How To Use this Big Change/Trip in My Life To Practise Social Skills/Build More Intimate Relationships?
October 22, 2012 12:21 PM   Subscribe

I'm a 20 year old girl who has had little experience with real romantic relationships. I also have trouble with friendships---though I am super extroverted and can mix and mingle in parties with ease, creating sustainable friendships is very difficult for me. I'll be going on exchange in France for 5-6 months in January. I'd like to practise and build intimate friendships and romantic relationships (short-term, but meaningful!) when I'm there, and try to get a handle on WHY I usually have trouble. How can I do this? More deets inside.

I've decided to include a link to my OKCupid (Yes....done the online dating thing for a while now...) to my question.

I think if you were to see my profile, you may get an idea of what sort of person I am, what my interests are, etc. I've met a lot of guys, mostly mediocre experiences (some have led to be good friends!)but no solid connections.

I have heard all my life that I am an overly "intense" person, too emotional, way too energetic and outgoing, almost exhausting to be around. I'm also really talkative and have a lot to say. I'm really expressive.

All of this can be very annoying to people, including potential dates, so I've worked on it. I've become a LOT better at sustaining conversation--though I know at times, especially when I am nervous, it's hard for others to get a word in edgewise (this is horrible to admit)--I've become better at listening, understanding the energy of the other person, become a lot less annoying/anxious, and have also started to realize that NOT everyone will like me/want to hear me out/hangout with me. I don't have to try and force everyone to like me, which I think is part of why I behave the way I do.

However, I still have a lot of difficulty. I've NEVER had a best friend. I have a lot of friendly acquaintances and I always end up meeting new people, but these friendships are on-the-surface and not intimate. What I crave is an intimate friendship. And hopefully, an intimate relationship. I don't know what is wrong with me, but a lot of people stay at the "good friends, but not BEST friends" zone. I feel as though most people can only take me in small doses. :(

I've had one real, serious boyfriend. I was 16, and he was great, but as you can imagine, I've changed a lot since then. And it was almost a fluke that I found someone who could handle my weirdness! Unless I change, not sure if it will happen again.

Often I will hang out with people, and it'll be fun, but I am left feeling empty--as if I have given so much of myself, and they haven't given me any at all. And also, that I overexerted myself/made a slight fool out of myself. It's very offputting.

I'll be going on exchange to Lille, France in January. I am very excited! Preparing to study/work/travel/socialize/everything in France is terribly exciting and I totally can't wait! Ahh, a taste of freedom. It feels like a clean slate : it'll also be an opportunity for me to break the "MEET LOTS OF PEOPLE, HANG OUT ONCE OR TWICE, MEET OTHER PEOPLE, HANG OUT ONCE OR TWICE" pattern I've been building up. I want to create a reputation that isn't "Yeah, she's cool/okay/fun" but also "she's a great friend", something more meaningful to people.

I know I probably shouldn't be dating with any real seriousness, but I want to try honing my dating skills. I have gone on a lot of first dates that have not worked out. I'm just so anxious and way too talkative and energetic on first dates. How do I calm myself? Should I keep an OKC profile in France? And in general, how can I tweak/better my profile/photos/etc? :) Lots of my friends have found relationships online, and I'm not embarrassed by my profile at all.

In short, how can I make this exchange trip to France one which will help to IMPROVE my social skills and help me build more intimate friendships/relationships? Do you have any other advice at all?

Thank you so much!
posted by rhythm_queen to Human Relations (18 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
To me, it sounds like you may be putting too much of yourself out too fast and it doesn't leave any room for the potential friend/partner to meet you half way. Much of what you've said is about what you do/say and how you act where, in order to build lasting relationships you need to be just as concerned with what the other person is doing, saying and how they are acting.

I don't remember where I heard the advice (it may have even been here!) but I once read that everyone has something, somewhere in them, that will just fascinate you but you'll never find that if you don't try and you don't find that by dominating the interactions. Make it a game, almost, to find that nugget of a persons personality, interets or past that just fascinates the hell out of you. People will appreciate you for it and open up more, allowing you to do the same as they try to figure out the same things about you.
posted by Loto at 12:31 PM on October 22, 2012 [3 favorites]

Not sure that there's actually something "wrong" with you (really impossible for anyone here to know without a lot more information). You just seem to be someone who is not typical, and therefore typical people don't work as friends for you. It seems you have just not found the right friends yet. Keep trying! It could be that in Europe you'll find it's easier to meet people who are more like you (passionate, eccentric, or whatever it is you are). You'll know soon enough. When you graduate, you could also consider moving to a location that is known for having more people who are not run-of-the-mill (wherever that may be - good future question to post on AskMeFi). I think the fact that you are very aware of who you (intense, etc.) and the impact you have on people (exhausting, etc.) is great because it will help you navigate your way to the eventual good situations you are looking for.
posted by Dansaman at 12:34 PM on October 22, 2012

Best answer: as if I have given so much of myself, and they haven't given me any at all.

People observing someone who is overflowing with life can mistakenly conclude that that person doesn't need anything else, or that they don't have anything to contribute to you. You can keep being your outgoing self, but you have to make your needs clear. Don't be afraid to ask for exactly what you want of a person. They might not have realized that you need it!
posted by carsonb at 12:35 PM on October 22, 2012 [11 favorites]

Having to operate in a foreign language all the time might help you slow down a bit with other people and listen more than you talk, because unless you're already really fluent in French, I think it's a bit harder to just start nervously babbling in a foreign language. You're probably going to have to be much more deliberate in how you communicate with people in France, and that could be really good practice for you, since it sounds like you're maybe not currently in the habit of always thinking about what you're going to say before you say it.

And that is a helpful skill to have, I think, because a big part of building strong friendships is giving the other person in the friendship enough room to breathe and process what you're saying without pressure, and if every time they talk to you, they get the conversational equivalent of a firehose, then that's hard to do. It's not changing who you fundamentally are to learn how (to push the metaphor too far) to insert a spigot between your brain and your mouth, so that you can control how much information and energy you're exuding at any one time. It's just a really good skill to have that will serve you well in your adult life.
posted by colfax at 12:54 PM on October 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I think when you go out on dates and even when trying to forge new friendships, you should maybe focus more on the process of communicating and understanding the other person and try and temper your excitement for social interactions. I know you've said you've been working on this, which is good! I think one thing you may be forgetting or may not realize is that people "open up" to others after different lengths of time. Some people may take a really long time to let their guard down and let you get to know them better; if you are only judging by one or two dates, you may not have even scratched the surface of their true self yet.

As anecdotal evidence, I approached life in somewhat the same way for a while. I was always looking to meet new people, have new experiences, hoping for excitement and drama with every new adventure. I tried making connections online too (this was on craigslist's strictly platonic section, if you are familiar with the website). I had one bad experience and then I had another experience which kind of changed the way I view people. I talked online with someone for a few months and then we met in person (I would have rather met them much earlier, but didn't want to put them out of their comfort zone.)

Online, they seemed extroverted and confident, someone who might push my buttons in all the right ways. In person, they were... quiet, polite, unassuming. Dull, even. I thought we could definitely be friends but never saw anything romantic happening between us. But over the next few months, we got to know each other a little better and I found myself enjoying our time together. Their energy seemed to balance my energy and I just really enjoyed being around them. We started dating six months ago and I am still in the process of learning about them (as cliched as it is, it's a little like peeling an onion).

In sum, don't give up on a person after a few dates unless something is really off-putting about them. If you just feel like a person is not your cup of tea/not what you were looking for, maybe go out with them another time or so, just so you have broadened your perspective on what different people are like. You may even find what you think you want and what you actually want are two different things. (I never would've thought this could happen till I experienced it myself.)

As far as friendships are concerned, much the same process is applied. It is really all about communication, patience, and understanding -- discount first impressions and strive to get to know people better than surface level. To add another cliche to the mix: it's more about the journey than the destination.
posted by sevenofspades at 1:09 PM on October 22, 2012

Best answer: There's a really good book I think you ought to check out. It's called (and I'm cringing as I'm writing it) How to Marry the Man of your Choice.

Now, it's pretty old (probably older than you are) but it's a wonderful book about getting to know people. How to ask provocative questions (not to annoy, but to provoke thought) and how to really get to know people.

Certainly, dial it back a bit, but if you listen more and talk less, you'll find that there's more intimacy. When other people talk to you, and you really listen, they can't help but be attracted to you on a deeper level.

Also, have you thought about neural linguistic programming? That's an interesting subject. It can also come across super-cheesy when you're learning to use it.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 1:19 PM on October 22, 2012 [2 favorites]

What are you more interested in? Getting to know other people, or having other people get to know you? Make your priority to learn about the other person and try to balance being interested in them as oppose to being prying. Good luck.
posted by nickerbocker at 1:24 PM on October 22, 2012

Perhaps it would help to try to get out of your head a little. When you discuss your issues with connection, you seem to be thinking a lot about what you are looking to get from the exchange. That is completely natural but you may find more success making friends if you focus on what the other person is hoping to get out of knowing you for a while.

You mention that you are trying to listen more. In my opinion, this is the key to finding more intimate relationships. Think about what you are saying here - ultimately you feel isolated because you feel like no one really knows you and you don't have close friends. Most people feel that way until they've established a few deep, meaningful connections. Giving someone the space to express who they really are and experience someone being interested in that is incredibly powerful. Try to be the friend you wish you had verses worrying about being interesting yourself.

Here's a classic book that discusses making friends that pretty much hinges on "listen to other people and show interest in their interests." The end.
posted by amycup at 1:32 PM on October 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

You sound like a fun and interesting person based on your profile (though I'd delete the 'lol's). I think this comment is right on the money.

Also: not everyone has a best friend. Really! I didn't have one at all until I was 17, and these days I have probably four different people who I'd count as my 'best friends,' but who all play different roles in my life. And I didn't become friends with half of them until I was in my senior year of college. I also didn't have a boyfriend until I was 19 (and now my dating life is great). It can take time to find that kind of connection, and the fact that you haven't yet isn't a huge problem.
posted by showbiz_liz at 1:34 PM on October 22, 2012

Best answer: Oh, and for specific advice on how to use this trip to your advantage: I think that as an extroverted person, you'll be in a good position. People will be nervous about living in a foreign country and no one will know anyone else. If you make a point of immediately getting the phone numbers of everyone else in your program- a totally normal thing to do in study abroad- and then text people invitations to interesting events you've found, I think people will be very grateful that someone else is doing the heavy lifting of organizing social events. That's how it went when I studied abroad, anyway.
posted by showbiz_liz at 1:40 PM on October 22, 2012

Best answer: I'd dial it all down a little.

It's great that you're expressive and emotional. I am too! But your profile and your description of yourself sounds, well, exhausting and a little craycray. I understand why you might be putting a lot of it out there. It feels good to be an open book, and when you're an intensely emotional person, that kind of disclosure can feel safe--like you're deflecting others' criticisms before they can make it. But honestly, if I were on a date with someone who presented themselves as so IN YOUR FACE LABILE, I'd be a little more reticent, a little reluctant to get emotionally involved. Because I've known other people like us, and they can demand a lot of time, caretaking and attention.

High-maintenance, basically.

So my first question would be whether you're really taking care of yourself--have you tried therapy? You do know that there's a happy medium between experiencing healthy emotions and being a constant emotional rollercoaster, right? And that 24/7 intensity isn't really good for you, much less other people?

I hope that doesn't come off as cruel. I mean it lovingly, as a person who was also a super intense good crier at 20. I was proud of it then--defensive, really. But honestly, calming down a lot has been such a good thing for me emotionally, and in terms of my quality of life. My friendships now are tempered, longer lasting. Probably because I take better care of myself and demand less of others. I've also dealt with my social anxiety better so that my moods aren't totally all over the place the first time I'm meeting someone. And it's sooo much more comfortable now.

You've gotten a lot of good advice here from others about how to forge new friendships in France. Listen more than you speak, make it more about them and less about you and your feelings and your emotional expression.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 1:59 PM on October 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

Oh, and for your profile, I'd recommend making one of your other photos your top one--the current one doesn't look like someone you could take home to mom, really and so might not be the best if you want a long term relationship. Pic 4 looks super cute, still hot, and also approachable. 2 and 3 are nice, too.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 2:03 PM on October 22, 2012

I'm also really talkative and have a lot to say. I'm really expressive.

Being too talkative with new acquaintances is, in itself, enough to drive away a huge subset of potential friends. A big portion of the remainder may be more interested in feeding off your energy (short term), than in being a good friend.

Give this a try -in quiet conversation, train yourself to speak in turns, without ganging up several comments, observations and anecdotes into a single run on statement. In small groups, talk freely but wait for every other person have their say on a point of discussion before taking another turn. This may even necessitate asking somebody at the table what their thoughts are (which lots of people happen to LOVE). If you can avoid replying to every other person's comment, you won't risk monopolizing the conversation. Remember, significant moments can be shared with quiet acknowledgement. Not everything needs to be commented upon.

Good luck and have a great time!
posted by bonobothegreat at 2:19 PM on October 22, 2012 [2 favorites]

Another suggestion: you're obviously gorgeous, so you don't need SO many glamour-shot photos to prove it. Why not post some where your interests and personality come through more--do you have any of yourself outside, pursuing hobbies, out with friends (not necessarily clubbing), etc.? As a potential lady friend, I'd look at these and say, "but what would she be like to DO things with," and I wonder if potential boyfriends might think the same.
posted by availablelight at 3:15 PM on October 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

As one talkative extrovert to another, I can tell you, whatever you've learned about listening, apply it triple. Quadruple. And ask questions. I know how you feel - I was there. I'm alot more relaxed by now (but I'm 18 years older than you!) but I'm still working on being a good listener. Make it like a mission to really understand where another person is coming from. Try to figure out what makes other people happy, what motivates them. And don't give in to that automatic urge to reciprocate! Just listen.

Also, going to foreign country for 6 months might not be the right moment to work on the things you mentioned... simply because you will be so out of context that the same issues won't apply. Also because you will discover a whole other set of issues that will have to do with living in a foreign country, in a culture that (I assume) is not familiar to you.

I do agree however, that just getting out of your familiar context will give you a lot to ponder over. Good luck and have fun!!!!
posted by Locochona at 4:12 PM on October 22, 2012

Best answer: You sound fun, and warm, and like you love being around people, which are all great. But as suggested above, you could maybe put some time into really concentrating on listening to people rather than expressing yourself at them. Listening to someone else and giving them enough silence to express themselves to you is a big part of making a close friendship, and if you're talking all the time, that doesn't leave much space for you to learn about the other person.

If you're used to talking a lot, I think it's easy to panic and feel like you're 'disappearing' or being boring and vacant if you don't hear your own voice. The truth is, it's amazing how much people can understand about who you are without you having to speak very much. Your appearance, your body language, your facial expressions, your encouraging listening noises, all express a huge amount about you which other people will be absorbing every moment, just as much - if not more - than a stream of words coming out of your mouth. If you show a quiet, gentle interest in them, they'll see who you are and warm to you.

One other thing, having studied abroad myself - go easy on yourself if you don't manage to achieve all these goals during your exchange. Six months will go really quickly, and while studying abroad is amazing and brilliant, it can also be exhausting, bewildering and disorientating. Sometimes its hard work just managing to be the normal you in such unfamiliar surroundings, let alone trying to build a new one. You'll have a ball, though - enjoy!
posted by penguin pie at 4:14 PM on October 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

You sound like a fun, warm person based on your profile. I do question the looking for new friends, thing - I tried that, and I got a lot of weird, passive-aggressive messages. I'm also surprised that twenty-year-olds use OkCupid, but I am a crusty old fart who hates online dating.

I've read your previous questions, and I think your biggest problem is that you overthink things - like almost every twenty-year-old ever. It will get better. Relax.

Don't put a lot of pressure on yourself for this study abroad experience. I studied abroad and found it extremely isolating, and if you are having a hard time making friends or dating in another country, console yourself with the fact that you are extremely normal. And if you morph into a social butterfly, consider it the cherry on the top of your semester in France!
posted by ablazingsaddle at 6:07 PM on October 22, 2012

I came in to speak to the "studying abroad" aspect as well – it's more isolating than friendship-building, and France likely won't be an exception. People here build long-lasting friendships starting very early in school. They automatically put foreigners – no longer how long they've lived in the country, and even when they have dual citizenship (speaking from my own experience here too) – into the "acquaintance" category. As a student, this is even more pronounced. Please do not feel bad if you are not invited to French parties, and emphatically do not feel bad if you are never invited to a French home. They generally (I am generalizing, but there aren't many exceptions outside of Paris) only invite family members to their homes.

You'll probably have better luck forging friendships amongst fellow exchange students.

Also, do be aware that dating as it's known in the US isn't really done here. People generally go out in groups, which is where couples form more organically. Again, it's a generalization, but the exceptions are generally pretty crappy examples of sexism (meaning that women who go on dates with men they don't already know are viewed as easy :-/ ).
posted by fraula at 12:40 AM on October 23, 2012

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