...Why am I so antisocial?
December 27, 2012 10:29 PM   Subscribe

Is it wrong for me to not want any friends, or will it destroy me in the long run?

I have never really been an extroverted person. Let me just set that record straight. I've always been one to have one or two best friends that I am helplessly devoted to... this also leaves me quite a bit of time to be alone. I'm extremely happy with this existence, but I've found it's been kind of up-in-the-air recently. I broke up with my boyfriend of a little over 2 years about 3 months ago. At first, I wasn't sure how I'd get along; now I know that I will get along... but my situation is just a little precarious. I feel very strange.

Said relationship, one that I thought was very fulfilling and a source of a lot of happiness I had... was also the source of my misery. I was depressed, suffered from intense anhedonia (except where HE was concerned, of course), and was very often lonely. I had an odd sort of loneliness and social anxiety: one where I was anxious about my lack of friends. Before I started dating him, I can now see, I wasn't upset that I didn't have real friends at my high school (we started dating when I was a sophomore). He was an extremely extroverted attention-seeker who had a lot of friends. I think I compared myself to him, which I know is a mistake but it might be an Achilles heel of mine. Compared to him I was a social failure, a pariah, and I didn't perform well at the parties he occasionally dragged me to.

After being separated from him (forcefully, I might add, I wasn't about to drop the relationship), I am starting to see how natural this lack of friends is to me... but instead of forcing myself into friendships like I did when we first broke up to show what an AWESOME SUCCESSFUL WOMAN I had become... I am shying away from a lot of human contact. I much prefer to read the ever-growing stack of books on my shelf, plan and save up for the international travel I'm indulging in this summer, and watching YouTube videos.

My problem is now that I have a few friends whom I forced myself to hang out with when I was newly single, continuously trying to edge back into my life. Especially once who are infatuated with me. These people, though I'm sure are very nice, are just not who I want to spend my time with. In fact, the thought of going to parties and making small talk and inviting people to movies and coffee shops and more parties... it gives me that feeling everyone gets as a child when they're told they have an impending dentist appointment. Necessary, but painful.

I really enjoy how my life is now... I'm getting a lot of the happiness back that I now see I was deprived of, trying to fit into this "social butterfly" mold that I was barely even fitting into! My problem is, though, do you all think it's wrong for me to live like this? Am I potentially screwing my life up in the future by turning down these social invitations. This is how it feels to me when I politely decline another would-be friend.

Is it wrong not to want friends, or feel a need for them? Don't just tell me "Yes, live your life the way you want to!", but explain why that is okay, even in future terms. Thanks so much for reading this, hopefully I get a response soon because being the procrastinator I am, I have a few invitations that I'm deciding whether to accept or decline right now!
posted by orchidgenes to Human Relations (20 answers total) 27 users marked this as a favorite
It's not really wrong to not want friends. If you're happy being alone, then there's nothing wrong with it at all. It only becomes a problem later in life if or when you do start to feel lonely -- by not maintaining social contact with friends and acquaintances, you're isolating your future self from contact with people that will help fulfill your social needs.

You said you and your boyfriend had been together two years and that you started dating when you were a sophomore... of high school? It's much easier to make friends in school than it is to do so as an adult. Take advantage of it while you can -- there's nothing wrong with enjoying solitude but consider it an investment to go hang out with people occasionally.
posted by girih knot at 10:38 PM on December 27, 2012

There's nothing wrong with not wanting to be a social butterfly, or wanting to choose friends who really suit you rather than just anyone who happens to come along. But research indicates that not having friends can really cause you a lot of problems in the long term.

Via this Bakadesuyo post:

"Harvard happiness expert Daniel Gilbert identified this as one of the biggest sources of happiness in our lives. Relationships are worth more than you think (approximately an extra $131,232 a year.) Not feeling socially connected can make you stupider and kill you. Loneliness can lead to heart attack, stroke and diabetes. The longest lived people on the planet all place a strong emphasis on social engagement and good relationships are more important to a long life than even exercise. Friends are key to improving your life. Share good news and enthusiatically respond when others share good news with you to improve your relationships. Want to instantly be happier? Do something kind for them."
posted by 168 at 10:41 PM on December 27, 2012 [35 favorites]

Some people need more social contact than others. My partner and I had a break-through (ten years in) when I complained about missing my friends in our old city and he said "but you never saw them!" and I said "I saw them enough for me". Enough for me is coffee every few months or so, or dinner even. Twitter and maybe skype and email. I enjoy spending time with them, but I have no need or desire to see people, or friends, on the same schedule as most.

I think there is something unsettling about not having friends, and it is certainly suckful when you need support and have no friends (hi, stupid fucking city I live in ages away from my friends) and for me, it's almost a danger sign if somebody says "I have no friends and no need for them" because relationships are almost universally a need. But, there are always times where that need is sublimated or negligible, or served by impersonal contacts throughout the day. And that's okay, maybe you really are a hermit, but a totally impersonal life sans friends is hard to sustain throughout your entire adult life.

As one introvert to another? Drop the parties. Once they are out of your schedule, the coffee dates and movies tend to get a lot more fun. Emphasise the contact you do enjoy over the stuff you think you're supposed to. And drop contact with people infatuated with you (if I read that right) unless you like them too; it adds an unwelcome layer of stress to interactions if you're trying to manage that as well as everything else.
posted by geek anachronism at 10:42 PM on December 27, 2012 [8 favorites]

Are you happy not going out, and not having many friends? If you are, there's your answer. This doesn't mean that you'll forever be happy with that, but if you know yourself well enough now and you feel that having a myriad of acquaintances isn't for you then there's nothing wrong with that. I've known people who frequently turn down social invitations and generally prefer spending time alone. Years later, they're still the same way. And they're happy living their lives that way.
posted by Autumn at 10:42 PM on December 27, 2012

I'm by nature a lone wolf, so I get where you are coming from.

One thing to consider: if you opt out of building up social capital by building friendships, you may find yourself wishing you had people to help support you through times of crisis. If you lose your self-sufficiency due to illness, injury, or financial disaster, you won't have that stored-up goodwill to draw upon.
posted by nacho fries at 10:47 PM on December 27, 2012 [14 favorites]

Your gauge is your happiness. If spending time with yourself is working for you now, then so be it. It can be that simple. However, keep in mind that we, as humans, grow and change (thank Buddha!) and these feelings may change along with you so, you know...keep an open mind to how you want to engage and relate to other folks in the future. FYI-I go through long periods of wanting to be alone and social obligations feel like a heavy lift (I am also an introvert who needs time alone) but I also have periods of wanting/needing interaction. I think it's just the way some people are made. If you can allow yourself to flow in and out of varying desires for human interaction, I think there's nothing wrong with that. Good luck!
posted by Hydrofiend at 10:55 PM on December 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

At the moment, solitary may be your style, but you really weren't made to be alone.
posted by Cranberry at 11:40 PM on December 27, 2012 [2 favorites]

People aren't built for isolation. I'm about as extreme an introvert as they come, but there are three friends I see fairly regularly, and one that I talk to every day, almost constantly.

When you're going through a huge change and you're struggling with depression, you can't accurately gauge what you need long-term, and often, not even immediate needs. Don't cut off friendships that don't sound like they've really had time to develop. If you don't want to go to big parties, don't go. Ask them out for coffee, or over for a meal. There's no rule that says you have to be outgoing or go to events that make you crazy.

Also: maybe you just don't have the right friends. There are amazing people out there...hell, I met my best friend on Twitter. He's totally changed my life and brought a hell of a lot of joy into a year that has been filled with a lot of trial, tragedy and pain. I do sympathise with you - sometimes I just want to hole up and not talk to anyone ever. But it's always better when I fight that urge and get a little bit of time with my people.
posted by guster4lovers at 11:49 PM on December 27, 2012 [2 favorites]

No, it's not wrong of you to not want any friends. In the words of Charles Bukowski: "your life is your life." It is too much your own to spend it, longterm, doing things you don't want to do out of a feeling of forced obligation. After a while your friends may pick up on the fact that you don't really want to be doing anything with them, and may interpret that more negatively than you expect.

I agree with the others who say, though, that you shouldn't underestimate the possibility of an eventual need for friendship. What I would say is that there ARE people -- most likely other introverts -- who will accept friendship with you under these "lone wolf" terms, knowing that most of the time you will want to do your own thing and it has nothing to do with your feeling (or lack thereof) for your friendship or for them, but is just the way you are. There are a few of these types in my friend circle. Honestly, they are no one's closest friend in the group, but because they are up front about their preferences for the level of socializing they would like to do, they are always welcomed back into the fold when they decide it is time to go out for a bit. I think with honesty and/or tact, it is possible to be a major loner and not completely alienate people. The only downside is that you might not ultimately feel satisfied with how superficial the friendships you do have are when (or if) you decide you want more human contact in the future.
posted by houndsoflove at 12:53 AM on December 28, 2012 [3 favorites]

Best answer: I am you. I was you. I forced myself into highly social situations (though in my case, a line of work that required a lot social interaction and pretending to be extroverted, not a relationship) because that seemed to measure how "good" one is at life.
After years of trying to become the mask, I gave up, cut most ties and just spend an entire summer alone. That was when I realized that I mostly prefer solitude and that there is nothing wrong with it. Also like you, I kept a few "alibi friends" to hang out with every couple of weeks. Then every couple of months, until it faded. Most people are more social than you or I, so "fading away" is how you deal with the people you still see - don't initiate meetings, don't call on your own. They'll figure out that you aren't that interested, or simply forget about you over time and no feelings get hurt.

Why is it ok to not want friends? Because not everyone is interested in the typical things friends do. Having coffee, going to movies (great thing for times when you HAVE to hang out - cuts the conversation to a minimum and you are mostly by yourself), clubbing, whatever it is that social people genuinely like - it's not for everyone. And maybe you also don't like the entire face-to-face-caught-in-the-situation aspect where you feel you really really don't want to sit there and talk, but have to because it would be rude to leave so soon. My social life is completely online, where I can turn people off, so to speak, and if neccessary have a handy, polite reason to cut a conversation or activity short ("router problems", "PC just shut down").
Another big advantage, especially if you don't live in an area where you're bound to meet people with your interests is: you can be a lot more selective about social situations and people. I dislike smalltalk and tagging along with activities or conversation topics that bore the hell outta me - that's something you can hardly avoid. Online, you have the entire (internet-capable) world to seek out the people who share your interests and will provide interesting conversations.
You will often read that online friendships aren't "real" because you never get to meet many of these people. But it's perfectly fine to not buy into that definition of friendship and be a bit (or even very) picky about who you spend your time with.
posted by MinusCelsius at 1:53 AM on December 28, 2012 [5 favorites]

the one thing having WANTED contact with good friends teaches you is the communicative give-and-take of being with someone you want to be.

It strikes me from your question that 1: you are not yet 100% comfortable in your own skin, and 2: you have not yet bonded with people who want to be real friends with you so do explore these other areas until you meet some people you naturally want to see more often.

the feeling of a dental appointment means these people are not it.

in a way by trying to force the issue after your break-up, you made friends for all the wrong reasons so it doesn't surprise me in the least that they are not a good fit and clearly some of them want to be more than friends to you.

so pursue your interests, and be open to the new people you meet on the way. A good friendship can be like falling in love. You feel so comfortable with someone the time flies and it's a joy to be in their company. However little or often you see them.

BUT I leave you with one final point. If you feel you are someone who will need a partner in life, then one other aspect of friendship is useful. It teaches you a communicative give and take that is important in other types of relationship. You sound very young. This first relationship seems to have been pretty overwhelming. Could one of the reasons it broke up be that you don't know how to communicate with your significant other?
posted by Wilder at 3:16 AM on December 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

I am such a lone wolf and all-over misanthrope. Paradoxically, it's real important for me to feel attached to my community -- I'm lucky to be able to do this through my job. But if you think of it in terms of giving to others, maybe you can out of this right/wrong mindset.
posted by angrycat at 3:38 AM on December 28, 2012 [3 favorites]

I am an introverted person who, for most of my life, has typically had a few close friends who know everything about me, and vice versa.

I think it's fine to enjoy spending time by yourself. I also find it necessary, as someone who has the capacity to withdraw very deep within my own walls, to make a concerted effort to be more social. This includes accepting invitations to events and dinners and get togethers and whatnot, even if my first instinct is to stay home and watch Bridezillas for five hours while petting my cat.

With that said, I don't recommend being in the company of people you really can't stand. I just feel as an introvert, you have to reach a little further beyond your comfort zone to achieve fulfilling social interaction, which I think most people desire. My dad is a loner, however, and is not bothered at all by the fact that he has no friends. He is very steeped in routine and enjoys solitary activities, and he's perfectly content that way.

I suppose the takeaway is that if you are perfectly happy being alone, there's no reason to force yourself into social interaction. But fulfilling friendships and relationships are also valuable and have the potential to add layers of richness to your life.
posted by thank you silence at 3:39 AM on December 28, 2012 [2 favorites]

Compared to the way you describe yourself I am a raging extrovert, though I am really pretty introverted.

For me it's all about balance. I've also found that hanging out one-on-one with someone I am comfortable with is nice. Hanging out in a group - even a group I like - can be difficult. It's still necessary from time to time and there are things I enjoy about it, but I usually get overwhelmed and have to leave early.

I suggest experimenting with different types of social interaction and different kinds of friends. It's wearing to be around people who need a lot of attention but not everyone is like that. Continue to nurture yourself with plenty of time alone doing things you enjoy. You'll find the balance and types of social activity that work for you.

Oh - if you are currently in high school keep in mind that this is likely really skewing things. If you are an introvert spending several hours a day in a classroom no wonder you want you spend your spare time alone.
posted by bunderful at 5:33 AM on December 28, 2012 [2 favorites]

There are a lot of scare stories out there about The Health Hazards of Being Isolated. I would take them with a huge grain of salt. Next year they'll be saying something different. I spend most of my time alone, have done so for years, am in my 40's, and am pretty much as healthy as a horse. I do have one trusted person with whom I share confidences but it is not a conventional friendship (i.e. I won't be dragging her to see "Anna Karenina" with me). I have found that I prefer my own company, for the most part. People = pressure.

I guess I would put myself in the shoes of the people that you don't really want to hang out with. Would you really want someone forcing themselves to be with you because they're afraid of being alone?

Take each invitation as it comes - don't say yes right away, let the person know you'll get back to them. Ask yourself if you really feel like spending time with that person or doing the activity suggested. It may be, somewhere down the line, that you do feel like doing something with them. And maybe not.

You are young and I think the best favor you can do yourself is to do exactly what you feel like doing. Don't force the issue; as a friend of mine once said, "fake it till you make it" usually winds up in, well, making more fake. Many people literally fuel themselves chemically because they believe they are expected to do these things. I believe this alienates you from your deepest self in the long run. However, "selves" change!

You probably are doing some light socializing at the job or at school; that is a sufficient break from isolation for a lot of people. You don't mention family but if you're in touch with them, that counts as socializing, too. If you ever want to seek out other things to do - hobbies, volunteering, etc. - not to Meet People but to do that activity, you'll get some social contact there as well.

Also: you'll run into social expectations that you MUST want to do things with people because you are a woman. Consider the source and act accordingly.
posted by Currer Belfry at 5:57 AM on December 28, 2012 [10 favorites]

You may well be a genuine introvert but it's hard to tell from your post because what you describe is filled with social anxiety and depression. If that's the case then address those before deciding how "natural this lack of friends" is.

I've always been one to have one or two best friends that I am helplessly devoted to...
Maybe just a turn of phrase but being helplessly devoted to friends (and then helplessly devoted to a boyfriend) isn't really healthy. Are these best friends from before your relationship among those calling you for coffee and movies, or is it just new people? There's a comfort level with old friends that isn't there with new people.

I was depressed, suffered from intense anhedonia (except where HE was concerned, of course), and was very often lonely.
Anhedonia/depression is sometimes situation-based and being out of this relationship is probably a very good thing for you, but it sounds like maybe the anhedonia/depression is lingering. That's understandable but if it was situational, friends are great for helping to pull you out of it ... if it wasn't situational and is still there, burrowing into your pile of books isn't going to help.

I think I compared myself to him, which I know is a mistake but it might be an Achilles heel of mine.
Sounds like some good insight there. If you have low self-esteem you're always going to be comparing yourself with others, whether partners, friends, coworkers, etc.

After being separated from him (forcefully, I might add, I wasn't about to drop the relationship),
You were unhappy, anhedonic, lonely, anxious ... and yet not motivated to do anything about it. The lesson to take away isn't to avoid relationships, it's to avoid getting so attached to someone that you don't walk away even when the relationship is harmful to you.

the thought of going to parties and making small talk and inviting people to movies and coffee shops and more parties... it gives me that feeling everyone gets as a child when they're told they have an impending dentist appointment.
An introvert just doesn't want to go, or finds it exhausting. The impending dentist feeling is common with social anxiety. Again it's understandable that you just don't want to deal with it all, and it probably is intimidating since you haven't done this on your own since 10th grade and your social experience with your boyfriend was negative. But there is a vast difference between living alone with your books and being a social butterfly/party girl. Friendships occupy the space in between, and they are well worth the effort they require.

being the procrastinator I am, I have a few invitations that I'm deciding whether to accept or decline right now!
Accept some, decline some, consider whether it's true introversion or anxiety that's making you procrastinate. There is nothing wrong with being alone. But you've been through something difficult and you deserve to get out into the fresh air, have some new experiences, and make some pleasant human connections that don't require any version of becoming "helplessly devoted."
posted by headnsouth at 6:00 AM on December 28, 2012 [8 favorites]

Having a network of people who like you and who you like and who you can count on and who can count on you (to varying degrees) is pretty much essential to your happiness and survival, long term.

Going to big parties and spending four nights a week doing awesome intensely social things is completely optional, on the other hand. No reason to do it if you don't enjoy it.

You don't have to live a "Sex in the City" or "Friends" lifestyle to meet the natural social needs that come with being, you know, an ape. Basically all mammals (especially the ones most like us) are, to some degree, interdependent with other members of their same species - that's how we're built. We feed our young breast milk, we raise our children for ridiculously long periods of time, we're omnivorous, we form pair bonds, we use tools, we live in (generally WAY small) groups and help each other out.

I like how the gorillas do it, myself. They live in groups of 5 to 10, basically helping each other out, but spend a surprising amount of time chilling alone, and have a lot of independence. Plus, the kids grow up and go find a new group of their own, which is... a lot like most humans do it, especially when we're not all living in the same tiny village our whole lives.

I suggest you try and go to two or three things a month - less if one of those "things" is a weekend trip to Coachella, more if one of those "things" is a coffee break with a coworker. Church counts, school doesn't, study groups do, being at work doesn't, club meetings count, sitting and doing crafts quietly in a room of other people doesn't. If you work at home or are housebound, you need to do more of these things than if you're doing the low-level social contact stuff. Also try building/maintaining your network not-in-person (Facebook, LinkedIn, etc.) That's way less exhausting for most introverts.

Oh, and this may all be social anxiety, long-term depression, etc. It sounds like you have intermittent episodes of asocial/isolation behavior followed by intense bonding; this is, as others have posted, fairly unhealthy. If you had a counselor before, you probably ought to check in with them now. You're still quite young to decide you just don't like people, in any case.
posted by SMPA at 7:32 AM on December 28, 2012 [2 favorites]

I have been an introvert and a loner my whole life and I'm soon to be 51. I have no interest in doing things with friends that I consider a "chore." I'm lucky that I can work out of my home so I don't have to put up with the drama of co-workers.

I am very happy with my husband, cats, and books. I do go out on the weekends to socialize to our local pub, chit chat with the regulars, and go home. I have my sister to talk to if I need to get into something deep, but family support is enough for me. I just don't feel the need to be talking to someone or doing something with someone that I have no interest in doing.

I wonder if some of it is hereditary. My grand-mother, who is 92, is exactly like me.
posted by sybarite09 at 8:59 AM on December 28, 2012 [2 favorites]

I agree very much with thank you silence. I like spending a lot of time alone and when I do socialize, it's often with my family or boyfriend. Looking back at the history of my life, I've really only made a true friend... once every four or five years, one at a time. However, I do try to accept social invitations at a reasonable rate, because otherwise I'll never meet those special people, and it gives me perspective to spend time around different types of people. (The article someone posted about about loneliness making you stupider resonates with me-- I never feel as quickwitted or adroit as when I have consistent contact with someone I'm really close with.)

HOWEVER, I don't force myself to spend time with people I really don't get along with. I had a friend from way back who I recently stopped hanging out with, because he'd ask to hang out and then kind of press me to make the plans, and was never a supportive or understanding friend when we talked. On the other hand, I have another friend from the same time period who I wasn't very close with back when, but we've gotten more friendly and social with one another now that we're both living (reluctantly) in the same small city, and have a few things in common we never realized before.

Something I like to do is ask someone to go to a movie or a new restaurant with me, so I have someone to talk about the movie/food with. That's the kind of hangout I feel the most stimulated by and if the other person likes it too then we have something in common and can make occasional "dates" to do new things.
posted by stoneandstar at 7:20 PM on December 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

It doesn't sound to me that you don't want friends, rather it sounds like you don't want to do a lot of the activities that a lot of other people want to do. If so, you should find friends who like to do the same things as you. In my opinion, parties are very overrated and if I never attended one I wouldn't feel I missed anything. So for me, making friends with people who want to go to parties wouldn't make sense.
posted by Dansaman at 10:12 PM on December 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

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