What's the glue that makes people stick?
September 26, 2011 9:39 AM   Subscribe

What's the glue that makes people stick?

I've been struggling with this for so long, it's been years, & I'm all out of ideas.

What is the paradoxical "glue" that makes people "stick" together? I mean the thing that makes you want to hang around somebody consistently & have them in your life?

I seem to make friends easily, but have no luck keeping them in my life. I have been told very often that I am funny, am caring & a good listener. I really do care about people in general & like to make them laugh & see others happy, as I am to be in their company.

But for the life of me I can't seem to create bonds that go any further than that- though I always make an effort to keep in touch (email, texts) or invite people I do like to go out & do things multiple times, that we're both into (common interests). But I always seem to get the blow off, it hurts & I don't know what "imaginary faux pas" I must have commited cause I'm not aware of it, I've tried different approaches to situations & have still gotten the same results.

So what is it that keeps you with a sort of "bond" with someone else, someone you want in your life & what to hang out with on a semi regular basis? Someone you really do care about? I'm not asking for a new bff, (but, really that would be nice). Just someone who wants to go & hang out, & checks up on you through texts just saying hi or something (as I do), & particularly more than every 4 months or so.

Basically I've been this way most of my life. I had short periods of having a sense of "core" friends, which had dissolved for differing reasons through the years. I used to be extremely insecure & socially wounded but have worked past all that & am a completely different person now than I ever was. I really think I am a good person & interesting & like who I am. I like to treat people with kindness & understanding, I don't like to judge people & try to make most experiences light & enjoyable because there is enough bad things & unkindness in the world, I hate to see anyone feeling that way- life is too short. I do little things for people I care about, that's just the way I am.

Growing up I had no support from my family, siblings that were far beyond the definition of cruelty & a parent who did not protect me or even pretty much acknowledge my existence. One of my parents has always been there for me but is frankly a bit of a neurotic mess & clingy/codependent to a high degree that makes it quite hard to deal with most of the time.

Growing up my family was very antisocial & still is- seems everyone has trouble making a lot of friends. So as far as a family bond I really don't have any- maybe this is something others can sense? Possibly I don't have the gene/capacity or ever learned how to forge a lasting bond with other people?

When I hear people walking by talking small talk, I really can't relate & feel quite alienated. I know people stick with people who are like themselves, but I don't seem to find people like me or who think the way I do. I've tried therapy, meetups, but mostly don't connect to anyone. In my life in general, I find my timeline for hanging out with people is about an hour or so & find that if I hang out with them longer than that I get bored or feel what do we do next? Or feel they do, or start figuring what's the point, or I do (not always though, but mostly). I guess I've been alone for so long that's where my interactions end up to- which is not that big of a deal cause generally I don't usually see anybody for more than an hour or so- & I generally don't feel this way with people I really do like, which is far & between. I usually don't find a lot of people I really like & want to hang out with, which is troubling, I guess. I never used to before but now start thinking after a while if we've know each other for a bit, when are they going to leave & stop writing me & be out of my life? (this has happened sooo many times I can't even count, so now it's become a predictable thought because I've had so much history of it happening. I've had so many people just "dissappear"). I know people come and go, but come on, 1 or 2 stick around? Even people who have over & over said to me unsolicitedly that I mean so much to them & how much I've changed their life & that they love me.. Then they seem to want to only hear or initiate seeing each other every 5 months or so, even though I'd try to initiate hanging out with no avail, or just saying hi, the last of which was a short text convo with my last text not responded back to (which has happened a lot before), & this person means a lot to me. Do you not respond back in kind if you happen to hear from them at a later date? I have a hard time being what I feel is rude to people- do onto others seems to get me, but pushover comes to mind as I have been one in the past).

So long story not short, what is it?
It's been years I've been dealing with this & can't find an answer, haven't had a SO in a long time & never really get hit on by the opposite sex, so that's not really going well or helping either.

Are some people just meant to be alone? I can name a lot of people in my family & some I know who seem to be in the same boat. It's strange & I feel I'm a pretty smart person so I should be able to figure out what I'm doing wrong or what's the missing piece here. It just seems no one really wants me in there life permanently, & I don't know why. It's rare when I find someone I really want to be around & really like & connect with, which feels kinda isolating but I guess that's just the way I am. & when I do find someone I really like & feel a strong bond/connection with, they seem to wither off, even though they tell me they feel a deep connection with me & a kindred spirit feeling & really nice things like that, all without being asked & just said when we're not even talking about anything remotely on that subject.

I really don't even enjoy anything I used to, I really don't see the point to most anything anymore. This has just really surface in the last 2 months, as I feel I don't know what to do anymore. Life is full of a lot of things, but it's human connections that make life worth while.

It hurts. I'm lost. I just want love like anyone else, I don't want to wake up on my own anymore. It really hurts my heart.

Sorry for the long post & thanks for reading.
Throwaway email: onemorebeforeigo@yahoo.com
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (28 answers total) 51 users marked this as a favorite
Social scientists would say social capital.

But speaking as a person, it is a relationship where you'd happily do a lot of things to help your friend and you can count on that friend to do things for you.

You help eachother. You enjoy eachothers' company.
posted by k8t at 9:52 AM on September 26, 2011

Gut reaction before I read this- Laughter. Laughter is the glue.

Now, to read.....

I'm at a loss as well...I do not see even a *hint* of a social faux-pas, you sound absolutely wonderful! Could it be your (or their)age/stage in life maybe? I have a 6 and 2 year old, so 98% of the time I am just busy with trying to keep up with them, so when I do pop my head up for some social interaction outside of my mommy friends/work/family cirlce it is only like 3-4 times a year. A single frined I have had since childhood makes these complaints of me pretty regular, and I in turn make this complaint to an old friend who is now a single mother with FOUR kids. Where as my parents and theirn now-childless friends are getting together and going out like they are in a car commercial.

So, no answer really. I'm as confused as you are.

You are great, people suck. I'm memailing you....
posted by Frosted Cactus at 9:54 AM on September 26, 2011 [2 favorites]

In short, I think it is the same thing which makes relationships work:

- caring for and loving other people
- caring for and loving yourself

in equal parts.

You sound like you do a lot of the former, but perhaps not enough of the latter. If you do not love yourself and nurture your own confidence and self-esteem, you may come across in friendships and relationships as over-keen, needy, or dependent. Giving a lot of yourself is a lovely thing to do, but it must be balanced out by a healthy amount of self-reliance and self-confidence in order to be seen as "normal" by people seeking a friendship with you.

Therapy will help you to improve how you nurture yourself, and in turn your friendships. But also remember that friendships are, again, like relationships in that there are many potentials out there but only a few who will really stick. I have made a number of my closer friends in the last two years of my life. Sometimes it takes time to figure out who you are, and that can delay the process - be patient, and don't worry if not many of them "stick".

And keep on working on being happy in yourself - to paraphrase Wayne's World, if you build yourself, the friends will come :)
posted by greenish at 9:55 AM on September 26, 2011 [6 favorites]

You describe yourself as someone who doesn't "stick." That is, you get bored with others or fear they are getting bored with you. I'm not sure you'd like someone who stuck. You might feel trapped.

No one likes small talk for itself. It's contextual. It has value in the moment in a relationship. The participants are either already "sticking" or else negotiating the sticking process.

You say you "tried" therapy, but I don't know what that means since therapy, like relationships, isn't just one thing. Therapy can be about a model relationship where you can see what goes wrong in the moment. Only, instead of leaving when it doesn't work (unless that's ALL that is happening) you get to say that it's not working and explore why. I suggest a form of therapy that does that rather than cure some mental disease.
posted by Obscure Reference at 9:59 AM on September 26, 2011

In my life in general, I find my timeline for hanging out with people is about an hour or so & find that if I hang out with them longer than that I get bored or feel what do we do next? Or feel they do, or start figuring what's the point,

This is where I would start digging, on your own or with a therapist. How do you strengthen your interest in people? How do you strengthen your confidence that you're interesting to other people? Addressing these questions will help with both making friends and dating.

I have quite a few friends I see or hear from twice a year or less. The relationships remain strong because we both have confidence that our relationship is valuable and important, and therefore we're able to renew and strengthen the friendship quickly when do get to see each other.

I really don't even enjoy anything I used to, I really don't see the point to most anything anymore.

It sounds like you're depressed. I think it would help to talk to a counselor or therapist. It might pass with time, but why not look for some tools to help move through these feelings?
posted by EvaDestruction at 10:10 AM on September 26, 2011

There were a couple of things you said that sound very familiar. Have you ever heard the term "Highly Sensitive Person"? If you haven't, at least google the term and take a self test to see if you might be one of the 15-20% of the population with a different nervous system that causes some of the issues you are talking about. If you find that you are one, it's a remarkable discovery, when for so long you've felt so different than other people, that suddenly you find that your behaviors are somewhat predictable. Once you accept and honor this trait, a whole new world opens up.
posted by icanbreathe at 10:43 AM on September 26, 2011 [4 favorites]

The most significant friendships I have are with people who helped me and who allowed me to help them. Listening is a great start. In general I think if you look for opportunities to help people you already know and care about, and gently offer without insisting - and gently ask for / accept help when you need it - this creates a bond.

Help can be as mundane as cooking dinner or offering to help out with moving.
posted by bunderful at 11:03 AM on September 26, 2011

Going to send you an email!
posted by fromageball at 11:13 AM on September 26, 2011

A shared enemy works wonders.
posted by Mchelly at 11:13 AM on September 26, 2011 [3 favorites]

"shared positive emotional experiences" --
i would say, for now, dig deeper into finding what is fun/pleasurable/cool/meaningful to you... DO those things, - really get into them, focus on those things. You will come into contact with people who share those values - they won't be boring to you. Also, it's a trick, but don't be needy/ attached to the idea that others 'out there' will somehow make things better for you.
posted by mrmarley at 11:27 AM on September 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

I have no idea about you personally, but anyone who's single (I'm guessing you are?) and over the age of 22 or so will probably have a hard time making/keeping friends when everyone is moving away, moving on, going to grad school, getting married, and having families without you. I have gone for years without close nearby friends, and when I've had a big friend group, they break up after about 2 years because guess what, people move/marry/have kids/move on and since my life isn't overlapping with theirs any longer, there I go out of it. Most people want to be friends with someone in the same life circumstances as they are and mine are unusual compared to everyone else's, so I don't tend to "match."

Really, I've just managed to get lucky with a few people who will stick by me, are loyal, actually are cool with communication, and well, haven't had massive life changes that ruled me out of the picture for them. One friend moved to another state and I came back from visiting her recently. But it depends on how much staying power the person has. It's not always a question of "what's wrong with me," it could be that they just...lose the mojo with distance or different life circumstances.

I think honestly, you just get lucky occasionally. But don't ask me how I managed it because 95% of the time I haven't either!
posted by jenfullmoon at 11:39 AM on September 26, 2011 [6 favorites]

I agree with bunderful's answer. I'll expand on it just a little bit to say that 1) a lot of people get frustrated and move on when they try to offer us help and we don't take it, and 2) try to be accepting if someone you otherwise genuinely like does not accept your help for something (in these examples, "help" means advice on life issues, not like giving someone a ride to the airport or something).

To add anecdata - the people I consider my closest friends, who I don't even talk to all that often, are people I've met through support groups. They know all my stuff and I know theirs, and we hang out sometimes because we genuinely enjoy each other's company. My more frequent "hang out" friends are ones who are interested in the same things I am interested in right now; I have gym/workout friends, mom/playdate friends, and couples/gamenight friends, for instance.

Lastly, I learned a while back not to treat every social situation as an opportunity to meet my New Best Friend, but rather as an opportunity to meet some nice people and have a nice time out. If I met someone I got along with, I learned to take things slow and not overwhelm them with "Let's Be Friends!!"
posted by vignettist at 11:45 AM on September 26, 2011 [4 favorites]

I think that unless you are a person who is especially attractive - either physically or mentally - a lot of it is just a combination of luck and circumstances.

I think of myself as a reasonably nice guy. I can be sociable. I have my faults, god knows, but I'm aware of them and I know how to rein them in. But the fact is that I just don't seem to keep friends (barring maybe three exceptions). I'm in my early fifties and I've lost more friends than I can count. They've come and gone. When I was married I had more friends than I'd ever had in my life, but after my wife left me they pretty much all disappeared. I concluded from that they were really my ex-wife's friends, not mine. It didn't seem that way at the time, but the results speak for themselves, as it were.

I know this: those maybe three friends I have who have stuck with me through the fat and the lean years have been those I didn't try to make. They've been those I didn't actively try to cultivate. They've just been people I was lucky to meet, and hit it off with. I suspect it's a bit like lovers. You can go to all the dating sites you like; you can read all the "How to meet and impress men/women" books you like, but unless you get lucky and your life happens to intersect with that soul mate, you're going to have to settle for less. Which is fine, as far as it goes. Never lose sight of that. You may not find the soul mate or the lifelong friend. That happens. Therapy isn't going to change that. Just be yourself, think about other people's feelings, listen to other people... but above all, be yourself. You cannot have a true friend unless they know the real you. Right?
posted by Decani at 11:58 AM on September 26, 2011 [9 favorites]

What is the paradoxical "glue" that makes people "stick" together?

Mutual self-interest.

There isn't any "glue" in the way you're thinking, as in some network of predetermined, innate compatibility like astrological signs or personality types. People really, really want there to be because it's a convienient and comforting myth, but it is fiction.

You remind me a lot of how I used to be just outside of high school. These concerns are very real and I think many people go through them, but they're juvenille. You're thinking about something too hard, when it's actually very simple or meaningless. There is no secret, no philosopher's stone that had eluded you and which everyone else knows about. It does not exist. You're thinking yourself into circles about nothing.

That said, here's what I know about socializing: Find a chatty person who likes to complain, is loud and sort of boisterous and has many friends, but is essentially still at least basically responsible and doesn't have serious issues with partying too hard, drugs, etc. Befriend this person. All the people who have nothing in common with you? They aren't just there taking up space and alienating you. They have sisters, brothers, friends, who are reclusive introverts, and you need to befriend the obnoxious people to get to the other ones. Start with anyone and work your way through the six degrees of separation until you hit gold.

Also, just keep busy. Do more, move around, join new clubs, and keep meeting people. Try new roommates. It's a numbers game.

Don't be desperate. Don't act like you're not desperate: it doesn't work. Actually get so busy and stressed that you really aren't desperate. People sense this. Also, be more interesting.
posted by Nixy at 12:29 PM on September 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

If you don't like hanging out talking for very long, try to make friends who like to do other things, or plan to do other things with your friends. I'm going to JazzHands to hear Aretha McFabulous at 8. Anybody else want to come? or Contagion's playing at 7:15 at MovieSpace, is there anybody else who hasn't seen it? Those are generic examples. You should try to know your friends' preferences. Then you can ask Chris to join you for a hike Saturday, because you know Chris loves the outdoors, and you can ask Terry to check out a new restaurant, because you know Terry's a foodie. Relationships happen because somebody connects, and then because they put some effort into spending time together.
posted by theora55 at 12:36 PM on September 26, 2011

k8t started off right. Social capital is the foundation, that is, trading value-for-value with another person and working to keep a positive balance with them.

That may sound harsh and clinical in our Disney/romance/feelings-based society but the hard facts are that we do these calculations in our head without even thinking about it.

For example, somebody calls up and asks for help moving next weekend. Your brain does some quick math to see if that friend has any capital to draw on for such a big favor. If your friend has been asking for lots of favors but returning none your brain will flag the account as "Overdrawn". He may be slightly overdrawn at the moment but has a history of repaying with interest, so it could be a good investment. Or not!

Sometimes we go against the advice of the social banker in our heads but we then get angry about doing the favor.

Also, the types of "payments" to the accounts of other must be in a form the other person values. Think of it like a birthday present in that way. If I give a friend my prized stuffed skunk (not a real example!) but my friend hates both skunks and stuffed animals then the gift isn't valued by the recipient. In the same way, I have to understand what types of social transactions are valued by my friends in order to make deposits in my accounts with them.

So social "account" balance is how we determine whether or not another person is "worth" being connected to.

Now, for the people with whom we have positive-to-neutral balances, squeeze in a modicum of adrenaline as the bonding agent. Shared experiences where adrenaline is a factor helps create a sense of bonding. Doesn't have to be death-defying events (probably best not, right?) but small doses of adrenaline. This heightens the experience plus helps burn it into the old memory banks.

When good friends get together and retell old stories they aren't about sitting in the basement playing video games but about when exciting things happened, intentionally or otherwise.
posted by trinity8-director at 12:54 PM on September 26, 2011 [8 favorites]

I really don't even enjoy anything I used to, I really don't see the point to most anything anymore.

I believe that the clinical term for this is anhedonia.
posted by XMLicious at 2:09 PM on September 26, 2011

This type of experience can also be a direct consequence of where you live. I went to university in a university & government town: a large proportion of the population of this city were there to either study or work for the government. As a result, friendship groups generally stuck together for as long as the degree program/ government contract/ term of government. Everyone would go through periods of having a large social network, then people would move away and you'd pretty much have to start from scratch.

On the upside, I now have some wonderful friends who live all over the place!
posted by Alice Russel-Wallace at 3:11 PM on September 26, 2011

Here's my take on it: you say you want to keep things light and positive, you only see people for a short time and you have a complicated background family-wise which I bet you don't talk about much with acquaintances. So for these reasons people are only really seeing a surface you, an image you are presenting briefly and not your true self. So they react to you like a surface acquaintance/work colleague.
Also of course what everyone else said about stages of life and where you live all all that too.

I've met most of my good friends from spending extended amounts of time together- through meetup ski trips, share-house type things. That might not be your style but you need to see people repeatedly, at school, at work, to form common bonds to form friendships. Just meeting for coffee or dinner maintains relationships but is not enough to form them.

Oh god, I am going to give you the cliched advice in summation: you have to be yourself (not just the peppy positive part of yourself) and you have to have a shared interest or bond that causes you to spend time together. Could be rock-climbing club, could be being cubicle neighbors, could be anything.

Good luck and yeah the older you are the harder it is to make and keep friends, that's a fact. (IMO!)
posted by bquarters at 3:26 PM on September 26, 2011 [5 favorites]

When I first started reading I took your question to mean "After I know a fair amount about somebody and we've hung out a bit, how do I make that relationship 'stick' rather than part out ways?"

A little while in I wasn't so sure if you were talking about the question I've posed above, or about just after you've met someone.

For me a true relationship "sticking" means that I can just hang out with them. They can swing by my house and they can read a book on the couch, I just like their presence. Granted this has been a lot more difficult to find and accommodate after college. Something along this line might mean "come over for lemonade and let's chat" There's no hurt feelings if they have to leave 10 minutes in, or 2 hours later but we don't need an excuse to get together like a movie or something. YMMV

I addition to the mutual enemy thing, there was some article (on the blue maybe?) that said "A secret and a favor." I think this is actually fairly true.
posted by raccoon409 at 3:33 PM on September 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

Oh yeah, bquarters is right. The people in my life who stay on the outer edges of my social circle (assuming I don't dislike them) generally do so because our interaction is pretty fluffy - all small talk, no vulnerability.

And the older I get the more I meet people and think "wow, you're cool, I'd like to be friends" ... but as an introvert I have a limited amount of energy that is already taken up by my current friend roster. So I pass on a lot of people who might be great friends, just because I don't feel I can be an adequate friend to them.
posted by bunderful at 3:34 PM on September 26, 2011 [2 favorites]

I would like to reinforce the importance of ASKING too. Telling people your problems or asking people for help with moving etc. can begin intimacy. It lets other people know it's okay for them to ask for help, tell you about a shitty week, etc. Don't be afraid to be vulnerable yourself.
posted by OrangeDrink at 5:03 PM on September 26, 2011 [4 favorites]

Meaning. That I have meaning and you have meaning. We have more together than we have as separate individuals. To me that is the meaning of (my) short life - that I have meaning to someone else.
posted by Country Dick Montana at 6:06 PM on September 26, 2011

I really think that friendship isn't just about being a great person that people like hanging out with - sounds like you've got that sorted. The social capital stuff mentioned above is useful - but it's also about being vulnerable - otherwise potential friends will feel like it's a bit one-sided. What do they get from your friendship? As well as laughs, interesting conversation and a good listener, it's also about them finding someone that they can support / help.

- one of my best friends was just a friend before she split up with her boyfriend and needed somewhere to stay. I offered my spare room (no big deal on my part, but a massive deal for her at the time), which coincided with me going through a really rough time at work. Ordinarily, I wouldn't have shared that with anyone, but because she was living with me, she could see it and was just so supportive. The combination of us both going through a difficult time and helping each other cemented our friendship.
- another of my best friends is someone I'd known for years, and talked to / saw weekly. She'd always tell me when she was upset / stressed, but I didn't do the same. It took a drunken night out before she told me that she hated the fact that our friendship was onesided - not because she thought I didn't care about her, but because she knew I struggled to talk about how I was feeling - she felt excluded. I've made a real effort since then and am so glad I have - not just because it's made our friendship so much stronger, but also because it's just a good thing to do!
- another friend I knew for years but it wasn't until we both got food poisoning on holiday (at different times) that our friendship moved to the next level - we laugh about it now.

If I look back on the friendships that have stood the test of time, they're ones that have had a defining moment where both of us have been able to be vulnerable and trust / rely on the other.

You can't engineer these situations, but you can be open to the possibility - and that does involve asking for help / sharing your vulnerabilities as much as being there for people who need your help - it really is a two way street..

You sound like a lovely person - go for it!
posted by finding.perdita at 6:14 PM on September 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

Hiya. Others have addressed some concerns above--you might be a little down on yourself, you might be accidentally presenting an unappealing image due to being down on yourself, that kind of thing--but I wanted to address one of your core questions. What makes people stick?

There's an awesome scene in 'Madea Goes to Jail' that explains things pretty well:

"Some people are meant to come into your life for a lifetime, some for only a season and you got to know which is which. And you're always messing up when you mix those seasonal people up with lifetime expectations.

I put everybody that comes into my life in the category of a tree. Some people are like leaves on a tree. When the wind blows, they're over there... wind blow that way they over here... they're unstable. When the seasons change they wither and die, they're gone. That's alright. Most people are like that, they're not there to do anything but take from the tree and give shade every now and then. That's all they can do. But don't get mad at people like that, that's who they are. That's all they were put on this earth to be. A leaf.

Some people are like a branch on that tree. You have to be careful with those branches too, cause they'll fool you. They'll make you think they're a good friend and they're real strong but the minute you step out there on them, they'll break and leave you high and dry.

But if you find 2 or 3 people in your life that's like the roots at the bottom of that tree you are blessed. Those are the kind of people that aren't going nowhere. They aren't worried about being seen, nobody has to know that they know you, they don't have to know what they're doing for you but if those roots weren't there, that tree couldn't live.

A tree could have a hundred million branches but it only takes a few roots down at the bottom to make sure that tree gets everything it needs. When you get some roots, hold on to them but the rest of it... just let it go. Let folks go."

So long as you understand that sometimes a friend you thought was a branch--or worse, a root--is in fact a leaf, you can learn to be ok with that.

Sometimes you meet someone in school and when you graduate, you both move on. Your shared bond is over. Sometimes you meet someone as parents of new babies and you guys stick for years and then you have an argument and it all falls apart. Your bond is broken beyond repair. Things happen to even the longest-lived of friendships.

I think what people are saying above is partially right; there's always a need that you mutually meet in each other and that's why you stay friends. If that need is met by someone or something else, or if life changes you and you can't meet that need any longer, the friendship changes. It happens, that's ok, and sometimes you end up in a friend lull because of it.

What you might want to address, through therapy or other means, is what happens if you've never had a long term friendship (long term, to me, means five or more years). That doesn't indicate anything wrong with you--we've certainly had posts on AskMetafilter before where people asked why it wasn't happening for them either--but if it's troubling you, address it! Therapy or volunteering. Both give you perspective. Not coincidentally, both also increase your chances of meeting good friends.
posted by librarylis at 6:52 PM on September 26, 2011 [5 favorites]

I think one thing that strongly binds people is being through some tough shit together. It's one thing to make some jokes while hanging out or have a few drinks together, but when SHIT GETS REAL you really get to know someone. When you're really dependent on them, the bond grows strong. Someone up-thread mentioned vulnerability--a situation where you're both vulnerable and have to work together to weather the storm. Sometimes it's a literal storm. Hanging on to each-other, navigating a mountain path together while hail stones pelt your face. That night when you both missed the last bus and you're 20 miles from home and you got beat up. This is the reason my dad still gets together with his military buddies. They only see each-other once a year but the bond is strong as ever because of their shared hardship.
posted by katerschluck at 7:19 PM on September 26, 2011 [2 favorites]

Wow, I can totally relate. I haven't really found the solution, but I'll offer my thoughts anyway.

The most important thing that really jumps out at me from your post, is that you seem depressed. Loneliness/lack of social ties can be both a (partial) cause and an effect of depression, and unfortunately it can create a sort of vicious cycle, since the more depressed you feel, the more difficult it generally is to make and keep friends. I have struggled with mild but very persistent depression all my life, and I'm sure it's a piece of the puzzle as far as why I have so few friends.

So first things first--if you're depressed, do something about it! A depressed person will never have the energy to create and maintain friendships, trust me. Personally, I've tried therapy and meds and was not impressed with either of them, but I'm currently making a lot of progress with the treatment plan outlined in the book The Depression Cure by Stephen Ilardi. (In fact, spending time socializing is one component of the treatment plan. And the people you socialize with for this purpose don't have to be close friends--they can even be strangers!)

Now to analyze why it's so difficult aside from that....I will say that people generally do tend to hang out with people whose lifestyles/circumstances are similar to theirs. This necessarily means that as people marry, divorce, have children, change careers, etc etc, some old friendships will fade away. I actually think this is very normal.

However, there is another aspect to close friendship, and for me, this is what separates the friendships that stick, from the ones that don't: The people you really CLICK with on a deep level, as opposed to those you connect with on a more superficial level, are the ones who remain your friends no matter where life takes either of you. I have a really good friend who I met at work over 7 years ago. On the surface, we had nothing in common even back then, besides working at the same place--I was a single 21-yr old girl with no children, quiet and shy. She was a 34-yr old married woman with four kids, who was bold and outgoing. But the first time we had a conversation, something *clicked*. She quit that job about a year later, and we're still friends today. It still would appear to an outsider that we have nothing in common, but we click. We just do. And this is the only time this has ever happened to me! I just happened to get lucky when her temp agency assigned her to work at my company.

For the record, I am a highly sensitive person and gifted (NOT saying that to brag at all, but we do have a different thinking style than most and it makes it tough to connect and relate sometimes, as much as I really, really want to). My friend and I click because we share these traits. It's hard to find others similar to us, and I'm wondering if you might share these traits as well. I know this observation doesn't tell you how to solve your problem, but I just want you to know that having a little more trouble than average in connecting with others doesn't mean you're doing something wrong, or that there is anything wrong with who you are as a person.

You mention having gone to meetups in the past; were these meetups connected with any specific hobby or interest of yours? If you haven't tried that, I think you should. The more unusual the hobby/interest the better, I think. IF you are like my friend and me, and for some reason I suspect that you are, we tend to be drawn to certain things that most other people aren't. For instance, my friend and I are both obsessed with astronomy, but I don't know anyone else who's as fascinated by it as I am, besides her.

I wish you the best. I know how frustrating and saddening it is to have such a hard time making close friends :( Even though I have one, I don't get to see her often and wish I had more like her.
posted by mhm407 at 9:12 PM on September 26, 2011 [2 favorites]

Growing up I had no support from my family, siblings that were far beyond the definition of cruelty & a parent who did not protect me or even pretty much acknowledge my existence.

THIS is worth exploring either on your own (reading up on dysfunctional family dynamics and the long-term effects thereof) or with a therapist (for guidance, and to have someone insightful enough to help you gauge your own recovery). It's no coincidence that you're now a depressed adult (yeah, gonna label you at the moment, sorry). Your earliest experiences of being "loved" was constant feedback that NOT ONLY are you not even worth acknowledging, but the fact that you even exist warrants TORTURE. This is not trivial. It is very real and it is very damaging, especially for an adult who has never gotten the hardcore clear message to the contrary.

So as far as a family bond I really don't have any- maybe this is something others can sense? Possibly I don't have the gene/capacity or ever learned how to forge a lasting bond with other people?

It's not so much of a genetic defect as the fact that you were not socialized properly from an early age in how to nurture -- both others and yourself. This is not your fault in any way -- it just is what it is. You probably are charming and witty and awesome to be around, and certainly people are drawn to your strength and underdog-developed abilities, BUT they don't know what to make of you BEYOND that -- where your undernourished self STILL exists, waiting to be nurtured. It's paradoxical how you can be so captivating and yet so unresponsive at the core. You said it yourself -- you get bored easy. You're searching and searching for a real human connection, and yet you haven't found the reassurance that it even exists in anyone yet.

It's rare when I find someone I really want to be around & really like & connect with, which feels kinda isolating but I guess that's just the way I am. & when I do find someone I really like & feel a strong bond/connection with, they seem to wither off, even though they tell me they feel a deep connection with me & a kindred spirit feeling & really nice things like that, all without being asked & just said when we're not even talking about anything remotely on that subject.

Other people who have been neglected as severely as you were can empathize, even if they don't consciously understand what it is about you that makes them so comfortable. It might even unnerve them because they can't understand for themselves (and hence, they wither away). They have their own issues to sort out. Maybe they don't know how to talk about them yet. Maybe they're afraid that you'll think they're crazy. Maybe they can't admit their own truth yet. Either way, clearly you DO have the ability to connect with some people, even if it's not an ability you can master yet.

The great news is that you can STILL learn the skills that your family of origin failed to teach you. This is exactly where therapy (one-on-one or group) can help you. Don't downplay or minimize how damaging neglect and routine torture can have on a child, INCLUDING YOURSELF back when you were a child. It's like you went to music class for YEARS watching other people play instruments, but never having an instrument of your own. Now you have the chance to play, but don't even know how to properly begin. Worse yet, you know how to hang out in a band but no one understands how you can be there and NOT know how to play. It's going to be frustrating because that's a lot of time wasted when you could have been developing your own talent, but it's NOT TOO LATE TO LEARN. Don't believe for one minute that you're meant to be alone. Dysfunction is NOT destiny, so take the reins and re-write your own. Good luck!
posted by human ecologist at 11:42 PM on September 26, 2011 [6 favorites]

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