Am I just too damn judgmental?
November 1, 2011 11:12 AM   Subscribe

Why don't I like new people and how can I get over it and make friends? Long snowflake details inside.

Oh wow, this is going to be a long one.

I've seen vaguely similar questions on here before, even this one on the earlier today (out of which I got a fair amount and used to frame this) covers some of the same territory, but nothing that I feel is close enough to that I'm experiencing or that covers all the bases.

Backstory: I'm a 25 year old guy living in New York City. In middle school I made friends with a handful of people and have been coasting ever since. I would become friends with their friends rather than meeting new people from outside of my immediate social circle. That sort of kept snowballing to the point where I haven't really had to make brand new friends in over twelve years, I've always just met someone who was friends with a friend and got closer to them. In high school I had a fairly large friend group who were mostly friends with each other, and a sizable chunk of us went to the same college. After college, about a year and a half ago, I moved to NYC where I had several close friends already established, and everyone else scattered across the country, as is typical for post-college. Within the past year or so, my handful of NYC friends moved across the country. I keep in touch with them and quite a few of my middle/high school/college friends by text, sporadic e-mails and phone calls, and an occasional visit to go and see them, but I miss how close I felt with many of them and how much I enjoyed their company.

In the meantime, I've made two or three new friends, but nobody that I would necessarily see myself becoming as close to as many friends in the past, or whom I actively seek out to hang out with more than once every two weeks. Now this generally isn't that bad, as I really enjoy being alone, much more so than most people. This can be great when I'm in the mood to just be by myself, work on my hobbies, watch movies, etc, but sometimes it also leads to crushing loneliness when I don't have any real human contact with anyone outside of work for a week or two at a time.

Now, the problem is twofold: I don't like anyone, and nobody likes me.

Now that's a gross exaggeration, but I've been told (and have myself observed) that it typically takes a few meetings for somebody to "get" me and start to like me. I've had some really close friends who said that they didn't really like me the first couple of times we met, but none of them could really seem to pin down why. I don't think I'm particularly abrasive, annoying, or have any major qualities which would immediately turn people off, but I am shy and it takes me some time to open up and feel comfortable around somebody new. It's possible that sometimes I overcompensate for this shyness by talking too much about inane things or making bad jokes, or just get flustered and all my thoughts get scrambled and I come off looking like an idiot. I think I fake it pretty well sometimes, but my guess is that I seem boring and bland the majority of the time when meeting new people.

The other part of that equation is that most people I meet just don't interest me. In situations like school where you have a lot of peers around, I was able to meet far more people and really cherry pick the people that I liked and who excited and interested me. Even then, though, I had a problem taking it past the "classmates who get along well inside class and seem to be compatible" stage. Even grabbing lunch with that person just somehow doesn't translate to friendship down the line. I've been slowly getting better at this with saying things like "How do we hang out again?" if I meet somebody at a party and getting their phone number, but unless it's a date I don't really know how to follow up unless we have something specific in common (i.e. we both like live comedy and I say "I was thinking about going to this show want to come.")

But now that I'm in NYC and meeting far fewer people, I can't even get to that stage most of the time because I just don't seem to care for anyone I meet. In the past I've had a tendency to be judgmental, which I'm sure is still a big part of this, but I don't really know how to fully snap out of that. But half the time that isn't even the problem, as it's not that I dislike someone, but just that I don't like them. I see nothing there that interests or excites me, or makes me want to hang out with that person again. Maybe I would if I got more exposure to them, but as it stands there just isn't a "hook." I just feel completely apathetic about most people as it currently stands.

There are, though, definitely times where I can still see that I'm judgmental. If somebody keeps quoting movies and TV shows at a party, if they show a lack of judgement, or they make comments that I could see as vaguely misogynistic or homophobic (for example, saying "no homo!" jokingly), I tend to write them off right there.

I've tried to get to know people who have similar interests by taking classes, but even if I end up liking someone in that class I have the problem of not knowing how to take it from "Hey let's get some drinks after class" to "Hey, want to hang out this weekend?" Another problem in this vein is that I tend to have vaguely nerdy interests, but everybody seems either way too nerdy for me (to the point where it becomes their lifestyle rather than a hobby/interest, or they can't talk about anything else), or they aren't interested in that sort of stuff at all.

The simple fact, as it seems to me, is that nobody seems to excite me anymore. I very rarely see someone and go "I want to be friends with that person." Sometimes I feel like just giving up and becoming a hermit, but I'd just miss the human contact too much.

Some other things that may have something to do with this:

  • I guard my emotions a lot and it takes quite a bit for me to open up to people. Even many close friends I have a hard time expressing myself to. This is complicated by the fact that I'm not a very introspective person, so even if I want to I have a hard time articulating my emotions because I haven't put them into clear thoughts. Every time I try to I can't really come up with anything concrete, or anything that seems "important" or pertinent to my day-to-day life.

  • I'm also not interested in dating anyone right now, but probably for the same reason: nobody's excited me enough. This has been a problem for years, too, as I've dated some very sweet girls in that time but have ended the relationships because I just wasn't stimulated and it didn't seem fair to them. I've tried meeting dates online but I tend to lose interest before we even meet up in person. I also don't feel like I want the compromise involved in a relationship at this point in my life.

  • I have a lot of Anxiety, with a capitol A. I've been put on different medications for it in the past, but nothing worked and I was able to work on it to the point where it's not nearly as bad as it used to be. Sometimes this takes the form of social anxiety.

  • Sometimes I dread or am not looking forward to things that, when I get there, I actually really enjoy. This can be a date, going out to a certain party, etc. So maybe if I forced myself to talk to people more the same thing would happen?

  • I have a below-average sense of self-worth. It's possible that I don't feel I deserve to hang out with people that I find cool, or don't think I'd be able to if I tried (the latter I kind of feel has been reinforced a few times). So it's definitely not that I think people aren't interesting/cool enough to hang out with me.

  • At times I can be selfish, and I tend not to be very self-aware when it comes to other people's feelings. This is something I've really started to work on over the past year, but it's taking time since I don't have many close friends around me.

  • With those being said, I have had (and do have) quite a few close friends in the past with whom these sorts of things haven't been issues, I'm just trying to make a list of things that might be contributing factors - I may have come off as overly critical of myself, but I generally don't think that way day-to-day. A lot of these things I'm perhaps overstating the degree to which they're true or affect my life or psyche just because I think they may provide additional information.

    Are my standards and expectations too high, as was brought up in mhm407's post? I don't feel like I need someone to completely match me or have the same things in common with me or agree with me politically, just to be interesting to me. If those expectations are too high, how do I change them to start liking people more and get over myself? Is this issue of not wanting compromise for a relationship becoming the same in my friendships? If so, how do I get over that? And a thousand other questions.

    I think I've lost perspective and don't really know where to go from here. I'm guessing all the pieces are laid out but I just haven't figured out how to put the puzzle together yet. Like I said, I'm not very introspective so even getting all this out in as clear of a manner as this was a challenge. Even just typing all of this out gives me an idea of what might be going on (I sound like a colossal, judgmental prick on paper apparently), but I still don't know what to do with that and I'd like to hear some outside thoughts.

    And sorry about the essay length!
    posted by gregoryg to Human Relations (20 answers total) 38 users marked this as a favorite
    You say:
    I've been told (and have myself observed) that it typically takes a few meetings for somebody to "get" me and start to like me.

    The other part of that equation is that most people I meet just don't interest me. In situations like school where you have a lot of peers around, I was able to meet far more people and really cherry pick the people that I liked and who excited and interested me.

    Okay... so you're worried that people take too long to "get" you. Meanwhile, they don't interest you.

    Close friendships don't happen instantly. This isn't childhood, where you see another kid every single day and are forced to learn what they're like, find out you have common interests, and become friends. This process is now in your hands. And you're not going to get interested in someone if you are dismissive of what you initally learn about them. Everyone hides certain interests, or will only show certain aspects of themselves to new people. Friendships take time, close friendships doubly so.

    Having similar interests will not be enough to make you friends with someone. They're a starting point. But my closest friends have little in common with me apart from perhaps similar age or stage of life.

    Everyone is interesting for different reasons! Ask questions, answer theirs honestly. You don't have to be friends with everyone, but if you're open, honest, and engaged when you talk to people, you will make friends.
    posted by smitt at 11:25 AM on November 1, 2011

    Try to be a little less focused on yourself and your own feelings and a little more on others and their feelings. Not only will this help you spot their interesting features but it might help you not bang on at such length about yourself in future. And I mean that as a friendly joke, which I think you can take since you yourself made several references to the length of your post. :-)
    posted by Decani at 11:27 AM on November 1, 2011 [1 favorite]

    Best answer: Sometimes I dread or am not looking forward to things that, when I get there, I actually really enjoy.

    I can receive an invitation to a combination supermodel orgy, hamburger eating contest and action film festival and I would still think "ugh, now I gotta get dressed and take the train and is it even running and is the dog going to be okay by herself and does my girlfriend want to come and ugh ugh ugh" and there's a genuine chance I will stay home to not have to deal with everything that involves my leaving the house. Except that "everything" is really just stupid little bits of bullshit and I'm psyching myself out rather than dealing with really tiny non-problems.

    So, yes, forcing yourself to talk to more people is, in fact, a major answer here. The only way you're going to find interesting people is by, well, finding them.

    Also, you can have kinds of friends; there's no rule saying that every friend has to be someone you can confide in and all that close-friend stuff. Those people who are way too nerdy to hang out with? They can be your Nerdy Hobby friends. Sure, the Nerdy Hobby became their life, but it doesn't have to become yours, and you can still geek out with them about it and then go and still be, well, you. And maybe they'll invite you to parties and you'll meet people who aren't too obsessive over things you like there.

    Oh, and the people who are always quoting things? They're you. Seriously, you might not be constantly quoting shit, but let me quote you: "I overcompensate for this shyness by talking too much about inane things or making bad jokes." Same thing. A social event can be stressful, and being funny with someone else's material sometimes is an easier icebreaker than trying to be funny all by yourself. Give 'em a chance and they might to turn out to be decent people.

    (Don't give an inch to the misogynists and the homophobes and so on. Good job on that.)
    posted by griphus at 11:32 AM on November 1, 2011 [24 favorites]

    I don't feel like I need someone to completely match me or have the same things in common with me or agree with me politically, just to be interesting to me.

    I think a lot of people have the tendency to think, "my interests are X, Y, and Z. I am looking for friends who share at least one of those interests." But your interests don't have to quite that regimented. Think more fluidly. I'll bet you can find a granular—yet fascinating—topic within any area of interest.

    For example:

    A great many Fashion People have the tendency to get under my skin. Not all, but a great amount. (I don't mean neat people who happen to like to dress well and may check out fashion blogs, but Fashion People who work in Fashion and go to Fashion Parties and omgfaaaaaaashionnnnnn.)

    For a long time, I would meet a Fashion Person and just kind of space out on them because they're "uninteresting to me." But! I realized that I am really into the more historical and nerdy sides of fashion—Coco Chanel, Edith Head, and the like. And you know what? So are a lot of Fashion People.

    This opened a door for really interesting conversations with people that I previously thought were uninteresting.

    So maybe be less stringent with categorizing your interests, and see if you can't branch out a bit to become more "jack of all trades." This will also help with the judgmental-ness.

    PS - I live in NYC too. It really does help to have a lot of different sub-interests to chat about.
    posted by functionequalsform at 11:38 AM on November 1, 2011 [3 favorites]

    Best answer: Along the lines laid down by griphus in his first paragraph, I think the underlying problem is your anxiety.

    You've coped with your anxiety by turning down the maximum level of emotional arousal you can experience to the point you can't generate enough heat to forge a bond with anyone.

    I think you need to confront your anxieties at their sources-- with or without the help of therapy-- and stem them there.

    I don't think this will be easy, and I think you should be ready for those sources to be physiological as well as conventionally psychological (though I am struck by the absence of any mention of your family), but I believe that if you are able to deal with your anxiety other than by deadening yourself, color will flood back into the world and deeper relationships will ensue.
    posted by jamjam at 11:56 AM on November 1, 2011 [13 favorites]

    I've been finding peace in giving myself free reign to be uninterested in people. I found that respecting my own opinion about people that is making it easier for me to like the people I do meet. When I was trying to force myself to like people, I would get irritated with them for not making it easy for me to be a "good" person. No one was really good enough, because nobody is that entertaining or exciting right off the bat. Now that the pressure to like them is off, I find that I enjoy drawing people out and finding out what makes them interesting.

    I agree with jamjam and griphus that your underlying problem is probably social anxiety. It's easy to get caught in a cycle that perpetuates itself: it's exhausting to even get yourself out there, so you expect big rewards for making the effort. When the rewards aren't there, you get frustrated and you trip yourself up even more. Then the next social outing is even less rewarding, because the effort you have to put in is even higher. Ultimately, you need to find a way to relieve the pressure you're putting on yourself, or to commit to toughing it out for a few months until you're so used to socializing that it is no longer stressful.
    posted by millions of peaches at 12:07 PM on November 1, 2011 [8 favorites]

    Best answer: (Also: NYC Meetups are pretty fun -- consider going to one. Then go regardless of your considerations.)
    posted by griphus at 12:08 PM on November 1, 2011

    (NYC MetaFilter meetups, I mean.)
    posted by griphus at 12:10 PM on November 1, 2011

    Yeah, even before I read your post I came in to say that my problem with liking new people was All about anxiety: not knowing if they were a Safe quantity, I'd reflexively dislike them. Which, y'no, meant that I came off as standoffish, which didn't win them over, strangely enough.

    I completely agree with jamjam, especially after recognizing myself in so many of your points. Therapy helped me deal with my anxiety and thus deal with a lot of my social stuff. I'm still never going to Like everybody, but I'm no longer barricaded inside my own head in an attempt to stave off the anxiety around new people, thereby further isolating myself in my pain.

    This Good Change really struck home for me when I was Enthusiastic about going to a mefi pub trivia meetup. The old me would've been Terrified of those mefite smart alecks. Healthier me was thrilled to meet a lot of lovely, intelligent, and Fun people.
    posted by ldthomps at 12:11 PM on November 1, 2011

    Best answer: Oh, and the dread, then enjoying the activity - you know that's the social anxiety trying to protect you from the pain of the activity maybe not being fun, right? It's a coping mechanism, but it doesn't serve us well, because we spend all of that time Dreading the Horrible Thing (which is almost never horrible).
    posted by ldthomps at 12:12 PM on November 1, 2011 [1 favorite]

    It seems like a lot of questions, trying to focus on "how can I get over it and make friends, the snowflake edition.

    Please don't think this is being too basic, but I'm just throwing ideas that have worked for me, along with ideas that other people have given me. I think a few of these are likely to work for you, too, because I could probably type a lot of the things that you wrote here .

    Do you like any outdoor activities (cycling, hiking) or could you see yourself trying these things? There are a few group clubs in NYC devoted to doing these things for half the day. You just show up and bike, hike, whatever. Believe it or not, though, it is a great way to make friends and works with some of your identified negatives. The anxiety with people falls away a little bit because you are concentrating on riding/not getting run over/not running over the other person. You rarely need to look at people, and small talk is minimal. If it is something like cycling, you will see the same people week after week, and even smaller groups are formed. So over time, you become desensitized to seeing them as strangers, along with the reverse. Someone will make a small comment about something that is interesting, you make one back...and somehow friendships evolve out of these things. You will still have moments of annoyance, may that person is an idiot, but you have 20 other people to make friend with and ....if you spend enough time with them, you will find things interesting about them. To be honest, I really really have the same exact sentiments of your post, but doing the outdoor activities with groups worked for me.

    The other idea is pick whatever activity you really, really like (and obviously interests you, I don't see this in your post) and that you can do with another person and just post that you find other people to do X with in activities partners in craigslist. It tends to be random, but you can occasionally meet other people that you have things in common with and you hit it off with (and in a city this size, someone somewhere will have the same interests). The other great thing about doing this is during cycles when you don't want to meet people, don't do it and occasionally when you do, post something, you meet a few people right then and that's it.

    The last one has been suggested to me, but I've never done (but it sounds easy). You mention other close friends. Do they have friends in the area? Tell them you would like to meet new friends - your friend(s) are the first commonality, and they will already share things about you and the other people so that they may overlook whatever things you may do or vice versa.
    posted by Wolfster at 12:36 PM on November 1, 2011 [2 favorites]

    My stock answer for questions along these lines is: look into joining a fraternal or service organization. (Elks, Rotary, Moose, Kiwanis, Masons, Odd Fellows, etc.)

    Belonging to a group that meets regularly provides a nicely structured environment in which you can meet and get to know people from all walks of life, who you would never have crossed paths with otherwise. You're not going to click with all of them, but if you get minimally involved (go to regular meetings and the occasional district/regional function) you're bound to make some close connections.

    And yes, as with any regularly structured, scheduled activity there are always going to be those nights where you have to pep talk yourself into going, and more often than not you'll be glad you did. Nobody was more surprised than me when I decided to join a fraternal organization; I am absolutely an introvert, but I realized that I was really missing that basic, casual social interaction that I used to enjoy in school. I wish I hadn't waited as long as I did.
    posted by usonian at 1:01 PM on November 1, 2011 [1 favorite]

    Best answer: Sounds like you have a number of factors coming together to create your situation.

    If people feel judged, or disliked ... they aren't going to make much of an effort to show you their best side. Each friend of mine has some quality that I find frustrating or morally questionable. But those things are outweighed, for me, by their other qualities. The thing is, if you are alert to what is bad or inadequate or annoying in other people, you will most certainly find it. I've done it myself.

    I had a date a couple of weeks ago with a perfectly nice fellow. He was incredibly intelligent but lacking in confidence which (based on the hour or so I spent with him) seemed to drive him to be condescending. I was not having my best night - I was tired and nervous and a bit of a dork. What I sensed (and of course my own insecurities were part of the dynamic too) was that he couldn't tolerate my own inadequacies - because he couldn't make peace with his own.

    When you can laugh at yourself and admit you are not perfect, it's easier to be open to and interested in other people. And the more forgiving and tolerant you are of others, the more you can rest easy with yourself.

    If in your next social situation you find yourself ready to write someone off, slow down and look for something good. Ask a few more questions. Listen a little more. Challenge them (politely). Look for something good and admirable in them. Not with the goal of being their friend necessarily, but with the goal of seeing people as complex. If you can walk away having seen something more than just another annoying X, I think you'll find yourself growing more open.

    To pretend that you are different from others is to participate in an illusion.
    posted by bunderful at 1:04 PM on November 1, 2011 [7 favorites]

    Best answer: You sound a bit like my roommate, who is shy/anxious and internalizes his "I don't belong" feeling into something truly crippling, which is also socially off-putting to others. When something bad happens (some jerky girl at work called him a creeper), he puts it on the giant mountain of evidence that he is socially screwed. When something good happens, he is passive or dismissive and blows the opportunity.

    Bottom line, he tends to be very selfish and self centered, but it's on the negative "pity" spectrum instead of the "arrogant, confident" spectrum. He doesn't think to bring things to social gatherings to share (snacks, supplies) unless someone specifically tells him (and then he may forget). He doesn't think of outings to invite others. He doesn't participate in planning. He doesn't say nice things or give compliments unless prompted. He doesn't think of himself as a positive addition to a group, so he clams up during conversation. He internalizes slights and then separates himself from the group. The poor guy really wants to make friends, but he also expects people to walk up and tell him how to be their friend and completely excuse his quirks. He won't work for it, or think to spend $10 on treats, or create a little special surprise, or remember a birthday.

    So he dislikes people, I think as a defense mechanism. It's not that he's too smart or too weird or whatever to be a friend - or they're too dumb and mean - he just won't look for opportunities. It's frustrating to see exactly what goes on.

    People don't want to tell him his mistakes because he is so sensitive and it feels mean to pick on him, so they just stop making all the friendship effort. And of course, he takes it as more evidence that he is socially screwed. Continue cycle. I have no doubts that when he and I are no longer roommates, I will hear nothing from him despite being his closest local friend.

    Try to care more about others. Be proactive, not passive. Start with your closer friends. Remember their birthdays. Spend effort looking for a nice little present they might like. Think about little favors you can do for them/the group. Plan an event (movie night, card night). Be reliable. It may take time to create momentum, but you may learn to really enjoy people when the friendship is going both ways.
    posted by griselda at 1:42 PM on November 1, 2011 [32 favorites]

    Best answer: One more thing:

    Lots of people need energy to get them going. When you don't show them your energy, they have nothing to feed off of. So basically, both of you are boring to the other, when neither of you may be boring in actuality.

    Be more fun. Other people may respond in kind.
    posted by griselda at 1:50 PM on November 1, 2011 [6 favorites]

    Best answer: One step that is very easy to take, because it requires you to do nothing at all, is to focus seriously on listening when you are talking to someone.

    If you're anything like me, when you get nervous in a conversational setting your mind runs 100mph trying to put together something to say in case you get 'called on.' And that, if you're like me, makes it impossible to listen well.

    And then you get two immediate benefits: a. People really like being listened to, and are more likely to count among their friends those who show an interest in them and b. It will be way easier to think of something to say that is apropos to the conversation and its particular ebbs and flows because you will have been, again, listening.

    This step got my foot in the door, because it didn't require me to step out of my comfort zone. Maybe it will help you too.

    Of course you shouldn't remain completely silent. But don't think about what you're going to say until you've heard ALL of what they say. Then, after a pause for thought, you either have an friendly opinion or anecdote to say, and you say it, or you don't and you ask them a question. And it almost doesn't matter at all what the question is.

    I can't believe I'm giving advice like this, I am miserable at meeting new people. But I know which path is the true path even if I'm not quite on it.
    posted by TheRedArmy at 2:01 PM on November 1, 2011 [5 favorites]

    It might help for you to loosen up your criteria for friendmaking. You're kind of making it sound like a job interview. Friends are friends. It takes a while for them to get you, it takes a while for you to get to know them.

    In the meantime you have to stay cordial and open and just do stuff you enjoy with each other. Proximity builds intimacy--it's rarely love at first sight. There will be a lot of inconsequential small talk and moments where you aren't sure if you're close enough to share something and/or the inadvertent overshare and awkward silences. That's okay.

    fwiw, if you ask a person lots of questions about themselves, not only will they be flattered and like you more, you will actually like THEM more.
    posted by elizeh at 3:41 PM on November 1, 2011

    Response by poster: Thanks you all so much, there's a ton here that I'll be thinking about and trying for a long time. If it didn't feel against the purpose of it, I'd mark everyone as best answer.

    I'd never even considered that it could have much to do with my anxiety, but it definitely makes sense. I'll have to factor that in when I'm trying all the new things. Thanks!

    Try to be a little less focused on yourself and your own feelings and a little more on others and their feelings. Not only will this help you spot their interesting features but it might help you not bang on at such length about yourself in future.

    I think the reason that this was so long was that I don't tend to focus on my feelings, so when I have a (relatively anonymous) outlet I apparently have a lot to talk about. I definitely don't talk like this in conversation (maybe I should to some extent, huh?). I will try to do the former, though.

    (though I am struck by the absence of any mention of your family)

    I did want to address this briefly, even if I'm not sure anything relevant would come out of it. I do talk to my mom every 2-3 days and my dad about once a week. A very good relationship with my mom which only really developed a few years ago, and a fairly good if a little frustratingly uncommunicative one with my dad which has been that way for a long time. My brother and I don't talk very much or very deeply, but get along well enough when we see each other. We never really seem to connect, and he's a bit too eccentric sometimes. My mother, with herself included, considers me the "normal" one in the family, which is probably true compared to my dad and brother. Overall I can definitely talk to my mom about things and she shares everything with me, but I tend not to share much with her. That probably comes from my low sense of self-worth; I may objectively know it's not true, but my mind tends to convince me that "nobody wants to hear all this" or that it isn't important.

    As for extended family, if that's relevant, I've never really known them past the age of 7 or 8. My mother's relationship with her brother and mother was strained at best, so I never had much contact with them, and my father moved across the country to get away from his (very religious) family, to whom he is considered an eccentric. I went to Thanksgiving with some cousins and aunts last year who live on the East coast, but they seem like (very religious) strangers to me and made some very off-color remarks about homosexuals that put me off of them. I guess that just shows a continued pattern of behavior from how I interact with "new" people.

    There I go being long-winded again. TL;DR: Thanks!
    posted by gregoryg at 5:59 PM on November 1, 2011 [1 favorite]

    Response by poster: I meant that I thought each one deserved to be best answer because they all contained great information and perspective, but that the purpose of marking something as a best answer is that people in the future can see which answers were the most pertinent to the situation as a quick reference.
    posted by gregoryg at 5:52 AM on November 2, 2011 [3 favorites]

    Good luck, dude :)
    posted by bunderful at 2:57 PM on November 2, 2011

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