How do I start having healthy relationships as a female introvert at college?
February 2, 2011 5:18 PM   Subscribe

I'm a female eighteen-year-old in the middle of my freshman year at college. I've been having trouble making friends and meeting new people.

Before I start, I know, I know, this situation is just so typical. Somewhat extenuating circumstances: I've never been in a romantic relationship before, am extremely wary of starting one for some reason, and truthfully just have kind of crap social skills overall.

There's probably several reasons for my difficulties in making friends. I'm going to school at a public school in a small-ish town which is much, much more conservative and homogeneous than I'm used to (I'm from Portland, Oregon). As such I feel like I don't have much in common with other people and I don't want to feel like I have to adapt in order to fit in better with the lowest common denominator. I'm not talking about specific people, I'm referring to standards about appearance that I feel like are more prevalent in suburbia (ex. highlights, going blonde, fake tanning) that I find to be restrictive and sexist. I don't mean to give anyone flack here, it's just that I don't want to feel pressured to look this way. I live in the pacific northwest, for goodness' sake, no one should be tan, lol. Anyway, it's a college town... there must be people of all walks of life and philosophies here, right? I'm probably belaboring the point. The main thing is that I'm not really clicking with anyone.

I'm aware of how I come off. I'm really tall (5'11 ish) but not overweight, I care about my appearance, wear makeup and have good hygiene. I wear somewhat fashionable clothing, to the extent that I can afford it. But I'm extremely quiet and passive and don't usually talk to other people first. Talking to guys happens, but I'm really awkward. There is one girl in one of my classes I might be becoming friends with, and I have roommates. Other than that, I just can't see how anyone could get enough of a good sense of who I am from this to like me or to want to try to get to know me better.

Anyway, so I've been trying to be proactive. My attempts at being more social, healthy, balanced etc. include:
-I started volunteering at a local thrift store
-I joined a weaving class
-I go to free cooking classes occasionally
-I also joined a therapy group. It's called "Self and Others" and the emphasis is on learning new social skills and how to interface with other people better.

Other than that, I basically do homework, cook, and go online to try to distract myself from being bored and depressed.

The group therapy has been interesting so far, but I'm still having trouble talking in it. It's a lot easier for me to respond to other people than it is for me to talk about myself, for some reason. It might have something to do with the incredible extent to which I am introverted, or it might be something else.

There's one thing I'm hesitant to talk to the therapy group, nay, anyone about, and I feel like it's weighing on my psyche, so I'll go over it here because I feel like it might shed light on the issues I'm having.

Towards the end of my senior year at high school and into the summer, I joined OkCupid because I wanted to take one of the quizzes. I was already on the site, and I have a sort of idealistic, romantic side which is quickly becoming the bane of my existence that led me to fill out my profile a bit. A guy messaged me and I started to correspond with him. He goes to school in Michigan (a billion miles away), so I thought of it like it wasn't a big deal.

It turned out to be a huge drain on me and a really negative experience in a lot of ways. He was suicidal--he had recently stopped believing in Christianity and believed that life was meaningless, had no good friends, didn't sincerely believe in his ability to truly love anyone, and was super narcissistic. It was one of those things where I knew continuing to write him was a terrible idea, but did anyway. He needed me to be there for him all the time, spend hours IMing him, etc. He didn't really ask a lot about me but I felt like he must have seen something in me that was special, which was basically why I kept writing him. There was also a massive sense of obligation and of owing it to him to write; he would talk about how horrible his family was, how they were fat and stupid and needed to divorce, being under the poverty line, his Christian guilt, etc. He said "I love you" and would put hearts on the ends of his messages, but also used emotional blackmail. I reciprocated with hearts to reassure him but never typed "love." I still have no idea why he picked me to write to. I think I must have been getting off on the sense of being needed, or something like that. Again, a very bad experience for me.

I lived with my stepmom (not my dad, they're separated) and mentioned the situation to her but didn't really talk about it a lot. She saw me once when I was writing online guy and said I looked like my sister. (This was a huge insult. I have a twin sister who was living with my biological mom at the time, and she's been a perpetual example of what not to do in my life. It's like a bizarre twin study or something: she lived with my mom, I lived with my stepmom, I have life skills now, she doesn't. There's family issues there obviously, but it's a lot to go into.) I developed a guilt complex about how writing him was making me a bad person, and said I would try to slowly lessen the amount of attention I was giving him until I could drop him.

Obligation to him made me not want to do this though, and I had the brilliant idea to keep writing him but hide it from her! This didn't work out, for obvious reasons. I would be so guilty I'd literally be shaking by the time she came home. I'm a terrible liar. One day, when I was at school, she went on my computer, found the huge mass of email we had traded, and pretty much flipped out and threatened to kick me out. I think she said something to the effect of, "I thought you weren't like the rest of your family, but I guess I was wrong." (My dad abused her and probably has narcissistic personality disorder.)

It shattered my ego. I felt like, if she didn't think I had potential as a human being, who the fuck did? It was like discovering that the one person who had actually loved you unconditionally had been wrong about you all those years. Really terrible. I was apologizing for days. She didn't kick me out, and I was still able to go to college. (She later took back some of the judgment, since she had been going through a breakup at the same time and was maybe a bit more pessimistic and emotional than she would otherwise be. We haven't talked about it for months.)

So I've been making an effort to not be a horrible person and, well, here I am.

This might all seem like it's not related to my life now at all, but I think it is. I actually created another OkCupid profile (after having deleted the old one for obvious reasons), out of boredom and loneliness. I've been chatting with another guy. I said on my profile that I'm NOT interested in hardcore getting-to-know-you or dating, and that I'm there purely for fun. This other guy messaged me because apparently I seemed unpretentious, and we've been talking about philosophy and art. There is no romantic subtext (he's 29, which is way the fuck too old for me anyway). The problem with this: I still have tons of leftover guilt. I don't know if he would want to message me if he knew it had so much unintended significance on my side of it, and I'm feeling threatened by the situation. My stepmom doesn't know that I'm on the website again and I don't know what her reaction to this would be. (But should I really live my life wondering whether authority figures approve of what I'm doing? How is that healthy?) My explanation for why I'm on OkC again: I'm so lonely! The idea that there are like-minded people in the world that only have to be scouted out, secret people who are the ones who will really appreciate me, well, it's comforting.

I know this is bullshit. The only thing that's in my way of making friends with people in real life is being really shy and having trouble disclosing anything to people. I feel too vulnerable, and it's hard for me to feel like my opinion or even presence is valued. Being a twin with a narcissist parent, there is an almost comical amount of projecting and mirroring going on all the time. I also believe that my early family life has taught me to expect a role in friendships to necessarily include being narcissistic supply, which is very worrisome. It's a pattern with my friendships--all my friends are assertive and want me to go do things with them and not the other way around, as part of a posse almost. It's not their fault that I'm bad at reciprocating in a normal way, I'm not saying that. My own behavior is what I need to change. But I still really value being singled out... even if it's because someone wants to leech off me. Ugh.

I brought this up with the guy I'm currently talking to, who reassured me that I should never, ever feel pressured to talk to him and that he's definitely not in a place where he needs to leech off other people to be happy. Emotional maturity is such a relief to find in people, I'm serious.

I feel that being able to make friends on the Internet makes it easier for me, as an introvert, to feel comfortable. It also allows me to think about what I say so I don't focus too much on the other person. Still, I wish I knew if there were some reason that's not occurring to me why this is incredibly unhealthy, so that disaster (if it's forthcoming) can be averted.

I want to learn how to be easier to get to know and more open to people. I want to come off as a more interesting person, and I want to be healthier. I want to know how to talk about myself without feeling like I sound like a selfish asshole. This is all the bullshit that's standing in my way. So, any tips, experiences or advice? And yes, I realize that I am young and inexperienced and that everything takes on a distorted significance because of isolation. Any useful thoughts for handling this would also be very appreciated. And sorry the explanation is so long!

tl;dr female INFP introvert here. I want to learn how to stay away from narcissists and make friends who like me for who I am! Any advice?
posted by athenadanae to Human Relations (36 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
My daughter joined a sorority at college, even though she's really not the sorority "type". The one she joined is more service-oriented, but she did join for the social aspect, too. She does have a few close friends at college, but she said that during the week she wanted a little more contact with other people, and wanted a broader college experience.
posted by raisingsand at 5:28 PM on February 2, 2011 [3 favorites]

Hey there. I'm a 21-year-old college student and you sound exactly like me. I was in a rut about a year ago with lots of the same questions and frustrations. Honestly, time has been the best at making things get better.

The best place to meet people, far and away, I think, are classes. What's your major? The more specific your classes get (i.e. moving up to the 200 level, major-specific electives), the more similar to you the people will be.

Barring that, have you considered transferring to a school where you might fit in better? You're a freshman, so you might actually be able to pull off a transfer without losing too much of your academic life in the process. (I transferred and lost a year of credits, and I'm doing fine, but the fewer setbacks, the better, yeah?)

Just be yourself, give it time, and keep fighting the good fight. Friends will come.

Don't become someone you're not.

Oh, and feel free to MeMail me if you want someone to talk to!
posted by reductiondesign at 5:31 PM on February 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

I'm only going to address this part:

I want to learn how to be easier to get to know and more open to people. I want to come off as a more interesting person, and I want to be healthier. I want to know how to talk about myself without feeling like I sound like a selfish asshole.

Instead of trying to talk about yourself, ask other people about themselves. It works so much better. Once they start talking, they'll mention something that you have an opinion or experience with, and boom! Conversation! You're learning about each other!

(Fellow INFP here who had a really hard time making friends in college and still has some difficulty. Once you make that first good friend, though, others follow.)
posted by Metroid Baby at 5:35 PM on February 2, 2011 [4 favorites]

- Try harder to click. This is hard when you are shy and passive, but interact more with people in the groups you've already joined. And join MORE groups.

- Study with the people in your classes.

- Individual therapy, if you aren't already in it, start going (very, very important considering the way you've internalized your weird pseudo-romance with the Michigan guy and your strange relationship with your stepmother!).

- Don't stop using OKCupid, but start ONLY contacting people that you can actually meet in real life (I'm not saying throw yourself into a serious relationship, but I AM saying go out and dedicate time to getting to know flesh and blood human males).

- Stop judging others based on what they look like, the clothing they wear, and their extracurricular activities. They're probably really interesting people, but YOU are the one not giving them a chance. One of the most important things you'll learn in college is that the people you previously judged the most? Yeah, sometimes you end up making connections with them and realize you were the one who was wrong all along.
posted by SkylitDrawl at 5:38 PM on February 2, 2011 [12 favorites]

Woah, there's a lot here. I'm also a female INFP so I think I understand some of this.

It doesn't surprise me that you are wary of forming relationships, given your experience with narcissists. I'm sorry I don't have any good advice on that front. But I do have a couple of practical thoughts about making friends on campus:

1. The class and volunteering are okay, though not necessarily conducive to a lot of talking on your part. Perhaps a group on campus is a better idea, depending on your interests. Literary magazine - Outing club (camping, hikes, etc.) - Religious group (if that suits you... if you're not particularly religious, you might find out whether the Quakers or Unitarians have a campus group...) - maybe even the theater? I'm trying to think of places where you might meet more interesting people.

2. Absolutely stick with the therapy group. I did this in grad school & it helped me a lot. One suggestion, if you feel you're not doing well with speaking up, meet with one of the therapists for a session outside of group and explain that you need help with this. They should be willing to engage you more when you are being quiet. That's their job; don't feel bad about asking for it.
posted by tuesdayschild at 5:40 PM on February 2, 2011

I have a few mp3s of a dating coach who advocates an approach of just talking to everybody. Everybody. It's mostly aimed at males, but the advice and the stories he gives are all super powerful. If you wanted to memail your email address I could forward them your way.

If not.. just try talking to everyone you see. Keep talking. Eventually you will get better.
posted by lakerk at 5:41 PM on February 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

You have a lot of stuff going on here. I can only tackle the social aspect, because I am/have been in similar situations. I don't have a ton of good advice since I'm working on these things too, but a few things:

As far as making friends, I have veerrryy slowly come to the realization that when I talk more, people like me more. I feel like I'm artificially thinking of things to say, but it works so much better. My old style was to just contribute one or two really good things to a conversation, to only talk when I really felt that I had something of substance to say. That made people think I was smart/funny, but also not someone that they necessarily wanted to talk to since I didn't really talk. It's also given me a little more confidence to express myself-- i.e. I've realized that I don't have to be painstakingly careful about everything that comes out of my mouth for people to like me. I know the talking thing is easier said than done, but it gets easier.

At a large state uni, you should be able to find people of all kinds. If you really feel that you aren't clicking with anyone, have you considered transferring? also, your paragraph came off as a little condescending toward this town/school, although I don't think you meant it to? Make sure you aren't projecting that attitude as you try to be accepted by it.

You sound like you've been taking good steps to meet people. good luck!
posted by geegollygosh at 5:44 PM on February 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

When I went to college I didn't make a lot of friends because I kept going home on the weekends to be with my ONE TRUE LOVE. Freshman year I made friends with three girls who lived in my dorm, but really, really weren't compatible with me. One of them spent first semester sobbing and then transferred, one of them had totally opposite political and religious viewpoints (not that you can't be friends with those people, but we couldn't really sustain a friendship past junior year) and the third one I attempted to room with sophomore year and she left after she tried to kill herself.

Sophomore year was better. I befriended people in my major. Those people I am not close to now that school is over, but they were great while I was in school. I also made friends with some people in my apartment-style dorm through said suicidal-roommate.

Junior year went even better. I made some friends in non-major classes. I studied abroad through a program in my school that was mostly, but not exclusively, people from my school, and those people (and their friends) are the group I am closest to post-graduation.

It seems to me that after I was out of college, I also reconnected with a few (not all, and not necessarily those I was closest to at the time) high school friends.

But I was pretty lonely freshman year. I found many (but not all) people I know are close to those who live in their dorm freshman year, and then sophomore year they branch out.
posted by jenlovesponies at 5:48 PM on February 2, 2011

People are going to give you all sorts of good practical advice, so forgive me if mine is more esoteric.

You sound like you really want something, deep in your core, but you don't dare name it to yourself so you hope that someone else will come along and name it for you.

I remember feeling like that.

Give yourself permission to make mistakes. Tell dorky jokes no one laughs at. Snort when you laugh. Write some guy who has obvious problems. Be clumsy in the process of finding friends. These things make you human and interesting. They build up in layers to reveal your true character, and not the one you wish you had, or think is yours. The process isn't easy, especially when you first start. Just let it be okay.

It sounds stupid every time I hear it, but it's true: everybody's awkward in their own heads. Those tan, blonde girls and the conservative people you meet - they're all full of private insecurities. It's very likely the conservative people are worried about being judged because they grew up conservative. Maybe they don't want to be conservative, but that's all they know. They are apprehensive about meeting new people and learning new things, too. When you realize that everyone has this feeling of awkward not belonging in common, it makes things easier.

Nobody can name that thing you want deep down. No guy, in person or online. No friend. When you are strong enough to name it to yourself, for yourself, then you have a real chance of finding it.

(And ditch the 29 year old. The attention might be nice, but please understand with all respect, twenty nine year olds don't seriously talk to eighteen year olds for art and philosophy.)
posted by griselda at 5:52 PM on February 2, 2011 [24 favorites]

Dude, this is my story. I grew up my entire life in San Jose & Santa Cruz, CA, and went to Oklahoma State University in Stillwater, OK in 2004. My first semester was miserable. My roommate was a foreign exchange student and we didn't have much in common, and I felt like all the girls there has awful style and bad highlights. And what's up with so many people wearing Hollister?

What led me to a multitude of meaningful friendships and roommates and some dates, was Hall Government. At my university it was Residence Halls Association. It's an organization that plans activities and other issues for students living on campus only. It's something you can be involved in no matter what major you're in, and will help you with learning how to talk to people and meet people, keep commitments, be a part of a group, etc. There are many positions you can run/apply for, so you don't necessarily have to be a bubbly/extroverted personality type. I was lucky enough to be able to travel all across my region and the country with 10 other people, 5 times. It totally stretched my comfort zone while keeping me feeling emotionally safe.

Something similar on campus was Student Government Association, like RHA, but for the whole school, represented by different colleges and organizations. If that doesn't float your boat, join clubs for sure, talk to people in class, go to extra-curricular activities like concerts, plays, speaker events, forums, sporting events, basically take full advantage of what your school has to offer.

Usually people, especially freshman, are all worried that the other person they're talking to doesn't like them, but really, the other person is thinking the same thing.

Most importantly and what we all keep learning about for the rest of our lives - don't judge a book by it's cover. Just because somebody seems totally different from you in appearance, politics, religion, won't mean that they hold similar values on how humans should act and think. I'm totally opposite of a sorority girl (I would think), but I met some kick-ass people that were a part of the Greek system.

Trust me, you're not alone. There are other people going through the same thing. Hang in there if you can, but allow yourself to explore other options. Planning to transfer back to California actually helped me calm down and feel less trapped by my situation. You can MeMail me too if you want!
posted by selavy at 5:53 PM on February 2, 2011 [3 favorites]

Sounds like you're terrified of who to trust and who not to trust and as a consequence have developed the inside-out view of thinking about all the things you don't want (scary suicidal jesus freak online contacts, loco sister, dyed hair) in specifics whilst the things you do want are rather general (friends, social skills).

Couple of thoughts:
1) There are a lot of people who are terrified of everything and do weird sh*t to cope with it. I had a roommate, very popular blonde hair blue eye fratboy that ladies fawned over and had a job at a law-firm waiting for him. What problems? Social anxiety. He felt like he was being watched all the time and consequently threw up from nervousness nearly every morning. Better than our other roommate who woke up at 5am to go running so he could keep fit... and drink whiskey before 8am class and not smell like it.

Point is that people are weird and nobody has it figured out, especially college.

2) If you have to evaluate every situation for its safety and social content, you're going to get exhausted, it's not going to be very fun, and you'll retreat. Socialising is supposed to be fun. If it's not, you can learn for it to be.

One of the big key is personal boundaries. Contacting someone on OkCupid? Fine. Engaging with a suicidal nutjob? Not fine. Walk away. Going on dates with boys? Fine. Letting them push you into things? Not fine. Walk away.

They don't have to be hard static boundaries but know where your hard stops are. Drugs, sex, violence, abusive behaviour. Keep your boundaries rather conservative, trying new things, slowly, gently, at a pace that feels good.

It takes time to build relationships. Don't expect best friends immediately. Make small talk. Say yes when someone invites you somewhere. If you have fun, call them and invite them somewhere. If they say no, start again. Eventually someone will say yes. And this is something you can do a little bit each day.

3) Be honest with yourself. Really, really honest. Not with your ego or all the ways that you think things should be. Get in the moment and think about want you want to do with your life, today, in a year, in twenty years. What kind of person do you want to be. Morally, socially, financially, professionally. Not in strict, weighty terms, but in general. What's important to you?

Often with nutty families and broken families, the children develop boundary problems. I wish I would have know that in college. I spent a lot of time going down dead-end roads because it's very easy to get caught up in the popularity contest anyway. Moreso if you don't have a secure sense of where your limits are.

4) Now that I am a decade out, I look back and I see that whilst college is about liberation and exploration, that is best done in some kind of structure. It's terrifying to try and explore the entire world at once. Structure and restriction actually oddly helps free us to explore better.

You're doing the right things already, just keep doing them. Be nice to yourself. Love yourself. There are enough bumps on the way. Cut yourself a break, do your work first (that's why you're there), and then slowly, expand your world. Always at a pace that lets you sleep well at night. If you can sleep at night, everything is fine. If you cannot sleep at night, take a look at your boundaries and what you are doing that is causing the anxiety.

Good luck and have fun. It's like riding a bike. At first it seems impossible, but in no time, you'll look back and not remember a time when you couldn't do it. ;)
posted by nickrussell at 5:54 PM on February 2, 2011 [6 favorites]

I had a long response typed out. I'll keep it really short instead.

- Stop Internet dating. Until you have enough life / relationship experience it is too easy to get mired in drama black holes. You've already found this out. Facebook, on the other hand, is great.

- Stop psychoanalyzing your relationships with other people and such. Let it go. People want you to go out with them? Go out with them. Socialize with everyone. Why? Because the fake tan meat heads have friends who are probably just like you. Enjoy them. Remember the first rule of socializing: Ask people about themselves. This will get you really far. Get yourself to parties. Ask what's going on this weekend. There's always something going on. Invite yourself to parties, don't expect to be asked. Try to go out to one party a weekend. You will have amazing, best friends in 6 months if you do this. Also, stick with people ... don't give it a couple weeks then bail.

- Flirt with other guys. Flirt with guys who aren't your type. Flirt with guys outside of your league. Flirt, flirt, flirt. Some of the most head slapping people I knew, would have these images of guys they would fall in love with. They'd ignore all other guys. You might say you're not this type of person, but ignore that for now and assume you are. Flirting doesn't mean you're in a relationship, it means you're learning how to flirt and what kind of guy you actually like.

- Freshman year is way more awkward than people make it out to be. You can't go to bars, the social butterflies are being super social butterflies, and it can feel easy to get lost. The fact is you have people who probably were top of their pack for the last 4 years, and suddenly need to reassert themselves. Just roll with it and ignore the posturing.
posted by geoff. at 6:01 PM on February 2, 2011 [3 favorites]

Does your school provide free counseling services? Take advantage of them. You won't regret it.

Another suggestion would be to see if your school has an Alternative Spring Break program. I made a lot of good friends that way.
posted by melissam at 6:13 PM on February 2, 2011 [2 favorites]

I forgot to include! : if you live on campus, go talk to your Resident Advisor (RA) or equivalent (the older student who lives on your floor who is PAID to help you make friends.) He or she may have been in your exact situation. If that gets you nowhere, seek out your Hall Director, he or she is the person who is a full time employee of Residential Life and is possibly a grad student, and who most likely supervises the RAs.
posted by selavy at 6:16 PM on February 2, 2011

I have been a socially awkward introvert for much of my life (including at the beginning of college), but I have been able to turn myself into an extrovert.

First of all, you will HAVE to step outside of your comfort zone to make change. Yes, it's scary, but it's so thrilling when it goes well. One important part of this will be forcing yourself to go out when you're invited, even if you don't want to. As you develop confidence, you will worry less about the consequences of making the mistakes we all make. Then you'll go further outside of your comfort zone, and become more confident as a result. When you're not dependent on others for your self esteem, it becomes a lot harder to be hurt by rejection or embarrassment. College is a lot bigger than high school- it's MUCH harder to damage your reputation. If you do something embarrassing, no one will find out about it besides the people who see you in the moment.

To build your self esteem, pretend that you have your own cheerleader. Your cheerleader never judges you or is disappointed in you. Her only function is to point out how genuinely awesome you are. Day to day, she might note that you look awesome in your outfit, or that you really worked hard on preparing for an exam. She is able to put a positive spin on even your most miserable and embarrassing experiences ("You are so brave for trying that!" or "I can't believe how poised you are- you got through that without crying!").

Start studying at coffee shops. When there are no tables left, ask if you can sit with someone with an open seat at their table.

Add people who seem cool on Facebook. This is a real ice breaker for friendships. Send them an instant message to ask about an assignment or the hours of the coffee shop that day. Make a comment about a shared experience ("Oh man...have you tried the cafe miel there?! or "What do you think of the class/professor so far?"). Back off politely if people aren't responsive, and don't take it personally. Some people are less open to this than others, but it has nothing to do with you.

DO NOT complain or gossip to people who aren't your closest friends. Also don't correct them. It's really tempting, but try not to.

Work on your nonverbals. Stand up straight. Make eye contact. Smile at people who look at you. Nod when people are talking. Let yourself laugh hard when they say something funny.

Instead of trying to talk about yourself, ask other people about themselves.

This. But don't focus on getting them to say something that you can relate to. Focus on them like you have never met someone quite like them (guess what: you haven't!) and you're trying to figure out how they tick. Let people surprise you. I guarantee that every single person you meet is like-minded in some respect- scouting them out is just a matter of getting them to open up to you. DO NOT let yourself frame them as narcissistic leeches. You are benefiting from these interactions just as much as they are. They will strongly value you for being such an open listener. I promise.

As far as making friends, I have veerrryy slowly come to the realization that when I talk more, people like me more.

Also this. If you're tall, stylish, put together, and quiet, some people will assume you're bitchy or that you don't like them. Compliment people on something they're wearing (I have recently discovered that this is the pick up line of choice for women who want to be friends), ask them where they got it. Talk about the weather. Ask them for their recommendations.

Good luck! If you need someone to talk to, you're welcome to memail me.
posted by quiet coyote at 6:21 PM on February 2, 2011 [15 favorites]

It sounds like you spend a lot of time on the internet, and hey, you're here! That's a great way to make (online) friends. Maybe you can try and turn some of those into offline friends too? Look for meetups in your town or at your university, lurk on the associated websites or forums first, and get to know people through your preferred method. Organise your own metafilter meetup!

And I don't think you necessarily need to ditch the 29-year-old, despite what people said above. I met my (now) husband when he was 27 and I was 18 and it's worked out just fine.
posted by lollusc at 6:25 PM on February 2, 2011

My school has a program for professors to serve as informal mentors for students who might want someone to talk to about personal issues. I am in that program for my school. Does your school have something like that?

Maybe you could talk to your mentor about additional resources available to you on campus.

If your RA is nice, try talking to her. Students of mine have said they have found their RAs really helpful when they have had a hard time opening up in their freshmen year. In fact, some RAs decide to become RAs because they went through that experience and want to give back.
posted by vincele at 6:26 PM on February 2, 2011

raisingsand: "My daughter joined a sorority at college, even though she's really not the sorority "type"."

I suspect this advice won't be popular here, but I also joined a sorority my second semester of freshman year, after spending the first semester mocking sorority girls. But I finally decided that having a group of built-in friends wasn't such a bad thing. (I also joined a house that was a little atypical.) I felt quite alone and awkward too, and joining forced me to practice my social skills, so it became a good learning experience for me.

Your therapy group sounds really useful, but where do you get to actually put those skills into action? Joining some kind of organization that has ongoing meetings and activities will help with that.

Good luck - it will work out eventually, I promise.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 6:28 PM on February 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

Oh, and I also want to add that you are not "a horrible person" for having a long, drawn out high-maintenance pseudo-romantic Internet friendship with a needy person. A lot of really awesome, normal, healthy people sort of fall into those in their teens and early twenties. It doesn't make you bad or broken, no matter what your stepmother says. It's just one of those Internet experiences that A LOT of people have. So, don't beat yourself up too much, buttercup.
posted by SkylitDrawl at 6:39 PM on February 2, 2011 [7 favorites]

Hey, wow, just like everyone else in this thread, I went through a lot of the same things- I'm a junior now, and things didn't really click until last spring, honestly. Freshman year is super awkward and super weird for *everyone*. The people who seem like they have it together and have perfect social lives are just better at hiding it.

You seem like you have a lot going on outside of college issues, and it's good that you're doing the group counseling, but have you considered visiting a campus counselor for some one-on-one visits? With your family stuff and the stuff you still seem to be dealing with from the guy you used to talk to, a few visits with a therapist might be a good thing.

As for the (totally normal!) college stuff, I found that following all of the great advice about getting out and meeting people and making friends and stuff wasn't as helpful as changing the way I thought about my social life. A year or so ago, if I wasn't out on a Saturday night, I felt like it was somehow a failure on my part to live up to the college potential. I constantly compared myself to others in terms of a social pecking order I basically made up in my head. I never felt like I looked right, acted right, or had the right kind of social life, and my failures in those areas made me feel like I didn't deserve friends because who wanted to be friends with a loser? If someone "cooler" than me was friendly, I assumed it was pity, and I felt shitty about less-cool friends because I was judging them in turn the way that I judged myself.

It sucked. But I've slowly started to change the way I approach my social life. For one, I stopped feeling like crap when I wasn't socializing constantly and sort of owned my own introversion. I gave myself permission to *not* go out and not feel bad about it. I made more and better friends as one does in college, by following the advice people have given here already, but I stopped comparing my social life to what I saw other people doing and started paying attention to what actually made me happy. Part of that is experience, and realizing what kind of parties I like and what kind I don't- there's such a big difference, confidence-wise, between not going to a party because "ugh I'm such a loser I don't have anyone to go with and I'll look terrible anyway" and "eh, I'm sort of over dance parties." I started believing people when they seemed like they liked me, and stopped looking for reasons not to be friends with people.

This is getting way long, but Memail if you want to talk. I just started a study abroad program where I'm having to meet new people and make new friends again, and it's so much less stressful than freshman year it's nuts. I still feel mad awkward all the time, but I get over it and don't agonize and forgive myself for being myself, basically.
posted by MadamM at 6:52 PM on February 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

Wow! It sounds like you have a lot of things flying around on your radar, so no wonder you feel so overwhelmed.

Other people have spoken to this, but I want to reiterate that it takes a lot of people time to find their groove in college. I was a late-bloomer, did not have my first relationship (or even first "anything") until college. And honestly, I never really had my most memorable "Wow, sometimes I wish I were still that age" college memories until the end of college. I don't know if you're interested in studying abroad, but I'll say that my study abroad experiences were the highlight of college (and frankly of my entire life). Learning how to handle my own business far away from everyone I knew was probably the most powerful lesson I've ever had in growing as a person.

Good on you for identifying some group activities and stick with them! The vast majority of my friends I made in college were through a variety of activist groups. We organized protests and conferences which really helped me build a lot of skills.

Also, it sounds like you're doing some group counseling right now, but you might want to see if your college offers one-on-one therapy with grad students studying to be counselors or therapy. I did this for a while in college, and it was useful for getting a handle on some of my own anxiety.

Being 18 is hard, but I promise you for most of us it only gets better!
posted by mostly vowels at 7:09 PM on February 2, 2011 [2 favorites]

But I've slowly started to change the way I approach my social life. For one, I stopped feeling like crap when I wasn't socializing constantly and sort of owned my own introversion. I gave myself permission to *not* go out and not feel bad about it.

I totally get what you're saying here, but I think there's a difference between going out and socializing, and there's a difference between not doing social event X because you know it's not what works for you based on experience, and not socializing period because you expect it to be no fun and don't even want to try. If you want to meet more people and build friendships, agreeing to engage in opportunities to socialize (and suggesting things to do other times) is an important part of that. It doesn't have to be going to the bar or club- it could be checking out a new thrift store, or going to an art opening, or going to the coffee shop to study together.
posted by quiet coyote at 7:22 PM on February 2, 2011

Speaking as a bit of an introvert - a couple general things that worked for me during my 9-semesters in college:

Start getting to know people in your classes - especially the classes related to your major. It doesn't have to be a big deal - everyone more-or-less sits in the same seats every time for most classes with with less than 50-75 people in them, right? These people choose to sit in your general area every time - they're not afraid of you. Go ahead and ask them about an assignment before class one day, and you may just find yourself talking to them every day before class. That could turn into group project partners, a study session at the library, or nothing at all outside of that one class - who knows?

If you happen to be somewhat interested about a topic you're studying, start sitting in the general vicinity of the people who engage the instructor the most during class. Especially when you start taking classes related to your field of study. Start going to meetings and functions for clubs/organizations related to your field of study.
You'll find that there are a subset of people within a given field of study that hang out in the same social circles - because they spend a lot of time in classes and studying together. I wasn't really part of one of these groups until the third time I changed majors, and it happened effortlessly because we all wound up having a lot in common... totally a good sign that I was finally studying the right thing.
posted by itheearl at 7:24 PM on February 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

As others have said, join an organization. I joined a Christian student organization my freshman year of college, and while that might not specifically be your thing (although I recommend it; whether you're religious or not, everyone I've met in organizations like that has been really nice and cool) I highly recommend finding some sort of organization on campus that you can join. I've made so many friends and had so much fun all from that one simple decision four years ago.

And yes, get to know people in your classes, especially the ones in your major because you'll be seeing them in a lot of your classes while you're in college. Not only are they potential friends, but it's great to know people when it's time to study for a test or work on homework.

It sounds simple, and as a slightly introverted person myself I know it can be difficult, but just get out there and meet people. The great thing about college is that everyone is more or less in the same place in life, and you're bound to have a lot in common with the other people you meet.

Good luck!
posted by DMan at 7:36 PM on February 2, 2011

When I first went college (I'm a freshman too), I was really anxious and asked sister about what college is like for her. I always saw her as smart, likable, and attractive; in high school she had tons of friends. But she she told me that during freshman year, she didn't have many friends. It wasn't until she started opening up that she met other likeminded people.

I've been having trouble making friends in college, but I go to a commuting school where everyone has a hard time. Clubs are good, and see if your school offers some sort of counseling service. If group therapy works for you, that's great, but you might feel more open when it's one on one.

And feel free to memail me. Everyone feels somewhat awkward their first year of college.
posted by catwash at 7:37 PM on February 2, 2011

Things got way better for me at my ginormous state school university when I was able to move into a co-op (think fraternity for hippies). It is really hard to create a social network from scratch at a huge university, there's hundreds of people everywhere and only extremely outgoing people can meet new friends in this kind of environment. You need to break it down, consciously move yourself into a smaller community somehow that forces you to have more personal connections with people; don't shoot for a group of people that you hope are exactly like you, that's not only impossible, that's not what college is for. Joining student organizations is a good idea, but I'm thinking more about living arrangements. A frat or sorority (*gag*) works for some people, but something like that. Create some kind of artificially limited group of people and you'll do much better getting to know people. I guarantee there are thousands of people at your school who feel as introverted and socially awkward as you, they're just waiting for you to meet them.

I would echo the sentiment that you should get off online dating sites. There are way too many social opportunities in the real world right in front of you and you should be focusing your energy there.

Good luck. Freshman year is a period of *huge* transition and change in your life and things get so much better once you find your feet, you won't believe it. I had the worst and the best years of my life within three years of each other in college.
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 8:31 PM on February 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

Lots of good advice upthread. I just wanna weigh in to note that your stepmother sounds like a judgmental, controlling nut, and the sooner you teach yourself not to care what she thinks, the happier you'll be. She doesn't deserve to know anything about your internal life or the friendships you choose to invest in. Freeze her out. Your life is your own, and her opinions are of no value or use to you.
posted by Scram at 8:37 PM on February 2, 2011 [3 favorites]

Yeah, I had a horrific first year of college and I'm shy and I come from an f'd up family so I can relate. I'm 36 now and I still struggle with being an introvert. Here are my initial thoughts on reading your post:
1. don't immediately eliminate everyone who is a conservative from the potential friend pool. I'm a liberal like you and my best friend in college is a huge republican. We had a lot of debates -- which were kind of fun--and I learned that not all republicans are gay bashing pro-lifers and I think she learned things too but I guess you'd have to ask her. Also college changes you--so not everyone who goes in sheltered and conservative will turn out that way.

2. For the same reasons, don't eliminate everyone who is into their appearance. Remember that those kids are probably insecure and homesick and trying to fit in --not necessarily bad or even shallow people.

3. Bear with me here--think about joining a sorority---I know, I know, your question was how to avoid shallow people-- but hear me out. I joined a sorority my sophomore year and it was (outside of marrying my husband) the best decision I've ever made. The women were funny and intelligent and sarcastic -- not what you would expect at all. And they're still my friends. And even now, I can make friends through the alumni group.

4. Alcohol---be careful about this and don't go over board but yeah, it can ease the social tension a bit.

5. Stay the hell way from the creepy 29 year old

6. Try more clubs

7. Use okay Cupid only for guys your own age, preferably in your area

8. Tell your step mom how you feel-- I'm sure she loves you and doesn't want you to feel this way
posted by bananafish at 8:48 PM on February 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

Thanks so much for all the answers, everyone! Seriously, this is amazing. There is a lot of great practical advice here and I really appreciate the perspective.

My major is pre-pharmacy, so technically general science with an option. The school I go to is huge, but the college of pharmacy (which is within the college of science) is really tiny for undergrads, so there are definitely a limited number of people here.

I'm not religious and can't see myself joining a religious group or a sorority, but agree that that's great advice for people who might be more that way-inclined.

I'm thinking about how to drop the 29-year-old.

And I don't live in the dorms--I chose to live off-campus because it is much less expensive and seemed like it would be less crowded and overwhelming. I can't say I don't regret the decision, but at this point I just have to live with it. But this way I get to cook!
posted by athenadanae at 9:58 PM on February 2, 2011

I want to know how to talk about myself without feeling like I sound like a selfish asshole.

So, here's a process that I've been thinking about a lot, because I back myself into these sorts of mental corners too. It's my way of fighting against this particular mental trap, and it may (or may not) be helpful to you.

You're worried, for example, about being a selfish asshole when you talk about yourself, because of how it feels when you talk about yourself. Do you think you can judge effectively when someone else is being a selfish asshole? Do you have a pretty good idea of what that sounds like? I'm guessing you do, because it sounds like you've been around a lot of it in your life.

So. You've got a set of data that you can use as a reference file and as a semi-objective standard to check against. If talking to people you don't know very well is a new thing for you, then it's going to feel awkward at first no matter what. When you find yourself freaking out about how you're coming across, try to ignore the freaked-out feeling for a minute because feelings can lie to you, and check it against your databank:

'Shit, am I being an asshole? I just spent 5 minutes telling Jane about how I've always wanted a Golden Retriever puppy. If Jane had told me that, would I think she was a horrible person? A selfish person? No? No. Okay. Carry on talking about puppies.'

See what I mean? You've got all of the tools you need already in your head.
posted by colfax at 10:13 PM on February 2, 2011 [2 favorites]

I'm thinking about how to drop the 29-year-old.

He's already told you you never need to feel pressured to talk to him, right? Take him at his word and just stop talking to him. Block him or whatever.
posted by Xany at 11:42 PM on February 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

I'm classified by mbti as INFX, but no longer think mbti works for me. I am more than four little letters, and my traits definitely are not limited by what are described in texts and websites. Ever since I've realized that - I've been using mbti as an excuse as to why I behave as such - it's changed a fair bit of my life. The only thing that I find worth keeping from the mbti camp is the E/I, and even then, I think that it is possible to become more extroverted. It is very very difficult as I have so many little projects to do. But socialize, I try.

Other than that, I basically do homework, cook, and go online to try to distract myself from being bored and depressed.

This is probably the line that stands out for me from your post. Bored and depressed is seldom good. Have you tried reading books by David Burns? Feeling good and intimate connections have helped me greatly. Also, what hobbies do you have? Hobbies are a great way to keep occupied, and also a great way to meet people. My old infj self would always focus on perfecting what I do, and it's often _quite difficult_ to achieve perfection on this planet called earth. This leads to me always trying to be perfect, and by doing so, spend alot of time doing inconsequential things - basically I see only the end point and not the journey.

These past few years have seen my mindset change. I still do the same things I do, but no longer with a need for perfection, just enjoying what I do. And for some reason, I actually get better with my hobbies once I started just enjoying them. Ok, I may have gone off on a tangent >.>

I still have difficulty talking with people IRL, but heck if we have the same hobbies or stuff I know about, I'd talk paint off the wall.

posted by TrinsicWS at 3:02 AM on February 3, 2011 [2 favorites]

You're stepmom's response to you being over involved with an internet boyfriend is way inappropriate. Even if you lied about it. an appropriate response would be her telling you again and again until it worked- that people on the internet lie. They play games. They don't even need to have a purpose to lie. (This is why I am also telling you from start to bottom- don't talk to anyone on OKCupid that you can't meet up with IRL. ) Stepmom threatening to kick you out of the house for having a bad internet boyfriend is bizarre. I suspect she has some weird control/codependency thing going on- which frankly makes me concerned that you may be more vulnerable than some others in your age group.

It sounds like you don't have a good understanding of social boundaries- good or bad. I am deeply concerned about that. People like the Michigan butthead are attracted to people who are a little fuzzy on where they should draw the line. So are cults, physical abusers, drug addicts, and swindlers. Please go to a school councilor and let them know you are having these social issues.

For the next while- for every single person you meet and start to become friends with- listen to every little thing your inner voice is telling you. And get feedback from someone who really knows what's ok and what's not ok.

quick list of things that should make you step back ASAP
1. They drop personal, painfull private information about themselves or their families or their mental health very early in your friendship or relationship. Think "why should they trust me so much?" They are probably setting you up to feel bad for them and do things for them.
2. You can't prove a damn thing they say. This rules out all intimate internet relationships. Why? Because it is so hard to tell when to stop talking once you are in them, and it takes time away from flesh and blood friends. Think "why does this person want to spend hours a day on the internet with someone they don't even know?"
3. You are getting suddenly a LOT of attention and love from one group of friends all of a sudden. If within a few days or a week people from the same group are calling you, meeting up with you, randomly running into you ALL THE TIME- step back and look- "why do they all want so much attention from a virtual stranger?" They want something, and whatever it is will not be pleasant.

Most of time real friendships take a lot of time to build. Healthy ones need to get to a place of trust so that you can share personal things, ask for personal favors, and know that you won't be misused. Don't lose heart, you might have the seeds of long term friendship already planted.

It'll get better. It absolutely will.
posted by Blisterlips at 3:09 AM on February 3, 2011 [6 favorites]

I met everyone I knew and cared about in college by way of working at the college radio station. Find activities that interest you and go do them. That's the best way to meet like minded people.
posted by orville sash at 5:08 AM on February 3, 2011 [3 favorites]

There are a lot of good answers here addressing how to connect with people at school or through other means, so I won't get into that. However, I did want to touch on the interaction with your stepmother and your reactions there, because it stuck out to me. First, it strikes me as odd that she would use vague (or outright) comparisons to your family members as a way to insult/shame you. That is....not helpful, and kind of bizarre. Why is your stepmom reacting so dramatically to this relationship, which is maybe not the most healthy but seems overall pretty tame?

And your reaction to her anger also seems very extreme.

"I developed a guilt complex about how writing him was making me a bad person...[her criticism] shattered my ego. I felt like, if she didn't think I had potential as a human being, who the fuck did?"

That is an intense amount of self-loathing in response to one comment. Why are you so ready to believe you are a bad person? To be honest I am really not seeing what was so "bad" of you in writing to that guy. I believe you that it was a confusing and overly intense situation, but it seems like the sort of unhappy co-dependent relationship that happens all the time in high school (over the internet or in real life). I don't say that to minimize your experience, but just to say that having that type of relationship doesn't make you some kind of colossal fuck-up. It makes you a young person who is still figuring things out.
posted by Bebo at 5:57 AM on February 3, 2011

I didn't make (m)any friends at all during my freshman year of college. It wasn't until the very end/beginning of sophomore year that things started clicking. And that was because I joined the student newspaper.

The thing about campus groups is that there is a pretty significant web of interconnectedness between them. I think it's something like 10% of the population who are in groups, are active in multiple ones, and there's a lot of overlap between which groups they're in. Superusers, if you will.

I happened to become friends with a couple of people who were in multiple ones and it opened up a lot of other social circles for me. Plus, they always know what's going on around campus, and have access to things like group volunteering.

Find some things that you're interested in and give them a real shot. It took a while for even the newspaper group to stick, for me. But it was totally worth it.
posted by lhall at 8:37 PM on February 4, 2011

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