowling comes to mind.
posted by GPF at 6:37 AM on March 26, 2009

Put an ad on Craigslist looking for friends/platonic relationships/activity partners. State what you said here, including what kind of activities you'd like to engage in. Specify that you are not gay and not looking to meet any who is. Unfortunately that last one is important, as otherwise many gay men WILL start writing to you, trying to start something that is decidedly not platonic.
posted by eas98 at 7:23 AM on March 26, 2009

You're going to need to practice small talk to become comfortable with it and stop being so awkward. I found that starting out making a point of talking to strangers in your everyday life really helps. For instance, when you're at the store say something to the person in line behind you. Older people are good to practice small talk with and are more likely to answer back and keep up the conversation. It will eventually become easier for you and should help addressing some of the other issues you mention.
posted by Bunglegirl at 7:39 AM on March 26, 2009

I agree with the above that therapy would be helpful.

But besides that, let me tell some things that I have done recently to feel less lonely.

I am different than you because I am pretty talkative, but I did find myself with fewer friends last fall because I had been working so hard I hadn't had time for making new friends, and many of my old friends had moved away.

I tend to feel some social anxiety about making friends. I am okay at making small talk with new people, but when it comes to turning that into a friendship where you do stuff together, I get insecure. But I convinced myself to really put myself out there, be open to friendship even when it felt scary.

Some things that have helped me making friends recently:
1. I live in a cooperative house with 13 other people. Not only have I built friendships with many of them, but also with many of their friends. It's a good place for the non-talkative because you have enough time with other people to get comfortable with them and get to know them, even without small talk.
2. I went to burning man. Everyone there is unbelievably friendly.
3. I took the dog for a walk in the park. Other dog owners will always talk to you.
4. I volunteer at a school and talk to the other adults there.
5. I went to a dance class at a local church, a very friendly group.

There are also:
6. Metafilter meetups.

At first, these attempts to reach out to others may not work - you might still feel awkward and have trouble talking. But don't give up, keep at it, it will get easier.
posted by mai at 9:53 AM on March 26, 2009

Get out of your comfort zone now and make a list of actionable things that can improve your current situation. Act on the list today until you see good results.

You don't have to who you are but you need to change your approach. If you're not happy, do something. Make yourself interesting and your life will be less miserable.
posted by mchow at 10:02 PM on March 26, 2009

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