Forever Alone?
November 3, 2011 2:51 PM   Subscribe

When it comes to interpersonal relationships, I’m having a difficult time managing. I only have 3-4 good friends, and I haven’t had a girlfriend since before GW Bush was re-elected in 2004. Lately it even seems like the few friendships I have are suffering. I cant figure out how to move forward from this point in my life.

(TL/DR at bottom)

I’m a early 30s male and I only have 3-4 close friends, and the only thing I have to talk about with them is work or industry stuff. I don’t go out and do anything interesting so I don’t have anything personal to talk about - I don’t have gossip or interesting stories of trips to other cities and people I’ve met, just how I spent my weekend sleeping and watching movies. One of my good friends I’ve known forever moved away to another city this year.

I’ve been in this slump for a long time now - the last time I really felt like I was an adult with friends was 4+ years ago, on a vacation to Portland with a good friend of mine. Now all those friends are married and will soon have kids. The only vacations I take are to go visit relatives across the country. Even if my friends had the time to go, they don’t have the money anymore (thank you economy). I have places I want to visit but I feel like its so lame to go by myself - that and I cant trust myself to force myself to get out of the hotel room in a big city I’ve never been in before.

I haven’t been in a relationship with a woman for longer than 5 months, and that was once, right after college in my mid 20s. Other than that, I have no successful experience with women to speak of - its either them rejecting me or me being oblivious to them and their presumed interest in me. I’m so oblivious, once it wasn't until 5 years later than I thought back and realized a girl was interested in me.

One of the things I’ve realized recently is that I find myself not able to relate to people outside of, for lack of a more accurate term, “nerd culture”. I spend most of my free time sitting around reading stuff on the Internet (here, reddit, tech and environmental blogs, etc). I don’t get outdoors, its usually hanging out at a bar a few times a month with a few friends or going to hang out at a friend’s house. I don’t watch much TV outside of news, sports, and the occasional Daily Show, so I don’t have much to talk about at the water cooler. I do volunteer with a STEM program for middle school kids, but most of my work is in the background doing technical stuff (run the website, manage electronic submittals, etc) not interacting with people.

But lately all I’ve wanted to do was sit inside, alone, and sleep. I’m not even tired, but I’ll sleep to pass the time. I’ll enjoy my dreams more than I will being awake and bored, so why not? I don’t even want to play video games anymore - I’ve got all three game systems and haven’t played a game in months, I just bought ICO/Shadows of Colossus and played 15 minutes and quit.

I don’t feel like I have much to say to anyone who isn’t some ultra-supersonic-type computer, technology or environmental nerd like myself. Even outside of those nerd interests, my other interests tend to be very niche - commercial aviation for example.

Maybe I’m just a boring person. Maybe my social skills have rusted and I’m struggling to use them in their damaged form. Its quite different than my youth, when I was always calling up my friends (probably to the point of annoying them) to hang out and play video games or play football outside. Its almost as if I’m permanently zoned out as an adult (socially at least, I’m smart and respected at work).

I’ve been struggling to reconcile these things, to figure out a path forward. I don’t have any internal motivation to change, to get out and do something - I have the unreasonable expectation that solutions will fall into my lap. One of my friends invited me out to go rock climbing, which seems way out of my comfort zone, especially for a first effort. On the girl front, I’ve tried dating websites to no avail - 50+ messages sent out in the past year or so with zero responses (it takes me an hour to craft a 3 sentence message - I have a hard time figuring out what to say or what to ask to prompt a response; but I do type in full, grammatically correct sentences which I hear is a plus).

Other notes I’m adding based on searching MeFi for similar issues
- Yes I’ve read “How to win friends and influence people”, its on my Kindle so I can read it again anytime I want.
- I enjoy talking to people when I’m teaching or explaining something, or they’re teaching me. I spent 45 minutes talking to my boss the other day at work, explaining the complex details behind electric cars and batteries.
- All of the hobbies/interests I have are strongly male dominated, and quite frankly I’m sick of being so involved in male dominated hobbies.
- No pets, I have a weird work schedule, long 12+ hour days at work with Fridays off. I wouldn’t want an animal to be stuck at home for that long with no one else around.
- I feel like I have poor social judgment skills, again most likely because they haven’t been used much before. I don’t know what to say, or not say, so I just don’t say anything lest I make a mistake. I have this incredible memory where I can remember almost every dumb/embarrassing thing I’ve ever said or done but I cant remember most of the “good times”.

TL/DR (because this is over two pages long): I have very few friends, haven’t had a girlfriend in over 8 years, my social skills feel very rusty and I have no motivation to get out and do anything to fix it. My life is in a rut. Email if you must
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (11 answers total) 24 users marked this as a favorite
Volunteer. Every town has some kind of charity/non-profit to volunteer at.

This way:
a) you're meeting other volunteers with similar interests
b) you have something interesting to talk about
c) it might give you that spark you need to do more

I'm in a pretty similar situation to you, honestly, and my wife of 8 years just moved 2.5 hours away for a job, meaning I've got even more time/less human contact. But you've got to get out there. No one is going to knock on your door.

Good luck.
posted by Fister Roboto at 3:03 PM on November 3, 2011

The reasons I want to say therapy:

I’m not even tired, but I’ll sleep to pass the time.
I don’t even want to play video games anymore
Maybe I’m just a boring person.
Its almost as if I’m permanently zoned out as an adult (socially at least, I’m smart and respected at work).

I'm not trying to diagnose you over the internet, but these aren't good ways to be feeling about yourself and it sounds like you've got yourself stuck in a pattern.

I think this is a common thing that can happen in your early thirties, especially if you've been single for a while. Just because it's common doesn't mean therapy's not a good idea though. Find one who shares your interests/is close in age and they'll help you get back in the swing of things.
posted by sweetkid at 3:10 PM on November 3, 2011 [3 favorites]

This sounds like depression to me (especially the sleeping). I've had two male friends who had similar problems and they both benefited immensely from seeing a psychiatrist. In both situations, the psychiatrist really helped them get out and make new friends and girlfriends. So I think your first step is to get help. There's no shame in it. And the difference with both my friends was night and day.

But what both my friends did with the help of their respective shrinks was try to new activities where they could meet new people. One friend joined the Hash House Harriers (a running club) and the other joined a committee for a local festival and a social theater group. So once you are feeling better and a little more energetic, try some new clubs. Just pick something you are interested in (metafilter meetups might be a great place to start). And as far as vacations go, if you can't find someone to go with you then there are lots of different ways to still go on vacation. A few ideas come to mind: (1) Volunteer with a group in a foreign country or city. I'm sure if you google for it, you can a volunteer service trip. My volunteer group has a trip to new orleans every couple of years to build houses. (2) Go on vacation with a singles vacation group. There are companies that sponsor vacation group trips for singles or (3) go on a trip by yourself and stay in a hostel. I have a friend who did this and ended up meeting a boyfriend in the hostel.

The gist is to just get out of your house and meet as many new people as you can.
posted by bananafish at 3:16 PM on November 3, 2011

You sound depressed IYANAPorT based on this paragraph But lately all I’ve wanted to do was sit inside, alone, and sleep. I’m not even tired, but I’ll sleep to pass the time. I’ll enjoy my dreams more than I will being awake and bored, so why not? I don’t even want to play video games anymore - I’ve got all three game systems and haven’t played a game in months, I just bought ICO/Shadows of Colossus and played 15 minutes and quit.
I fall into this sleep/boredom pit when I'm depressed. Personally I would try to figure out if it's chemical or situational. If it's situational the good news is you can fix it; the bad news is it's up to you to motivate and push yourself to change your circumstances (which in the beginning means going outside your comfort zone and doing stuff you don't really want to do, it gets easier and leads to fun as the depression lifts). If it's chemical Dr. up.
posted by estronaut at 3:16 PM on November 3, 2011

My advice is to try to make your life interesting and exciting enough that you don't care if you're single or have friends. Those types of connections are much easier to make when you're engaged and excited by the world around you. If you struggle to come up with things you are passionate about, try reading The Artist's Way and trying out some new activities.

If you still would rather sleep and watch TV than try something new, consider passive interests (TV, Internet, sleep) as something earned by activity. For example, if you want to sit and watch two seasons of a TV show on a Saturday afternoon, you'd better have gone for a bike ride (or taken a painting class, or a cooking class, or a tour of a weird factory, or something outside of the house) to have "earned" that day sitting around doing nothing. Passive activities are always optional. Consider being a more interesting person your 2nd job and "relaxing" comes second.

Reach out to people - volunteer in a way that makes you engage. Join the film society or a Meetup group. Try to reconnect with people who've dropped off your radar. Help nonprofit or local efforts that have little resources. Feel good about being a good person.

If you still can't pull yourself up and out of the chair/bed/sweatpants, you need to consider therapy because that seems like depression to me. It may not be the worst idea to learn more about yourself and what ways you might be sabotaging your own progress.
posted by SassHat at 3:20 PM on November 3, 2011 [3 favorites]

Just on the travel point, I was in the same boat. I'm 40 now, and had been waiting since I was about 18 for at least one of my friends to want to, or be able to afford to travel with me. A few months ago someone pointed out a really cheap airfare deal to me, so I just took the plunge and bought a ticket. In some ways it was the biggest impulse decision I've ever made, but, it was over 20 years in the making, so in that way it was far from impulsive.

It was pretty much the biggest trip you can do from my part of the world. Melbourne to London. And I did it on my own. I didn't plan too much in advance - I just booked the first few nights accomodation for when I arrived, then left it all open. I only ever planned 1 or 2 days in advance. I ended going to London, Amsterdam, Berlin and Paris. I saw the Berlin Wall (what remains), stood on Hitler's bunker, walked through Hyde Park, had coffee in Paris, watched with the French as they lost the Rugby World Cup in a bar called "Le Rugby" at 10AM on a Sunday, visited a famed Amsterdam "coffeeshop" ..... etc.

It was awesome. I'm proud that I did it on my own, and others have said the same to me. And now I have interesting stories to tell my few good friends back home.

My points:
1 - Solo travel. Yeah, I got lonely, but not really that much more lonely than when I'm at home. But going solo meant I had complete freedom to go where I want and do what I want, when I want.

2- Just take the first step. Book a ticket. Do it. It all works itself out from there. The internet and a healthy bank balance help a lot, obviously.
posted by Diag at 4:20 PM on November 3, 2011 [6 favorites]

First of all, count your friends based on quality not quantity.

Second, if you are bored/boring then you lack curiosity. Here's how it works.

curiosity -> action -> interest -> repeat

You start with a question ("What if...?" or "Why does...?" etc.) which will lead you to think, "Let's find out!" and then take some action. The action will provide some information related to the question but will also open up another layer of questions that can be asked. The process of answer-seeking will build interest and lead to more curiosity. Keep the curiosity ball rolling and you'll find your interest level rising.

The more interested you are, the more interesting you become.
posted by trinity8-director at 4:27 PM on November 3, 2011 [2 favorites]

Where are you? I ask because it's easier to get involved in things when you're in a relatively large city. To wit, when I felt this way back in 2007, I

1) started volunteering at a local no-kill shelter and also through a volunteer organization that had new and different opportunities posted each week for anyone who registered. Although I didn't meet any new friends through these activities, I could have if I'd actually emailed the people who gave me their contact info;

2) Started going to the gym regularly;

3) Started eating right;

4) Made a promise to myself that so long as I honored a few particular obligations to myself -- to volunteer; to go to the gym regularly; to eat right -- I would not take any shit from myself. That is, every time that negative voice popped up in my head to criticize me and what my life looked like, or every time the dreaded Voice of Self-Pity pointed out that it was a Saturday night and I was inside on the computer, I shut it down and said, "No, nuh-uh, we made a deal: I'm doing these three awesome things that are all good for me, so fuck off." This may have been the most important part of my action plan: to find a way to stop judging myself so harshly. It made everything so much easier.

Strangely, after a few months of this routine (and it was not easy to stick to at first), my life started looking and feeling a lot better. A lot of wonderful things happened. I don't believe in the Secret and all that BS, but I do believe that good things happen when you allow yourself to be open-eyed to their appearance and open-eared to them knocking at the door. Suddenly I was one of those people I'd used to envy: I had friends and lots of stuff going on and, most importantly, lots of energy with which to do these things.

To put it slightly differently: figure out what this imaginary person in your head is who you'd like to be. Figure out what he would be doing right now. Make a list of things he would do -- concrete things, like volunteering or cooking healthy food for himself or taking improv classes or being a daily gymgoer (not intangible qualities or things you can't actively do, like "be an amazing chef, sociable, have lots of friends, be happy"). Pick three or four of those activities and commit to doing them on a regular basis for the next six months, even if they don't seem enjoyable at first, even if you're uncomfortable as hell when doing them. You may be surprised where you find yourself in April 2012.
posted by artemisia at 4:27 PM on November 3, 2011 [21 favorites]

I have places I want to visit but I feel like its so lame to go by myself - that and I cant trust myself to force myself to get out of the hotel room in a big city I’ve never been in before.

Don't feel lame. Do things by yourself. So much of what forms the foundation of sharing with other people consists of what you do on your own. I have a lot of niche interests that my friends aren't particularly interested in-- poetry readings, Church history, blah blah-- but people are attracted to that. It makes you more interesting and well-rounded, and I find that doing things on my own is more nourishing for its own sake than doing those things with others, which is more a social event. Get out and do social things, too, but if you aren't happy watching movies alone every weekend, start getting out of the house and learning new things.

Also, from personal experience, it does sound like you have depression/anxiety. Medication can make a big difference, as can recontextualizing your lack of involvement in the outside world. Finding new ways to think about things (on your own or through CBT) and setting goals for yourself can help you build momentum. Also, there's nothing inherently wrong with watching movies all weekend, if you like thinking and talking about movies. If you're watching them purely to pass the time and you feel bad about that, start thinking about reading books or watching movies toward a goal. When I'm having social dry spells I usually direct my attention toward some subject I want to learn about, and watch movies I wouldn't necessarily chose for escapism purposes, but which I'm glad to watch. If you're having trouble feeling curious about anything, that is standard depression.

Also, setting up movie dates with someone else can help, if you and a friend want to start watching Ingmar Bergman movies but need a push to get past those dreary Scandinavian close-ups, or something. Then you have something to talk about, too.
posted by stoneandstar at 4:36 PM on November 3, 2011 [2 favorites]

This is the point in your life where you need to push beyond your definitions of yourself. Do something that you think you might do badly. In your case, you should get out of your head. I might suggest one or more of the following:

Dance class
Foreign language class
Rock climbing
Martial arts

You will grow only if you continue to learn new skills and push the envelope. And as you get older, it is that much more crucial to be fluid. Do you want to be the exact same person at 50 as you were at 30?

Also, i would like to nth the idea of solo travel. It is marvelous. You don't have to make joint decisions about where to have dinner, and it is much easier to change one's itinerary on a whim. And not being joined at the hip with a companion makes you more open to meeting people. My two weeks plus in Scotland were very rewarding, even if there were occasional bouts of loneliness.

Good luck!
posted by computech_apolloniajames at 7:31 PM on November 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

Definitely seconding the dance class recommendation - women love a guy who can dance and it's good for the mind and body. The hard part is getting over yourself, because you're going to suck at it the first few times and feel very self conscious. Keep going.

Also chiming in on the travel alone recommendation. I recently went to Las Vegas. It kind of sucked being by myself, I won't lie, but I did many neat things and at least I now have something interesting to talk about with others. Vegas turned out to be a good choice because there is so much going on in a small area. Just get out and walk.
posted by griselda at 9:58 AM on November 4, 2011

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