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January 18, 2012 5:15 AM   Subscribe

I have a phoney attitude. Preventing me from connecting with friends. Help

I really hate post like this, but I'm desperate. I'm a 21 year old male and I just became aware of my phoney attitude. the problem is if I act myself, I say extremely pathetic, sad, and embarrassing things about myself that make the others feeling uncomfortable. thats why i refrain from saying whats on my mind even though im dying to say it out loud; what i do say either brings everyone mood down, or i come off as a prick.

and on the top of that, im extremely self conscious.

how do make my presence welcoming to others, and be comfortable with myself.
posted by philllip to Human Relations (18 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: things about me
-i only have 2 friends in college, they are my roommates
-i spend hundred of dollars on clothing even thought i've never been on a date, no one has even said i look good
-i talk about friends that i never hang out with (or i will refer to them stirckly as coworkers, or fellow classmates, no idea why i even talk about these "imaginary friends" of mine)
-i spend most of my time on reddit and other forums like this, so much of what i say starts with

"did you see (insert website/meme"
posted by philllip at 5:28 AM on January 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

You know, that's just what being 21 is about. Don't worry--there are many people who feel the same way. The important thing is that you know it and can start to make small changes that will add up towards improving your situation.


1) Everyone spins a phony identity. This is normal.
2) Pessimism is a downer. It's authentic to be real, but be mindful of balance.
3) Only having two friends is just fine. Having zero friends is a problem.
4) Don't worry about others not noticing how good you look--worry about telling others how good they look. In time it will come around.
5) Stop talking about imaginary friends. You don't need that. Be comfortable with who you are--having only two friends is actually much better than many. Really.
6) You need a hobby. Research options.
posted by Murray M at 5:37 AM on January 18, 2012 [6 favorites]

you start by realizing that you are a cool person. everything else flows from there.
posted by facetious at 5:37 AM on January 18, 2012

Good on you for improving your self-awareness! Three thoughts for your consideration... First, try focusing on other people, asking open ended questions, seeking their insights, probing their opinions, etc. while resisting the urge to counter with your own stories and POV. It will get you out of your head and people will think you're a marvelous conversationalist. Second, try to foster , even if only by way of persistent mental discipline, an attitude that finds the most positive, kindest, sympathetic, and logical motivation behind why others think/act the way they do, tinpot dictators excepted. Remembering that you don't have all of the facts or appreciate the context affecting how other people view the world will engender compassion and empathy. Third, consider working with a therapist to accellerate your insights and identify workable strategies to improve your interactions and relationships. If your still in school there may be low-cost options available to you. FWIW, you're brave to confront the idea that your behaviors are contributing factors and to pursue lasting change.
posted by carmicha at 5:42 AM on January 18, 2012 [7 favorites]

When I was writing my college application essays I came across an essay by a high school senior who suffered from extreme self-consciousness as well. He was very popular and a high school athletics all-star but when he opened his mouth he found he would only suffer the wrath of others because of his self-deprecation and angling for low-hanging fruit. He started, at a young age, to not talk when he was around people and as a result people saw him as conceited, which also brought a great deal of suffering on his part.

I recall his resolution came when he started getting involved in writing. It opened up a world where he could explore his feelings on a whole range of subjects without opening his mouth and give him time to consider what he had to say - a major obstacle for anyone searching for a way to connect with anyone from a dear friend all the way down to a stranger. I know the challenge self-deprecation is. It is most often a defence mechanism against attacks that could hurt your self-worth. If you readily give up, you don't have to defend yourself against attacks. That way of living is going to kill your chances of being respected. You have a perfect opportunity at 21 and part of Metafilter, an intellectual, social network with as much anonymity as you wish to have to start building your sense of reason and find new topics to be aware of and bring to conversation. I am not telling you to build a wall of expertise between yourself and others. I would consider this epiphany as an opportunity to start talking about what you believe in instead of what may be a lie about yourself.
posted by parmanparman at 5:42 AM on January 18, 2012 [5 favorites]

You have more choices than either baring your sad soul or being phony.

I used to be like you. I didn't understand the value of small talk, and I felt alienated from people that I thought I should be close with. And I was deeply, deeply sad. It's a thing some people go through in their teens and twenties.

What you can do is listen to people. Make small talk, and notice what people say; notice what hints they give you about what they are going through, what they are hoping for, what they want out of life.

Listen. Be present to people. Be helpful within appropriate boundaries -- that is, understand the difference between, say, mentioning to someone that you heard a story on NPR that reminded you of something they were interested in, and, say, buying someone a banjo, even if they like playing the banjo.

Think of yourself less, and when you do think of yourself, think of yourself as a host, making sure that your guests are comfortable, putting people together who have common interests or who you think would be good friends, drawing the conversation out rather than changing it. Notice people, but don't put them on the spot. If there is an actual host at an event and it's not you, be helpful and magnanimous, but not officious.

Check out Ms Manners' Guide to Excruciatingly Correct Behavior for guidance.

And wean yourself off of internet memes, because those are something that you need to be in front of a screen to share. Maybe pick up a copy of The Teenage Liberation Handbook and read the chapter on being a Glorious Generalist. That's your model. Be interested -- in other people, in the world around you, in science and art and language. Change your mode from one of consumption of media to one of learning or of production of media (conversation is the original medium, after all). Not because there's some highbrow/lowbrow distinction that you should be buying into, but because sharing LOLCheezeburger photos is not likely to set up real human connections. It's not a fecund topic for conversation.

You'll be fine. What I've written is is a tall order, but you don't have to do it all at once. Start with listening to other people, really listening to them and being present for them. Mastering that will be enough for now.
posted by gauche at 5:50 AM on January 18, 2012 [14 favorites]

posted by The ____ of Justice at 5:52 AM on January 18, 2012 [3 favorites]

What do you mean you became aware of your phony attitude? Is this something other people have said they think about you? Or is it something you think about yourself? You don't have to say everything that's on your mind to be authentic, and it sounds like you might have that mistaken idea.

I think the problem is that you're in your head too much. That relates to you thinking negative things about yourself, but that happens because of your incessant navel-gazing. You need to be busier. Get a hobby. Get two.
posted by J. Wilson at 5:57 AM on January 18, 2012 [2 favorites]

Dude, I'm 21 too and I agree with everything that Murray M and gauche said. The link that The ____ of Justice posted is great too.

But, I think there is something greater than just feeling like the awkward person in a crowd of people or not knowing how to socialize.

I might be wrong, but I think you are depressed and/or have social anxiety and while these other things can help you feel better, not everything will be resolved by simply doing things because you won't be able to truly fill that void if you are depressed.

I have no idea if you have depression, but I really think that you'd benefit even from just one counseling session with a counselor on campus. Just go because you feel extremely self-conscious as you said and they can help provide you with some good advice.

You can do many great things, have great friendships, become romantically involved, etc..., but you have to address the core of the problem which seems like you are uncomfortable with how you come across to other people because you feel very self-conscious and like you are going to say sad things.

People tend to feel like they are going to come across as sad when they are sad. Focus on feeling better before your other wants like having more friends and making people laugh.

There is a lot of great advice based on what other people have said already. Doing things will not fill that void if you are depressed or have social anxiety, but it will help you get out of your own thoughts.

Feel free to memail me if you need someone to talk to.
posted by livinglearning at 6:04 AM on January 18, 2012

I'm going to repeat two common pieces of AskMe advice.

A therapist is a good person to talk to if you have "extremely pathetic, sad, and embarrassing things" to talk about and you think you're making your friends or acquaintances uncomfortable. You mention that you're in school. Many schools have free mental health service. Try it out, it might help you. It might not, but it won't hurt. You sound like you really need an outlet - someone to talk to - and a therapist is a safe option.

Your social circle is small and you're having trouble talking and interacting with people. Go volunteer doing something fairly active - you'll be physically doing something most of the time and getting to know people. When you're working, you don't have to talk much. Intramural sports can be similarly useful. The conversation can be about the activity. Start there.

When I was just out of college I had a difficult couple of years which became better when I started volunteering with a local medical establishment and playing pick-up ultimate frisbee with a workplace associated team. The hardest part is initiating the things that will make things better.

Good luck and remember, you're not alone.
posted by sciencegeek at 6:28 AM on January 18, 2012 [2 favorites]

Hey there!

It took me a long time to make friends. I did have some good friends in college, but it was by the grace of their putting up with a lot of dumb stuff from me. I don't think I was actually a nice or pleasant person until after I'd lived on my own for a while. Now I have plenty of friends, though, and although I can still be kind of a pill sometimes, mostly I find it easy to be friendly and likeable - or at least, people seem to like me. So my point is, it's possible to change, and not even really horribly difficult.

Also, you aren't some kind of terrible person just because you're awkward and can't get out of your own head.

Here is what I would do:

1. See a counselor on campus or elsewhere - if you don't connect with the first one, try another one. Get evaluated for depression.

2. Exercise! Bike, walk, swim...something you can do almost every day that's easy and reasonably pleasant. Exercise is as effective as depression meds for many people. I find that regular exercise has made me way less stressed and depressed - things that would make me go all fetal before are now manageable.

3. Get involved with something you are interested in that has regular meetings - or two things. Is there a film society on campus? Stay away from anything where you will feel like you have to mouth off a lot - if it were me, for example, I would stay away from anything that pushed my political buttons because I wouldn't want to be tempted. When you're there, stay quiet. Pay attention to staying quiet. Only say positive things - "that sounds good" or "I'd like to help with that" or "what about [doing thing]?" If you can't be positive, stay quiet. If you're quiet, your good qualities can come out - are you reliable, for example? Are you really good at working the door at events? Are you a great proofreader? If you're not mouthing off, your other qualities can shine. Once other people see you as, for example, the guy who always, always gets the posters distributed and the announcements sent out, they'll have some context if you're a little snappish sometimes.

4. If you're graduating this year, do whatever it takes to move somewhere where you can't just go back into your miserable shell. This is a make-or-break thing - if you end up working some shitty, boring clerical-managerial job in the exurbs, you won't build up the community you need to grow as a human being and you may very well stay "that guy" for your whole life. I know a really sweet person (underneath he's a really sweet person, anyway) who is in a situation like this. Move to a city, even if you have to rent a room and work at Starbucks. Or a large college town. Or whatever. Move somewhere where you can join the film society or go to meetups or volunteer at the museum or play amateur sports.

5. What are these pathetic things you say about yourself when you're not being a pill? That makes me sad, and I don't even know you. Finding somewhere where you can say the pathetic things sounds important - a counselor now and ultimately some real friends later. Real friends won't hate you if you pop out with something embarrassing about your childhood or how you wish you had a girlfriend/boyfriend or some nerdy observation. For many people, that's part of where intimacy comes from - the trust between people that means that they can say stuff like that to each other. I think that there's a lot of pressure on young folks, straight men in particular, to act like douchey lunkheads with no feelings or self-doubt. I find people who act like that really boring and I always hope they grow out of it. Anyway, you have something in your character - you're not just some kind of wanna-be hedge-fund manager or whatever, otherwise you wouldn't be asking this question.

6. When I was in my late teens and early twenties, I fudged the truth a little bit about friendships and classmates the way you describe above. I too had no conscious idea of why I did it. I think I was just scared of seeming weirder than I was, lonely, etc etc. Also, when other people were talking about their friends or life experiences, I had nothing to contribute and I felt bad and ashamed. It's okay. You're not hurting anyone (unless you're spreading malicious gossip or giving materially wrong impressions like "Oh, he invited me to the Hamptons this summer" or something that's 100% untrue.) It's not a great behavior, but it's a symptom of your other stuff. If you're like me, as you manage your other stuff you'll find yourself stopping.

Also, remember that college - especially the kind of college where lots of folks spend three or four years in the dorms - is a really artificial environment. I look back on my college experience and while I was awkward and kind of jerky at times, I was also in a really unsuitable environment where it was hard for me to meet people I clicked with - I feel like the awkwardness and jerkiness would have been cut down a lot in another situation.

Feeling bad about yourself sucks - but it's the first real step toward change. I know the agony, fellow mefite, but I also have confidence that you can get on track toward being a lot happier.
posted by Frowner at 6:30 AM on January 18, 2012 [5 favorites]

The hardest part is initiating the things that will make things better.

This a million times, too!
posted by Frowner at 6:31 AM on January 18, 2012

Seconding Succeed Socially. It's great and refreshingly uncondescending.

Anyway, lies tumbled out of my mouth like they were fleeing an explosion around that age. I didn't think I was cool, so I made shit up. Then, slowly, I realized that when I stopped lying, nothing really changed. I still wasn't cool, but I felt much better knowing that I wasn't lying to everyone for no good reason. Then I started working on making sure the things I said didn't alienate people (and the website above is good for that.)

A few other things:

If you want people to compliment you, compliment them first. Someone you know wearing something you think looks good? Say so. The freer your are with (genuine) compliments, the more compliments you get from people around you.

Stop talking about memes with people who aren't, well, internet-people. Any joke that has to be explained stops being a joke and becomes an exercise in frustration for teller and listener alike. If you want to talk about something you saw on the internet that requires some knowledge of reddit or whatnot (advice animals or rage comics or something), ask if anyone hangs out on reddit. If no one says 'yes' just say 'oh, never mind' and think of something else.
posted by griphus at 6:32 AM on January 18, 2012 [2 favorites]

Stop spending so much time fixating upon yourself. It's pretty normal at your age, but it leads to all the feelings and behaviors you describe. Worry more about others, less about yourself. In conversation, ask about them, get them to talk about themselves. You don't really need to talk about you. Where you might have chimed in about your own experience with some point of discussion, instead say that it is interesting and ask another question. Be genuinely interested in them and you won't be phony.
posted by caddis at 6:48 AM on January 18, 2012

Getting involved in a group of activity is great and it's being mentioned a lot for a reason - it gives you a clear role, and puts talking about yourself on the back-burner. It's actually great that you're thinking about this while you're in college, because college has way more ready-made opportunities to get involved with groups and meet new people than the rest of the world will. Pick something you genuinely care about right now (and be real about your actual interests, whether that's gaming or sci-fi or photography or philosophy or whatever) and give the group time.

If you are having issues with boundaries or what's appropriate, I second/nth looking into a counsellor to help you work through that. The internet can't see or hear you, so it's impossible to tell whether you're just extremely self-conscious or whether there's a good external reason to worry about how you behave to others. Either way, you can definitely get past it, and you'll be much happier for the rest of your life for having done so. (Keeping thoughts inside and suppressing inappropriate, excessively person or rude comments is not phony, it's a basic social grace, so the 'phony' part only comes in if you're pretending to be someone else.)

The more things you're doing that aren't on Reddit, MeFi or any other forum, the more you'll have to talk about and I promise you'll feel more at ease straight away when you've other stories and interests and things on your mind. There's nothing wrong with forums, but they can't be a substitute for life, conversation topics or friendship, and I'd almost guarantee that there's a group in your college that'll have the same interests that draw you to forums right now.
posted by carbide at 6:59 AM on January 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

Think less. Do more.

Introspection is only any use when you're doing something that's worth introspecting on. Otherwise you are just asking for a giant spiral of self involved thinkiness that's not grounded in reality and is therefore not likely to be productive.


Get a hobby. Get several hobbies. Join clubs. Volunteer to be involved in organising stuff at those clubs. Do something interesting. Make something. Go somewhere.

Once you've done this, you'll magically have things to talk about AND things to think about that aren't pathetic or embarrassing. You will have less time on your hands in which to implode yourself into Reddit.
posted by emilyw at 7:03 AM on January 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

You sound like a giant loser. I'm a giant loser, too!

And just look at me! I can totally understand why you would want to be more like me. So listen to me, and learn how to become an even bigger loser:

1. Stop lying, for example about who you hang out with. Nobody's going to mind you being an introvert/only having 2 friends, anywhere near as much as they'll mind your being pretentious.

2. All the people you're lying about hanging out with are giant losers. That's because they're only human, and humans are all giant losers.

3. In case you haven't figured out what I'm driving at by now, it's OK to be a giant loser.

4. You aren't left with just two choices: Forrest Gump or Iago. You can polish the way you present yourself, without becoming phony. It's a combination of deportment, and knowing how much information is too much.

5. I second, third, and nth the recommendation of Miss Manners' Guide to Excruciatingly Correct Behaviour. It will help you know exactly the right way to be genuinely nice to other people and hold your own in any situation. There's no point in becoming outwardly suave if you're not doing the basics of respecting yourself and others.

6. You are probably going to continue to feel awkward for a good few years. Just because you know you're a valuable person and other people are giant losers too, and so on, doesn't mean you're going to feel comfortable with that. But listen. Because it's true.
posted by tel3path at 7:08 AM on January 18, 2012 [3 favorites]


1. It's fine not to say everything that comes into your head. That's not 'phoney', it's normal social behaviour.

2. It's not fine to lie. That's not fair to the people you're talking to.

3. There's nothing wrong with hanging out on web forums all the time.

3.1 People like it when you show them cool stuff on the internet that you found because you hang out on the internet all the time. This is particularly true when they don't hang out on the internet all the time, because that means they probably haven't seen most of the best stuff. You need to be sensitive about matching the thing you're showing them to their interests and tastes, though.

3.2 Hanging out on internet sites can, if done judiciously, be a great way to learn socialisation skills. Basically, you get to observe thousands of social interactions and figure out in your own time what works and what doesn't. I swear I got most of my socialisation from lurking on internet boards while I was at university.

3.2.1 You can't get it all from, say, reddit, though. You need to hang out at a bunch of different places with different norms, and particularly in areas where people are encountering other people with very different ideas and beliefs and trying to communicate with each other successfully despite that.

4. I don't know why you think the amount you spend on clothes should bear any relation to how many dates you go on. Clothes are for more than dates. Do you like the clothes? If not, stop buying them. If you do, and you have the money, keep going. It's fairly simple.

5. If you are depressed, or think you might be, please seek treatment.
posted by Acheman at 8:44 AM on January 18, 2012 [2 favorites]

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