July 18, 2011 3:17 AM   Subscribe

How do I go about making friends? I know the theory I just never manage it in reality...

I realised recently that I have no friends (and barely any aquaintences) and that the lack of human interaction is having a negative effect on me.

I live with my other half in a nice village with houses all around, but I speak to none of them. I work in an office with people of vastly differing ages with whom I have nothing in common. I spend a lot of time on the internet but I don't spend much time discussing things, just lurking and occasional drive-by commenting. I've spent time at the gym / wing chung / pillates but at the end of the class I always hang around for a minute or two, feeling embarassed, and then leave without talking to anyone.

So - I guess that I do things that should lead to conversations, but I just never quite manage it.

Strangely, I have 'friends' from University who I speak to less than once a year (and always when they make contact with me) but who I just don't think about when they aren't there. As soon as they leave the conversation I just stop thinking about them. As a family member put it "you have schrodinger's friends - you don't know if they're sat there patiently, or died a decade ago".

At the moment, the majority of my conversations are with the girls at the coffee shop. We get on well, and we all seem to enjoy the conversations, but they've all been started by them interacting with the weird bloke who comes in every day, rather than me interacting with the nice people serving my addiction.

So... how do I start talking to people, developing and maintaining friendships when it seems like every fibre of my body doesn't care?
posted by twine42 to Human Relations (13 answers total) 26 users marked this as a favorite
Can you decide for yourself whether you find a person you meet likeable or not? I ask this because interacting with people is less about "theory" than about disposition: the ability to "read" others varies wildly from individual to individual. From your description you seem to be looking for clues as to what the point of social interaction is at all.

Also: conversations are not some type of social code for its own sake, but they are about people's ways of dealing with information: The coffee-shop girl's interest in you. Your interest in your colleague's ideas about pie-baking. Your university friends' views about the workings of social interaction. It seems, from your description (especially re. your internet behavior) that you're just not very much into discussing things.
Otherwise the internet would be a great place to start finding people with whom you have things "in common", right?
posted by Namlit at 3:51 AM on July 18, 2011

Okay, the first tip is to not pressure yourself, changing these things take time (years). The second thing is that these conversations don't really lead to friendships unless you spend 'social time' together; i.e. time outside of the coffee shop or class with that person. But at least there's an opportunity to practice small talk. Fourth, don't feel embarrassed when you're not talking to anyone, you have every right to be hanging around and you're just doing your thing alright. Fifth, it's surprising how willing people are to talk to you if you just say something or say hello. Don't be shy. You know what's strange, re: your last part about not caring, I found when I started asking things like "how's the family" cursorily I ended up eventually caring to some extent and starting asking a bit more authentically.
posted by the mad poster! at 3:56 AM on July 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

There must be at least one rogue fibre which does care otherwise, I will suggest, you would not be asking. You mention that that lack of interaction is having a negative effect on you - but you do not elaborate on what these effects might be.

You do have one option which is to acknowledge that you neither have nor want friends - and that you are quite happy about any potential side effects of this. Being open with yourself about this would be a step forward, I think.

If this is not what you want to pursue then it may be that you could try a "fake it to you make it" approach. You say you know the theory - so you could try putting it into practice by following Dale Carnegie's rules.

Here is Dale condensed into 10 practical tips.
posted by rongorongo at 3:58 AM on July 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

one thing I discovered as my conversational skills started improving is that a lot of it is just articulating thought processes or emotions

"yeah, I was thinking of doing this, then that happened. And I'm like, is this really how this is gonna be? So I accepted it even though, you know, it's not the kinda thing I tend to want..."

inane stuff that just sounds out what's going on in your head and theirs
posted by the mad poster! at 4:07 AM on July 18, 2011

Response by poster: You mention that that lack of interaction is having a negative effect on you - but you do not elaborate on what these effects might be

Good point.

I suffer from depression and I realised recently that my depression is often lightened by talking to people about stuff. Deep stuff, sure, but light fluffy stuff too.

To be honest with you - if it wasn't that talking can make me feel better when I'm low, I'd probably be quite happy being a hermit. I'll happily accept that I may be fooling myself about how important human interaction is to my depression, which is the cause and which is the effect.
posted by twine42 at 4:13 AM on July 18, 2011

I would make a couple of comments:

- To engage with people it's really helpful if you do produce some sort of 'thing' with them in their presence (ie FOSS probably doesn't count). Can be playing bridge, the local lions/rotary, amateur drama etc. Work can be OK for this stuff but is often poisoned by other issues which remove the 'joy' of communal production. It's a great deal better if you don't do that stuff because someone is paying you.

- Conversations. Remember to reveal a little about yourself and to ask a little about the other person. This will not lead to hey-presto-friendship but it can provide the compost on which friendship may grow.

Like you I don't feel an enormous compulsion to engage with others but I find that doing so leads to a number of small happinesses which make the effort well worth while .
posted by southof40 at 4:15 AM on July 18, 2011

Join a club, start a band, get a D&D game going. I'm like you- I'm terrible making friends "in the wild", but I have a very active social life. All my buddies I either met at church, or at D&D or through my band. If you have a dog, take it to the park.

It's hard to just "meet" people, it's way easier when you've both volunteered to be social.
posted by GilloD at 5:02 AM on July 18, 2011 [2 favorites]


This is not the kind of question that can be solved by this site (as great as it is). The best advise really depends on a LOT of specific details about you.

Have you considered seeing a therapist? I HIGHLY RECOMMEND looking for one that you groove to (heads up if you're new to this: you might need to dig a little to find a good match).

What you're talking about is kinda a big deal that I would hit seriously. You've got everything to gain and nothing to lose.
posted by Murray M at 5:11 AM on July 18, 2011

At the end of your exercise classes just announce to the whole crowd that you're going out to have coffee or a beer and ask if anyone would like to come along. Name a place really close by, within walking distance.

Do some volunteering, something that puts in you in close contact with other volunteers, like taking care of some public garden or something.
posted by mareli at 6:15 AM on July 18, 2011

I have the same problem with meeting people at (ostensibly) social events. I can't bring myself to do what mareli suggests because I'd be too mortified to make a public announcement like that. And even when someone else does something similar, I tag along with the best intentions of meeting someone... but when I arrive everyone is talking to each other and I feel weird just going up and introducing myself to people and inserting myself in conversations.

I'm much better on an individual basis, so I try to limit myself to as personal interactions as I can handle. One good way to actually meet people (with a legitimate reason to) is to attend events like the ones that you named... and volunteer to get more involved. Whatever you do doesn't matter, just so long as you have a legitimate reason to hang around afterward or show up early. It'll help alleviate your feelings of "omg I'm lurking."
posted by jph at 6:24 AM on July 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

I just don't think about when they aren't there. As soon as they leave the conversation I just stop thinking about them.

This line really stood out to me for 2 reasons 1. I've been on the other side of that friendship 2. I've wrestled with depression and know how hard it was for me to find the energy to reach out.

In the first part, you need to realize that friendship is generally reciprocal. Yes there are some outgoing people who are all about staying in touch no matter what, but generally if you don't reach out to your friends-for coffee, chat, just to email and see how they are-they will eventually drop you-Why? Because they want mutual affection, they want friends as interested in being their friend as they are in being your friend. If your disinterest is clear (ie lack of contact or concern) what's in the friendship for them? Coffee once in a while? Not really a lot of motivation there for them to keep in contact.

When you're depressed it's easy to forget about other people and just think about your own life. This is part of the depression, and that focus actually keeps you isolated which perpetuates the depression. It can be very difficult to push through those thoughts, but for me, it helped immensely when I felt depression come on to just call a friend and chat about he/she was doing. It's possible the reason you "don't care" is simply because you're too immersed in your own depressive thoughts and the more you reach out to others, the more you will care for them.

You don't necessarily need to find new friends. You can start by recultivating your friendships from uni. Call up one or two of these friends and just see how they are. Chat about their lives. Suggest a coffee date yourself. In terms of new friends, investigate something like Meetup.com where you can find people who are interested in similar activities. Lastly, when you begin to feel depressed, don't give into those thoughts. Call someone and see how they are or volunteer as someone said earlier. Direct your energy towards those around you instead of yourself.
posted by miss-lapin at 7:14 AM on July 18, 2011 [6 favorites]

Maybe you need to define friendship for yourself.

What are you expecting? What do you expect in return? Do you need/want someone around once a week? Every day? Once a year?

It seems as though many people have situational friends--the people who are "friends for skiing" or "friends at church" or "playdate friends" if you have kids.

True friendship is a rare gift. Most people are just acquaintances--very few become friends.
posted by AuntieRuth at 7:18 AM on July 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

It only works for me when I "have" to spend time with people repeatedly for a long period of time. E.g. a regular poker or basketball game, some kind of club, work, etc. No way I can just strike up a conversation with a stranger and have it turn into a friendship. I need to see them for a couple of hours dozens of times over a year or two and then, maybe. So try that. :-)
posted by callmejay at 7:30 AM on July 18, 2011

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