I think my liver hurts.
November 13, 2010 9:48 AM   Subscribe

I crave human warmth, but have a hard time forming relationships with people.

I have no social life and few friends. No close friends and no best friends. I get on fairly well with myself and rarely give any thought to the fact that I spend almost all of my leisure time alone. But every once in a while I become painfully aware that there could and perhaps should be other people in my life.

I'm a guy in my mid-twenties. I've always tended to be by myself. My parents found this curious when I was very young. When I was 10, my mother gave me "How to Win Friends and Influence People" and had me memorize passages from it weekly.

We moved repeatedly when I was in grade school and I was often the new kid trying to infiltrate existing networks of friendships. That's how I explained my lack of friends to myself. I mostly "got along with" rather than "made friends with" others. In high school I was friendly with several classmates and enjoyed talking to them, but was never especially close with anyone. I did not go to prom and my picture did not appear in the senior yearbook.

I went to a top-tier university on a sizable need-based scholarship and made few friends there. I had very little spending money, while my schoolmates bonded over drinks, at shows, and so on. I spent most Fridays at the free, alcohol-free student "social," chatting with passers-by and reading. Some people were fascinated by me and kept introducing me as "very erudite" to their friends when they stopped by.

I find that I maintain useful relationships and stop maintaining them when they stop being useful. I am friendly with housemates and coworkers, but when I move on, I discover that these relationships are just borne out of proximity. I try to stay in touch, but feel no particular need to, and neither do they. And it doesn't really bother me.

I consider myself shy, but I can be direct, open, witty, voluble, even provocative. I think I'm occasionally pleasant. I just can't be intimate. I'm always trying to decide how to act. There's always an element of calculation. Performance makes me tired. Interaction makes me tired and it's often frustrating.

Everyone always seems to be trying to explain to me what's wrong with me, but the explanations contradict each other. I censor myself too much. I don't censor myself enough. I'm too snobbish. I'm too mild. I'm too attached to routines. I don't follow through. I'm too anal. I'm too devil-may-care. & c., & c.

It doesn't help that my interests are esoteric and solitary. I don't watch blockbusters. I don't read popular fiction. I don't care about mass media. I have few strongly-held political opinions and I don't want to express them. I don't like religion or organized sports. I feel odd doing social things — like going to movies or concerts — alone. I like nerdy things, but not ninjas, pirates, zombies, vampires, Jon Stewart, or the Flying Spaghetti Monster. I am not an engineer or a computer programmer. This makes it difficult to find like-minded others and have conversations with them.

Life is challenging and expensive if you don't have a support network. Looking for shared housing is a drag. I can't bum rides with friends. Having medical procedures done becomes more complicated if there's no one to take care of you.

I have no idea how to develop a social self. There's an element of inertia involved: I don't get invited to places, and I'd hate to invite myself, so I don't meet new people. I am the oddity, the extra one, the fifth wheel. I'm not even sure what I expect from this AskMe. Probably not a "solution." If nothing else, it feels good to express how I feel.

I often see suggestions to enter therapy on the green, so I thought I'd add that I have never received professional psychiatric care, I don't know if my issues demand such care, and I have no idea how to pursue this care. I don't want to self-diagnose as XYZ, but if a diagnosis could help me understand myself better and work around my limitations, I'd be happy.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (26 answers total) 71 users marked this as a favorite
"If you would be loved, love and be lovable." Benjamin Franklin

You can't expect people to care about you when you don't seem to care about them one way or another. And you should have friends because you care about them, not because you want them to give you rides (with that kind of attitude, you'll be hard pressed to make any friends!). Maybe try meet up dot com, and allow yourself to get close to others and allow them to get close to you. Friendship for friendship's sake, not because it serves you some purpose. You might get disappointed or hurt along the way, but that's life, that's how you make friends.
posted by Neekee at 10:13 AM on November 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

Join a community service organization: The Lions, The Elks, Kiwanis, etc... or look into fraternal organizations (Odd Fellows, Freemasons, The Grange, Knights of Pythias, etc) depending on how you feel about their membership requirements (many, even if not religious in focus, have a vague 'belief in a supreme being' requirement, some are men-only.)

The thing that joining some kind of local group gets you is an arbitrary cross-section of the community; the common factor is usually a basic desire to make the community better, but beyond that there's no super-specific agenda or focus as compared to a local hiking group, anime enthusiasts club, bowling league, etc. You get to rub elbows with both older folks and younger folks from all walks of life, who you would never have met otherwise, and if you join and keep showing up to meetings and events, you will make some good friends as you get to know fellow members.

Arbitrarily joining a group of people for social interaction that's not centered around a single, specific interest or activity is a weird concept for our generations, but people used to do it all the time. It's OK to not be the most garrulous, outgoing person in the room, but if you never give yourself the chance to interact with other people you're never going to get to know them.
posted by usonian at 10:17 AM on November 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

I'm very similar, though probably not as introverted as you. I found that the best way for me to bond with people is with people that are hobbyists and like similar things that I do. Find something you love. Find other people who love it. And do what you love with those people. You may never be really close with them, but you'll always have someone to do stuff with. And it always gives you something to talk about that isn't personal stuff that makes you uncomfortable.

I guess it sounds simple that way, but seriously, it's worked for me. You're on the internet. I don't care how weird your tastes are, you will find someone else who is as obsessed about it as you.
posted by empath at 10:19 AM on November 13, 2010

Just a few moments of your post that stood out to me:

You share here that the friendly associations you have had faded once the usefulness of them has ended, and you also share, in a way that seems to make it the reason you want to develop social connection, that "life is expensive and challenging if you don't have a support network" and then list utilitarian reasons for social connections. On the one hand, I feel I am observing a desire to seek others out beyond what they can offer practically, and on the other, you have married practicality with human connection as desirable.

I don't really think it matters what your interests are, your politics, your demeanor. I don't think I could tell you the reasons why I love and am connected to all the people that I am. I don't always share all their interests, though I might share a few with some. Politically, some of us are the same, some of us represent all parts of the spectrum. I have friends who are very different from me in social situations.

I am sharing this out of my own belief that making friends, loving others, may come from a general appreciation for other people, in general. I don't mean that one has to be extroverted (at all), but that other people have the singular ability (over work or advocation or interests) to move you in a fulfilling way just by being other people.

Since you mention a willingness to explore therapy, you should. Start with looking at your work insurance plan for guidelines or ask your healthcare provider for a referral, and if you don't have insurance, Psychology Today's provider directory is a place where a lot of people start cold. I can't begin to sort out if you somehow require therapy, but I always feel if someone says they are interested in it, or open to it, they should at least try it, and will likely learn something valuable.

As far as direct advice, please believe that you are more than a fifth wheel, you deserve to believe that about yourself, and that many times, "inviting yourself" is simply a way to let someone else know that you like them enough to want to spend more time with them, and that's a good foundation for the beginning of something. I have often hesitated to invite a new person along to something, or a person I don't know well, and when they have asked to tag along I always feel pleased that they want to come. You might think about reaching out to others just for fun without worrying about what you may or may not have in common--and there is no way to ever predict your chemistry with another person (platonic or otherwise).

So it will likely feel all bizarre, at first. But then, you'll meet someone who makes it less bizarre, even if they aren't what you expected and happen to organize Democratic Party Zombie Rallies. And they will tell everyone they know about their awesome friend who never goes to the movies and can always recommend a book you've never heard of.
posted by rumposinc at 10:20 AM on November 13, 2010 [2 favorites]

Do you like girls? Why not just pick out someone you find attractive and ask them out?

You eat food don't you? Take someone out for a meal...and then ask them about themself...What do you do? Where do you work? Have any hobbies?

Keep asking questions till you find something you both enjoy. If this isn't a satisfactory experience, ask someone else...Keep doing this until you have fun.
posted by AuntieRuth at 10:26 AM on November 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

Being introverted and spending leisure time alone is OK. Don't feel like you should do anything just because other people do. Have you taken a Meyers-Briggs Type Indicator test? There are a bunch of these free online. It might make you feel better about preferring to be by yourself, and feeling tired after interaction.

The book "Intimate Connections" by David Burns, the guy who wrote "Feeling Good", has a lot of good ideas from a rational cognitive-behavior therapy perspective. This book helped me.

The Steve Pavlina article Soulful Relationships is more self-help-y. He recommends feeling loving and fearless toward everyone you meet.

What are you? What do you like to do? Why? You don't say what you are interested in.

Are there things you would enjoy doing with other people? You don't have to just get invited or invite yourself to other peoples' events-- talk to people, and if you feel comfortable with them invite them to do something (I'm kind of introverted myself and should do more of this.)

I think most relationships have positive value. It's natural for relationships to fade when you're not in the same place. If you've built up enough shared experiences, though, you'll want to check in occasionally and meet up if you do have a chance to meet in person again. Do you want to give favors (rides, gifts, etc.) to other people?
posted by sninctown at 10:35 AM on November 13, 2010 [2 favorites]

I would suggest therapy of a exploratory rather than a medical or problem solving variety. Something non-directive rather than something to fix you because, say, not having relationships is a symptom of a disease.
posted by Obscure Reference at 10:40 AM on November 13, 2010

Therapy seems like a good idea. Note that talk therapy is not the same thing as psychiatry. Psychiatrists are medical doctors, while therapists are not. It sounds as if you could benefit from a regularly scheduled chat about what's working for you and what's not, with someone who's paid to listen, trained to help, and bound to respect your privacy.

I think you could stand to forgive yourself for being a little different. As a person with a long history of shyness, I say that it's exhausting and ultimately unhelpful to always be comparing yourself to some archetypical model of what your average well-socialized person looks like, aspiring to step into the skin and the role of that very foreign creature. It's fine to be an odd duck. (I'm an odd duck, and I'm fine.) Difference is not bad, unless you're in junior high school. If you think something might be wrong with you, and you ask other people what's wrong with you, they're likely to float ideas about what might be wrong with you just to make you happy, even if nothing's really wrong with you at all.

The 'social networks' out there are extremely fluid, reshaping themselves all the time. You didn't miss the bus or arrive late. You're not the last guy standing in a game of musical chairs.
posted by jon1270 at 10:41 AM on November 13, 2010 [5 favorites]

I'm similar in that I find it hard work making friends, I am mostly too lazy to try, and when I do they can easily fall by the wayside when life gets in the way for whatever reason.

The one way that has worked for me is as follows:

Find a group of people that meet regularly for some kind of shared interest activity that you would enjoy. This group needs to be very local to where you live. Go to this regularly for a very long time.

Chat to the people there and do your best impression of someone who is really interested in each person you talk to. Remember the people from one week to the next, and say something that refers back to things you already spoke about.

Eventually, you'll meet someone you get on well with who lives very close to you. At this point, find some low key short enjoyable activity that you can do regularly with this person, separate from the main group. Dog walking is good, or going together to some gym class where you don't know anyone, going out with cameras looking for photos if you're both that way inclined, or working on some common project.

Make sure you do little favours fairly regularly for this person and ask for them in return. If both of you need garden work doing, offer to help with theirs one weekend if they help with yours the next.

Make an actual calendar reminder to check in with them on a reasonably regular basis. If the reminder comes up and you haven't spoken to them in a while, send a text inviting them over for beers or offering to pop by with brownies or something.
posted by emilyw at 10:44 AM on November 13, 2010 [2 favorites]

What interests you? Develop some hobbies. Maybe there's an amateur astronomy group, chess club, or cycling club. Volunteer. Build hiking trails or help Habitat for Humanity build a house. One of my best friends started a Sunday breakfast tradition, and invites friend candidates to join the group at breakfast. There may be a coffee house with a games night you could join. Take that 1st step to ask someone to join you for coffee or a beer. You don't need lots of friends, you need a few good friends.

You do sound as if very little in life is enjoyable, so maybe you are experiencing depression. There are self-screening tests on the Internet. Finding a therapist with a coaching approach might help you make the changes you want to make.
posted by theora55 at 10:56 AM on November 13, 2010

I also support the idea of your joining a community service organization. You get a structured social interaction, you learn to understand that giving is getting, and it's not too intimate off the bat.
posted by goblinbox at 11:03 AM on November 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

Volunteering for an organization or cause you support is a great way to bond with your fellow volunteers.
posted by Jacqueline at 11:44 AM on November 13, 2010

I have the exact same problem. I can't say I've found a solution that works for me, but in the past the best times I've had I've been a part of some kind of communal living situation where I was forced to be around people a lot. Maybe see if you can find some "coop" house or other living situation where you have a lot of roommates - you will inevitably make friends. Same goes for work or extracurricular activities. The key is to put yourself in a situation where you will be interacting with lots of people.
posted by Astragalus at 12:06 PM on November 13, 2010

I think I was really similar to you in many ways in my younger years. I actually would still consider myself very introverted/shy, but I do and have managed to maintain a small circle of friends in the last several years (I did not always do so when I was younger).

I don’t know if these things will help you at all, but these are a few things that I’ve realized the last 10 years or so, and these things would have helped my younger, even more introverted self:

• Some people will bond with you if you ask for a favor or help (the younger me would never in a million years accepted help – now I realize that some people like to help/want to help, and you can do the same if the opportunity presents itself…only do this after the foundations of a friendship are starting).

• You are not that unique in a feeling of “I don’t belong/I can’t form friendships/I’m a 5th wheel.” I’ve even talked to very extroverted people who report that they feelings such as “I’m not good enough,” “I’m below average,” or all kinds of negative self-speak – this includes people 2 to 3X your age. So maybe, you have more in common with the average person than you think – we all feel alone and isolated at times, and we all want to connect with people.

• What do you really want out of a friendship (besides the support for medical procedures, etc.). Would you enjoy discussing the topics that you read about? Or exchanging ideas about politics? No matter what, you are not going to get along with all the people you meet and it is a 2-way street (from what you describe, do you really want to discuss TV show of the week?) So take a small risk when you start chatting with someone. You don’t have to go down the path of discussing (insert boring topic to you – clothes, fashion, Tv person of the week). Do volunteer 1 or 2 sentences of your political beliefs, for example. See how the person responds. You may have a lively conversation – and that is the person you could potentially become friends with if it is pleasant and you find their points of view unique/similar/whatever it is you want. But my biggest struggle was volunteering pieces of myself – some people need this to know they aren’t interacting with a large box.

• Look around for other people as introverted, uncomfortable as you are. A friend from many years ago pointed out that usually someone else in a room feels uncomfortable in a group situation. Can you make this person feel comfortable? Ok I have not mastered this, but other (people who become later friends) people have approached me in those situations.

I don’t know if these suggested activities will help you, but they were useful for me, in many ways:
• Biking (or some outdoor activity) and a group that does this together – the rationale is that very little conversation is required (the main goal is the physical activity). You will get to know these pple over time and friendships can be started just because you see one another 30X a year.

• One-on-one activities about things that you are passionate about (I’ve actually used craigslist/activities partners). I am very specific and let people know that it is about the hobby/interest, but you have a chance to spend one-on-one time with people who love the same activity.

I just realized that I am going on and on about this - these things may or may not apply to you. If any of this resonates and you just want to bounce ideas of someone, free to memail me.
posted by Wolfster at 12:45 PM on November 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

@OP: You remind me of myself many years ago. We differ in age, country, and scholastic pursuits, but reading what you've written resonates deeply within me.

I was you, when I was just about starting uni, having separated from my school friends, and having to meet new ppl, especially people who I have difficulty forming friendships with because as you say, my interests were quite different. I did however, make a close friend from that period of time because I found a hobby this friend had that was very interesting, and I picked it up as well. We hence had a common ground, entered competitions together, learned together etc. Right now, we're 7000 miles apart, and only keep in touch via IM a few times, if at all, a month. But the bonds formed from then are still rock steady, and I have no issues sharing my heart.

Uni was also the time I discovered MBTI, and am classified as INFx. Personally, at the time of this post, I find the only part of MBTI that is realistic, is the I/E portion. Why do I say that? For years, and I mean a good part of a decade, I have hidden behind the facade of MBTI - like, oh, we don't get along because I am INFJ, he/she's EXXX, we won't work etc.

It was only recently I realized, that mbti is a label. I no longer hide behind one, use it as an excuse for my behaviour.

Fast forward a good part of a decade to now, at the time of this post, I am a much much happier person. This part of the story will sound disjointed. But I'll try to tell it as best I can.

After arriving in London (where I currently work) I met up with people with similar hobbies, in the hopes of well, finding friends. During this period, I developed a major crush on one of my fellow hobbyists, and it is a boring tale of unrequited "love". It was during this time my self esteem took a severe beating, to the verge of affecting my moods at work. Not good.

Being a fan of self help books (see: mbti :P) and their ilk, I found Feeling Good (David Burns) and that was probably what hit me - the quiz that indicated how low a self esteem I actually had. Other books like How to Be an Adult in Relationships (Richo) gave me insights on inter-personal relationships, as aspect that I have never truly developed in my years. I am currently reading Intimate Connections by Burns as well. I have a whole stack of books at home, some, I used like mbti, to hide behind, but the truth is once my self esteem got more developed, it became much easier to meet people with less clouded eyes.

So, bottom line, am I still lonely? I can honestly say, that I am lonesome at times, but I am very happily living alone. I do not have many people who I consider truly close friends, but those I do consider, I treasure. Intimate Connections also mentions about how you dress somewhat affects one's self esteem - indeed about a year ago I got rid of my crappy outfits for somewhat less crappy outfits, and it did a whole world of difference. Not only did I like my new look in the mirror, I get noticed and approached by more people too.

I'm still slowly understanding myself, and allowing myself to live. Case in point? I was on the dance floor for the first time ever in my life last weekend. I enjoyed myself, why did I not do this before? And this, from an introvert. Perhaps one day I'll look back, and find out that introversion is all in my head.

I think I'm making improvements, and you can too.

Summary of what worked for me:
- Being myself
- Being happy with myself
- Find something I was passionate about
- Meet people with similar passions.

This developed my self esteem, and whilst I have no claims to a large social circle, I have noticed that after improving my self esteem, it was much easier to meet people, and people are receptive as well. That crush could be a good thing, though it was mind-blowing depressing for a good few months.

Am rambling, stopping here.
posted by TrinsicWS at 1:12 PM on November 13, 2010 [7 favorites]

Yeah, I'm a lot like this. So are various members of my immediate family. We're otherwise pretty emotionally healthy people, so I don't think this is a disorder to be fixed or anything-- probably just a natural part of being near the tail of the introvert-extrovert spectrum.

I will say that I think family can be a lot more useful to us introverts than it may be to more sociable types. Family relationships are wonderful because there's an assumed basis of practical, reciprocal aid-- you can ask your sister to pick you up from the hospital even when you wouldn't think of bothering that awesome guy you go drinking with Friday nights-- but there's a lot less of the exhausting voluntary maintenance that's required to support intimacy with regular friends.

So if you currently have family you're on good terms with, you might consider making location and career choices that'll allow you to keep those relationships active in your life. If you don't already have close family, get dating and start making one of your own!
posted by Bardolph at 1:24 PM on November 13, 2010

Jesus, your mom made you memorize Dale Carnegie when you were ten? If that's not a set up for a lifetime of social blockage, I don't know what is. That kind of batshit manipulativeness is damn near made for TV movie worthy. Yeah yeah, I'm sure it was a misguided gesture to help you, but I can't help but wonder if she was more disturbed by your lack of friends than you were.

Reading your post I get the sense that you already understand how your early years may have stunted your ability to connect with people. You're going to have to rewire yourself, so to speak.

There are lots of ways to do this. Here's my addendum to the many fine suggestions above.

Yes. Get a therapist. Don't worry about orientation or methods. Look for someone you like, respect and feel comfortable with. Since relationships dog you, take some time and effort to find someone you think you could develop a good working relationship with. That alone will teach you an enormous amount about how to connect with someone. Good therapy will guide you to whatever native abilities you already have for relating to people and will show you what you need to work on without useless criticisms like 'you're too anal'.

Get a pet if at all possible. Preferably something fuzzy and warm-blooded. Even if you don't automatically feel swells of affection and love for your critter, care for it as if you do. I strongly believe that the act of caring for another creature, human or otherwise, is powerfully healing and instructive. Love is a verb as much as it is a feeling. It is something you do. Pets are a safe way teach you about the doing of love while your working on the feeling part. I think you already get the idea that connections with others need attention, cultivation and care to survive and thrive. A pet could be a good baby step in that direction.

Try not to get too wrapped up in your own special snow-flakeness. I don't know anyone who's into mass media, blockbusters, or popular fiction. Passionate political views with a disinclination to talk about them isn't all that unusual. Introversion isn't all that unusual. It is going to be hard to make friends if your basic orientation is that you're too unique, too different, or too special.

Lastly, Performance and Intimacy have a way of dueling for supremacy in the same body. No wonder you're exhausted, being 'on' is tiring. Performing as a way to avoid closeness is even more tiring. If performing is wearing you out, try working alongside others around some mutual task (as in volunteering). It puts your energy more into the task and less into the performance.

We all have our social selves and our private selves - the lines between the two aren't always clear. One isn't more real or true than the other and they aren't necessarily mutually exclusive. At the same time, real intimacy requires that you get to know, accept and love your private self enough that you feel okay sharing it with people. Holding this part of you away from others is, I suspect, part of why you find them so exhausting. Accepting and caring for who you are has the added benefit of making your public, performing self lighter, less taxing and less tiring.

Best of luck.
posted by space_cookie at 1:25 PM on November 13, 2010 [8 favorites]

There's a lot of good advice in this thread - I just wanted to point out that I didn't find other people's assessments of you to be contradictory at all. It's hard to know what people mean without knowing you or the context that you received your comments, but my first impression is that:
I censor myself too much [about things that are important to me].
I don't censor myself enough [about things that are important to others].
I'm too snobbish [about things that are important to me].
I'm too mild [about things that are important to others].
I'm too attached to routines [about things that are important to me].
I don't follow through [about things that are important to others].
I'm too ana [about things that are important to me]l.
I'm too devil-may-care [about things that are important to others].

It's important to get in the mindset of being a good friend in order to get good friends. If you're really stuck, therapy is always the AskMe answer, but maybe group therapy where you can be directly and caringly critiqued on your interpersonal skills can help. Also, you're not going to make bestest friends with everyone you meet - it really is a numbers game and the only way to improve your odds is to keep on trying.
posted by fermezporte at 1:38 PM on November 13, 2010 [2 favorites]

Hey are you me?

Try taking classes or going to events in things you like. I like ceramics, I have met people this way. Also try volunteering. I am an awful volunteer, but you can meet people who share your interests. I lucked out and met a great man who I married. I truly have no close friends, just social contacts through work and my immediate family.

It just takes meeting one person, like my husband. When I was younger I was quite lonely, but now I am content. Everyone once in a while thought, I wonder what is wrong with me. Such is life.
posted by fifilaru at 3:37 PM on November 13, 2010

"I crave human warmth, but have a hard time [...]. I have no [...]. No [...] and no [...]. [...] rarely give any thought to the fact that I [..]. But every once in a while I become painfully aware that [...].

I'm a guy in my mid-twenties. I've always tended to [...]. My parents found this [...] when I was very young. When I was 10, my mother gave me "How to Win Friends and Influence People" and had me [...].

We moved repeatedly when I was in grade school and I was often the new kid trying to [...]. That's how I explained my lack of [...]. I mostly [...]. In high school I was [...] but was never [...]. I did not [...] did not [...].

I went to a top-tier university on a sizable need-based scholarship and made few [...]. I had very little [...], while my schoolmates [...]. I spent most Fridays [...]. Some people were fascinated by me and kept introducing me as "very erudite" to their friends when they stopped by.

I find that I maintain useful relationships and stop [...]. I am friendly with housemates and coworkers, but [...], I discover that these relationships are just [...]. I try to [...], but feel no [...], and neither [...]. And it doesn't [...].

I consider myself [...], but I can be direct, open, witty, voluble, even provocative. I think I'm occasionally pleasant. I just can't be [...]. I'm always trying to [...]. There's always [...]. Performance makes me [...]. Interaction makes me [...] and it's often [...].

Everyone always [...], but [...]. I [...] too much. I don't [...]. I'm too [...]. I'm too [...]. I'm too [...]. I don't [...]. I'm too [...]. I'm too [...].

It doesn't help that [...]. I don't [...]. I don't [...]. I don't [...]. I have few [...] and I don't want to [...]. I don't like [...]. I feel odd doing [...]. I like nerdy things, but not [...]. I am not [...]. This makes it difficult to [...].

Life is [...] if you don't [...]. [...] is a drag. I can't [...]. [...] becomes [...] if there's no one to [...].

I have no idea [...]. There's an element of inertia involved: I don't get [...], and I'd hate to [...], so I don't [...]. I am [...], the [...], the [...]. I'm not even sure [...]. Probably not [...]. If nothing else, it feels good to express how I feel.

I often see suggestions to enter therapy on the green, so I thought I'd add that I have never [...], I don't know [...], and I have no idea [...]. I don't want [...], but if a diagnosis could help me understand myself better and work around my limitations, I'd be happy."
First and foremost, I feel for you. I wish I could give you a hug. It sounds like you are in a difficult situation and are feeling a significant amount of pain. You don't have to experience this alone. There are people who get it. And get you. And know the way out. Trust me. Find them. Keep looking until you do. They really do exist.

So I rewrote your post, leaving only the positive statements and the pronoun+negative-clause intros. I elipsed all the subject content of the negative propositions. I may not have been 100% accurate, but I think you might see what I'm getting at here, which is that it may be possible that a big thing hampering any positive forward progress is your negative dialogue with yourself. You are framing yourself in a way that doesn't allow you a way out of the box you want so badly to be free from. I feel your pain, as I've been there. There is a way out.

One thing that I read recently on AskMeFi really helped me (I wish I had read and understood it years back, but it it still useful to me today as well):
"You don't exist.
You just think you do.

We're nothing but the stories we tell ourselves.

We know in our hearts what kind of people we are, what we're capable of, because we've told ourselves what kind of people we are. You're a carefully rehearsed list of weaknesses and strengths you've told yourself you have. (Self-confidence, for example, is a particularly nebulous quality you can easily talk yourself out of having.)

You owe no allegiance to that self-mage if it harms you. If you don't like the story your life has become – tell yourself a better one.

Think about the person you want to be and do what that person would do.

Act the way that person would act.
Amazingly enough once you start acting like that person, people will start treating you like that person. And you'll start to believe it. And then it will be true.

Welcome to your new self.
I welcome you to rewrite your post, with the same problems and concerns in mind, but without the negative framing. At least without as much as you can manage for now. Write yourself a new narrative. Just as true, but self-selecting and focussing on those things that shine light on what's good (there is lots there, but forgive yourself for not being good at seeing and illuminating it yet). And the problems you have may still be there, but with a new outlook - taking into account who you are (without all the self-defeating dialogue) and the strengths you posess (without the hedges and qualifications) - you may find that new solutions will be available to you. Or at least the ability to see your framing of yourself mirrored in the way that others frame themselves. And you will feel that connection. It may be as simple as "hey, they use the words 'direct, erudite, voluble, witty, and provactive' to describe themselves* and so maybe I have something in common with that human." That's all intimacy is, really. But when it's framed in negative terms, it can't really connect, and therefore, can't be intimate.

Maybe I am just a bunch of words over the tubes to you right now, but I feel I connection to the parts of the post that are leftover here. The me from years past would recongize the elided parts, but it wouldn't matter because neither of us would be able to see it or gain anything from it. The me now relates to the positive parts of you now. And welcomes you to bring more of that forth, knowing that there will be common ground found there.

I wish you the best and most light on your journey out of the self-defeating madness of destructive thought. I really do know what that's like. Good luck and godspeed.

*Hey, me too!
posted by iamkimiam at 3:43 PM on November 13, 2010 [29 favorites]

I know exactly how you feel and the advice that people offer here is good. I think what part of it is, is that it's ingrained in us as children that we have to be social and outgoing and basically extroverted. You're an introvert and if you're like me you pretty much hate socializing, but want to have close friends but it's like you're forcing yourself. It's almost like you're at war with yourself. You feel that you make friends with people who are useful....this is probably because everyone told you that you need friends, you should have friends, etc etc. and it feels forced. You resent this, because you're an introvert. You're basically beating yourself up over not being an extrovert. (Does that make sense?)
As introverts, we are picky with who we choose to spend our time with. Social interaction tires us out, so I'm not sure if the volunteering suggestions are going to go well with you. I personally find it a chore. I always seem awkward, can never be my true witty, funny and fantastic self and get discouraged. I highly suggest just finding something you like doing. I love reading and books, so even with my shyness and social awkwardness, I could talk for hours with strangers about books. You should also try like only 1 or 2 social things a week and in smaller groups, maybe even one on one. We won't always have tons of friends, but the ones we have will be great close ones and accept us as is.
What helped me tremendously and where I learned most of this from is the book "The Introvert's Advantage". I think this would help you.
posted by Polgara at 8:44 PM on November 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

I like how you write. I also identify with what you're saying. And, if I read you correctly, I can guess that hearing about activities you should consider/groups you should join, while technically answering your question, doesn't offer you much. My only advice would be to think about, when you're doing the things you do and thinking the nerdy things you think, what is beautiful and what compels you. Do you have little blips of intense happiness when you're walking around outside, or listening to a piece of music? Is there a particular idea that works its way into you and through you and you feel wonderful staying with? sometimes I'm riding the bus and I see a certain light on a certain texture and I'm there, in that bliss.

now what about people brings you that same bliss, that same beauty? when I'm chatting with my housemate over cereal, or when I overhear someone trying so earnestly to impress someone else at a coffee shop, or when I make eye contact unexpectedly, there's something beautiful and essential there. when I'm far away from that, and not thinking of other people, it's just this dim thing that seems infinitely removed from whatever I'm thinking about, the space of my bedroom, whatever. but when I'm around my day and I let myself be blown away by the sheer people-ness of people, it's wonderful, I'm there, I'm happy and in the world, and that gives me energy that kind of snowballs, if that makes sense.

I think you're not necessarily incorrect in feeling that you need people; it's an important observation that peoplewarmth = good. but i think there's a deeper sense of necessity, and that comes from experiencing things that are beautiful and valuable and being compelled to foster and experience those things for their own sakes. nerdiness is awesome, and non-normative norminess even better. why not geek out about people? perhaps this is all unhelpful, but this is very much the way i find myself creating momentum when inertia settles in. good luck!
posted by elephantsvanish at 9:10 PM on November 13, 2010 [3 favorites]

I think I'm in the same situation as you but a few years younger and am much less erudite.

So a few questions, and they might be leading but they're based on my own experiences with introvertedness and I ask them because I think what you're ultimately hinting at isn't something that can be solvable on a practical level:

When you say you lose interest in others and you categorize your relationship with them as 'functional', do you really mean that you can't help but to focus on the negatives of these people? That, no matter how you try, no matter their attempts to be interesting, there's something superficial and seemingly shallow about them that you can't really relate to?

When you list your interests as esoteric and you say you veer away from the mainstream, do you constantly think that your interests are more justifiable because they are more individualistic or more special?

When you say you hate being a fifth wheel, is it only because you think you won't be accepted by the group or is there another layer of balancing act also at play, where you believe that you also won't get much out of it?

I ask these questions not to reduce; I ask them because this was and still mostly is how I feel about the vast majority of my interactions with other people. If this is not you, then it will not be very useful for you to read past this point because I will primarily be working through an exegesis of this internal conflict.

We know, or I guess I should say, I feel that this kind of behavior is not socially normative. Most people don't think in the same terms I do, where everything is embedded with a question of practical use. At the same time, this feeling of wrongness is hard to stomach at anything but the conceptual level: I know that I should be empathetic, I know that I should want to go out and drink with my friends, I know that I should be nicer to the people who choose to talk to me but the only part of me that 'knows' this is the higher-functioning side, the conceptual self. The personal self, the one who likes to stay at home and watch Starcraft replays and browse webcomics, who'd rather learn how to bake than party, who is, ultimately, comfortable with vacuuming and cleaning and scrubbing on a Saturday night and who is uncomfortable talking to strangers and sharing and vocalizing assent for similar interests; this self rejects the norm and is happy doing small, introverted things.

So the end result is dissonance; the personal, the private lies in bed and thinks of short story ideas on a weekend and the public, the conceptual wonders if this makes him a loser in the vast context of society.

Human warmth is personal. To crave it means you've had it at some time and you know what it feels like to be intimate. So, in this sense, the personal self agrees with the conceptual. However, the former is more attached to feelings of longing than to feelings of guilt, which plague the latter; the personal self desires warmth, the conceptual recognizes the facts of the situation, analyzes them, and concocts a system of blame. In your case, self-reflection and an exploration of the past. The personal self is a moving force; the conceptual self is restrictive.

Solutions. There are no real solutions. In this kind of battle for your identity, the only solution is resolution and what resolution means, to me at least, is an awareness that the instinctive and the psychological will always battle it out and acceptance of this. From the sound of things, you are unhappy because you feel like you should be unhappy given all the characteristics and circumstances of your situation but you question this because you're confused that maybe, just maybe, all you really need is some time to find someone who is just similar enough to your mode of thinking that you can be happy together.

To this specific point, luck. Luck, when you strip the superstitions away, is probability, and probability means the creation of potential. When previous comments advise going to clubs congruent to your hobbies, they simply mean the maximization of that potential encounter rate. If the potential is never there, how can it be achieved?

Ultimately though, as I grow incrementally older (I'm still young!), I realize the embedded romanticism in that line of thinking. I may never end up finding this someone. I may put myself out there, I may date, here or there, I may talk to people, here or there, I may affect a socially normative personality but the ends are not met and the goal still remains unattainable. Thus the act of settling that gets presented and that tip of the wave of agony, that of giving up this core dream, is one of the things that I've been feeling a lot lately and it may be something that you and I will both have to give up in the pursuit of warmth.
posted by dubusadus at 2:58 AM on November 14, 2010 [3 favorites]

You don’t need to like people, you need to admire people.

If Dostoevsky was sitting in one of your classes you'd rush to be his friend, right? There are historical figures you admire, aren’t there? Writers, thinkers? You’d love to be friends with them, no?

Why? Usually because you can learn something from them, because they help you become a better person, because you genuinely believe in them and in their work and want to help them.

That’s the kind of person you need to find. Yep, they exist. That’s the kind of friendship you need to cultivate. You need someone to wow you, to take you out of yourself. There are people who are looking for that kind of friendship too-they might be people you're intimidated by at first, people a few years older than you, people who have had hard or nontraditional lives-they're usually open-minded people, people who like to start things and be advocates. Once one of them reaches out to you, I think all of this labeling of yourself as "bad with people" will fall away very naturally. Because you'll think, quite logically, that you really want facilitate making this person's life better. Friendly gestures will spontaneously follow.

I think people tend not to conflate that feeling of "admiration" with friendship - it's more like they connect that with business or even romantic relationships or something. But I think it applies to great friendships too.

I like Alsomike’s comment about “classic friendship” versus “faux friendship” –maybe it will resonate with you, too.
posted by Nixy at 3:29 AM on November 14, 2010 [2 favorites]

I'm sure you've read through a lot of helpful advice here, but I thought I would sort your statements by how I percieve them:

Entirely normal, common factors, more people can sympathize with this than you think
This entire paragraph: "I don't watch blockbusters. I don't read popular fiction. ... I feel odd doing social things — like going to movies or concerts — alone. I like nerdy things, but not..."
There are whole worlds of people out there who you can talk about this with. You just need to reach out to your local area and look for them. You should not worry about this at all.

This isn't all that bad
" Performance makes me tired. Interaction makes me tired and it's often frustrating." You are introverted, as has been pointed out. This is often a handicap, but it's more common than you think. Make friends with any extroverts who want to talk to you; they have big social networks and can introduce you to cool people.
"I have no idea how to develop a social self. There's an element of inertia involved: I don't get invited to places, and I'd hate to invite myself, so I don't meet new people. I am the oddity, the extra one, the fifth wheel." This can be really depressing but it happens to a lot of people. I was like this my entire life until midway through college. It's just an accident, it comes from growing up in towns and going to schools where there wasn't any circle of friends who wanted you in. Don't take it personally; go out and look for someone. And don't bother trying to stick around with any group of friends who leaves you out, but you certainly know that already.

DANGER SIGNALS: What are you really looking for in a friend?
"Some people were fascinated by me and kept introducing me as "very erudite" to their friends when they stopped by." Why didn't you get to know these people? Were you aloof from them? Disconnected? You should have tried to talk to them with the intention of making closer friends, not as if you or they were animals in an exhibit.
"I find that I maintain useful relationships and stop maintaining them when they stop being useful. I am friendly with housemates and coworkers, but when I move on, I discover that these relationships are just borne out of proximity. I try to stay in touch, but feel no particular need to, and neither do they. And it doesn't really bother me." You are getting to know people because you "have to" and not because you want to make the lives of people you contact more enjoyable. Any of these relations could have easily developed into a friendship if you communicated that you wanted one.
"Life is challenging and expensive if you don't have a support network. Looking for shared housing is a drag. I can't bum rides with friends. Having medical procedures done becomes more complicated if there's no one to take care of you." This is really a bad sign. You want to make friends for the wrong reasons. People won't like you if it seems like you're trying to use them for things like this. When I was a "fifth wheel" I would make proposals like this to my non-friends and got turned down quickly, of course. Now that I have better friends, I hardly ever ask them for anything; they're the ones who make generous proposals to me. I think your parents had you read too many self-help books. Don't work your acquaintances like cogs in a system. Make them glad to know you, and they'll make you glad to know them in return.
posted by shii at 6:24 PM on November 14, 2010

I just saw this, and I suggest travel! Traveling makes it easier to meet people, to try on different personas, to see how you fit in with a broader swath of people than you find in America. It's easier for alone types because you don't have to socialize if you don't want to. It's easy to have instant intimacy with strangers because you can bond over your experiences. You'll probably be pleasantly surprised with how social you can be, and how intimate. Go!
posted by alternateuniverse at 4:06 AM on December 17, 2010 [2 favorites]

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