How do I keep friends?
July 17, 2010 6:20 PM   Subscribe

When you first meet someone, aside from personality type, what are things that the person can say or do that would make you NOT want to spend time with them again? I'm late developing social skills (social anxiety in HS; stayed inside 90% of the time) and one thing I've noticed is that while people take an interest in me initially, I haven't had any success maintaining that interest.

Usually what happens is the person stops initiating contact, and declines or doesn't follow through with any plans to hang out. Some will respond if I contact them first, others stop responding entirely. I know I must be doing -something- wrong, but since there could be about 100 things I could be doing I'd rather just hear some social turn offs so that I can check what I'm doing/saying against those.
posted by biochemist to Human Relations (31 answers total) 31 users marked this as a favorite
Are you talking about romantic interests or across the board?
posted by Pax at 6:27 PM on July 17, 2010

First- don't worry so much, be yourself, and know that the people who stick around will be those who will make good friends for you. There's not a ton of things I can say that you could do that most people would find problematic, and it's hard to know if you're really doing anything wrong, since I've never met you in person. Do you have any friends who are willing to be honest with you about this?

That said, here's some things I can think of that most people in the US would find undesirable:
-Farting, picking your nose, stripping publicly
-Being rude, disrespectful, or condescending
-Being visibly uncomfortable with your company
posted by emilyd22222 at 6:29 PM on July 17, 2010

Laughing at your own jokes
Bad breath
Correcting grammar
No sense of humour
Bad listener
Making fun of people's interests (music, mostly)
Ability to converse on only one or two topics
Off-colour joke telling in the wrong situations
posted by fso at 6:31 PM on July 17, 2010

The world is absolutely full of flaky people. People who don't initiate contact, people who don't call back, people who don't show up, people who make no effort.

So, while it probably is you, it might not be.

That said, here are some things people that don't like: insistence, over-eagerness, nervousness, bossiness, an inability to go-with-the-flow, judgment, talking too much, not talking enough, poor personal hygiene.

Making friends, real friends, is hard and time-consuming. I'm a friendly extrovert with great social skills, and I moved to a new town three years ago. I still feel lonely, and I've started one or maybe two friendships that will last more than a few years. There aren't a lot of people out there who are really going to mesh with you and love you and grok you, so you gotta be mellow, have fun, don't sweat the small stuff, and let it happen when it will.
posted by goblinbox at 6:32 PM on July 17, 2010 [5 favorites]

For me, it is a big red flag if someone appears dishonest, either in that person's actions, by telling inconsistent stories (of which one must logically be a lie) or by openly deceiving someone else in front of me.

I also have a strong aversion to selfishness - e.g. immediately grabbing 2 slices of pizza when there are 10 slices in total for 7 people or unreasonably insisting on going somewhere that makes another person uncomfortable.

On preview: flakiness is a real turn-off too.
posted by sueinnyc at 6:37 PM on July 17, 2010

I don't like people who are uncivil and/or incurious.
posted by hapax_legomenon at 6:43 PM on July 17, 2010

* talking about their ex in a disparaging manner;
* being rude to staff or service people;
* poor hygiene;
* cruelty;
* dishonesty
posted by jadepearl at 6:51 PM on July 17, 2010

This may come across as rude, but in all honesty, I have (well, had, before I moved) a pretty high bar for friends. I had a group of 6-7 people I'd known for years, we got along fantastically, regularly had fun events and activities, and would see each other 2-3 times a week at least. Outside of that group, I had a much wider circle of various friends from work, or uni, or circus class or whatever. I'd do stuff with them from time to time, and that was great.

If I met someone new, I'd be more than happy to chat and joke around and have a conversation. I'd have an interest in them, but that interest (for me) wouldn't really extend beyond enjoying the conversation. Unless they were spectacularly fascinating, I would probably leave without planning to see them again. Not because I didn't enjoy their company, but simply because I had a very well established group of friends, and I would rather have spent time with them then with anyone else.

I'm not sure if this applies to you, but it may be something to consider. If so, then I'd suggest trying to meet people who would be new to where you live, as they'll also be looking for friends, and less likely to be as cliquey.
posted by twirlypen at 6:52 PM on July 17, 2010 [2 favorites]

I'm a pretty friendly person but the one thing that is entirely guaranteed to turn me off is someone who is too eager to be my friend. I am not talking normal friendliness, I am talking pushiness. For me, making friends is a give and take thing that most of the time simply takes time. When I feel pressured I automatically back right up.

This is really pretty rare and you probably aren't doing this but I mention it just in case.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 6:52 PM on July 17, 2010 [4 favorites]

Basically, I like someone if they make me feel good about myself. They are attentive in conversation; patient enough to let me finish my thoughts; interested in my interests, but have other hobbies and interests to teach me something new.

Maybe the turn-offs are the opposite of those?

I think ultimately, we seek relationships in order to make ourselves happy. If someone doesn't make me happy, I tend to avoid them.
posted by chicago2penn at 6:55 PM on July 17, 2010 [12 favorites]

Or, to answer your question directly:

- false people. Trying too hard to be funny, or confident, or loud. It can be quite transparent, and not at all attractive.
- rude people. Rude to service staff, rude about people behind their backs, or making off-colour jokes in front of people they've just met recently.

They're easy though. One that comes to mind as a turn-off is socially awkward people - there are all sorts of unwritten yet near-universally understood guidelines about interacting with people in public. Sometimes people are unaware of this, and this can make conversations anywhere from mildly awkward to downright uncomfortable. It can be about personal space, or interrupting a private conversation, or staring too much, or interrogating someone... all sorts of things. It may be worth watching other people interact for a while and seeing if they do anything that you are not.

I've just realised this makes me look like some kind of high-minded, ultra critical prick. I promise you most people aren't this judgemental, and I'm just trying to think of anything that might make someone avoid a person they've just met.
posted by twirlypen at 6:59 PM on July 17, 2010

First off: odds are you're absolutely totally fine. Friendships are really hard to get going for just about everyone, especially after college. People are busy and flaky and tend to stick with what they know.

As for things that make me not want to be friends with someone:

Constant complaining
Talking over others/not letting other people have their say
Talking only about themselves
Cattiness and gossip
Having too much personal drama
Being an uninteresting conversationalist (I've known some people who say mostly bland things like "that's funny!" or "really?" and it drives me up the wall)
Any sort of affectation
posted by Metroid Baby at 7:14 PM on July 17, 2010 [1 favorite]

I'm a woman who has had some great friendships with men, but one sure turn-off is anything that could be interpreted as flirting. I've simply learned through experience that many men who say "I just want to be your friend" really don't, and so I'm super-wary, especially when it seems there might be some dishonesty involved. I might have accidentally cut off some guys who weren't flirting at all, but I didn't want to risk it. So if you wanted to be friends with *me*, and you're a dude, that would mean avoiding things like talking about your availability, your break-up, if you want to get laid--anything that might seem like a hint.

Changing subjects, if you're worried that you're coming across as too over-eager, then you might want to space out meetings with your new potential friends more. Instead of asking them if they want to go out to a movie on Wednesday if you've had coffee with them on Monday, wait to ask until Saturday. It's easy to kind of burn out on a new person.

Another thing--sometimes it's a lot less awkward if you're in a group setting or if you're doing more than sitting around and talking. I had a couple of casual friends that I turned into better friends by cooking dinner with them every week, for example. Having something to *do* together made it easier to relate at first.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 7:27 PM on July 17, 2010

Here's the secret - it is much less about how not to turn people OFF. It is all about how to make them want to be around you more! I will overlook the spinach in your teeth and the fact that you are kind of cheap if you are hilarious. Or if you have something fascinating to say, I probably will not notice that you forgot to brush your teeth. If your perspective is so rich as to be a resource, I won't even notice the fact that you jump and wince every time a motorcycle goes by or a chair scrapes across the floor.

Be irreplaceable to those you wish to befriend. The more you worry about what you might be doing wrong, the less you are focusing on being the best you possible!
posted by greekphilosophy at 7:40 PM on July 17, 2010 [8 favorites]

I have a hard time being around people who like to argue. (They prefer to think of it as debating.) It's fun to have a back-and-forth, stimulating conversation but some people try to browbeat you into seeing their point of view, even about the stupidest things. The flip side of this is not having an opinion (or being too eager to agree with everything out of insecurity or fear of rejection). For example: I had a friend who, as we were getting to know each other, would always wait for my reaction before she did anything. If we went to a movie, she would laugh after I laughed, but never before. And I could tell from her body language that she was doing it. It's hard to describe, but it was very odd and annoying.

Given your past social anxiety, I would bet that most of this is in your head and you're just experiencing the same awkward initial stages of friendship that everyone goes through. That said, if you're self-conscious about meeting people, you could be giving off a nervous or tense vibe or sending mixed signals. People can usually detect when something is "off," even when they can't put their finger on exactly what it is.
posted by lucysparrow at 7:47 PM on July 17, 2010

I have been in your shoes. In fact, I still wear them from time to time.

There is some good advice in this thread, but because the question you posed is so broad, our advice can't help but be scatter shot. You see, we're all basing our advice on our own experiences, special-snowflakey as they are.

You called it when you said that there could be about 100 things that aren't working for you, so I'm just going to list out things in order of what I personally think is important, based on my experience with clawing my way out of complete social awkwardness.*

-Personal hygiene (brush your teeth daily, figure out something to do with your hair that looks decent, shower, and don't smell)

-Wardrobe (I came from a family culture where basically if it was a piece of fabric that covers you up, you should be damn grateful your older cousin's brother's uncle's sister's grandfather passed it down through the ages, but people in the western world care about dress. If you're wearing ill-fitting, badly-matched, diametrically-opposed-to-style clothing, you're already at a disadvantage before you say a word.)

-Conversational ability (Yeah, we could spend the rest of your life talking about this, but the broad strokes are this: be more interested in others than talking about yourself, but have something to say when that lull in the conversation comes, don't make distasteful jokes, but express your own sense of humor, ask questions, remember things that people tell you about themselves and relate that back to them later... and frankly, so much more, but there's a link below that I think can help you in this department far more than I can)

-Having something going for yourself. (This one [thankfully] doesn't have a whole lot to do with directly engaging your inability to relate to people. This is the good one [mind you, not the easy one] that allows you to discover who you are and what you like about yourself. I won't bore you with a 'find your passion' spiel, but you're good if you can find some situation that allows you to support yourself that isn't total hell; something that any number of awkward interactions on Friday and Saturday nights can't take away from you. I'm the last guy to say that worldly gain is the secret to happiness, but you've got to be able to say you can hold your own in this world. If you can't do that [and I totally relate to this, probably the only reason I'm talking about it], then yeah, even if you try to be the zen master, most likely you will feel less about yourself. Develop yourself; your talents, your marketability, your assets. No rejected date can take that away from you.)

There's a lot more, but it's all been said better at Succeed Socially.

Seriously, that's what you need to read. I often google questions I have, and my greatest wish is that no matter how narrow the niche, I will find a website so chock-full of information expressed in such an explicit and easy to understand way as Succeed Socially. I've learned (or at least confirmed suspicions about) so much by reading this site. It is not like the Game or whatever (I find that whole thing pretty skeezy). I kind of feel like this guy is just trying to tell you that you, me, and everyone else we know really has the potential to have enriching relationships. That, my friend, is totally true.

*Keep in mind, it wasn't a fanatical devotion to RPGs or a lack of sunlight that held me back; I was raised in a different culture but forced to grow up through middle and high schools here, and I'm convinced there are few pairs of cultures more ill-suited to each other than Devoutly-Muslim-Arab and Secular-Californian-American (which, surprise surprise, won out in the end).
posted by malapropist at 8:00 PM on July 17, 2010 [11 favorites]

I had social anxiety in highschool to the point where I would have panic attacks and was put in a special group of people with psychological issues. I am now what I would consider reasonably successful, outgoing, well-liked, etc.

How did I get from point A to point B? OBSERVATION.

I am blessed with being fairly perceptive and what I would do is observe how others acted in groups. Don't focus on 1-on-1 friendships or things like that. Engage in group activities when possible to take some of the pressure off, and don't worry about being the focal point. Just try to figure out who people tend to gravitate towards in the group and OBSERVE THE EVERLOVING SHIT OUT OF THEM. Learn from them, copy them, do whatever you need to in order to gain confidence. Part of the problem is you may not be doing any one particular thing, but through lack of confidence, you put off an aura that pushes people away.

Now, if that doesn't solve things, then yes, there may be some specifics that several people have listed here. In general though, people love to talk about themselves, and they love to connect with others. Try to do that and things should progress from there if the other variables are in place.

Unfortunately, you cannot force true friendship, and finding true friends is about as rare as finding someone romantically. They don't just pop up every day. Now, there are all manner of other types of friends, and you should start with those. Just understand that some people are flaky, some are shy, some don't take the initiative with moving relationships forward, etc.
posted by Elminster24 at 8:51 PM on July 17, 2010 [2 favorites]

Please make eye contact with the person, but don't stare. If you ask a question, listen for the answer. Listen to people. Be punctual about returning calls and to meetings. Don't be rude to wait staff, and always tip. Be truthful.
posted by 6:1 at 9:06 PM on July 17, 2010 [1 favorite]

Aside from what others have said, try to throw other people a bone if they're struggling. If someone makes a well-intentioned joke but it's not all that funny, still try and muster a smile.

I had a friend who would, in that situation, just stare and say nothing and it was off-putting and made everyone feel really judged.
posted by cranberrymonger at 9:34 PM on July 17, 2010 [1 favorite]

For me, social awkwardness is just fine, over-eagerness is mostly ok too, insecurity can actually be endearing, but neediness - that makes me never want to interact with you again.
posted by kitcat at 9:40 PM on July 17, 2010

I just finished reading this book. The "freak" in the title, Charlie, is a general example of What Not To Do when meeting new people pretty much every time he opens his mouth. He doesn't have any intention of putting people off or freaking them out, mind you, but he does anyway.

Things to learn from Charlie:
(a) do not blab every thought in your head the second you have it,
(b) especially if it's off topic, or not work appropriate, or doesn't fit in the context of the conversation.

There is a particularly heinous example early on of Charlie in the Family Needs section of a drugstore, accidentally going on about how he doesn't want to have kids and thinks everyone should adopt anyway, to a pregnant woman looking for baby stuff.

So basically, don't do that sort of thing. It's something you won't notice as wrong or offensive, but other people would.
posted by jenfullmoon at 10:34 PM on July 17, 2010

No matter what their facebook page says, nobody has 500 friends. So don't worry about friends; focus on acquaintances. Take up a hobby, get good at something outside of work that some other people also like doing. Practice talking to them about that. Present yourself to the world clean and neat every day and then forget about how you're doing and focus on the thing(s) you're all interested in and what they have to say about it; ask questions sometimes and remember and think about what people say. Then, as an example, you might remember from a casual comment that someone really likes dragonflies and one day you'll run across the neatest print of a dragonfly and for practically no money, you bring them a present. You pay attention to people and give them signs that you recognize them and appreciate the special little things about them.

This is also how you take care of self-consciousness. Once you've checked yourself out in a full length mirror, you just stop carrying around all that concern about how you're being perceived and focus on perceiving others. If you do this and get proficient at it, one day someone will surprise you and give you evidence that they heard something you said and you'll get a token of recognition. That's when you know you've found a person who might == if you both continue to pay attention and find you like each other -- turn into a friend. It takes time.

Sorry for the long ramble but that's the way I figured it out. Believe me, I don't have 500 friends; I couldn't do the maintenance but I do have a handful of very, very good friends.
posted by Anitanola at 11:15 PM on July 17, 2010 [1 favorite]

When I first meet someone, I try to be polite but not formal, I ask questions (but nothing too personal or awkward), make eye contact (but don't stare), and keep it reasonably short, unless we've planned to meet over coffee. I try not to complain or be negative, but also try avoid appearing like a boy scout. I try to remember things about the person, because we all like to be remembered. Besides the eye contact, to try vary your body posture occassionally, it's more interesting.
posted by KokuRyu at 12:03 AM on July 18, 2010

Just a quick note -- if you're thinking that someone you've just met is a friend, you're going way too fast. Even six months is short for true friendship. So: your expectations for people you've encountered yesterday, last week, last month, last winter -- may be way too high. Be friendly: "engaged in the lives of others", and you'll make friends, quality friends, over the next year or two.
posted by seanmpuckett at 7:20 AM on July 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

malapropist, that Succeed Socially site is AMAZING. I'm pretty socially well-adapted, but it's like he understands all the most awkward parts of my adolescence! And he has such good explanations for things I always struggle to explain to others, like why small talk is not Satan's Creation to Torture the Smart, and why a passing interest in sports is a nice/useful thing to have, and why you shouldn't get wound up when people say stupid-but-formulaic things. ("Omg, you're so tall!")

And the stuff about awkward teenage boys learning to date about broke my heart.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 7:41 AM on July 18, 2010

People have mentioned not being too demanding ("let's hang out every weekend!") or ignoring social niceties (don't put your feet up on the table, don't go looking through the fridge, ask if there's any uncertainty, offer to help with cleanup/dishes, phrase requests politely).

However, there's also interpersonal variation and for dealing with that, a little observation of how someone reacts goes a long way. Watching people's faces can show you when they're looking startled/annoyed/disgusted, which is a very useful cue that you've done something you should avoid in the future (and probably should stop / backtrack from / apologize for in the present, if it's possible to do so without making a scene. At least look embarrassed).
posted by Lady Li at 10:54 AM on July 18, 2010

How did I get from point A to point B? OBSERVATION.
posted by Elminster24 at 8:51 PM on July 17 [1 favorite]


Everyone upthread has had good suggestions, but there's a world of difference between reading advice and seeing that behaviour in the real world; it's like reading the script of a film scene and then seeing it performed by a great actor.

In addition to the recommendation of observing how people interact with each other and "faking it 'till you make it", I'd also suggest observing the people you're with. Try to step outside yourself if possible, and observe their reactions to you as you would observe a couple of television characters. Is the person you're with looking annoyed or exasperated at points? Do they check their watch, look around distractedly, not respond/respond monosyllabically, not look at you while you're talking? Do they do anything that, if you were watching the scene unfold on a screen somewhere, you'd be thinking, "Oh, no ... big mistake." or "[S]he's just not that into him/her." If so, try to pay attention to what you're doing or saying that is causing those reactions, and you'll have a good clue as to what you might be doing to turn people off.

The other suggestion may be painfully obvious, but behave toward other people in the way you would like to be treated in a social situation. Do you like it when someone (for example) cuts you off mid-sentence to talk about something they've just thought of? Would you want to spend time with someone who didn't brush their teeth/focuses on their mobile phone instead of their lunch companion/constantly flakes out on people/whatever? Granted, even if you obey all these social rules you may still find that you don't have as much social success as you'd like, but at least you'll be able to have a bit more confidence in the idea that the people you're not clicking with are those you don't have much in common with rather than the idea that you're generally turning people off.
posted by the luke parker fiasco at 1:17 PM on July 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

I work with a guy who is perfectly pleasant in every respect, but whom I cannot stand to be around on account of his ability to talk about himself, his interests and his many, many areas of expertise in great detail and at great length, often without being at all prompted. Whatever you've just done or said, however interesting, he has to better it with something tenuously related and needing a much longer (and often quite complicated) explanation. Of course it's a natural response, when we're talking to someone, to think about what they're saying and then relate it to ourselves, but what this guy does is initiate conversation by opening with something that interests you (something he's heard you've done, or a book you're reading for instance), then finds the tiny detail that relates to him - and that's when he really gets going. And because he started the conversation, you feel like you can't escape, and you have to listen to the entirety of what he's saying. It's the pretence that irritates me more than anything - I'd much rather he completely ignored me than pretended to be interested in me as a pretext for telling me about himself.

I tend to do the total opposite, which isn't any better: I have a bit of a complex about being boring, so I'm very reluctant to say very much about myself, and I worry that by not saying much about myself I come across as even more boring. (There must be a happy medium here that I can't work out...) However, I remember meeting someone for the first time in person whom I'd known online for a while and afterwards thinking "Oh man, she must have thought I was so, so boring. I didn't tell her anything at all. I just asked loads of questions and listened. It must have been really hard work talking to me." A mutual friend later told me she thought I was "completely charming", something I have never been accused of before or, regrettably, since. I cherish this memory as the one social interaction I ever got right.

I think what I'm trying to say is: don't try too hard to demonstrate to someone how interesting or clever you are. Let them find out for themselves. And in the meantime, try to make them feel really interesting instead.
posted by raspberry-ripple at 2:35 PM on July 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

Someone may have already mentioned this, but I didn't see it. Don't put yourself down. One of my acquaintances is obviously self-conscious about the way she dresses & puts herself down every time I run into her. It gets old.
posted by studioaudience at 6:10 PM on July 18, 2010

I'm turned off by people who treat hanging out too formally. E.g. I want to just grab dinner and "hang out" and they want to have dinner followed by an evening of board games. Nothing wrong with board games per se, but can't we just decide to play a game should the mood strike us?
posted by callmejay at 11:24 AM on July 19, 2010

People have mentioned quite a few things that can be social turnoffs. Realize that it may not be anything that you're doing. For example, a lot of people are just really busy. I find that I am the one who has to initiate contact with most of my friends, but mainly because most of them have busier lives than I do (due to holding down more than one job or just one ultra time-consuming job, taking care of kids, taking part in lots of activities, etc.). It does sometimes suck to feel like I am doing more than 50% of the work in a friendship, I will admit.

I have also realized that the vast majority of my friends are of the same personality type as me, i.e. fairly shy and introverted. Some are shyer and/or more introverted than I am, which I have theorized makes them less likely to be the ones to suggest some sort of plan to hang out. Sometimes they will surprise me though.
posted by medeine at 1:03 PM on July 19, 2010

« Older Truck Driver's hard hill   |   What to do in Japan while on vacation Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.