How can I convince myself that I can actually make friends?
November 14, 2011 5:46 AM   Subscribe

How can I stop feeling broken and try to make friends without baggage?

I'm a young 20s female, in grad school.

So, I have a really bad time keeping close friends. I have a lot of acquaintances, and a few friends who will actually invite me to events once every few months, but that's it. All of my confidantes stopped being my confidantes after a year, some becoming non-friends, some acquaintances, and some staying friends that I'll talk to once every 6 months. (The ex mentioned below, let's call him "Bob," thinks the problem would be that I get anxious and push people away because I'm scared that they'll do it first. It's a possibility.) I jokingly call this the "one-year curse."

I also avoided dating for the past 7 years because I wanted to work on myself (slash I had some serious Forever Alone stuff going on in my head). Finally, last November, I started dating. I met Bob online. We hit it off and started seeing each other. We were very serious.

Five months later, we broke up (de jure, I ended things, but de facto it was 50/50, with Bob saying "I need X" and me saying "Nope, not happening.") I did everything right: no contact for a month, when we did resume contact making sure someone else was around, didn't hang at his house unless his roommate was there, I only spoke to him after I was on the dating pool again, etc.

We stayed friends. About four months ago, I told Bob about the "one-year curse," and he promised he'd be an exception and that there's no way we wouldn't be friends in a year. He also finally convinced me--after trying since we met--that I should try anti-depressants for my depression and anxiety. He was my best friend, basically.

Yay, I thought, I'm doing better! The cycle of crap has finally broken! Thanks to citalopram and Bob.

A few days (a week, tops) after we broke up, Bob began seeing Jane. They're very serious and plan to move in together in February. I was super excited for Bob, since he was clearly way happier with Jane than with me, and he really deserves to be happy after a hard go at things. I gave Bob (GOOD!) relationship advice, suggested he try to work through early bumps, etc. I saw Bob 3 times since he and Jane started seeing each other, but we'd regularly IM.

But I was also anxious, since I got the distinct feeling that Jane would get jealous of me. And lo, she did. One Friday, I gave Bob something he had asked me to order for him, and we had dinner. At dinner, I asked him for Jane's favourite dessert, so that if I ever got to meet her, I could make it as a peace offering. That night, she told him that we weren't to see one another; a week later, she asked him to have zero contact with me. And so it has been, for the past couple of weeks. I wasn't his friend anymore; I was a liability.

So I'm back to square one, feeling like there's something inherently wrong with me that prevents me from making friends. Like I've made no progress at all.

I also feel like there is 0 point in me trying to make friends right now, let along trying to date. I have no confidantes, I have no social activities to go to, and I feel like if I tried to make friends by going out to clubs or whatever, that I'd only be setting myself up for more pain as they inevitably ditch me. None of my friends in town are easy to get a hold of, even if I did think they'd be open to talking to me more often. And since people are now moving away post-graduation, I have no support network left.

What the hell can I do to get past this?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (14 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
First, it sounds like what's hurting you most immediately is Bob's SO being insecure and making him "double-breakup" with you. That is her fault, and not yours. Remember that.

Second, networking is really complicated. Even theoretically rational entities like computers muck it up a lot. It's really entirely plausible that all your troubles with friendship are accidents, unrelated to one another, and reflecting nothing about your own behavior. Though your goal may be to form close relationships that aren't subject to such banal pressures, you are for now playing a numbers game, and will need to try again and again until you get lucky.

Finally, some actual advice. Keep records. I do it in a spreadsheet, but you could probably do well enough with a paper notebook. When was the last time you called so-and-so? What are their likes and dislikes? What have you done with them that turned out well, and what didn't? Every now-and-again go through the records and find someone you've been neglecting. Call them and try to arrange something enjoyable.

You'll still fail a lot, but now you'll be in a better position to benefit from those failures.
posted by LogicalDash at 6:01 AM on November 14, 2011 [6 favorites]

I'm .. feeling like there's something inherently wrong with me that prevents me from making friends. Like I've made no progress at all.

Here's what strikes me immediately. It sounds like there are different reasons why your relationships aren't going as you'd like -- some very concrete -- and it sounds like you are actually very well aware of what all those reasons are/likely could be.

About your friends/acquaintances:
-"Bob," thinks the problem would be that I get anxious and push people away because I'm scared that they'll do it first. It's a possibility.

About dating:
-I also avoided dating for the past 7 years because I wanted to work on myself (slash I had some serious Forever Alone stuff going on in my head).

About your friendship with Bob:
I got the distinct feeling that Jane would get jealous of me. And lo, she did.

It sounds like this last setback with Bob has made you feel upset and frustrated. And feeling frustrated, it's natural to want to throw up one's hands and give up. So I understand why your emotion right now is: there's something inherently wrong with me that prevents me from making friends. But I think if you look back at what you've actually written, you will see that there are some concrete things you can do in these scenarios and you're probably right about a lot of them.

Why not start by working on the things you have already identified as potential problems?

-If you think you get anxious and push potential friends away, that sounds like something really appropriate to work on in therapy.

-If you got the feeling Jane would get jealous of you, what made you get that feeling? You said you wanted to make her dessert as a peace offering. Why? Were you feeling she was jealous of you because you hadn't made her dessert? I don't think so, so I don't see how dessert would change anything. My inkling is you thought she would get jealous of you because you were spending a lot of time IMing with her boyfriend, possibly having really intense, emotional, and personal conversations, and also going out to dinner alone with him.

I think you can totally repair this if you want to be friends with Bob again. But you'll need to be friends with both of them and probably not have the emotional closeness to Bob that you did before. If I were you and I wanted to be friends with him again, I would lay low and not contact him at all for a month or two. Then I would contact him *publicly* -- like on his FB wall -- and say, "How are you and Jane? It's been a while since we've talked. The 3 of us should go get drinks sometime." Keep all your communications to him light and *public* and include Jane in all your invitations.
posted by cairdeas at 6:14 AM on November 14, 2011

Don't let this Bob thing put you off. Even if breakdown of all your other friendships was your fault, this one wasn't. Lots of women have a problem with their boyfriends' remaining friends with their exes (the topic has come up more than a few times on AskMe). Its disappointing but it has absolutely nothing to do with you. Get yourself out there and make a new friend or two or three. stop thinking about the curse and get on with your life.

This is the new you. Everything that happened in your pre-citalopram period was the old you. There is no curse because that belonged to the old you.
posted by missmagenta at 6:21 AM on November 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

Also, just keep in mind that it's way easier to attribute things to a curse or some ineffable, unknowable thing outside our control, rather than to face the reality of what we have to do to change them, because sometimes what we have to do is hard, will take a lot of effort and/or patience, and can be intimidating. So sometimes, we can really lie to ourselves with that.
posted by cairdeas at 6:23 AM on November 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

It's really hard to make and keep friends, especially if you're at all introverted or awkward - I mean, it's hard for everybody. You aren't broken.

A lot of people who seem to have many friends really have many friendly acquaintances. I have many friendly acquaintances, for example, but few close friends. At an event, I have lots of people to chat to and probably look like I'm all popular, but I am actually kind of lonely. I have few people to hang out with just to talk about serious stuff, few people who would help me through something if I needed it.

So at the very least, don't have an unrealistic picture of other people's friend lives.

And things were much worse in my early twenties! I moved to a new city and had, like, two friends - one a long-ago ex and one a college friend I didn't get along with very well (at the time). I made a couple of unsuitable friendships where we didn't have enough in common but were both lonely - never really clicked and tapered off after a while. This may be what is happening to you. It's not about you, like you're flawed or something, it's about the level of compatibility just not being high enough.

Maybe you're a weirdo. I too am a weirdo! And yet, by dint of meeting a lot of people, I did make a few good friends with staying power. It took quite a while to go from "occasional coffee" to genuine trust, and I sometimes felt like I was trying to date them - not in a romantic way, but like I was courting them to be my friends. I was lonely for a long time even after I got my act together about making friends.

Here's my thought: get involved in something that's not your program - political activism, volunteering at a place with a group every week. This won't magically give you friends, but it will give you friendly acquaintances. You can talk to those people about stuff (sometimes surprisingly deeply), practice your conversation skills and you won't feel as lonely or intense or whatever when you do make friends. This really has worked for me. I don't have as many friends as I'd like, but I'm miles better off than I was.

And with friends - pay attention to the people who have common interests and common values. Be picky. I mean, why not? Your other option is boring friendships that taper off. My firmest friendships are with people with whom I share a lot of core beliefs. I think in my early twenties I was so eager for friends that I'd spend a lot of time trying to make a friendship go with someone who really didn't share much with me - nice people, intelligent, artistic interests, but we didn't like the same art or the same books or have the same values about the world. We could have great casual conversations that were fun across our differences, but there wasn't enough there for anything more.

Also, I promise that you will do a lot of growing and changing in the next few years. A lot of the stuff that really is a curse in your teens and twenties will fall away.
posted by Frowner at 6:26 AM on November 14, 2011 [15 favorites]

(Oh, and Bob's SO? Being a jerkface, at least about this. Women need not to assume that other women are predatory harpies. And many, many people, men and women, need warm, close friendships in addition to relationships. Amongst queer folks, actually, I think it's a lot more normal to stay friends with exes - caring about people isn't assumed to turn on and off like a tap even if you're not sleeping with them.)
posted by Frowner at 6:28 AM on November 14, 2011 [4 favorites]

Oh, and Bob's SO? Being a jerkface, at least about this. Women need not to assume that other women are predatory harpies.

I totally agree that women should not assume other women are predatory harpies. However, as the OP says, her ex and his new girlfriend started dating a few days to a week after he and the OP broke up, and that he and the OP had been very serious. I don't think it's unreasonable for the new gf to want some breathing room for their relationship. I don't think it makes her a jerk at all.

Given the post is about making and keeping friends, if you want to be friends with someone, you need to be able to get along with their SO even if the SO isn't your total cup of tea. If the SO is WAY out of line and there's no way to get along with them while keeping your dignity, then the friendship isnt' going to work out, but I don't think it's one of those cases.
posted by cairdeas at 6:51 AM on November 14, 2011

There's nothing wrong with you, but I've noticed that even though being in your 20s (I'm in my 20s too) is young, a lot of people have already found their group of friends (I am not one of those people). For whatever reason, you were most likely unable to establish those friendships on the playground, in high school cafeterias, or classrooms in general. This doesn't mean that there's something wrong with you, but rather, you may be shy or uncomfortable in classroom settings because of your anxiety.

I haven't made that many friends in university, but I can say that the more confident you come across the more likely people are going to gravitate towards you. Another thing, it seems like making friends in classroom settings or your academic program is something that you expected and relied on (which I have done in the past too), but it isn't working for you. So you should change the setting by joining a few clubs on campus either by taking on a specific role or just attending as a regular member.

You say that you feel like there is no point in you trying to make friends right now, but it seems like you need friends in your life which is something that a lot of people need. No, you may not become lifetime friends with these people but you need friends for the present moment. That's why you should join a club (which is advice that I actually should have actually followed through on myself). I had the exact same reasons that you did and I think it was largely an excuse because I felt like I wasn't friend-material, but people want to be your friend they just haven't met you yet. If you join a club then you can get a sense of camaraderie which will help fulfill that desire to feel like you belong. Plus, you could also make new friends if you decide that it is something that you want.

So what the hell do you do about this? You get therapy if you have anxiety and depression (which is something that you used to tag this post) so that way you can feel more comfortable being yourself in relationships, feel more comfortable approaching others in general, and more excited about making friends, you tell yourself that you deserve to have friends and that you are friend-material, and you join a club (and don't use the lack of time or I'm almost done school excuses).
posted by sincerely-s at 7:36 AM on November 14, 2011

The Bob situation is not your typical friendship maintenance situation. Romance changes everything. It's not a solid illustration of your ability to keep friends, because your friendship did not end (or take a breather) because of anything you did. It's understandable that this might cause you some angst, but again - it's not part of your pattern - if you have one. Let yourself get through the emotional impact for now, but keep in mind that it's an apple to your other oranges.

You need to look at your other/past friendships. Why do they end? Some journaling might lend you some insight there.

How are you with friend maintenance? Do you wait for people to contact you, or do you contact them? Do you ask friends to do things with you? Do you ask what's going on in their lives? Do you ask for help? Do you offer help? Do you show people that you care for them and appreciate them?

ALSO - you're very young. You're still sorting out your major bugs, so to speak. When I was your age, I was struggling with different friendship/relationship issues. Don't beat up on yourself. Be patient and treat yourself like an intriguing experiment.
posted by bunderful at 7:41 AM on November 14, 2011

I have a lot of acquaintances, and a few friends who will actually invite me to events once every few months, but that's it.

Who are those friends who invite you to events every few months? This sentence seems to contradict the premise of your question, that you have no friends. How often do you see the people you put in the "a few friends" group? You mention they invite you out every few months, but how often do you contact them? Do you like them as people, or are you only going out with them because they invite you? Are they all friends with each other and you're on the outside of the circle, or are they all from different parts of your life? Do you know who their close friends are, and would you maybe like to spend time with your friend's friends?

I know from experience that it's super easy to, when one friendship fails, take it to mean that there's something inherently wrong with you and that nobody ever wants to be around you. But that woe blinds you to the people you do have, even if they're not yet as close as you'd like to be. But from the brief info you write about them, they sound like swell people -- they continue to invite you out when you're feeling down (and, with all that anxiety swirling around in your head, you're probably not at your 100% best when you do go out with them, but they continue to invite you out anyway!), initiate contact even when you (probably?) don't, and hang around at least a little bit even when you're unintentionally sending "back off" vibes.

It absolutely sucks when a friendship fails, or when outside circumstances like Bob's mean that you get dropped. But, if you're anything like me, your brain latches onto those circumstances and obsesses over them because they're so familiar, familiar enough that you even have a name for them. But obsessing over that pattern may be making you overlook opportunities for new patterns of interaction, like the long slow burn of friendship instead of the (usually) short intense "let's be BFFs forever and ever!" burn that you seemed to have with Bob. If you're like me, you get so desperate for friendship and acceptance that you look for someone who can completely satisfy that anxiety, and you overlook the many people who can satisfy only part of the need. But parts combine to make a whole, and the resulting structure is usually much stronger even though it takes longer to build.

Look back at those people you glossed over in the beginning of your question. What's making you downplay them so much? What's making you label them friends while completely minimizing them in your narrative? Have they made overtures that you perhaps aren't seeing? Have they, in their own way that's not obvious to you, stuck by you even as you struggle with all this anxiety? Are you being as good a friend as you can to them?
posted by lilac girl at 8:53 AM on November 14, 2011 [2 favorites]

Early 20's is a weird time to keep friends. High School buddies are all but gone, college friends are difficult to keep up with and you're just starting to make "adult" friends. Don't take a lack of contact as a sign of serious malfunction.
posted by GilloD at 9:27 AM on November 14, 2011

Nthing the "early 20's is a weird time to keep friends." Do your best. Take the high road. Have faith that the good, non-drama ones will shake themselves out over the years. Even the heavy drama friends will get sick of it soon and you'll figure out which ones are keepers.
posted by small_ruminant at 10:31 AM on November 14, 2011

Outing myself as the OP (question was anon so it didn't show up in my 'questions' list, this is just a small blip in my 'answers' list).

-If you got the feeling Jane would get jealous of you, what made you get that feeling?

Because early on, after I learned they were dating, Bob made it clear that Jane did not want to meet me or hear about me. I tried inviting her to out when I saw Bob in-person (3x total since they started dating), but Bob made it clear it would not be received well, so I stopped asking quickly. (I did not have a means of contacting Jane myself, only through Bob. I once got horribly embarrassed by suggesting that Bob say hi to her for me, and he laughed it off, saying it didn't matter). The dessert was a "I promise I think you're a nice person and I'm happy you're with Bob, see I am offering you non-poisoned baked goods as evidence for the idea I don't want you dead and I am trying to be welcoming" sort of thing.

But you'll need to be friends with both of them and probably not have the emotional closeness to Bob that you did before.

She has never been open to me contacting her, and part of her request was that I have no public way to contact Bob left, nor to see how he's doing. As a result, we are no longer Facebook friends (and his wall is locked-down for non-friends), not G+ friends, etc. Furthermore, ignoring Bob's and Jane's request that I not contact Bob seems... like a great way to make sure I never see either of them, ever.

Who are those friends who invite you to events every few months?

Old high-school friends. There are two 'groups'--one lead by someone who is so hard to get ahold of, I'm lucky to get one call returned every 6 months, and she's my only point of contact for that group, and the second is a group of very close people (many of whom live downtown while I'm in a 'burb) and I'm on the outside of the group. They're hard to get a hold of and seem to think I'm way busier than I am, so they never send me 'hey you free tonight' texts. I usually can't get a hold of them by FB, texting, e-mail, etc., even though I know they use all of those frequently.

So, thanks guys. I'll try to take your advice in mind and try to not be so hard on myself. I'll try joining some clubs--been too scared to try, recently.
posted by flibbertigibbet at 5:31 PM on November 16, 2011

Ah, I see what you mean about Bob and Jane there... it sounds like there is nothing you could have done in that situation.
posted by cairdeas at 7:12 PM on November 16, 2011

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