Help me, I'd like to have a social life.
April 26, 2013 8:59 PM   Subscribe

I'm on the brink of 25 and I have never had much of a social life. How can I confidently go forward with my life? I'm really terrified of starting, but I know I have to.

I'm a 24 year old woman. I've never had many friends. I've never had a boyfriend or dated (see also: never had sex).

I am exiting a pretty rough period in my life. When I was 21, after I graduated from university, I pretty much became an unemployed, anxious shut-in. I barely spoke to anyone I didn't know and I didn't have many people to speak with in the first place. I have never been the most social person to begin with, and I made it through high school without making a single friend. Mostly because I didn't talk to anyone enough to ever form a friendship. I was lucky enough to make a good friend in university, how this happened is beyond me (but it happened). I've also never "put myself out there" into the dating pool. I guess I was, again, just too anxious to even think about dating. I've sought therapy and it has been very helpful in helping me gain more confidence and figure out what I want to do and where I want to be career-wise. I'm currently back in school and I've slowly been forcing myself to be more social with my classmates and I even think I'm managing to forge a new friendship. I want more though. I feel like I'm truly realizing how much I like people and how much I've missed by not being social.

I've looked at and what I'm seeing there isn't really interesting me. Most of the people in the groups I'd be interested in seem to be about 35+ and I'd really like to meet more people my age. I do volunteer as well, but most of the activities I do are solo. I've made an OkCupid account, but I don't really feel comfortable with online dating. I don't know if this is delusional, but I think I would like to get more used to people in real life before even considering doing online dating. Is this unreasonable?

I'm at a point now where I desperately want to make more friends and date, but I don't know where to start and I just need advice to figure it out. Especially with dating. I honestly do not even know where to begin. I know I can never meet men if they don't know I exist, so I know this is a predicament I've put myself in. Have I missed my chance with this? Is there a way I can go about this without putting unrealistic expectations on myself and others?
posted by VirginiaPlain to Human Relations (23 answers total) 42 users marked this as a favorite
Hey, I've been you! And now I'm married with a kid and a few good friends, so I'd consider myself a Success Storyâ„¢.

When I was in a similar situation (also about 24), this is what I did. First off, I did find the internet really helpful. I'm too shy and introverted to ever have much success hitting it off with strangers, and that's perfectly okay. I ended up making friends online on community sites like reddit and MeFi, plus forums that center on things I'm interested in. Odds are at least one or two of them will be in your area, or know someone in your area, and that can be a jumping off point.

As far as meeting people in person, at some point I ended up going to a Something Awful meetup (yes, yes, back when that was a thing) at a local bar. I was terrified. But I ended up meeting some really cool people that I'm still friends with, years later. Again, the internet was key. Friending each other on Facebook/Twitter is a lot less scary than asking for phone numbers, and allows you to move forward getting to know each other at your own pace.

Also, put dating aside until you're more comfortable talking to people and being social generally. Relationships are much more complicated, and chances are good that you'll have more success finding healthy ones if you have a couple of supportive friends in your life. You're not damaged because you've never had a boyfriend, and there's no reason to rush it now.
posted by annekate at 9:20 PM on April 26, 2013

Fear not! You're fine. Despite the media onslaught, everyone travels their own path. And not feeling comfortable with dating online is by no means delusional. Many of us prefer to get to know people IRL before dating.

I think you're really in much better shape than you're giving yourself credit. Some things are more intimidating for some people than they are for others. However, that doesn't mean you can't master the skills you're currently intimidated by.

I know from experience that when you wall yourself off and dwell on your "problems" that only helps to amplify them. Can you control everything in your life? Certainly not. None of us can, but you can absolutely take more control of your life and what you want out of it.

I'm sorry for rambling and I wish I had concrete answers or specific steps for you.

Like many people here at Mefi, I'm always willing to help. Mefimail me if you'd like to talk more.

(On preview, great advice from annekate.)
posted by InsertNiftyNameHere at 9:25 PM on April 26, 2013

I would recommend that you talk to your therapist about the possibility of (temporary, if you choose) medication to support your goal. Conquering anxiety to achieve your goals is all well and good. It's commendable. It can also be really difficult. Medication could provide a kind of buffer to make your goals easier, and then as you slide into your new ways you could taper off of it. SSRIs can be helpful for anxiety in some cases, but your doc is the person to ask about that.

Aside from medication, I can say as a shy person myself, I found the internet immensely helpful in practicing my social skills. I started in forums and worked my way into "real time" chatrooms, because those seemed harder to me. And that made it one less thing to get used to as I socialized with others in "real life." To this day I'm not always good at initiating a conversation but I get involved.

I know for me it has been helpful to meet others when there is a shared task or project. Freeform socializing is hard even today. But if I meet a group around some political agenda/animal shelter/whatever, or a running group, etc. it is SO much easier. Not only because you already have something in common, but also because the physical activity tends to soften anxiety for me.
posted by hungry hippo at 9:28 PM on April 26, 2013

I'm a 24 year old woman.... Have I missed my chance with this?

This might sound really condescending and/or creepy, but I had to smile because of how cute this question was. The answer is no and that's really silly!!

Here is something that I always recommend in this situation: sports. If you have any meager amount of athletic ability whatsoever, sports. I think it's rather hard *not* to start making friends if you play sports with them. Also, being female, if you join a super casual rec league, most of the time, people will be fighting to have you on their team and keep you coming back, because they are often so short of women and a lot of the time they won't be able to play if they don't have enough women.

I would say the first step in using sports for this purpose is to be on a team where you see the same people all the time. The next step is to play some kind of sport where random people arrive for pickup games and you never know who will show up or when. If you do that, you will get used to introducing yourself to random people, asking for their phone numbers, and setting a time you will both show up to play in the future so you can be assured of having people there when you want to play. Having spent years doing this, I have become the official phone-number-getter of cute guys on behalf of my shy friends, when we are out somewhere. That's not in any way because I am some kind of master pickup artist hottie (I am a huge nerd), it is simply because I ask for the numbers of people I just met constantly because we met playing sports and I want to play sports with them again, so I am used to it and don't feel like a creep asking for something weird when I do it.
posted by cairdeas at 9:32 PM on April 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

It sounds like you are making strides in this area in school. Good for you!

I'm a little shy and socially awkward, and I find it easier to bond with people when we start off with some sort of common goal. Some of my closest friends I met initially as workout buddies or other members of a regular writing group. Others I've met through work or church. I've learned over time that I'm nearly always more at ease one-on-one than in a group.

Here are some things you might want to try:
- study groups
- student organizations
- volunteering for group projects
- part time job
- joining a chorus
- joining a church (or your local atheist organization if that's more appealing)
- take a class that's not a lecture class, that forces you to interact with others, such as improv
- book clubs, writing groups, knitting groups, etc.

If there's something that you are REALLY into - whether it's fly fishing or banjo restoration or frisbee, look for other people who are into that thing. Shared interests can make it a lot easier to connect.

I feel like I'm truly realizing how much I like people
That's key. If it comes through that you are generally interested in people and ready to be friends, you will make friends. Ask people questions about themselves and be responsive to their answers.

(I don't at all believe you've missed your chance with dating, but it sounds like you want to focus on building friendships right now and that's perfectly reasonable. Making friends can also be a path to romance).
posted by bunderful at 9:34 PM on April 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks for the advice so far, I'm already feeling like less of a freak (seriously). Especially annekate's post!

I'm actually not that bad at speaking with strangers and having conversations (it's something that I've been working on), but I do have a difficult time turning those sort of "superficial" (I don't think that's the right word) into deeper connections.

Cairdeas mentioned asking people for their contact info, can you give me more advice on how to do that? I feel anxious at the thought of asking someone I'd like to be friends with for their phone number, so that is definitely a skill I'd like to get.

Joining a sport is also something I've been really considering. I know that my school has informal leagues in things like squash or volleyball, so I will definitely be looking into those.
posted by VirginiaPlain at 9:46 PM on April 26, 2013

Cairdeas mentioned asking people for their contact info, can you give me more advice on how to do that?

Here's how I almost always say it (I have said this exact sentence countless times). "Hey, let me take your phone number, it would be great to play again." Or, "Hey, why don't we exchange phone numbers?" If this is in the context of sports this comes after a little bit of chit-chat after the game "Hey that was a great game" "Nice playing" and then "Do you live in town" and "What days do you usually come down here?" I usually don't give much of a preamble or explanation for asking for the contact info. Maybe at times if it is sports I might say something like, "If you're interested in playing on Sundays I usually send out an email to see who is available, if you want I can take your email and add you to the list."

Socially, to give an example with guys, I was at a social dance with a very dear but timid friend and she was talking to a guy at the end. I kind of lurked to see if she was going to dare to ask for his number and when I felt like the convo was trailing off and would soon end with "Well... bye?" I just entered the convo and introduced myself and said some short things and asked some short questions. "That was fun huh!" "Have you ever done this before?" "Do you live in the area?" Then I said something like, "Well, nice meeting you! Can I get your number? It would be cool if we could all meet up again one of these times." I pretty much say the exact same thing slightly altered to the context.

The most recent time I did this was actually last night (just for friendship). I was out with a new-ish friend and a girl from her grad program I had never met. We really clicked and at the end I said to her "It was really great to meet you. Can I get your number? I'd love to hang out again."

I don't think you need to say anything more complicated than that at all. I have never, not even once, gotten a bad reaction from someone doing this. I'm not saying it could never happen, odds are it might at some point, but to be honest most people have just seemed really stoked. I actually had two different girls in the past year tell me it made their day when I asked for their number because they were new to town and were having a hard time meeting friends and it was encouraging for them that someone wanted to see them and hang out with them.

You and I might get better reactions doing this than a guy might, because I think people wouldn't generally assume that we were trying to hit on them by doing this and the safety issue would not come into play. Even if it's someone who you *are* interested in, I think they often assume you might just be being friendly, even in the cases where they hope otherwise.
posted by cairdeas at 10:45 PM on April 26, 2013 [9 favorites]

And I also just want to emphasize that I am not an extrovert at all nor a particularly smooth person. This can be something that starts feeling natural to you purely just from practice and repetition, not because of any innate extroversion or boldness.
posted by cairdeas at 10:48 PM on April 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

VirginiaPlain: "asking people for their contact info, can you give me more advice on how to do that?"

I had moo minicards made up for social situations like when I meet another mom at the park and our kids hit it off. It lets me give them just my preferred social contact info (instead of business info) and sometimes giving a business card feels like it might be weird but a social card is okay. Also since they're tiny and ADORBS it removes the awkwardness of the interaction. Typical instance:

"Here, my e-mail and phone are on here, you can text me or just shoot me an e-mail and we can figure out a time we could go check out that new weave-your-own basket shop."
"Oh my gosh, these are SO CUTE and TINY! What a great idea!"
"Oh, yeah, my name's so hard to spell, this is just easier ..."

Be aware, though, that if you give someone else YOUR contact info, 9 times out of 10 they won't contact you because they're shy or they'll forget or they'll feel weird and not sure you really meant it. So by being the giver you strike out a lot.

If you want to ask for someone's contact info, you just need to latch on to a way to continue the conversation: "Man, I'd love to take my sister to that new restaurant you were talking about when she visits, can you text me the details?" or "Oh, man, I definitely want to get that book about impressionist painters and hear all your theories about them, what's your e-mail address?" or just "This was so fun, I'd love to do it again -- what's the best way to get in touch?"

It might also help if you told us some activities you like so we could suggest specific way to make connections within that activity.

Also you should try at least a few meet-ups with over-35s. Like if you're really into birdwatching and you go to the birdwatching meet-up, you can practice your social skills in a lower-stakes situation where you're not really trying to form close peer friendships with the other birdwatchers in their 60s, you're just trying to make friendly acquaintances and practice socializing. But also older people have younger friends and/or children and/or grandchildren your age. :)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 10:53 PM on April 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: It might also help if you told us some activities you like so we could suggest specific way to make connections within that activity.

Well, I guess I've sort of developed interest in more solitary activities. I love movies (all genres, languages, etc.), reading, art, history, music, and volunteering (one-on-one tutoring), nothing particularly exciting. I'm interested in taking up new hobbies or activities, as well. I really want to make an effort to push myself (gently, I suppose) to do more new things. Any suggestions would be welcome.
posted by VirginiaPlain at 11:34 PM on April 26, 2013

Go where the boys are. Try out for adult recreation league volley ball or soft ball teams. If you don't know how to play, watch games on TV, then let the experienced player teach you IRL.
posted by Cranberry at 12:04 AM on April 27, 2013

Speaking as a reasonably confident person who used to have incredible anxiety around contacting people to hang out. Always reminding myself of two things was important:

1. That everyone feels kind of lonely and isolated and are generally flattered that another person is interested in finding out more about them and spending time with them.

2. That each interaction with somebody is not that important. A friendship is made up of lots of throwaway moments that coalesces over time into something.

Oh, and when you go out into the world be interested in people. Being interesting yourself is not as important as cultivating a fascination about what makes other humans tick.

And finally, some people don't want to be your friend. Often this has absolutely nothing to do with you. Or maybe it does? Being able to realise this and not care about it or take it personally (even when on the face of it it is the most personal thing ever) is really hard but is probably one of the most important life skills you will ever gain.
posted by aychedee at 12:34 AM on April 27, 2013 [9 favorites]

You can also take classes if you're interested in a new sport but don't know how to play at all. Also, don't be discouraged if some things take a bit of time when you're a beginner, both skill-wise and socially. I took up a new sport about two years ago, and suuuuuucked mightily at it at first. The people in my beginner class kept in loose touch after the class was over, and we'd get together to play every couple weeks. That was basically the only time I saw any of those people. Slowly less interested people dropped out... but those of us who stayed slowly began to get pretty good. After about a year we were good enough that we started to get really integrated into the larger scene in this sport in my city. At this point in time, two of my absolute favorite friends who I see all the time are part of that group I met in the class two years ago, AND I spend a ridiculous amount of time playing this sport, and as a result of that a ridiculous percentage of my social circle is made up of people who play or were outside friends of people who play.
posted by cairdeas at 12:39 AM on April 27, 2013

VirginiaPlain: "Well, I guess I've sort of developed interest in more solitary activities. I love movies (all genres, languages, etc.)"

No offense, but loving movies is one of the most social activities around. Sure you can watch the movie by yourself in silence, but the real fun of movies, to me, is that you can go to see them with a whole crowd of fellow movie fans and then spend the rest of the night/weekend/week/life discussing what you thought were the best and worst points of the films.

This leads me back to my first comment. I really think you're selling yourself short, and I think you're in much better shape than you give yourself credit.

I'll admit that nothing in life that is worth anything is easy, but I think you're way ahead of the making friends/dating curve than many people. Your past will be viewed as an asset by many people (including me). Please don't let the jerks in life psych you out!

I'll end simply by saying that I think you are way more "together" than you give yourself credit. Best of luck! (Not that I think you'll need it.)
posted by InsertNiftyNameHere at 1:23 AM on April 27, 2013

I do have a difficult time turning those sort of "superficial" (I don't think that's the right word) into deeper connections....

I feel anxious at the thought of asking someone I'd like to be friends with for their phone number, so that is definitely a skill I'd like to get.

Establishing shared interests / connections will help you with both of these. Ask people questions about themselves and keep an ear open for any restaurants, books, art exhibits, etc that sounds interesting to you. "Can you send me the link for that article/organization/whatever" or "I can send you more info on that movie we were talking about if you like" is SO much easier than "Let me give you my number." (As Eyebrows says).

And it also makes it easier to arrange a followup meeting around a shared interest. "You mentioned how much you love Picasso - I just saw that there's an exhibit this weekend - want to go?"

Most of those "solitary activities" can easily be "group activities" and can also act as connecting points (e.g., talking to people about movies they like). You can also become THAT girl who knows where all the cool movies are showing in town. It's not a big leap from "This awesome french film is playing this weekend" to "Oh I love french films!" to "You should come! Let me get your number and I'll text you on Saturday." And after the movie you have something to talk about that's less shallow (hopefully) and a shared experience.

It really sounds like you've got everything you need to succeed at this. Just take things slow. Expect some bumps and awkwardness and for some people to be flakey or perhaps not people you want to be friends with - those things happen to everyone.
posted by bunderful at 4:51 AM on April 27, 2013

"solitary activities. I love movies (all genres, languages, etc.), reading, art, history, music, and volunteering (one-on-one tutoring),"

Book clubs! Museum talks! (Museum singles nights!) Opening night exhibit receptions! Symphony receptions! House shows! I'm sure there's a movie theater near you that does special series of classic movies, possibly with roundtable discussions afterwards from local movie scholars! If you're in the U.S., there are Civil War re-enactors somewhere near you, and they probably get together with local Civil War scholars once a month in a thing called "Civil War roundtable" that anyone can go to, where they all bicker about history while eating good food (it's actually pretty fun even if you're not specifically interested in the Civil War). Volunteering for historical re-enactments -- your town probably has some sort of founders' day festival thing where they need people to dress in old-timey clothes and demonstrate butter-churning for children at a local park. Local historical societies are always in need of volunteers and docents.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 6:51 AM on April 27, 2013

You recognize it's all up to you and you're ready to initiate change. I think you're going to be fine.

Changing yourself is going to involve some discomfort. Don't be put off by feeling uncomfortable sometimes, and try not to be too discouraged by the occasional failure.

aychedee's comment is really good here. Don't put too much weight on any one interaction. It's so easy for introverted people to agonize over some little thing that was awkward or what an ambiguous interaction "meant". Try to keep this in check.

> I've looked at and what I'm seeing there isn't really interesting me. Most of the people in the groups I'd be interested in seem to be about 35+ and I'd really like to meet more people my age.

Do activities that seem interesting and promising first. But if you haven't gotten out at all for several days, get out somehow and do something. Even if a new meetup is deadly dull and you never go back again, you broke your inertia, and you gave Lady Luck a chance to work her magic--maybe connect you with someone cool who happened to be at the thing next door you didn't even know about.

Good luck.
posted by mattu at 7:40 AM on April 27, 2013 [2 favorites]

I've had some social anxiety. Not quite as bad as yours, but bad enough that I know and remember how you feel. I really think you should do online dating or something similar (speed dating, single volunteers etc.) The thing is, you've got to get to a point where you realize that the stakes are low. I mean let's say you go on an OK Cupid date and it's awful, the guy's a douchebag, you have nothing to talk about, or he insults you ( this happened to me on a date). So? You've had one bad date? It's not going to kill you. It's not going to derail your whole life. It might even give you a really funny story to tell. See? The stakes are low.

And with finding a group of friends. Just keep looking until you find the right group (or start your own) I know it's frustrating, but there's got to be one out there.

The one thing I would tell you is to keep at it even when it's really hard. Don't give up. you'll have some bad dates. You'll meet some people who don't click. But keep trying. It will happen eventually (good boyfriend, good friends) if you don't give up.
posted by bananafish at 9:21 AM on April 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

I deal with social anxiety too, and I know exactly the feeling you're talking about. Making friends and having relationships is SO different after college than it is during college, and for me it's been a very long-term transition (I graduated college about 8 years ago).

One thing I'd suggest is to check out your local park district or recreation department. You'll meet a whole bunch of new people, and park district classes are usually really cheap. Mine offers a huge variety of different dance classes, and a friend of my persuaded me to sign up for hip-hop dance, which was SO outside my comfort zone. It was incredibly fun! I think dance, especially, really encourages interaction because pretty much everyone there is outside of their comfort zone, so there's this feeling of "we all look really silly right now, but at least we all look really silly together!" I've also had a lot of fun taking crafty classes like sewing and screen-printing, cooking classes, and wine-tasting. My suggestion is to not approach any of these events as potential dating arenas, because that adds a level of stress that for me kind of keeps me from really engaging with the other people. Instead, just think of them as you getting yourself out in the world, interacting with new people. If you make a new friend, great! If not, you've still learned something fun and maybe found a potential new interest. mattu/aychedee's comments are great on this front: I'm very introverted myself, and learning to keep my inner "OMG WHAT DID I JUST DO I AM THE MOST AWKWARD EVER" in check (an ongoing process) has been very helpful for my enjoyment of casual social interactions.

Dating-wise, I actually met my current SO on OKCupid. I signed up with almost no expectations of meeting anyone, but I was just so fed up with the grad-student dating scene in the city I lived at the time, that I was willing to give anything a chance. My main advice on this front is to approach it pretty casually and if it becomes a stressor at all, just take a break from the site. You have definitely not missed your chance with dating! I met my current SO at 26, and from what I can see of my current city's dating scene, there are a HUGE number of 20-30-something, cool, single people. You are not alone in this, and it will get better.
posted by augustimagination at 9:52 AM on April 27, 2013

If you live in a major urban area, I'm a little surprised you can't find any activities on Meetup that interest you. But hey, why not attend them anyway if your purpose is to meet people and not necessarily enjoy the activities themselves? What you need now is just to be out and among people, and what better way to do that than organized activities with other people who are also interested in meeting people, socializing, and making friends?
posted by Dansaman at 4:26 PM on April 27, 2013

Response by poster: If you live in a major urban area, I'm a little surprised you can't find any activities on Meetup that interest you.

I might just be being picky. I think I'm going to just bite the bullet and try to attend one or two meetups, just out of curiosity. I just need to see these meetups as more of an entry way into new people and activities, versus THE.ONLY.PLACE. to meet new people (which is what I was doing).
posted by VirginiaPlain at 5:51 PM on April 27, 2013 [2 favorites]

I'm 28 and gradually improving in this area myself.

One thing that's been useful to me is to make friends of existing friends. So, for example, a couple of my friends go to a weekly trivia night, and I started tagging along and met some of their other friends. This lead to going to a party at one of the trivia people's houses, where I met a few other new people.

This approach eliminates a lot of the fear that I would have going to a new activity where I didn't know anyone. There's someone to make introductions, so you're not some stranger intruding out of the blue. And it's a filter too: presumably these people are cool enough for your friends are hanging out with, so they aren't totally awful people.

Also, alcohol helps take the edge off of the social anxiety. Not too much, but after a drink or two it gets a lot easier to talk to semi-strangers. That's why we invented it.
posted by JDHarper at 6:36 PM on April 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

nthing that sports are a great way to make friends. Ultimate frisbee is one that I picked up after college and there is a great and welcoming community built around most leagues. If you google "ultimate frisbee $mycity" you can find an organization that sets up leagues at all levels of competition. It's pretty easy to learn from scratch and the ethos of the game is very open to new players, especially women.
posted by Aizkolari at 9:26 AM on April 28, 2013

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