I have no idea how to summarize this.
November 4, 2011 7:19 PM   Subscribe

Help me interpret my situation and figure out the practical implications of the social advice/philosophies that my friends have been giving me about it. (Warning: a super long and arguably dramatic story awaits you.)

So for the past year, I have been feeling rather dissatisfied with my social interactions with others. Entering a university right across the country for the first time last year (I'm now in second year), I had some fairly high expectations of the connections that I would be able to make. I was told that universities were chock-full of intelligent people who would share your interests; that the friendships that you made during university would be life-long, some of the strongest ones you would ever have; that you would be able to meet people who fully enjoyed and accepted you for who you were. You know. All of the typical "university is a great place to build connections" repertoire from older friends and family.

Sparkly-eyed by all of the idealistic talk, I made a commitment to myself to step up my efforts to get to know people - a pretty big leap for me, someone who had, l throughout the earlier stages of my academic procession, very rarely shown any interest in others at all! This aspect of me was actually pretty severe: to the point that some of my teachers even suspected that I was autistic and shuttled me off to a psychologist to get tested in grade 7. (If you're curious: the psychologist did eventually diagnose me with Asperger's Syndrome, but I never paid much heed to it simply because even at a younger age, I was still highly conscious of the absurdity of the testing. One of the memories I still have of the testing was a question where the therapist asked me to pick two objects out of a list that were the most similar - although I knew the "correct" answer would be "Fish and Fin", I chose "Fish and Spider" because I thought it would be more reasonable on a taxonomical classification since I was dealing with someone with a PhD. The psychologist simply shook his head disapprovingly, muttered to himself as he scrawled down notes on his pad, and I had to purse my lips to avoid giving a snarky comment on how patronizing he was being. Even now, while I reflect back on it: while certain aspects of the diagnosis do ring true, other aspects do not. The diagnosis has always struck me as a form of therapeutic cold-reading: by presenting itself as an array of symptoms that could be considered as personality traits, it offers reassurance to those feeling out of the norm. Consequentially, I've always had a disdain for it. But I digress.)

To me - or at least the me who was starting university - I always thought that my lack of social interest wasn't as much caused by ineptitude as it had been just a lack of resonance between myself and others. My interests never matched up with any of my schoolmates or peers when I was younger; and beyond that, I had a pretty bad habit of looking down on them as well. I was always extremely goal-orientated, something that still persists to today. Part of the reason why would have been due to my severe hearing loss: while I could certainly still communicate verbally with others with no problem, to do so would require a tremendous concentration on my behalf since I would have to drop everything and focus 100% on the person in order to speechread them properly. As a result, all throughout my earlier schooling life, I always regarded casual interaction as too much of a hassle for too little payout. (Of course, this philosophy has changed much in the past year as I increasingly begin to realize the emotive and mental benefits of socialization and making friends that I had never considered in the past.)

But when I needed to put in the effort to engage people (mostly because I needed them for whatever grand scheme I had going on at that point in life), I would have no problem whatsoever. Many would certainly describe me as overwhelmingly charismatic when I put in the effort to be (again, something that persists today - I have an extreme degree of success as a student politician in thanks to this trait of mines), and I never had any trouble in amassing hordes of people around me to do whatever I wanted to do. I remember running around my elementary school and amassing several hundred signatures from practically every kid in a petition to "end homework" in grade 6. And in high school, I shocked many by raising nearly a thousand dollars for a charity simply by going to the forefront of each class and delivering a smooth salespitch - while other clubs would struggle to raise even a hundred dollars by doing the exact same thing.

And my routine seemingly worked, or at least for the opening throes of university. In particular, I exercised it on my floor in residence last year. Everyone was seemingly caught up in my wave of charisma. I had developed numerous connections and made my acquaintance with a great array of people. I certainly gave damned good first impressions, if anything. But before I could sit down and pat myself on the back for a job well done, I realized that things felt horribly wrong.

While it was hard for me to completely elucidate and express the feelings of wrongness that I had, the physical effects seemed fairly noticeable to me. Everyone's relationships were advancing so fast without me; while they were achieving what seemed like whole new heights of complexity amongst themselves, my relationships with them continued to remain fairly shallow. To give you an example, by November, everyone had already chosen their roommates for next year - and I was just sitting there, boggered by how fast they got to knew each other to make that decision (naturally, I'm living alone off-campus right now.) I was constantly being overlooked - while everyone was running about with each other and inviting everyone else everywhere, I would just sit in my room daily, door propped open, but no one peering inside to engage me in plans at all. And while I was reassured by my suite-mate that it was simply my imagination - occasionally, when I passed groups of my floormates walking by, I would swear that I could see my name being spoken in a malicious light on their lips. Of course, it was absurd - I had done nothing to make them dislike me, and they were still very openly affable to me, but it contributed to my feeling of ostracization.

If I were to put a word upon it now after significant reflection, I would say that I lacked any feeling of community or comradeship with my so-called "friends".

Naturally, I had many very plainspoken conversations with my floor-mates about this issue. They were all very surprised that I was feeling this way. And while they reassured me that it was nothing malicious and that everyone loved me very dearly, the situation simply wouldn't reverse itself. I got the feeling that what was occurring was just something no one could consciously control. Before long, I began isolating myself out of frustration and an acute depression; while at the start of this, people would pound on my door to inquire what was wrong, eventually, they just all left me alone. Eventually, word got to my ears through my suite-mate that the majority of my floor had concluded that I was simply being immature and in my "angsty teen" stage that "everyone went through when they were 13" and that they felt the best solution was just to leave me alone like the spoiled kid I was. I was furious! I felt as if they were being too presumptuous in judging the situation without even comprehending what my true concerns were; and I felt like I was being patronized by them. But I chose to say nothing more to them, being too tired and miserable to want to make them understand.

Those feelings hung over me like a dark cloud throughout the entire year, keeping me in a constant state of melancholy while I was inside the residence (outside of residence was a different issue: even I was unnerved by the stark contrast just caused by locale - I was still pursuing a highly successful platform on student council and overachieving in all my classes). While I tried a few more times to reconnect to my peers under the faint hope that I had erred in my judgment, those feelings of depression paired with (from my point of view) the numerous misconceptions that were hovering all about quickly shut me down.

I'm glad to be out of that situation.

If anything, it left me very hopeless and exhausted about people for a great deal of time. I rationalized to myself that I had been too overconfident in my assessment of myself. I didn't know what was going wrong with my interactions with others, but I attributed it to a lack of experience: because I had avoided friendships when I was younger, I had missed something fundamental, something unspoken. And it terrified me because of the great time stretch it represented. I had unknowingly developed a social stunt that tailed all the way back to elementary school. And here I was, with everyone but me on the same page and continuously progressing in their maturity, with myself stuck all the way at the back. While I was at no loss for casual company at my university (I still had plenty of acquaintances outside of the residence from my classes and extracurricular involvement), I reasoned to myself that because of my ineptitude, I would never be able to develop any true emotional ties with people. That scared me.

But that hopelessness eventually did wind to a halt, and despite my rational objections to it, I've found myself beginning to reach out to others at the beginning of the year again. It was so frustrating. I wished nothing more but to return to my old, self-sufficient personality; and yet, I found myself increasingly wanting to be connected to others. Deeply irritated at my irrationality, but still recognizing that there was nothing that I could do to quench these feelings, I found myself in a juxtaposition of hopefulness at a second fresh start, and despair that I would make the same mistakes again.

I decided the best option would be to confer with two life-long friends in other cities I've had to see what their recommendations were.

One was vastly different from me; she was a girl with an extreme number of connections, highly affable and involved socially, having grown up in a way that I considered "normal" for everyone else - had she not have been the daughter of a family friend of mine's, I would have never had any connections with her, but now, I'm grateful that I remained tied to her, if only out of obligation; I ended up visiting her in her city on a three-day weekend that I had to talk over these things with her, and we had a blast where she introduced me to all of her friends and just had a generally good time. Another, in the States, was fairly similar to me in circumstance and nature, and he described having similar thoughts and problems when I contacted online for one of our routine chats. I gave both an (abridged) rendition of my first year, and asked them for their take on it.

Surprisingly, both gave me very extremely similar themes as to why my social life in university hadn't worked out the way that I wanted it to. They gave me very similar assessments of how I differed from others, and explained why I wasn't getting gratification through the same avenues.

For one, both pointed to how I would squeeze every drop of use out of every conversation that I would have. Both told me that for every single conversation they would have with me, it wouldn't be as much as just "juggling words" like they did with other people (pleasantries, like my first friend described it), but more like keeping up with me (this was the part where I frantically asked my first friend if she felt like I was acting superior to others, but she reassured me that she never felt that way because I was always very patient and willing to wait and listen to other formulate their thoughts). They told me that typical conversations were just empty words - and mine's never were. While they could be serious or casual or fun or philosophical, they would always make people think. I would constantly respond with an opinion, an assessment, just something that would keep it going on a higher level. And both told me that while some people enjoyed that aspect of me (they certainly did, having been friends with me for so long), most people didn't. My second friend cynically told me that most people were selfish, and wished to maintain relationships without much effort on their behalf at all, mental or otherwise.

My first friend also told me that most people preferred to be around people just because they didn't want to be alone, and that wouldn't ever apply to me. She said that for someone as goal-orientated as myself, I would never bother just "hanging out" with people, and she said that was the majority of what most people would do in a friendship - just sitting around and exchanging idle conversation and enjoying not being alone. For someone who always wanted constant movement, I wouldn't be content in a point of perceived stasis - and she told me that was the reason why people wouldn't become as "comfortable" with me as with others.

Beyond that, I think the overarching theme that they had for me was that I was greatly over-exaggerating the depth of relationships that other people had with each other. In spite of all of their perceived closeness from an outside perspective, they were extremely fragile and just based upon mutual selfishness rather than emotional connection like I had assumed. And for someone like me, who wanted to not only constantly receive, but constantly give, that avenue just wouldn't work out. I needed more time and depth for people to get to know me because I just wasn't conventional enough of a person to be subjugated to the typical methods.

While I thanked them for their take on it, I couldn't help but feel that perhaps the way they were seeing it was just highly biased because they knew me so well and we had been friends for so long. In fact: their answers frustrated me just a little bit. I had wished it to be an issue with myself, not with others, because in that case, I could work at changing myself. But rather, the way they painted it was an issue with other people, not with me - something that I couldn't do anything about. And while I was grateful for their assessments of me, because I found them rather flattering, to be honest, I felt annoyed. Somehow, I just wanted to be like everyone else in spite of the shallowness that they were speaking of. Even now, I worry if I'm socially stunting myself by not participating in the party scene and inebriating myself and hooking up with the most proximate person like everyone else, as weird as that might sound. But the way that they were portraying me answered to why I would never be at ease in those situations. Those situations, as my friends explained it, were just casual meet and greet events where you were being with others under the pretense of being social, but not really being social due to the loud music, darkness and expectation that you just drift from person to person every minute. They were the "feel good" things that I detested but others loved. They do have a point, I suppose.

I'm not debunking my friends' assessments as completely untruthful, but I'm wondering if perhaps there are other sides to this that I'm missing. And while their answers were very reassuring, they don't give me much to work with. While I certainly do converse with them on a certain level, my current interactions at my own university town are now completely static - engaging in the pleasantries that I despise so much, without any idea of how I can elevate the depth of those interactions to the level at which I would like them to be at. And while they tell me to just give it time, I'm not entirely sure if that's the answer. What is the trigger?

To be perfectly clear, while I encourage you to throw out whatever thoughts you might have on this issue (since it's quite long and complex), I'm looking for some answers just as a starting point:
  • - Do my friends have a point? Do you observe most "typical" social interactions to be as they described? Would you describe this as a post-secondary student phenomena, or is it more universal throughout life?
  • - Given that I found that my friends were particularly insistent that I had no fault other than being bestowed with my existing personality in my circumstances, that seems unrealistic to me. Can you pinpoint anywhere my story where you might find that I might be at issue?
  • - Is there any way for me to escalate my current, extremely shallow relationships to what I actually consider as friendships?

Also, to be very clear: I'm not looking for the usual conventional answers of "get more involved in extracurricular events" (I have enough on my plate, and I have enough acquaintances to work with; it's just the escalation that's an issue), "find common interests" (interests seem like a very poor starting point for me; my friends share very few interests with me, and I can't pinpoint any commonalities other than just "it's all over the map". Plus, I enjoy the challenge of getting along with someone highly dissimilar to me) or "get therapy" (Been there, done that. The results have not been particularly invigorating; I'm not concerned about the mental health issues that internet stranger syndrome may diagnose me with, and please do not fall prey to the True Scotsman Fallacy if I point out that all of my almost dozen therapists were not helpful, they simply weren't the "right therapists".)

:P Thanks for reading this crazy long question. I hope you at least enjoyed it.
posted by Conspire to Human Relations (37 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
I was told that universities were chock-full of intelligent people who would share your interests; that the friendships that you made during university would be life-long, some of the strongest ones you would ever have; that you would be able to meet people who fully enjoyed and accepted you for who you were. You know. All of the typical "university is a great place to build connections" repertoire from older friends and family.

I don't know where you got these ideas (TV? Movies? Family?), but I think that this is really off. And the sooner than you can get that ideal out of your head and 'live in the now', the better.

Sure, university students are probably more intelligent, on average, than your average high school kid, but really a lot of university students are merely there to gain some independence from their parents and get a credential that is considered essential for employment in North America. Maybe at very very elite schools do you find the sort of intellectually stimulating environment (and without a doubt it is more like what you describe at my undergrad (UMichigan) and where I currently teach (Georgetown) than it was at the large California public university where I did my graduate work.)

Friendships in university -- well, yeah, maybe some of them are life-long and some of them are strong, but to be honest with you (for an n = 2), I (and my spouse) have much closer relationships with our post-college friends than our college friends. Once you're out in the 'real world' and you have more agency and money to make choices, friendships are a lot different. In college you have a ton of free time, as does everyone else. So friendships are designed around free time - playing video games, watching TV.
Adult friendships, where everyone works 40 hours a week, are much different because of the limited amount of time you have to spend with each other.
posted by k8t at 7:26 PM on November 4, 2011 [5 favorites]

I'll summarize:
What is the trigger for truly deep friendships, and how can I move my university friendships in that direction?
Somewhat longer summary of your question:
Prior to coming to university last year, I wasn't interested in making friends, but I put this down to "lack of resonance between myself and others." I had high hopes for the kind of friendships I'd find a university.

In first year, I made a lot of friends quickly, but their friendships deepened while "my relationships with them continued to remain fairly shallow." They didn't seek me out for company, didn't invite me to events or to become roommates for next year, etc. I wanted connection with them and was depressed to miss out.

Some facts about me: I have an old diagnosis of Asperger's, but I disdain it because the testing was unconvincing. I've seen therapists and did not find them to be useful. I have severe hearing loss, which can make socializing taxing. But I'm charismatic when I put in the effort.

I asked two friends for advice. Both said:
1. My conversational style is intense and I don't like to just "hang out" like most people do (I am "goal-orientated" even in socializing) and this can make people uncomfortable.
2. I was exaggerating the depth of other people's friendships; I wouldn't be happy with the type of less-intense friendship that most of my residence-mates have, so I shouldn't feel like I'm missing out.

I'm frustrated because this suggests it will be hard for me to find the kind of friendship I want. I am stuck at the small-talk level with most people, and can't get deeper. "And while they tell me to just give it time, I'm not entirely sure if that's the answer. What is the trigger?"
posted by LobsterMitten at 8:02 PM on November 4, 2011 [13 favorites]

I think your friends have probably given you some very good advice, if your conversational style is as intense as they suggest.

Many people - especially early in friendships, like during the first year of university - want acceptance and comfort from their close friends. University is a stressful situation, and their goal is to build spaces where they can feel "at home", and have comfort and a feeling of lessened stress/worry/exposure. In some cases being too intellectually intense (for example, having debates about issues, or sharing beliefs about deep questions) in conversation can make people feel as if they are working to win your approval, or as if they must defend their views or risk looking foolish, and that's not a relaxing feeling for them.

Let's say there are three groups:
1. Some people don't ever want to have intellectual conversations, but let's ignore them for now.
2. Some people will have intellectual conversations without hesitation -
3. Some people do like to have intellectual conversations with people they feel comfortable with, but who don't like to have those conversations if they feel uncertain or as if you might be judging them.

I think you may just need to look for members of group 2 - you will need to look around campus to find them. Try the philosophy club, try the debate society maybe, try political science or pre-law ...and other clubs or specialities where people are comfortable taking conversational risks, getting into debates without feeling like their worth is being challenged, etc.

If you want to make deep friendships with members of group 3, you need to give them space to get comfortable with you and learn to trust you before you'll get the conversations you want from them. This means learning when to back off, learning the signs that someone is becoming uncomfortable or stressed by a particular line of conversation, and being willing to let it go and just change the subject gracefully. It means not criticizing others for their intellectual faults -- if you say to Jim "I was talking to Mary and she made a fallacious argument", then Jim will feel that he must be on his guard when he talks to you.
posted by LobsterMitten at 8:21 PM on November 4, 2011 [9 favorites]

Meant to add:
The pleasantries and small talk are meant to establish, over a period of time, that you are a trustworthy social partner. That you won't make fun of them (in a mean way) if they say something stupid, that you won't push them to continue a conversation they're uncomfortable with, etc. They are test conversations, where you show your considerateness in talking about low-risk topics, so that people trust you enough to talk about higher-risk topics. So those social niceties do have a purpose.

Also, have you asked people to do things, rather than waiting for them to invite you? Would you feel comfortable asking a few friends to go to dinner together, or have a standing Thursday afternoon time at the coffeeshop/pub to get together, host a movie night at your place, that sort of thing?
posted by LobsterMitten at 8:28 PM on November 4, 2011 [17 favorites]

This post is exhausting. My connection with it, through you, is exhausting. I'm not saying this to bash you. I'm saying this to observe that your friends are, I think, absolutely right.

I think you're wrong to discount extracurricular events as a way to meet people. It doesn't matter if you both love soccer, but it might matter if the other person is, say, a huge philosophy or science nerd, or maybe even a politics nerd -- even if you are not. This is dreadful stereotyping and far from universally true, but... this kind of goal-oriented conversation you seem to want isn't normal. The way in which friendships are deep is often different than the way in which interactions (conversations) are deep.

Exhausting is the word I keep coming back to. People don't want to be exhausted all the time. Speaking just for myself, when I feel like someone is too eager, earnest, and exhausting in the way you seem to be, I don't typically give them a chance to get close despite the fact that they seem like perfectly nice and good people.

My take away is that you need to learn to chill and shoot the shit and be comfortable with moments of silence. If you just want to get closer to people. If you want to find people who will give you what you think you need in conversation and interpersonal relationships, maybe don't change anything, but recognize that it may take time to meet someone like you.
posted by J. Wilson at 8:31 PM on November 4, 2011 [34 favorites]

this is incredibly long, so i didn't read everything, but it does seem like you write very well!
p.s. thanks for the summary, lobstermitten!

alright, well back to the questions:
Do my friends have a point? Do you observe most "typical" social interactions to be as they described?Would you describe this as a post-secondary student phenomena, or is it more universal throughout life?
-your friends have a point because if someone's conversational style is intense then it will steer people away. it doesn't mean that they dislike you, but they don't know how to deal with your personality. the best way to change this is to become more aware of how you present yourself to others while remaining true to yourself.

i don't perceive all interactions the way that your friend described and that's because i need a balance in my life. i think the trick is to slowly build relationships and allow them to become more in-depth over time. avoid in-depth heart-to-heart conversations or intellectual debates with other people until you can call them a friend. if you have heart-to-heart conversations too early then it comes across as too needy and if you have intellectual debates too early then people will assume that you have a need for perfection and that you enjoy arguing often or proving others wrong which would throw people off.

i can't answer the question about post university because i'm in my final year of university.

Given that I found that my friends were particularly insistent that I had no fault other than being bestowed with my existing personality in my circumstances, that seems unrealistic to me. Can you pinpoint anywhere my story where you might find that I might be at issue?

-please don't take this the wrong way, but certain people are going to like your quirks, other people are going to dislike them, and some people will find a way to handle them. i didn't read a lot of your question because it was 3000+ words long, but the very creation of your question is an indication of an aspect of your personality. that means that you like to hone in on many details in order to provide people with a big and well detailed picture. meanwhile, someone like myself prefers to see a big picture without too many details. lobstermitten was able to handle this question by managing the situation and creating a summary for everyone else. other people that respond will either not read your question in its entirety because they prefer a big picture or will read your question and enjoy every minute of it because you write very well. my point is: every single person has quirks, some people will appreciate you for it, others will steer away from it, and others will learn to handle it. but these quirks make you unique, they make all of us unique because we all have them. your quirks aren't the be-all-end-all of relationships, but it affects how others perceive you.

Is there any way for me to escalate my current, extremely shallow relationships to what I actually consider as friendships?
if you are looking to get to know these people that live in the same residence as you or attend the same classes as you then my tips are to: be yourself, don't worry about what other people think and people will come flocking to you, fake confidence, show different sides of you but in small doses that way people get a feel for who you are without knowing every detail about your life. oh, and don't over analyze and apologize too much to others (not sure if you do that, but if you do then avoid this at all costs). this semester i learned these things the hard way but it was worth it because i met a lot of great people by following these things that i learned from previous experiences.

sorry if i offended you in any way, my intentions were to just be honest because i have been where you have been. it's helpful to have someone tell you what might not be working, especially when these people (such as myself or your friends) only mean well.

i hope my advice helps, feel free to memail me.
posted by sincerely-s at 8:39 PM on November 4, 2011 [3 favorites]

"Is there any way for me to escalate my current, extremely shallow relationships to what I actually consider as friendships?"

Listen more, talk less.
posted by facetious at 8:54 PM on November 4, 2011 [10 favorites]

I should clarify because my answer may come off as snarky. The point I am trying to make is that life seems extremely complex and mysterious when you are young, but as you get older you realize it is very simple. A friend is someone who wants to listen to you when you have something to say, and they're somebody you want to listen to in return. If you want to have some friends, go find somebody that you just naturally like, and be friendly to them. If they're friendly back, hey, now you've got a friend. You are overthinking the *catshit* out of this one.
posted by facetious at 9:16 PM on November 4, 2011 [8 favorites]

Friendships are supposed to be fun. Nobody wants to hang out with someone who is no fun. You seem to have a very utilitarian view of relationships, and I'm guessing that doesn't add to the fun factor.

Try doing things more casually and not quite so thought-through. Smile and laugh more, listen to and laugh at everyone's jokes and stories, go get drunk with a bunch of people, play silly games like charades with them, go to strictly-for-fun events like comedic movies, or clubs, or whatever doesn't really seem to accomplish very much.
posted by mikeand1 at 9:18 PM on November 4, 2011 [4 favorites]

I also think after reading your question that your friends are correct in some of their evaluation. You're obviously detail-oriented and want to cover things exhaustively, much more so than most people would. I can definitely see the descriptor "intense" applying.

I can also tell you that they are quite right about the depth of most social relationships. Your hallmates were not, in fact, discussing deep truths of the universe behind your back. They were having a beer and playing videogames and talking about the attractions of various members of the gender of their choice. And yes, that's how most interpersonal relationships are and continue to be, no matter when you start them. And no, you do not have to be satisfied with that, and it's not all you get.

You remind me of myself some years ago. I was solitary, not interested in boring interactions, too much in my own head, and self-absorbed. I did not make too many friends in college, and those I did make have been entirely lost. I don't even have any of them on my facebook. I do, however, have some better friends now. My relationships are not, in general, as deep and intense as those you want, and that I used to want, and occasionally have. And part of it is that, for me, those friendships have had a tendency to implode. Two intense, intelligent people generally have a certain amount of neurosis between them. I can assure you that you would be bringing some in.

I said "self-absorbed" earlier in describing myself. I did not mean that to apply only to me. I also don't mean to assign it to you as a permanent character trait, or even necessarily one which is all that negative now. But your reaction to your hallmates conversing without you and your slightly overwrought descriptions of your own charisma both show me that you are pretty wrapped up in yourself. This is not uncommon, and especially not uncommon for highly intelligent and introspective people who don't fit especially well into society. However, that's part of your problem. Here's the thing: as charismatic as you may be, other people are not thinking about you nearly as much as you think about yourself. You notice that they're not inviting you to join them. They don't. They're probably not thinking about you at all. Not good things, but also not bad things. They're thinking about their own lives, not how their lives relate to yours.

It's also a bad idea to ask people repeatedly why they don't like you. That's a very good way to make people who had nebulous positive feelings toward you begin to dislike you. Again, I know this from experience. Try to reinterpret their actions as the innocent things they almost always are. You can be nervous about it. But instead of confronting them, wait a while. Your next interaction may reassure you that you were completely wrong. (32 and still working on that myself.)

As to how to make the right friendships... Well, it's a bit like finding the right romantic partner. It just happens, and I have never found a way to force it. I've met those people at coffee shops (both when I was only a customer and when we were both working there), in the book section of a music store, randomly on the street, through other friends, on the internet, et cetera. I'm antisocial, I don't go out much. But it happens. I don't think what you're looking for can be forced. The people who are not looking for the same thing won't be interested no matter what, and those who are will fall into deeper conversation with you automatically.

Of course, I may be overidentifying with your question and projecting too much of my own experience. YM, as they say, MV.
posted by Because at 9:20 PM on November 4, 2011 [13 favorites]

Most people, most of the time, talk about tv/movies/music, drinking, and screwing.

Most people, most of the time, are interested in talking about themselves and worry about how other people see them.

Most people like to gloss over as much stuff as possible in order to just pass the time.

You do not appear to be most people and therefore you will find fewer people to be friends with. Those you are friends with, you can cultivate those relationships by introducing lighter elements if you feel comfortable with that and you should also not keep asking them whether they like you because you'll come across as insecure and needy (and possibly manipulative).

If you don't feel that you can be lighter, you need to deliberately seek out friendships that will have a higher degree of depth. This is (generally speaking) when you seek out friendships with much older people. They will be more willing to discuss things in more depth with you and may be able to give you the kind of friendship you need.
posted by mleigh at 9:25 PM on November 4, 2011 [3 favorites]

Left out of Lobster Mitten's summary: you made fast friends with many people, excelling student government before and now, but other people seem to have deeper friendships.

I think that gets to the heart of it: you aren't bonding with people like friends, but like colleagues, constituents, or connections. Friends bond over shared interests, and you haven't talked about your interactions with people in that way. Charisma is great to meet people and become friendly, but to become friends takes a different sort of effort and connection, one which you might find tiring with most people.

I'm a bit like you, in how you relate to people. I find casual conversations forced and meaningless, but they're not. I've gotten a bit better now that I'm working and not in college, because in college I could write people off as being shallow, or not sharing the same obscure interests I had. But at work, I am collaborating with people on a daily basis, asking them for help on topics that are new to me, but old hat for them.

It may sound painful or annoying, but if you want to become friends with people, you need to relax your standards. Conversations don't need a purpose, or to play a role in some goal, or even be terribly mentally stimulating. But that doesn't mean you need to sit around watching what everyone else is watching, listening to the same music that you find to be trite. Friends who share intense conversations can also chat about nothing in particular, or tone it down and enjoy some music. If you find some bit of pop culture that you enjoy, then it's all the easier to chat about less lofty things with classmates. But if you find it all tiring, so be it. Just be careful how you word your replies to questions about pop culture, or you might drive an unnecessary wedge between yourself and others.

Also, college socializing is not about drunken parties, random hook-ups, and loud music in dark rooms. That is one option (and often the stereotypical image of college), but there are other options. Join clubs based on interests, not goals. Go to random lectures, or musical shows, performances, or anything that sounds at all interesting. You have the charisma to chat with strangers, now find the right strangers.
posted by filthy light thief at 9:27 PM on November 4, 2011 [8 favorites]

And you might have more luck finding intellectuals in advanced level courses on loftier subjects. Everyone takes the intro courses, but few make it beyond, and even if it doesn't fit into your career goals, branch out into other classes if you have the time. Or get a minor (or two) in other subjects, so you can get involved in those topics on a deeper level.
posted by filthy light thief at 9:29 PM on November 4, 2011

- Do my friends have a point? Do you observe most "typical" social interactions to be as they described? Would you describe this as a post-secondary student phenomena, or is it more universal throughout life?
- Given that I found that my friends were particularly insistent that I had no fault other than being bestowed with my existing personality in my circumstances, that seems unrealistic to me. Can you pinpoint anywhere my story where you might find that I might be at issue?
- Is there any way for me to escalate my current, extremely shallow relationships to what I actually consider as friendships?

- Yes
- Your personality is the issue. I don't understand how you see this explanation as not being 'about you' and not being 'something you can change'. You can decide you don't want to change it, and that the relationships other people have are not worth it to you, but you should make that consciously, not just say 'oh it's my "personality" and sit back.
- You want the kind of relationships everyone else has? Be more like everyone else. That's not ok? Then learn to deal with not having what they have. You can probably have the kind of idealized intellectual relationship you're looking for with maybe 2-10 people that you'll meet, over the whole of college and beyond.

specific examples they gave you:
I would constantly respond with an opinion, an assessment, just something that would keep it going on a higher level. And both told me that while some people enjoyed that aspect of me (they certainly did, having been friends with me for so long), most people didn't. So don't respond with a 'thought provoking' comment to everything. Start saying 'oh that's cool' or 'oh well done!' or 'oh sorry to hear it' and then shutup.

the majority of what most people would do in a friendship - just sitting around and exchanging idle conversation and enjoying not being alone. For someone who always wanted constant movement, I wouldn't be content in a point of perceived stasis - and she told me that was the reason why people wouldn't become as "comfortable" with me as with others.
Learn to sit still. Learn to just chill for a minute. Don't even be part of the idle conversation, you'd probably ramp it up too much. Practice just sitting around with other people, and don't talk more than you need to in order to specifically respond to people (see the responses given above).
posted by jacalata at 10:09 PM on November 4, 2011 [2 favorites]

First, the "you'll finally meet people like you in college" is a persistent and harmful myth. I went to college with the same stars in my eyes, having been told at every stage of my life until then that all I had to do was wait until college, that was where I'd meet my best friends for the rest of my life. Obviously, it didn't happen for either of us. That doesn't say much about either of us, it says more about the myth.

Second, though you are an eloquent writer, you come off as pretentious and, frankly, somewhat immature for your age (I'm assuming since you're a sophomore you're at least 19, and could be significantly older than that). I spent about ten minutes reading your post and was startled to see the suggestion at the end that others might have enjoyed reading it.

I think you'll find it easier to connect with people and have meaningful friendships if you accept yourself as you are (every bit of that introverted self), and find ways to reach out and participate while still taking care of your inner introvert. Speaking as an introvert, I am the happiest with friends when I do the appropriate prep work for myself, making sure I'm not overwhelmed with number of people or the duration of the social event, etc.

I'm tagging your username on my list of people with questions to skim and only read if they're less than 5 inches long in the future...your question was endless and exhausting to read. I think you would be significantly assisted by getting out to those recreational events. Join a co-ed powderpuff football team. Run around, get some exercise, meet some nice people. Navel-gazing only heightens your perception of the seriousness of the problem. goodluck.
posted by arnicae at 10:43 PM on November 4, 2011 [3 favorites]

If you speak the same way as you write, I can see how you might be a bit intimidating to the average college student. I think your friends are trying to make you feel better about your situation, which is admirable, but they're not helping you change your attitude about people and social interactions in general, which is honestly sounds a bit judgmental and narrow-minded. You've had a rough experience your first year, so I totally understand how you might be feeling a little jaded and gun shy. That being said, I don't think you're giving your fellow students enough credit with a statement like this:

In spite of all of their perceived closeness from an outside perspective, they were extremely fragile and just based upon mutual selfishness rather than emotional connection like I had assumed. And for someone like me, who wanted to not only constantly receive, but constantly give, that avenue just wouldn't work out. I needed more time and depth for people to get to know me because I just wasn't conventional enough of a person to be subjugated to the typical methods.

Thinking this way might be part of your problem, and a source of your anxiety. You are a human being just like 8 billion other people on this Earth, and you're not all that different or weird in the grand scheme of things... fear not. :) You might be a couple standard deviations above the mean in terms of IQ, but that does not mean you can't have meaningful relationships and interesting conversations with people from all walks of life. Furthermore, this idea that the college scene solely consists of beer guzzling shallow partiers is flawed. There are surely people like you who want to talk about what you like to talk about and feel just as frustrated with the shallow interaction that typifies the social scene. I ended up spending the majority of my time with the social circle in a campus religious organization the second half of my college experience to fulfill my craving for deeper relationships, so perhaps you could try targeting your search towards groups of people who share your values or intellectual interests. I bet you'd feel right at home shooting the breeze with students in a political or debate or philosophy club, even if you don't have time to go to all the meetings or whatever. The most challenging aspect of college can definitely be finding your niche. You don't have to be best friends with the random-ass bunch of people in your dorm hallway, so you beat yourself up about that experience.

Fundamentally, forging meaningful relationships comes down to appreciating people for who they are, and being accepted in turn by them. Try to assess what the person you're talking to can bring to the conversation rather than seeing what you can get out of your interaction with them. Ideally, one friend would fulfill all your needs and totally understand you and never bore you with talking about stuff you're not particularly interested in, but that's not how things go. It's not a bad thing to bring conversations to a higher intellectual plane, and want to skip the "pleasantries," getting straight to the meatier good stuff. Unfortunately, not everyone is wired to appreciate this, nor would they be able to hit the ball back to you in such heady intellectual discussions. No one wants to feel like they're stupid or have nothing to offer in a conversation, and making the other person feel comfortable is the key to being likable.

Firstly, loosen up! Embrace your sense of humor and try speaking with more of a lighthearted, informal tone using less advanced vocabulary if possible, depending on who you're talking to. Don't be afraid of asking what you might fear are dumb questions, and poke fun at yourself a little. Second, focus on finding something interesting about the other person that piques your interest and allows you to build common ground with them. I have close friends with whom I delve into intense philosophical discussions, friends who are kinda gossip-y, but who keep me up with current technological trends and what's hot on the pop culture scene, friends who aren't so well read but who always know just what to say when I'm down on myself, and these connections didn't happen because I tried to talk about existentialism and the meaning of life with them. I start with the shallow stuff and ask for someone's opinions and feelings about situations they've encountered, and let the conversation take its course from there. I get past the boring small talk by attempting to see the world through the eyes of the other person, offering my own stories and reflections that might connect with their experiences in turn. Open yourself up a bit, sharing not just what you know, but how you felt about things. Actively listen to see what sorts of questions would bring out the best in the other person (everyone's good at or passionate about something) rather than asking about the topics you're most comfortable with. You get to live the lives of other people and draw from their knowledge base through listening to them, and from there, you can get "deep" with them since they're on familiar territory and feel comfortable with you. Try not to be quite so demanding with your approach to relationships--ditch your expectations--and you might be pleasantly surprised with how things unfold naturally. Eventually, you'll find some people with whom you have amazing rapport. They're like rare gems--not always easy to find, but they're out there if you dig long enough!
posted by sunnychef88 at 11:17 PM on November 4, 2011 [2 favorites]

A couple of questions for you:

-- Do you use any sort of aids for your hearing?
-- do your friends and acquaintances know about your deafness?

The reason I ask is that before I received my cochlear implant (I had severe loss in one ear, profound in the other and wore hearing aids) I had similar experiences to some of those you're describing.

Firstly, every conversation was intentional and had a purpose and desired outcome. Not only that but conversations didn't go well for me because I couldn't really listen -- I was barely holding on to the gist of the conversation. And my responses were generally off track.

Secondly, I was convinced people were always talking about me (I think i might have thought that because I was not involved in the conversation and acutely aware that I wasn't). Turned out they weren't talking about me, they were talking the type of shallow small talk I never engaged in because I didn't have the energy for it. More than that I didn't know it existed. When I got my CI I was shocked at the pure unmitigated shit people talk but am now a willing and happy participant :)

This may or may not be what's happening for you. Feel free to memail me if you like.
posted by prettypretty at 11:36 PM on November 4, 2011 [7 favorites]

Someone else mentioned that you have a very utilitarian view of friendships. I would go a step further and say that it really seems like, rather than friendships, you want people who can give you a certain experience. And it's not that there's anything wrong with wanting that experience, but if you approach people from the perspective of wanting something from them first and foremost, it's hard to make true friendships with them.
posted by the essence of class and fanciness at 12:01 AM on November 5, 2011 [3 favorites]

A question: have you ever been interested in another person? In the individual, not their views, knowledge, or utility?

A second question: have you ever felt love for or been fond of another person?

Your answers may be the crux.
posted by likeso at 3:15 AM on November 5, 2011 [2 favorites]

Well, great news that you have two friends who you can ask about this. I was struck by your attitude towards them though - the first friend is one you have out of obligation which you're grateful for, the second you describe having routine chats with. But you staysd with her for 3 days during which you had a great time and the other cared enough to listen. That's awesome. You're clearly not socially broken.

You seem to be very ambivalent towards wanting friendships though - you want to be a "self-sufficient " personality, you desrcibe wanting connections with people as "irrational". It's ok to need people and want closeness. Perhaps embracing that vulnerability will help.

Lastly, friendships aren't "for" anything - they have no goal associated with them. They're fun. If you're very driven and analytical, fun can seem irrational too or purposeless. If this feels familiar, try to have more fun - humans play into adulthood and it's part of being human to do so. And you'll enjoy it.
posted by eyeofthetiger at 3:56 AM on November 5, 2011

I think the deafness angle is interesting, because it seems like a lot of the traits you exhibit (being extremely direct, packing a lot of factual information into your conversation) are common in Deaf culture. Is there a Deaf students' group at your university? You might find you fit in with them better than with hearing students, and generally Deaf groups can be more tolerant and full of less conventional people, which you might find more satisfying.
posted by Acheman at 4:21 AM on November 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

Unlike arnicae, I enjoyed your post immensely. In fact, I’d say that if you elaborate here and there and polish it a tiny bit you have a really good short story on your hands. One of those in which the author ventriloquises someone from a different era, or a radically different worldview.

Saying this, you have a problem if your spoken style resembles your written style (I am aware that many people’s styles differs greatly between informal spoken discourse and written discourse. But I will make the assumption that in your case the general tone is shared between the two contexts). Two relevant characteristics in your text spring to mind: the above-mentioned otherworldliness, as it were, and the fact that your prose is extremely dense.

Another thing that jumped out: as other commenters have said upthread, you seem to have a very utilitarian take on the people around you. I will venture another guess here: this is more a problem of how you frame the issue rather than of how you approach people. This seems to me more a case of over- or mis-applying logic than of cinical use of others.

Based on these assumptions I would suggest:

1. Think back and try to figure out how you speak in different situations. Do you adapt your tone to different circumstances? Do you recognize what kind of speaking style is required in each situation, or do you come across as oratorical in each and every one? Remember that when speaking, the actual tone of your voice can lead to that impression, not just your choice of words, figures of speech, the lot.

If you think this might be the case, try to practice a sliding scale of spoken discourse, from your current usual one to the most relaxed one you can muster, the “What’s up” type. Observe how and when other people use different registers, then try to guess which is the appropriate register in a given situation (do this maybe with films), then rehearse the different registers alone, then use. Try to sound like someone who lives today, in our world (in speaking - as I said, I really like your written "voice").

2. Friendship, too, is a sliding scale, ranging from friendly acquaintance to deep, strong, life-long friendship, and many intermediary steps between these two. I think your friends are right, and that most relations end up somewhere around the “friendly acquaintance” pole (sometimes masquerading as friendships). Each step on this scale has different requirements: “friendly acquaintance” just needs repeated physical proximity, a normal degree of politeness and some vague mutual benevolence. One step up is same plus some relatively superficial common interest (which can be a shared preoccupation with fashion, football, baking, philosophy etc.).

The type of friendship, on the other hand, which has the potential to become a deep long-term bond is a total different kettle of fish. Where the former are closer to being a pact of non-aggression and a mutually beneficial partnership, in a good friendship you need much more active feelings: mutual respect, trust, care, a deep concern for each other’s well-being and a readiness to step in should that be threatened. Within the relationship each of the participants has to be reliable, loyal, trustworthy, take an active part in maintaining the friendship, both have to be at least somewhat attuned to each other’s needs, limitations, quirks, and handle them with delicacy, both have to see the other as a source of enrichment etc.

However, on the whole, a good and strong friendship generally develops by going through the more generic “friendly acquaintance” end of the scale, and in order to progress, you have to both do right by the respective stage, and show potential with regard to the more intense stages. Your unwillingness to participate in the kind of interactions which serve to oil relationships and keep them running in the early stages might make you ineligible as a friend for many – not in conscious way, they probably just don’t see you in that light.

So, I think here the most important thing is to lose the disdain re. “meaningless social interactions”. You’re right, much of it is noise availing itself of language as a vehicle – but it is friendly noise, noise that establishes that you are willing to go that extra meter in order to signal your benevolence towards someone. Gradually, the “noise” will fade, and you will get increasing genuine personal interest in how your respective lives are going, what preoccupies you, what attitudes you each have towards things etc. But without the noise, how can you get there? You can’t well go to a stranger, present them with a list of “you”, ask for theirs in return and then check that there are enough coincidences.

3. I’d also diss the utilitarian approach – think of everybody as just one more of life’s manifestations, who you might or might not get closer to in time, rather than someone who is “useful” (in your case, I think this is more about practicing different thinking patterns rather than a different attitude. I think if you come to reframe this issue you’ll find it much easier to interact with people at a slightly deeper level which might lead to friendship – and it will be a friendship which you actively built).

4. By the same token, leave any thoughts of superiority out of your mind – there’s nothing inherently more noble in having lofty interest or thoughts. I happen to think that your life can be richer or poorer depending on the interests you cultivate – but this is more about range (in terms of how many and in terms of how deep you go with each) than about the fact that some things are socially recognised as being more valuable. So when you try to decide whether or not to pursue something with someone, make it about how “attractive” they are for you (meaning, check with yourself if you want to see them again, if you want to talk to them again, if you want to go mountain-climbing with them, or to a concert, or bake ginger-bread houses with them, or just sit quietly on the sofa with them, each of you reading a book, do a radically new thing with them, whatever) and about how mutual this feeling reveals itself to be after a few attempts. Someone who you just hang around with, is pleased to be with you and brings you peace and serenity, who has your back and who you would stand up for if need be is worth their weight in gold – even if they are not particularly learned, and even if their conversation does not generally reach any lofty heights.
posted by miorita at 4:33 AM on November 5, 2011 [5 favorites]

There is a strange lack of sex in your question.

By which I mean: a substantial proportion, maybe even the majority, of the social interactions and conversation in your dorm are directed towards forming, understanding, and maintaining romantic relationships. That is basically what a dorm is about.

I can't tell from your question whether you know this --- if not, then, the reason you think that the social world of the dorm is shallow is because you don't understand what's actually going on.

Or maybe you don't think that kind of thing meets your standards of depth. But then your standards are bad. Learning how to find a romantic partner and learning how to be a romantic partner are central tasks for people your age, and they are not shallow at all -- in fact they are probably more important to your later life than almost all of the academic work you do.
posted by escabeche at 5:46 AM on November 5, 2011 [5 favorites]

The good news is you sound like an excellent networker. That's a good skill to have, so don't discount it.

The same two things that have been jumping out at other people have been jumping out at me: you have a utilitarian and very goal-oriented view of friendship, and you have high and specific standards for the sort of depth you want in your friendships, and it sounds exhausting.

Friendships aren't about the depth of connection or conversation, at least not at first; they're about both parties feeling at ease. If someone feels like they have to be constantly on point around you, like every second needs to have some sort of meaning or purpose, they're going to feel judged, and they're going to get tired, and they're not going to get comfortable. Forgive people their apparent meaninglessness; allow them to relax or turn off in your presence.

Depth comes later, and it may not be the sort of depth you're looking for. You can have intellectually engaging conversations with people you don't really like, and you can end up really liking people who seem to run kinda shallow, but still "get" you in surprising ways.

Ever tried to make friends with a neighborhood cat? If you briskly walk up to one, it'll likely skedaddle with its tail down. If you crouch down ten feet away, break eye contact, and wait, it'll stick around. From there, you slowly edge closer and let the cat come up and sniff you, or you leave to come back another day. People are like that too. You have to give them enough space and time to sniff you out and decide you're okay. It may feel meaningless or wasteful, because you're just sort of sitting there, but in fact it's essential to making friends.
posted by Metroid Baby at 6:15 AM on November 5, 2011 [3 favorites]

You seem to come into conversations and interactions with a lot of hopes and expectations. You should abandon that tactic wherever possible. Either people can smell it on you right away, which makes them suspicious or intimidated, or they smell it on you later and they start to worry about keeping up with you. In both cases it can be tempting and/or easy to just let someone go and start over with someone who seems like less work.

You don't want to present yourself as an easy and fun person to be friends with -- you want to BET that way. But I think that whole charisma vortex you whipped up when you were younger may have given you a very presentational style of interacting with people, and you're at a time in your life now when people prize "authenticity" more than almost any other quality.
posted by hermitosis at 8:57 AM on November 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

..It doesn't sound like you LIKED anyone in particular. When I make a new friend, it's exciting. I'm curious about what they do at their job or what they find so interesting about their hobbies.

When I toddled off to art college I was so excited to go somewhere there would be tons of nerdy, gothy kids that all liked my kind of music and talked all deep and shit. I was shocked when my first roommate was a beauty queen from a born-again home school.

I was being a giant dick for thinking her interests and experiences made her shallow. The best thing about my college experience was to learn how to really appreciate Other People's Interests. People's passions are what makes them interesting. Caring about someone's life and having genuine interest in what's making them passionate (not really the topic, but their passion) is what makes your friendships deepen.

You want people to have intense deep conversation as soon as you meet them, and have it every single time you interact? People can't keep that shit up all the time. And SOMETIMES- a kid just wants to talk about the Kardashians. I think what you are really missing is the general interest in some of them- enough to sit through their inane talk about garbage- and that communicates to people that you don't really have interest in them unless you are getting exactly what you want.
posted by Blisterlips at 9:18 AM on November 5, 2011 [3 favorites]

This post is exhausting. My connection with it, through you, is exhausting. I'm not saying this to bash you. I'm saying this to observe that your friends are, I think, absolutely right.

Indeed, I agree. I also think that you are right, OP, that the problem is not just external. Reading your post, I was struck by a few things. I mean you no offense, really, but your condescension, intensity, self-absorption, and overly analytic approach would not render us good friends. I know people like you - in fact, I dated someone extremely similar (although as far as I know, not having autism) - and although I genuinely cared about him the relationship wore me down to a nub. So I can see how it might be hard for some people to maintain a relationship with you.

Without really knowing you, some general advice that has worked for me (a loner, and not always by choice), so take with an obligatory shake of salt. (And I'm more than happy to follow up if any of this is unclear, inapplicable, whatever.)

To enter interactions without expectations. To try harder to find common ground. To follow up consistently and yet without extending a lot of obligations. To learn to be comfortable within the varying stages of relationships (especially the initial ones) and to act appropriately to them. To understand and accept that you aren't entitled to friendships/relationships just because everyone else has them.

Good luck.
posted by sm1tten at 10:29 AM on November 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

... please do not fall prey to the True Scotsman Fallacy if I point out that all of my almost dozen therapists were not helpful, they simply weren't the "right therapists".)

I'm quoting this one part because it's where you not only tell people how to respond-- which is really really common here on askmefi-- but you're also sort of educating us. Oh, the True Scotsman Fallacy, is that what they call it?

You sound like a lot of kids I knew in college. The ones that like to micromanage social interactions. I don't think that comes out of a bad place, necessarily, but it will limit your relationships. God knows, there are people who go through life-- not just college-- like that. You can do that or you can not. The second option involves giving more power to the other person than you are used to.
posted by BibiRose at 11:00 AM on November 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

I think the sooner you accept that you are quite different from the general public, the better! I don't think you should try to make yourself more socially acceptable; you should pursue the high octane interactions that are satisfying to you. I suspect that diving deep into academics in a way that brings you into contact with experts and colleagues would be great for you - conversations would be purposed based and fascinating.

However, I think you should also learn about some basic ways to get along with "everyone else." Eg, locking yourself into your dorm room for a semester is not going to go over well.
posted by yarly at 11:10 AM on November 5, 2011

Seek intellectually stimulating and satisfying interactions in the upper reaches of academia. Accept that you are way out on the narrow end of the curve and there are not all that many candidates who will be a match for the kind of interactions you enjoy.

A piece of advice I hope you will consider: Seek out ways to develop emotional intelligence. You are going to need to learn compassion and kindness and reasons to value others who are not like you. There are very many people who are enormously rewarding to know but who could not have an intellectually stimulating conversation with an eighth-grader. Letting people get to know you is not good enough. You have to get to know them. You need to learn how to find the jewel in others that is not like your jewel. Learn to value more than what you already value.

Most people have many close acquaintances and social friends but only one or two really close friends. Close friendships take a great deal of tending and usually take a long time to develop. Friendship is more than social positioning or intellectual admiration--those you can probably always find if you do well in your chosen field. Friendship is a kind of love and takes learning to love. The more you can learn to love the more satisfying your life will be.

Emotional intelligence. Compassion. Kindness. Practice. If it is difficult or even incomprehensible to you or you think I'm talking nonsense, then you have an opportunity to experience what other people feel when challenged by intellectual intensity--an occasion to help you develop empathy.

Good luck to you. I think your life is not going to be easy but with luck and skill (and love and a sense of humor) it can be brilliant and even happy. I wish you all of that, and more.
posted by Anitanola at 2:10 PM on November 5, 2011

I didn't read your whole question because it was kind of painful, probably not least because it sounded familiar.

Given that I found that my friends were particularly insistent that I had no fault other than being bestowed with my existing personality in my circumstances, that seems unrealistic to me. Can you pinpoint anywhere my story where you might find that I might be at issue?

It's not your fault in the sense that you're sinning or something, but I think it is you. Your friends are trying to tell you that gently and kindly, but I have the privilege of being a stranger on the internet who can go ahead and be blunt without social repercussions.

I'm going to go ahead and assume that we have the following things in common: We're introverts, gathering energy when we're alone or with 1–2 people rather than when we're in large groups; and we steer conversations too deep too fast. I'm assuming that this intense analytical question you wrote is illustrative of the dialogue in your head most days, and it comes out in your every-day conversations. Most people do not operate this way, and it makes them uncomfortable when we do it. While I struggle mightily to make my conversation lighter and easier, that struggle is constant because the Big Thorny Issues are the ones that come to mind most easily.

To illustrate, albeit with a dated reference:

Party friend: "Hey, have you seen Avatar?"
Too deep too fast: "No, I've read all these reviews that say it's basically racist and colonialist — white man saving the poor natives. You know, like Pocahontas and Dances With Wolves and District 9? Ugh."
Party friend: "Uh... that doesn't sound quite right."
Too deep too fast: "But doesn't the guy become one of the blue guys and then he saves the day? Especially the girl? Or something? I was reading this review and they were saying it was really awful because etc etc"

Party friend: "Hey, have you seen Avatar?"
Lighter response: "Nope! Did you like it?"
Party friend: "Yeah, it was awesome, I really liked the part where ____, etc"
Lighter reponse: "Cool, it kind of sounds like _____, have you seen that?"

Most of your friends will not be your soulmates. Most will not want to get into nitty gritty philosophy/politics/etc in every damn conversation. Most of them will be casual friendships, and this is fine, though it feels unnatural to you (and me). Soulmates are rare and precious, and if everyone was your soulmate, things would be far less interesting and probably fairly exhausting. These other non-soulmates have their place in your life as well, and you need to learn how to welcome them appropriately. Sometimes a soulmate or two will slip through as well, but this takes time to discover! Friendships (and conversations) need time to deepen, and they all have their limits. Wade in slowly.

Don't judge your social life on extrovert standards, but do learn the value of casual, simpler friendships and conversations. They are worth cultivating.
posted by heatherann at 2:31 PM on November 5, 2011 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: Thank you to everyone for all of your candid responses; I really appreciate all of the honest assessments that I'm getting, and I reassure you all that no offense has been taken. In fact, looking back at my original post, I do see that I can come off as somewhat conceited as some people have pointed out. It's a little bit disappointing because I try my best not to be, but it's hard especially in my writing, which more or less has unfiltered parity with my thoughts (to answer to what a lot of people have been pointing out: I dilute my spoken words a little bit more based on the situation and who I'm addressing, so talking to people isn't as much as an issue as writing can be.)

In response to prettypretty and Acheman, I think perhaps the hearing loss is a bigger piece of the puzzle than I've made it out to be. I'm realizing that by looking at some of the suggestions that have been offered to me. While I agree with a lot of the suggestions and would like to implement them, they aren't possible for me; being someone who relies on lip-reading, for instance, I can do well in one-on-one interactions where I have a fixed point of focus, but I shut down completely in groups, so that's why I'm so dysfunctional in parties/group conversations/whatever, not because I dislike those things. Extracurricular activities, events, dinner and even drinking are all a no-go for me if I want to continue to be able to understand what people are actually saying since they force me to split my attention between something else other than the person I'm with (if I break eye contact, then I automatically miss out on what they're saying) and in the case of alcohol, numbs my perceptive abilities.

When dealing with people, my attention can only be in one place at a time, so I can't use any of the typical social "excuses" (probably not the right word) to meet people - parties, concerts, lectures, clubs, they're all very closed off to me. Ironically, it's probably because of this aspect that I do well in everything else: because I'm forced to focus on learning than my peers, I do much better academically, and because I'm forced to focus on the actual tasks at hand in volunteer/extracurricular work, I always find myself landing into leadership roles and pulling way more of a weight than others can do. While many tell me that I do have a stellar (and sometimes weird) sense of humor, I'm often seen as someone who "doesn't know how to have fun", because I can't juggle both an activity and a person at once.

Beyond that, I've also realized that: I have no idea what a conversation is supposed to look like in the first place, because I've never been able to just sit there and watch and understand people actually converse between themselves casually (though not for lack of trying); I don't think it's completely sunk in yet (as much as I tell myself) that my idea of a conversation and a friendship based upon that is radically different from reality, so I appreciate the re-affirmations that many of you have been giving me. Conversations are always exhausting for me because of the sheer amount of effort I have to put into them, so that would explain why I'm always trying to squeeze every drop out of it. In essence, it's not as much as about having any degree of disdain for superficial conversation as it is about simply not being able to engage in them.

That being said, I'm not entirely sure what to do about it. I used to use hearing aids, but I eventually abandoned them after realizing that they did very little good outside of academic situations, and I've tried dozens of different models on loan from my audiologist. And while I was a candidate for a cochlear implant, the one thing that I disliked about it was that it eradicated your residual hearing, which is frightening for a number of reasons. One that pops to mind right now is that I'm very passionate about music, having been trained in it from a very young age. While I can't hear any of the higher notes, I'm very good at discerning the complexity of the notes that I can hear; with every single model of hearing aid that I've tried up to this point, they've all flattened and distorted the sound so much that I wouldn't be able to wear them at all while practicing piano or listening to my MP3. While CI technology is still advancing, their ranges are still a very pale imitation of the natural ranges of the human ear, so I'm afraid that I'll be able to make a mistake that I won't be able to take back. I'm not sure what I can do on the technological front.

Furthermore, I'm having difficulty coping with it on a social front as well. I don't know how I can make my peers meet me halfway more. A lot of the time, it seems like a very taboo subject since they never want to bring it up (probably reinforced by the self-sufficient front that I put up); and yet, every time I do bring it up, they remember what I say for just a minute before completely forgetting it. I find that many people often forget that I have a hearing loss at times because of how well I fake normalcy with my extremely high lip-reading rate (even my established, life-long friends still get confused when I refuse phone calls), and I'm not sure if that's a good thing, or a bad thing. While I'm fluent in ASL, there isn't any deaf or Deaf group here either, and in fact, I've never met a single other person who signs other than myself in my entire time on campus.

While you all have been stressing the importance of just plain, regular, meaningless conversations, and I understand that, where I still have issues with implementing that is if I'll actually have the energy to devote myself.

Beyond that, while I might sound rather utilitarian at times since I elucidate my thoughts in a very logical format, I'm still very much emotively attached to people. I'm actually rather fascinated by them, and I think the whole reason why I'm not happy with just the typical pleasantry talk is not only because of my need for value, but also because I want to actually talk to the person who's talking to me, rather than their outer shell. I'm the type of a person, who when I ask "How are you?", really means it and really wants to hear how you are instead of the typical "fine". If I wasn't, I wouldn't be as frustrated as I am right now. I feel like that in a lot of cases, I'm not talking to actual real people, and that people won't give me access to themselves - and I wonder if I'm the only one who people don't drop their barriers around when I see everyone else going around and conversing without knowing what they're saying, especially if I also see them getting closer afterwards as well.

The romance issue, which has been mentioned, is an interesting side story too. I've never ever bothered, not because I don't want to; I still feel a bit crappy about not being able to sate my urges, being human and all. The reason why I've never bothered is because I've always assumed that being someone who didn't have the fundamental basics laid down, I stood no chance in that arena. Beyond that, I have trouble seeing myself as someone anyone would be attracted to at all. While people have told me that I fall in the region of "really cute" physically and that my confident sheen (on the exterior at least) was very attractive, I cannot think of a single person who has (from my point of view) expressed any interest in me or flirted with me. Maybe it's just because I'm too blunt to that sort of thing.
posted by Conspire at 6:55 PM on November 5, 2011

"I feel like that in a lot of cases, I'm not talking to actual real people, and that people won't give me access to themselves "

What you are looking for is what people hold most dear, their very selves which they reveal only to those they have reason to trust. I think of it as "contact," by which I mean the feeling of genuinely connecting with the other person. I think it is the most precious thing we do, something we all crave, and it is what nourishes and sustains us. It is the 'jewel' that I was writing of earlier. Recognizing the desirability of this genuine connection, you want others to give you access to their innermost self, you feel like beating on the door, saying "Let me in. I would really like to connect."

It doesn't work like that. You are not allowed to trespass. It is always their choice. You cannot change them but you can learn how to be receptive and worth knowing and trusting. Please consider my earlier suggestions. This is a lifetime quest, not something you learn as a matter of course in undergrad. Many people never learn how to connect with others and live their lives among people but cut off from them. Not having connection even with their spouses and children but rather a host of substitutes for true intimacy.

We hope to have this when we fall in love and if we are lucky and work at it, we can. It might and usually does ebb and flow but for many people, love lasts. Do what you can to be one of those lucky ones. It is not the quantity of people around you but the quality of connection that matters.

You must have food for your mind, of course, and you learn in university where to find that. You must seek out the kind of learning that helps you become a person who is good for others to know. They open to what is good for them.

You are way ahead of the game if you realize that other people are important and interacting with them is both difficult and necessary. You cannot, however, change them or demand that they give to you. You can only change you. This kind of learning is a maturation process and you can't profitably avoid it. I hope there will soon be technology that will satisfactorily make hearing better for you but equally important are listening to what others want to say and sometimes allowing there to be accepting, comfortable silence.

Again, I wish you well.
posted by Anitanola at 7:59 PM on November 5, 2011 [2 favorites]

Hey conspire, I have had an amazingly good experience with my implant and music. I had similar reservations (which were ultimately overtaken by the need to communicate) and was much much more than pleasantly surprised.

Feel free to get in touch if you want to quiz me on that front :)
posted by prettypretty at 3:43 AM on November 6, 2011

but also because I want to actually talk to the person who's talking to me, rather than their outer shell.

1. you have to like the candy coating to get to the ooey-gooey emotional center. People with good boundaries don't like to roll out the deep talk before they know you. It's intimate and personal- it's absolutely comparable to sex.

While you all have been stressing the importance of just plain, regular, meaningless conversations, and I understand that, where I still have issues with implementing that is if I'll actually have the energy to devote myself.

... this is why people have canned responses. Give the effort to the two or three people you like- and be pleasant to the other thirty. People say "fine" when asked how they are, not because they are boring or shallow people- but because if you had an emotionally taxing conversation with every person you speak with you would waste gobs of time and be so tired you could never get anything done.

you keep talking about people's light conversation as something you don't really want to deal with and just want to skip to the "good part".

Light conversation IS ALSO a good part. After you learn to appreciate it, it's gonna be one of the most useful skills you ever gain. If you get the ball rolling you can learn about their interests and passions. You just don't get to see their emotional genitals the first time around.

I think you should focus on just a couple of people that you think are really peachy.
Keep it light. keep it positive.
posted by Blisterlips at 3:57 AM on November 6, 2011 [6 favorites]

whoa, I didn't even see the reference to hearing loss in the question. Way to bury the important information. You said Extracurricular activities, events, dinner and even drinking are all a no-go for me ...so you're pretty much cut off from many normal opportunities to see people casually, especially in a group setting. (This is probably most of the reason why people stopped inviting you to do stuff, if you have to refuse most things. Especially if you didn't make your limitations clear to them so they knew which invites you would accept, it gets really frustrating being turned down a lot). You're also 'different', and as you mentioned in your comment you need people to make allowances for you. This just by itself makes it harder. Add in the fact that you've basically grown up without being properly aware of how other people socialise - it's like you're from a foreign country. You have a lot of learning to do :)

With this additional info, I'd change my above answer - it's not really your personality, it's your deafness and the effects this has on your ability to socialise normally. Your friends maybe couldn't say this - it feels really awkward to say it and I don't even know you.

I'd second all the suggestions to find other deaf/Deaf people. There's no group on your campus, but maybe in the town/city around it? Or find some online groups to join, so you can at least talk to people who have dealt with similar problems.

Also, I have no idea what a conversation is supposed to look like in the first place, because I've never been able to just sit there and watch and understand people actually converse between themselves casually (though not for lack of trying): do you watch television? While there's a lot of unrealistic stuff in them, many shows do feature people hanging out and having casual conversations. I hesitate to actually recommend this, but there could be some value in it for you - I'm thinking of stuff like Friends.
posted by jacalata at 10:39 PM on November 6, 2011 [2 favorites]

Galludet has a visiting student's program - why not go there for a semester and see what it's like to be in a deaf community?
posted by yarly at 9:24 AM on November 7, 2011 [2 favorites]

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