How do I enjoy my life again when I feel so alone?
December 8, 2011 11:02 AM   Subscribe

How do I not feel so depressed when after years of trying I still don't fit in anywhere?

I've posted about this many times before, but I just can't seem to make friends. I was teased a lot in High School, and I recently found a job where I thought my coworkers at least liked me. I commented to someone that they seemed nice, and she was surprised I thought that. She was like no, they talk about you behind your back and I defend you because you never know what someone's going through.

This isn't the first time that she's reported that people talk about me, but this time it seemed like she meant everybody where before it seemed like just a few people. And I guess I should expect it, since I hear them talk about other people too, but I'm guessing those people at least have friends or some positive human interaction in their life when they get home. I don't. I pretty much only have my partner, one friend who I never see because he lives too far away, and that's it.

I just don't know where to go from here. I don't know how to feel happy or have confidence in life when I feel like I'll never fit in anywhere. It most likely doesn't help that I'm really quiet and not because I'm shy or introverted, but because most of the time my brain isn't actively thinking of anything to say. People have told me, "Just say what's on your mind!" but half the time that has nothing to do with what's actually being said or it's like my brain just stops thinking while someone's talking to me. It's listening, but not actively producing any feedback.

Lately I've just been feeling like life isn't worth living because I don't think I'll ever have any friends to share it with. What's the point of having all these goals and accomplishments and such if in the end I'm alone? Therapy doesn't even seem to work because I've seen at least five different ones and nothing's helped.

I'm just asking how to be happy again when I feel like I'm back to being the teased outcast in High school, except now I've spent countless times trying my ass off to make friends and nothing has worked. I used to think that once I was older things would get better but now I feel like I'm going to go my entire life never really fitting in anywhere. I've been near-tears pretty much ever since she told me, and I went from being stressed but generally OK to just sad. I don't know how to have hope when I feel like I'm back at ground 0 as far as friendship goes. I just feel so lonely and depressed. My partner was showing me a funny conversation between her and a coworker last night and I just wanted to cry.

How do I pull myself out of this?
posted by biochemist to Human Relations (22 answers total) 33 users marked this as a favorite
Hang on a second.

I recently found a job where I thought my coworkers at least liked me. I commented to someone that they seemed nice, and she was surprised I thought that. She was like no, they talk about you behind your back and I defend you because you never know what someone's going through.

She doesn't sound like she dislikes you.

My partner was showing me a funny conversation between her and a coworker last night and I just wanted to cry. have a partner. So if you have a partner, and at least one coworker who doesn't talk smack about you, then it's not quite accurate to say that you don't have any people on your side at all, right?...

Mind you, if your complaint is more that you don't have a lot of people who like you, that's something different. It's perfectly okay to be upset about not being wildly popular, but that's just a different situation from not fitting in anywhere at all.

What I'm getting at is: I have a sense that rather than having a whole flock of acquaintances, what you have is only one or two friends -- and those friends are really TRUE friends. Having a lot of acquaintances has its advantages, but so does only having a couple of really good friends. And there's a way to get the advantages of having acquaintances without as much effort. But it helps to know the difference between "having only a couple friends" and "having no friends at all" first; it's easy to mistake the two, and getting clear about that will help you regain some confidence, which is an important first step.

Good luck.

(Although, P.S. -- you know that co-worker that keeps telling you about what other people are saying about you? I'd let her know that it's actually not making you feel very good, and that you're glad she seems sympathetic, but if she really wants to help she could talk to you about something else different instead.)
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:11 AM on December 8, 2011 [10 favorites]

What are your hobbies?

Seconding the poster above who notes that you have several very good friends rather than a bevy of acquaintances - that's far from no-one.

The best place to pick up a bunch of generally genial acquaintances is to go to a site like and see what's in your area that looks interesting. You don't have to commit long-term, so make a deal with yourself to attend X events per week, or try out Y groups per month. They're a great place to pull yourself out of your comfort zone in a safe, semi-random manner. And, if you find that you like people or activities, great! Keep doing them!

I didn't grow up terribly social, so it took me some time after high school and even through college before I realized that the onus was on me to go out and make friends. It never seemed obvious, but it's not hard to invite someone to something casual, like meeting up at a neutral place (like a restaurant), or movies, or video games, etc. Now, I stay a lot more involved with weekend plans and have more friends.

Recreational sports leagues are good for this too; really, any place where it's a semi-organized group of people who show up to do something together(-ish).

Now, work is not necessarily the best place to pick up this group of friends. In fact, this is a perfect time to develop your social group outside of work, so you can cut ties with the bitterness that knowing you're being talked about brings. Be vaguely positive/polite at work, and save your investment of yourself and your time for people who aren't gossips.

Also, are you female? Anecdata here, but I find that once a month I have a couple of days where I feel like everyone secretly hates me, nobody likes my jokes, etc. This sounds more on-going than that, but it may figure in. This also got better once I got off hormonal birth control.
posted by bookdragoness at 11:36 AM on December 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Hey, biochemist -- that coworker sounds like bad news to me. I've had similar coworkers who tried to make lonely/insecure people become Their Workplace Best Friend by diligently reporting real and fabricated incidents of other people's smack-talking. For all you know, the original smack-talking incident was something along the lines of "Wow, biochemist seemed to be in a bad mood this morning," and that gets reported back to you as "She said that biochemist was no fun to be around!" I'm just saying... take this sort of thing with a grain of salt. It could just be emotional leeching on the part of the coworker, who sees that you're insecure and wants to have a thrall.

And I usually don't get along that awesomely with my coworkers, either. (I'm also a scientist, which I'm guessing you are too from your username.) It can be rough when you're in a lab -- after all, scientists keep crazy working hours and a lot of them tend to socialize almost exclusively with the other members of their lab group. So it can get really high school clique-ish, really fast.

I pretty much stopped bothering about trying to fit in at work. Just because a group of people have similar career interests doesn't mean that you want to hang out with them. (And who wants to hang out with a bunch of smack-talking bitches and drama queens, anyway?) I got teased a lot in high school, too, I moved away from all of my college friends after I graduated from college, and I didn't really grow into my self-confidence until I was about 25. I was a pretty lonely lady, even though I had a partner. What I did was to figure out what I loved APART from my work, and what I wanted from my life besides work and the approval of others (in my case: doing things outside, cooking delicious food, the occasional spot of volunteer work, making music). And then I looked for groups of people who were interested in the same things. Most of my friends are from social groups focused around one of my two most favorite activities. It took time and effort to cultivate these friendships, but they're real friends -- not just people I do hobby stuff with -- and I have an incredibly busy life.

You sound so sad and defeated, and I hope you know that your life's value isn't predicated on how much you are valued by others. Because statements like "What's the point of having all these goals and accomplishments and such if in the end I'm alone?" make it sound like your entire sense of self-worth is predicated on being liked by others. And that can make you come across as desperate or clingy when you're trying to make friends. I'm not trying to trivialize your pain or make you doubt yourself even more; what I'm suggesting is that it might be time for you to radically redefine what makes your life worthwhile, what "fitting in" really means to you, and the role of other people in your life. Healthy people want to be friends with people who love themselves and who have respect for their intrinsic self-worth. I wouldn't go through more therapy or self-help attempts with the goal of making yourself more likeable. Instead, I'd try to move forward in terms of liking yourself a bit more in terms of your own merits, instead of trying to define yourself and your worth in terms of how many people you attract.
posted by kataclysm at 11:39 AM on December 8, 2011 [15 favorites]

I was a nerdy, quiet kid in high school, who did get picked on. Now, I have a few close friends, and a number of acquaintances that I've met in a variety of places. You say you have tried to make friends, but what have you been doing? I've met people through church, school, and hobby activities. It's easier to make friends when you have something in common, especially activities to participate in. Work friendships, I've found, have only lasted as long as the job did, and then fade away. Just about every place I've worked has been gossip central, so I'd be more surprised if no one was talking about me.

It's hard to be on the outside looking in, and a therapist might be able to help you figure out why you feel that way, and what you can do about it. Does interacting with people make you anxious? That might explain why you have trouble with conversation.
posted by lawhound at 11:39 AM on December 8, 2011

How social are you? Join meetups, volunteer - this is a good way to meet acquaintances, some of whom may become friends. I've been involved in restaurant and food meetups, game meetups. You can also volunteer, there are many programs with kids that need help with homework. Kids may be easier to talk to but you also meet other adult volunteers. Don't force it but being active helps and it gives you something to talk about.

What about getting a dog? I talk to many people because I have a dog. Certainly most of these people are acquaintances but I enjoy talking to them regularly. Dogs are great ice breakers and they have to be walked several times a day. I know stories about so many people simply because our dogs play together. I know who's married, divorced, transgender, hates broccoli, is the only boy in a family with 7 sisters named Mary, doesn't like different foods to touch, is the illegitimate son of a Unitarian minister in Mendocino, has an autistic sister in Florida who has a 3-legged cat - these random facts about different people started over dogs or playing mahjongg or eating at a restaurant for a carnivore meetup.

The thing about regular activities is that you see the same people regularly and that's how relationships are formed.
posted by shoesietart at 11:39 AM on December 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

I notice that you're 21 - you are still very, very young although you've been through some big life changes (living on your own, college, serious relationship). When I was 21, I was not good at making friends or at finding places where people like me congregated. I was often very lonely. Now, sixteen years later, I have lots of friends - although I still feel lonely a lot, but at least it's not a crushing-personal-failure thing. (Also, one of my younger friends basically didn't have friends until they were ~22 - now they're popular and beloved a scant four years later.

Here are some random thoughts:

1. You've been in therapy - have you been treated for anxiety or ADD? If you can't think of anything to say, that could easily be because you are so anxious that you're using up all your focusing abilities just to stay present in the conversation rather than having the mental facilities to have anything to say. This was something I struggled with and that was very hard for me to identify.

2. Where do you live? What do you do in your spare time? What do you care about? All my friends except for one long-ago ex are people I met through political activism and the punk scene. Like, everyone. Until I got kind of integrated into those milieux I really couldn't make friends because I wasn't meeting people who were at all like me. It happened this way: I made a couple of friends, volunteered for a couple of projects and slowly over time was integrated until finally I started getting all the party invitations, etc etc. Of course, I hate parties.

3. Why do you think you don't fit in? Your appearance? Vocabulary? Beliefs? If it's just a general "I'm a weirdo", then you're probably in a negative feedback loop where people make fun of you, you feel bad, you get flinchy and withdrawn, and people make fun of you.

4. I really know that horrible vertigo when someone you thought had liked you turns out to be making fun of you behind your back. I am sorry.

5. Here is how to make friends:

1. Find a community where the barrier to entry is low and where you care about the focus - for me it was activism. Seek out a project with a diverse group of people in terms of age and background if possible - one thing I've noticed now that I am O L D is that kids I would not have liked when I was younger are interesting to me now - I have enough social skills and experience to see through some of the youthful discomfort, standoffishness or awkwardness that I had at that age to the interesting person inside.
2. Stick around, even if you feel awkward or isolated.
3. Make some serious efforts to figure out social skills - do that Toastmasters stuff, or some kind of workshop about interacting with people. I recently took a workshop with Training For Change and it was very helpful in terms of figuring out how to listen effectively to people, etc. Journal about everyday social interactions - why did someone say something? what did you say? How did it make you feel? My young friend mentioned above actually taught themself a whole range of social skills and went from being awkward around people to being very warm and present - this was NOT a transformation that anyone would have predicted. They did it by being very focused and meta, reading stuff about communication, etc.
4. Eventually, you will make friends.

Not to do: Do not stay in an isolating milieu out in the suburbs where you meet people at random via work or maybe via going to bars/to hear bands. You simply won't meet a critical mass of people similar to you and then you'll feel like a failure.
posted by Frowner at 11:42 AM on December 8, 2011 [5 favorites]

I commented to someone that they seemed nice, and she was surprised I thought that. She was like no, they talk about you behind your back and I defend you because you never know what someone's going through.

This isn't the first time that she's reported that people talk about me, but this time it seemed like she meant everybody where before it seemed like just a few people.

I don't know how well you know this person, she a reliable narrator, or is she a shit-stirrer? Because my instinct in reading this is that if people seem nice at your office, they might just be nice but gossip-y. Whereas someone who says, "Oh, you think they're nice? ACTUALLY, THEY talk about you all the time, BUT I DEFEND YOU," and who keeps telling you that people are talking shit about you, when telling you that doesn't serve any real purpose, sounds like kind of a drama queen (and someone who is trying to cast herself in the role of the Truth-Telling Defender), and I wouldn't put too much stock in her version of the truth. They might be talking about you, they might be talking about EVERYONE, they might not really be talking about you much at all.

I definitely wouldn't let what this person said throw you that much off your axis.
posted by Countess Sandwich at 11:44 AM on December 8, 2011 [19 favorites]

I frequently feel the same way, especially about the trying to make friends part. I've lived in this city for over 10 years and for most of those I felt like I had no one other than my partner.

Quite frankly, Meetup and Meetin never worked for me because I was always going with the mindset of meeting people and not just to have fun. It was the "trying my ass off to make friends" thing that you mention. I would get bummed out, or downright angry, that no one wanted to talk to me.

I decided, not a big decisive lightbulb moment but as a series of smaller events, that I needed to start living. I was just shut up in my house lamenting the fact that I was alone, and not only was I lonely, I was bored. I went on a vacation by myself. I started going to a local knit night. I did these things for me, not to meet people. Weirdly, what happened was that I met people. I met people who were both interested in some of the same things as me, but also because I wasn't really trying to impress anyone, they were cool with "the real me."

I'm still working on the "how to keep people in my life" part. One thing I realized is that there's no point in having some generic friend that I don't even like just so I can say I have a friend. Making a friend who is actually interesting and who I want to know more about and spend time with makes the whole process alot easier. Plus, Facebook helps.
posted by cabingirl at 11:44 AM on December 8, 2011 [2 favorites]

Oh, and if "work" is a lab, especially a lab that skews young - jeez, I have seen some really toxic lab groups. (Although I work near a couple of super-nice ones with good, long-term lab managers who are friendly and approachable) If you're in a lab where the lab manager is clueless or a jerk, or where the PI is mean or withdrawn, or where there's a lot of gender crap....well, it's not about you, let me say that.
posted by Frowner at 11:49 AM on December 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

Nthing Kataclysm, particularly on the friend reporting smack talk. Sounds odd. IME decent colleagues don't randomly talk shit about one another. Kinda bad form. When someone reports seeing this kind of behavior I'm just as likely to hear it as a sign of something awry in the reporter's perception or office-drama motives, not the underlying reality.

In any case, making your life about more than the sum of your social interactions is a good bet. Mental health is about balancing areas of life so none dominates.
posted by ead at 11:50 AM on December 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

Sorry to hear that you're feeling so down right now.

I'm close to 30 and i still don't have this friendship thing figured out yet. I have friends but they never seem to stick around, you know? I've come to understand that there are certain pieces of the social puzzle that I'm missing and that I have to put in a lot of effort to learn-unlearn what seems to be obvious to most people. I'm trying to embrace the idea that these changes must come from me because others aren't going to change for my sake but it's hard. Really hard. At the same time, I'm becoming increasingly comfortable with being on my own because I've learned that it's actually not that bad. 21 is still pretty young and I'm sure that things will become easier for you as you grow older (not that you have to embrace being alone, just that you might gain new perspectives).

EmpressCallipygos is right when she mentions that you actually have two people in your life who seem to care about you. That's two people more than many people have. Cherish these relationships because you never know how long they might last.

In a way you're lucky you don't have to be "friends" with the people who talk dirt behind other people's backs. Think about it. You don't have to deal with the constant petty, negative and insecure drama or be part of a clique of casual haters.
posted by Foci for Analysis at 12:04 PM on December 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

Having suffered with depression in my lifetime, I can really relate to how you feel. There have been a lot of things that have helped me get through times of feeling alone. One has been talking about it with other people. When I am depressed, I can't always rely on my thoughts to be accurate, so it is good for me to run them by people I trust. I have had great therapists in the past and I have a few other people I trust that I can tell my thoughts to. Also when I am depressed my thinking can be very all or nothing. Example: No one will ever like me.
If I can think that through that is obviously not true. I don't know the future and I don't know what other people are thinking. Again a therapist and trusted friends can help me with that. Also just knowing that my thoughts are messed up can help. It doesn't always ease the pain. You aren't alone.

I agree with others that the person telling you that your workers are talking about you isn't helping. I have learned to stick with the people that help me feel good. It's OK to set boundaries and let the person know you don't want to hear that information.
posted by heatherly at 12:09 PM on December 8, 2011

I'm with a few others here. That coworker sounds like a shit disturber in concerned friend's clothing. Beware such people.
posted by futureisunwritten at 12:12 PM on December 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

I sort of doubt that you would feel any different if you did fit in. Emotions tend to occur as reactions to events, not to facts--and "I fit in here!" is an awfully... metaphysical sort of fact.

If you feel depressed, you need to diagnose that. You seem to have jumped the gun and concluded that it's to do with social problems. What specific events do you recall making you feel this way?

Right now you report feeling depressed at being told that people were gossiping about you. That could mean you're depressed at the lack of friends... or depressed that you're "merely" not being included in those conversations. Friends talk about other friends all the time, and friends have certain things they won't talk about with certain friends; this is not necessarily malicious, it's just tact. I don't like it either but it doesn't actually mean they don't like you.
posted by LogicalDash at 12:24 PM on December 8, 2011

From some long-ago employee health insurance handbook (not the place one normally expects to find enlightenment): Don't try to "feel" yourself into doing better. Instead, "do" yourself into feeling better.

Which is another way of saying that your inner world (state of mind) follows your outer world (things you do), not the other way around. It seems counterintuitive when you're depressed but in my experience it's true - you need to do stuff to start feeling better. Much as I resist it myself, because moping is so much easier.

Like everyone else says, go out and do stuff that interests you, and you'll slowly start feeling better and attracting other people with similar interests. And even before you start finding those people, you'll have some enjoyable activities to look forward to.

Oh, that's another thing: having something to look forward to is huge. Not some nebulous future thing ("Some day I'm going to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro") but an actual event that you can schedule on your calendar. A cooking class, a hike with your local Sierra Club, a weekend trip with your partner, whatever. Something where you can look at your calendar and tell yourself that you just have to make it through the next few days and then [good thing] will happen.
posted by Quietgal at 1:02 PM on December 8, 2011 [4 favorites]

As a fellow that has gone through depression, I understand fully how a set back could be easily interpreted as a giant flaw in one's character. Unable to make friends in one setting = will never be able to fit in.

Banish that thought from your mind!

You might not be good at this point in time in terms of fitting in. Remember that: AT THIS POINT IN TIME. To get better at something, anything, you need but 2 things: the right techniques and practice.

For example: an average person could remember at a glance 7 things in a list. More or less. With the proper techniques, I can teach within half an hour to memorize 20 things in a list. Back and forth. Not because I have turned you into a genius in half an hour. But proper techniques go far. With proper practice? You probably won't be able to win memory competitions but you will be vastly better than where you are now.

The same thing with social situations. There are proper techniques you can learn. Simple things: eye contacts, body language, never monopolizing conversation about oneself, etc. I do not know what they are and cannot teach you that. But my point is that there are a certain things you can learn to make this particular situation vastly better. It is not a reflection on your character flaws if AT THIS POINT you are seemingly not good at it.

People with depression tend to judge themselves very harshly. In matters that normal people would start congratulating themselves on something well done, a depressed person might beat himself up even more. Take the memory example. A normal person will be proud if he's able to memorize 20 things in a list at a glance. A depressed person will beat himself up because he sees someone able to do 100 things at once and he can't yet do it. Be aware of this.

Last thing - be aware of the language you use. "Fit in" is extremely vague and there is no way to satisfactorily measure success. Coupled with the tendency above, that is recipe for failure and further spiral into self-defeating thoughts. Have simple, easily measured goals. Instead of fitting in, try saying something like,"I will make two friends here that I can call every other week."

Good luck.
posted by 7life at 2:28 PM on December 8, 2011

Lately I've just been feeling like life isn't worth living because I don't think I'll ever have any friends to share it with.

This is so sad! I really feel for you, honestly-- I'd give you a hug if you were here.

Have you ever heard that saying, "The best way to make friend is to be one"?

Instead of focusing on what's wrong with you, why people don't like you more etc., why don't you try to give something of yourself unconditionally and see what happens?

As others have said, volunteering and meeting up with new people and behaving like the best friend you wish *you* had may do wonders. Focus on doing all the things for people you like that you wish a cool person (kind, assertive, generous, etc.) would do for you.

You'll make the world a better place and someone pretty great will definitely like you, even if it takes a minute to find that right person.
posted by devymetal at 3:33 PM on December 8, 2011

I'm as suspicious of that cow-orker as some other posters, but wait a minute.

You're worried your cow-orkers don't like you? And a while back weren't you desperate because you had no income and had never been able to get a job?

You're worried because you only have your partner and one friend? A while back weren't you worried about one or more dickish guys who were jerking you around?

Don't you think this is at least a better class of problems? Like maybe you solved the other stuff and you'll solve this too?
posted by tel3path at 4:52 PM on December 8, 2011

I pretty much only have my partner

that's one more than i have.

can you meet new people with your partner? e.g. partner = wing-man for making friends, just like friend = wing-man for finding a partner.

also, maybe you'll never have a friend that overlaps all/most of your interests, but you could have friends that you do certain things with. the hiking friend. the racket-ball friend. the movie friend.
posted by cupcake1337 at 9:49 AM on December 9, 2011

Best answer: biochemist, one of the things about ADHD is that it makes it especially hard to maintain a consistent view of the landscape of our successes and failures.

When we have a big bit of success, we feel good about it for about 12 seconds, and then go right back to feeling like failures. Combine this with a pervasive feeling of falling short and not meeting our goals, and the result tends to be that we feel crummy about ourselves most of the time. Yeah, that Nobel Prize felt good, but I missed the bus home after the ceremony and got home too late to get my laundry done before dinnertime, so there's another day FUBARed.

I urge you to look back on how hard you've struggled and how far you've come. You are solving your problems and finding ways to get the things you need in life. It isn't necessarily going to feel like you're doing well, but you actually are. It's impressive. Of course you're going to get tired, but don't give up.
posted by tel3path at 12:27 PM on December 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

People at work are, also, not your friends. Be friendly with them but don't disclose anything personal and don't try to make them your friends.
posted by tel3path at 4:43 AM on December 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: An update on the situation... Had another situation happen where a coworker said some things to me and I left crying. I later confided in the coworker in the op who'd said I could talk to her anytime.

She said the reason people talk about me is my appearance. It sucks knowing that if I'd put more effort into that I'd be being treated better right now. But it is relieving to know I don't have some glaring personality flaw that causes people to dislike me.
posted by biochemist at 8:15 AM on December 16, 2011

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