I really like you, but...
November 4, 2013 12:19 AM   Subscribe

I've had trouble connecting with people for most of my life, now it's just getting ridiculous..

I have trouble developing friendships further than just casual conversation. People I meet that I seem to click with, have a lot in common with, and generally get on with quite well, don't seem to want to go further than a casual interaction with me.

I'm approaching an age where it seems this is just going to be the norm of my life, and it's really bothering me that I seem to have no power in making a sea change for the better. I am genuinely interested in other people and their lives, have deep compassion for others and have been told I have a very well developed wit and easygoingness with people, when I interact with them. It's rare when I meet people I really do feel like I click with, and have a deep affection for. Really rare. Even though, I am generally very open and friendly with most everyone I meet. I do like people, but it's rare that I find someone I really care about or have feelings for.

That being said, the same goes for other people that meet me. Even the ones I do meet that I seem to have a warm affection with and get along with really well, don't seem to want to know me better. I know that people like others who are similar to them, have similar interests, values, morals, and dispositions and humor. I can check all of those boxes, and do meet people who seem to share a initial interest in me, but this seems to fade after a short time of interacting with me. I seem to find myself alone no matter the efforts I put in to try to manifest new relationships in my life. I have no interest in trying to force things with people, and lay back if they don't seem like they want to reciprocate. I understand reciprocity, and think it's healthy.

The thing is, it seems that almost all my endeavors end up this way. For a bit of background on me- I came from a very unsupportive, psychical and emotionally abusive background. My family was dysfunctional at best, which I'm sure, a lot of families are. I was always invisible and less than my "male" sibling in the eyes of my father, to the point of not even existing (my sister also was treated this way, but not as much as myself- my father would literally go down the line of each child and how they were doing when talking to other family members on the phone, and would stop just at the point of me (I'm the youngest), and would say "so yeah, everyone's doing fine". Like I didn't even exist. This would be done as I am in the same room cooking dinner for the family, with my father siting two feet away from me, in perfect earshot distance from me. This behavior has existed since I was young, and continues to this day.

This pattern seems to have continued into my adult life. My family was never very social, I never learned very stellar social skills from them at all (I have hardly any relationship with my brother who was abusive to me and my sister, and only speak through his wife (my s.i.l), I have no relationship with my sister who was very close to me growing up, but very judgmental, emotionally abusive, manipulative and self centered, and very much a NPD personality to this day (I no longer talk to her, which is very healthy for me).

This pattern seems to continue, even though I've worked on myself and have grown leaps and bounds as a person, emotionally and spiritually. I seem to get a close to people or click with them, then they reach a point where they back away and I never get further with them. I know you can't make connections with everyone and that no one has an obligation to become friends with you or be close to you (I know most people already have enough friends and family and aren't really in need of expanding that circle). It's just when I do find someone I click with and have tons of commonalities with, we click well and have really great talks but when I suggest hanging out or giving them my number if they want to do "shared activity" that we both enjoy, I never hear from them, when I see them next or interact with them, they shy away from me and tell me "sorry i didn't call you", and then seem to feel uncomfortable around me (I don't act differently around them after the fact and just let it go. Hey, if you don't want to hang out, that's your loss :). i'm just puzzled as this seems to happen all the time. Even ones I've known for years that I have managed to hang out with regularly and do these things with, who have told me that I mean a lot to them and how much they really love me or I have touched their soul, they disappear.

I know you can't give me a diagnosis from what I've written. I'm just at a loss that this pattern seems to be the norm for me, no matter I seem to try. Growing up I was teased a lot in school for my appearance, spent a lot of time sitting alone by myself by at lunch because no one wanted to talk to me.

At that time I was very shy and extremely insecure from all the criticism and harsh judgment I got from family life which continued into school- people would literally move away from me when I sat down in class in h.s. All the friends I did have (who were like a family) all went to continuing education schools by that time, so the friends I had were somewhere else. I seemed to be one of those people who you felt just had the vibe to "stay away from", a more or less social pariah.

As I grew I developed high musical talents and became quite pretty and comfortable with who I am, and at ease with other people. It's been so many years now since that transformation, and I treat people with the utmost respect and openness, but I still seem to get the same reactions from people as I did when I was a kid (which I have long changed into such a better and more evolved person).

I don't know what to do, for it really seems this is my fate in life to be alone. As far as the opposite sex, I never get hit on, ever, or even approached (unless it's someone wildly inappropriate, like a 57 year old married man or someone who's waiting for the bus who looks like they've been living on the streets for the past year). It really wrecks my self esteem, because I feel I have so much to offer and make it my goal to be a kind and considerate person. Still it seems that I am not worth much to other people, enough to be a part of someone's life. I fully know that if someone doesn't want you in their life that's their problem, and I don't lament over people who disregard me in that fact. I think I have a lot of loveable qualities, and think I am a pretty awesome friend and person.

It's the people who I do seem to connect with, who seem to show interest/like me, who trail off or even don't accept my invitation to hang out and go further in the first place. This is what bothers me. The definition of crazy is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results, which I have tried to change- alter my way of thinking, try new things/different approaches, meetups, not put pressure on situations/people, enjoy things for what they are.

I guess my question is, what am I missing here? To me it seems that I am generally off-putting to people and I don't know why, and I do so get that response from people that I barely even know (even when I am engaging and being friendly with them). It seems the key is having good rapport and things in common with others, in order to build relationships. Even when I do have these elements going and very positive cues from others, it seems to end up that they don't want to pursue a friendship or relationship with me. I'm at a loss.

I've been in lengthy therapy with a number of different therapists. I've taken anti-depression meds for very long periods of time, I am no longer (and haven't been for years) hard on myself, and am very compassionate towards others.

What am I missing? Could it be my family life of being ignored and made to feel i was invisible/didn't matter, be continuing into my adult life? I KNOW you are not my therapist so I'll head that off at the pass. Just wondering if anybody has any insight or shared experience/or thought as to what might be happening.

I would love to find a therapist who can help me with this problem, it really hurts when all I'm looking for is to be loved and to have a sense of feeling needed and appreciated and cared for- since I've had that only so rarely in my life.

If anyone has some really solid therapist recommendations in the California (OC) area, I would sure appreciate it.

Thanks for your time.
posted by readygo to Human Relations (37 answers total) 40 users marked this as a favorite
People are busy. Sometimes, you can really click with a person and think they're great, but you're just not in a position to become friends with them. It requires a lot of time and energy to make close friends.

I think you're encountering the "Let's get coffee!" polite fiction--you know, where you have someone that you haven't seen in a long time, because you've both been busy, and you somehow wind up interacting in an unplanned way, and both of you enthuse about how you should get coffee sometime and catch up. 90% of the time no one follows up on scheduling a time (because, really, if you were planning to get coffee, you'd pick out a date and time when you started talking about getting coffee.)

I don't think the "let's get coffee!" fiction is designed for brushing off people you don't like--some people use it that way some of the time, but I think most of the time it's more benign. It's meant as a gentle way of signalling to the other person that you like them, and that if you had the resources (time and energy) to invest into the friendship, you would--but you can't. It's a way of saying "We click and I'd like to be friends, but I can't right now." If you grew up in a dysfunctional family, you may not have had the chance to learn this particular interaction, and it's definitely not one that's obvious or easy to pick up. I can see where that may also lead you to read it as people not liking you or wanting to spend time with you--but I think you're just running up against a sort of unfortunate part of life--no one can pursue all of the friendships they want.

It sounds like, for you, you've been encountering the "Let's get coffee!" situation a little more than usual (depending on your age/career/life situation and that of your friends, it can sometimes become amazingly difficult to find people who have enough resources left over after work/family/school/dating to build new friendships), and also you maaaay be making people a little uncomfortable because you're not responding to it in the way that they're expecting you to (i.e., taking it at face value). When they say they meant to call you--do they volunteer that information, or do you prompt them ("say, whatever happened to going to get coffee?")

tl;dr: I think people probably like you just fine, but they aren't where they can be friends with you.

Other, more miscellaneous thoughts:
--as far as romantic relationships go, have you tried online dating? I don't know many people who have relationships with people who they just approached or hit on while out and about in the world. It's people you meet through work or hobbies, people who you were introduced to in some kind of friend-of-a-friend situation (parties), or people you meet online.
--do you meet most of your friends the same way? Like I said, part of this openness to new friends is dependent on demography, so if most of your friends are in the same career or have new families or whatever, you might have to make some more effort to find people outside of that bracket
--if you do still worry that there's something offputting about how you present yourself in social situations, that's something to discuss directly with your therapist--they may be able to identify something that strangers on the internet won't be able to pick up.
posted by kagredon at 12:58 AM on November 4, 2013 [9 favorites]

My best hypothesis so far is that some people just aren't socially "sticky." Like, I'm almost 30 and, socially, my life is a void. Outside of work, at least. Everyone I've actually known for any length of time since college has either been a roommate or a coworker (or both), and it's nice to have someone you can say "hello" to when you see them. But beyond that? Nada. MetaFilter is a nice crutch sometimes. I have to remind myself that most people I meet have a lifetime of social history behind them in a way that I just don't, so when I come off as eager, or naive, or like I was born yesterday, they find it sort of curious, but not especially attractive or appealing.
posted by Nomyte at 1:38 AM on November 4, 2013 [10 favorites]

I guess my question is, what am I missing here?

That it's probably not actually about you. Even those kids who were arseholes at school - that was one kid (for whatever reason) and the rest were followers. Adults - are indeed busy. Most people have very superficial relationships with others. Many people don't even like a lot of the people around them (spouses, family, friends). I don't know how they do it, but they do. If I'm in a workplace where there's no interest in me as a person, I can't bear it. I couldn't handle being in a relationship with someone I didn't love. Lots of people do these things their whole lives. You're ahead of a lot of people as you know what's toxic and what you're happy having in your life.

If you're in any way a sensitive person, you'll be more sensitive to this than others and you'll think it's your fault more than others. If you felt invisible in your family, you'll be more acutely aware of your need to be seen and heard by others. When that doesn't happen, it takes you back to being a child. But, while you were powerless when you were a child, you have more power as an adult to make decisions and play an active role in your life.

There's nothing wrong with being sensitive - you need deep connections with others in order to feel alive. Your pool to draw from, therefore, will be small. It's a shame, but that's how it goes.

Be mindful that some people may be dealing with their own stuff by being skeptical or standoffish re: your openness/kindness. That is about them and not you.

If you're waiting for someone to hit on you, it'll never happen, and you may resent it when it does. Actively live your life - go do your own pursuing. You'll be more inclined to meet people who do click with you because you'll be in the power seat, seeking out what you want and who you need in your life.

My overall advice would be: don't assume you know why people do the things that they do. You really have no idea. They may only have a small idea themselves. Life your life for your own pleasure; not to win the attention of others. You'll start then to notice a lot of this pain you're experiencing fall away (speaking from experience).
posted by heyjude at 1:51 AM on November 4, 2013 [26 favorites]

This is an interesting question. I may have missed it, but you don't seem to give your age, and you don't seem to give any concrete, actual examples of this happening, describing more patterns and generalities.

I don't and can't know you, but it makes me wonder how much of this is based internally and from your perceptions of situations, rather than situations themselves - as I find for myself, when I start thinking in patterns and generalities, there's often a large internal component directing my focus away from the specific (so-and-so said X when I said Y) into generalities (so-and-so doesn't like me; I am not professional enough etc etc).

If you're anything like me, these feelings and perceptions have a root in reality, but they do not necessarily reflect the entirety of what's going on - they are accurate for you and your feelings, but not necessarily very accurate at all with regard to others' feelings, or an objective reality.

Some guesses I have: You sound kind of shy, to me. I suspect a lot of people don't know/aren't aware that you actually like them, and certainly don't guess how much weight you have put on the relationship (they may not view that weight negatively if they know!). Additionally, because of your self-esteem issues, I suspect that you back away _very_ quickly once you perceive rejection. And I suspect you have a heightened sensitivity to perceived rejection. When people have lower self-esteem, one way of reinforcing their own (negative) view of themselves is to set up little 'tests' - but no one knows it's a test, and when people fail (as they most likely will) it can confirm a narrative that "no one likes me"; "people let you down" etc etc. But these aren't tests for other people, you are really testing yourself, and your faith to a low-self-esteem vision of yourself.

Some concrete suggestions: Make friends through hobbies and groups. Sporting groups, can be a good way to meet people. Sure, you might only "click" with one person at the event, but you get a broad circle of individual acquaintances who are pleased to see you, may depend on you in fact, and can in turn introduce you to others. Classes, art or otherwise; political parties; volunteering and other civic activity; local library groups; knitting clubs; professional associations/networkding; and also I would say - at least for me - don't underestimate the strength of online communities, like this one. A lot of them have meet-ups, but additionally I honestly feel very friendly and close to some people on this website. I would go out of my way for them (and have done so, in various minor ways), and I like to thing they would do the same for me. Perhaps I'm deluded in this regard, but it's a very positive delusion so excelsior I say!

Best of luck, you sound a-okay to me. :)
posted by smoke at 1:58 AM on November 4, 2013 [20 favorites]

What am I missing?

The fact that OC is an overcrowded toxic cultural swill?

Move to a small town where people still give a shit about each other and get a job behind the bar at the local pub.
posted by flabdablet at 2:04 AM on November 4, 2013 [7 favorites]

Also, having now read your first question on the site, I would say expand my original answer. This seems to be a real preoccupation with you - definitely connected to your depression. Does this feeling flare up at particular times, eg when you feel stressed or aren't sleeping well?

If you have still having this feeling since March, I think it would be worth your while to pursue more professional help, and maybe consider switching up your medication if you are on any currently.

I notice that your original question is also very light on concrete detail, and very long on your internal feelings, which makes me wonder how someone else would perceive you, your friendships, situations and these issues. I would consider the possibility that due to your background etc you may not have the capability to rationally assess how you are actually going. I would recommend reaching out to different people to help here, both with the assessing, and with resolving these unhappy feelings in yourself - and not strangers on the internet.

Hang in there, dude.
posted by smoke at 2:05 AM on November 4, 2013

First of all this isn't at all unique to you: there are questions about this all the time here. Secondly, as someone who both has your problem and at the same time is one of those people you'll click with who'll probably never call you back: it's not something I mean to do or am happy about. Sometimes I think about all the people who made overtures who I would have liked to know better, but I forgot or was too busy or too tired or couldn't think of anything interesting to invite them to and felt too awkward to just invite them to drink coffee and now it feels like too much time has passed and it would be weird to call them up at this point, and so on. I'm not saying that this is the case for all your dead-end interactions, but it is definitely the case for at least a bunch of them. Personally I'm always really happy when I get a second (or third, or fourth...) chance to finally get together with someone. Though of course I often blow those as well. You might want to try connecting again with them once in a while, if it feels relevant.

But the main point in any case is that this really isn't unique to you.
posted by egg drop at 2:39 AM on November 4, 2013 [6 favorites]

Oh, and I often feel deeply uncomfortable when I run into people I haven't followed up with. You might have let it go, but I'll still feel bad about it and act awkwardly around you!
posted by egg drop at 2:42 AM on November 4, 2013

I grew up in a family of alcoholics--I went to some "proper people's" house once for Thanksgiving dinner and was flummoxed by the way the people behaved.

Nobody drunk--nobody screaming or fighting; everyone seemed to generally like and respect each other!?!

The father who was a very important man--DID THE DISHES!!!! Never saw anything like it in my life...While I enjoyed my visit--deep down inside I felt uncomfortable because I didn't know how to act. And I was acting--because I was playing a role that was inconsistent with how I was taught.

Maybe this is what's happening to you--you're trying to interact with others in a way that's not genuine, instead of being yourself for fear of disapproval.
posted by AuntieRuth at 3:05 AM on November 4, 2013 [2 favorites]

I can relate to a lot of this... making real, lasting connections with people is so damn hard. More than once I've had a long, lovely, soul-baring conversation with somebody, where it seemed like we really bonded... and then the next time I saw them they barely acknowledged me. It can really hurt, because I feel like they got a peek at my most secret self and they kind of said, "Ew. No thanks."

I honestly don't know if they're the ones with the problem, or if it's us. Maybe we're weirdos, and we scared them off. Maybe they said something personal they regret, and they're too embarrassed to deal with us. Maybe they thought we were flirting, and they don't want to lead us on. Maybe they're just self-obsessed jerks. Who knows?

People who do have an easy time socially may have no idea that we experienced something unusual, talking to them. We're reading all kinds of stuff into our interactions with them, and to them we're nothing so special, just yet another person they had a pleasant conversation with. That sort of makes sense to me, but it doesn't really explain the weird, stand-offish behavior I've gotten from some of these people. It wasn't just that they weren't super-friendly anymore... it seemed like they were actually unhappy to see me.

As for advice, I would say to focus on dating, specifically meeting people online. At least that way you'll both know you are looking to make a connection, and if you have a really deep, intense conversation with somebody, it's more likely to lead to something.

My girlfriends have always been my primary (and often only) social connections. It's led to some weird, claustrophobic relationships, but it beats being alone... and when it works, it really, really beats being alone.

I know an excellent, affordable shrink up in LA, if that's not too far for you to travel.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 3:21 AM on November 4, 2013 [5 favorites]

I'm approaching an age where it seems this is just going to be the norm of my life, and it's really bothering me that I seem to have no power in making a sea change for the better. I am genuinely interested in other people and their lives, have deep compassion for others and have been told I have a very well developed wit and easygoingness with people, when I interact with them. It's rare when I meet people I really do feel like I click with, and have a deep affection for. Really rare. Even though, I am generally very open and friendly with most everyone I meet. I do like people, but it's rare that I find someone I really care about or have feelings for.

The best, and indeed only, way to make a friend is to be a friend. You say you are genuinely interested in other people's lives, but friendship is a bit more mundane. Friends do things like remember your birthday, call you up just to chat about nothing, help you carry in a sofa, lend you a car when yours is broken, offer to look after kids for an afternoon when something unexpected comes up. Stuff like that. Being a friend means putting yourself out for someone else and expecting nothing in return. It is from reliably doing these things over a long period of time that emotional attachment follows. At least that is my experience.

One of my mantras is "a friend will help you move house, a real friend will help you move a body."
posted by three blind mice at 4:12 AM on November 4, 2013 [4 favorites]

it really hurts when all I'm looking for is to be loved and to have a sense of feeling needed and appreciated and cared for- since I've had that only so rarely in my life

This is the part that stood out for me. I really feel for you because it is obvious that you're trying so, so hard to do things "right". "It's their loss...I understand reciprocity...I don't lament over people who don't want me." It's great that you are trying to keep a positive attitude to everything, and it feels like you're basically saying that you don't try to be too clingy or needy.

But the thing is, your real deep-down feeling is this really hurts, this continued rejection and invisibility. It was painful growing up when you had no power over it, when your family was abusive and your classmates were cruel. Now, as an adult, you are trying to exercise your power...and nothing seems to have changed and it still bloody hurts bad. I think you should allow yourself to really feel that. I know what depression is like, and the fear of sinking into it can make you deny the sad part, and try and be positive and look forward and keep going. Those are good things, and I'm not saying to stop doing them. But it means that there is a part of you that is still invisible, and the person ignoring it this time is you.

So alongside all the great suggestions here - volunteer, take up a hobby etc where you will hopefully develop some closer relationships organically, I would second the suggestion of considering more therapy if it is viable for you. Not to "fix" you or magically work out how to make people want to connect more deeply with you, but to really grieve the childhood that failed you, and allow you to connect more deeply to yourself. There is a wound there that is still not healed, and people sense damage in others, and sometimes it scares them off. Try to care for and support and love yourself - and you sound like you've already done brilliant work along this path. Keep your focus there for a little while longer. Good luck and take care.
posted by billiebee at 4:25 AM on November 4, 2013 [12 favorites]

It's rare when I meet people I really do feel like I click with, and have a deep affection for.

Well, sure. Wouldn't be odd if it was a regular thing? If such connections weren't rare, they wouldn't be valuable. But it almost sounds like you're expecting relationships to spring fully-formed from an overwhelmingly positive, affection-at-first-sight kind of initial reaction, like your soulmate or best friend exists out there and all you need to do is meet them. I think that's a natural inclination when you're a bit (or a lot) starved for emotional connection; when you're hungry, you look at everything through food-colored lenses. But that hunger can seem a little threatening to other people. The vast majority of long-term relationships form more gradually with repeated exposure and common experience -- neighbors, colleagues, people you commute or volunteer with. On the other hand...

Even ones I've known for years that I have managed to hang out with regularly and do these things with, who have told me that I mean a lot to them and how much they really love me or I have touched their soul, they disappear.

Here I think you're drawing a connection where there probably isn't one. Even genuine friendships wax and wane. Your friends haven't 'disappeared,' unless maybe they've died. You're confusing the present with the past and future, as if the fact that your friend hasn't recently initiated contact indicated they never liked you and never will. That's the depression talking, and it's making no sense at all.
posted by jon1270 at 4:59 AM on November 4, 2013 [4 favorites]

How do you meet people you feel you click with?

Your question really resonates with me. It took me a long, long time to make friends when I moved here, and even now, when I have friends, there are times when I am still so lonely that it really, really hurts. My family, though much more loving than yours, had some other problems with closeness and friendship, and I was aggressively bullied in school so went for years with literally no friends.

So first, how does your therapist respond when you talk about this? Do you feel that your therapist is on your side? Are you able to talk as much as you need without being shunted into "let's develop a CBT strategy so that you can close off these feelings?" Really, really talking about this stuff until I was done has helped me a lot - I was fortunate to find a therapist (and to have insurance) who would let me do this.

Second, where are you meeting people you click with? There are lots of social settings where even if you really do click with someone, it still isn't the done thing for that to quickly progress to a friendship. Even parties can be this way, never mind work or other casual gatherings. I could certainly imagine a situation where you are genuinely clicking with people but it goes all pear shaped because the social setting isn't one where folks feel that it's normal to develop friendships.

I have made virtually all my friends through activism and volunteering at an independent bookstore - and even that took time, like a lot of shared shifts and Official Volunteer Functions. It was not the quick road to friendships, but over time (like, several years) I developed friends.

It's really difficult.

I think that in part because some women in some locations receive so much sexual harassment/unwanted attention, a lot of women internalize the idea that the norm is for guys to initiate things, often after very little other interaction, and that if this isn't happening it's because we have something wrong with us, are never going to attract anyone, etc. The vast majority of women - even lovely women who are charming - can't just magically attract guys. I know you have special circumstances because of your past, but you should know that your material experience isn't weird or freakish.

If I were you, I would find a new therapist or develop my relationship with my current one so that you can really, really explore (not just problem solve) all this stuff. I'd also shake things up - start doing a couple of new things in terms of volunteering or sports or something. I think that when we've been traumatized, it's easy (even with good therapy) to become stuck or enraptured by the trauma and the thoughts about it, and sometimes just physically changing our routines can shake something loose, develop unexpected skills or thoughts, etc.
posted by Frowner at 5:16 AM on November 4, 2013 [10 favorites]

There's no one answer to this, but 2 people in a "relationship" work together to manage the level of closeness between them to be comfortable. This is done in micro movements forward and back without thinking in response to a felt sense, just like the minor adjustments one makes to one's hand when picking up a cup of coffee. It's like an unconscious negotiation of the shared space. If you find others moving away, it likely means they experience you as moving too close, too fast and are missing their (unconscious) cues to slow down/back off.
posted by Obscure Reference at 5:21 AM on November 4, 2013 [8 favorites]

Also, since you're looking for therapists, don't overlook group therapy which is good at getting to these types of interactions.
posted by Obscure Reference at 5:23 AM on November 4, 2013 [1 favorite]

When I lived in NYC I briefly saw a therapist to talk about this. I became convinced that my anti-social parents were why I couldn't really make friends. I had an easy time meeting people, but actually hanging out? That would rarely or never happen.

Then I moved to a new city (Chicago) and I either got lucky or this city is easier to make friends in, because I now have a satisfying number of friends that I see often.

So yes, it could be those other things about you, but it also could be your environment.
posted by melissam at 5:26 AM on November 4, 2013 [4 favorites]

You learn what you know. If you grow up in a household that was profoundly dysfunctional... people can tell. They may not be able to put a finger on what it is, exactly, but something isn't right. It's the same concept as growing up in a household with alcoholism present; you "learn" coping skills and concepts that work for you at that time but in the real world are harmful to you, and have to relearn.

So, to everyone who says, "It's not you, it's them!," I'd like to give a smile and a wave from the outside of the dysfunctional box, and tell you that unfortunately, it's you. It's not your fault, and it's really unfair, but it's you. You learned stuff wrong. Good Al-Anon groups really help, for people who grew up in alcoholic households, and there are other groups that have formed to address the kind of household you grew up in. Ask a therapist for a recommendation, or google for "support groups" and shop around until you find something that clicks.

In terms of your living situation, that is something you CAN control to a certain extent, and it sounds like you might benefit from some serious structure. I'm not sure it's available in the OC, which I understand to be a very wealthy area, but you might want to explore co-op houses and intentional communities, which can offer a family-like structure and opportunity to learn the kinds of things you might be lacking.

And... hang in there. It took you ~30 years to learn all this damaging stuff. It may take you many years to unlearn it, and it sounds like you're taking the first steps (self-awareness) already.
posted by juniperesque at 5:49 AM on November 4, 2013 [5 favorites]

In some ways, you sound very similar to a friend I have had on-and-off for almost a decade. She and I get along well; we have similar interests; we both sincerely like each other, as far as I can tell.

The first round of our active friendship ended, partially because schedule-wise we were very incompatible. During the "inactive" period we'd be excited to run into each other and chat for a while. We never made plans, however.

Over this past spring and summer, we saw each other in the neighborhood, and we were both enthusiastic and, because the schedule conflicts have been resolved, we began to make plans to see each other. The times we actually got together were great, and fun, and reminded me how much I had always enjoyed spending time with her.

But... I began to realize that every single get-together over the course of a month had been initiated by me. She was always excited, and we always had a great time. Then, at some point, I realized I had been busy for a few weeks with a series of family visitors and hadn't called her, and she had never called me.

That time reminded me of another issue that had made our friendship difficult before, regardless of the timing and my caring and appreciation for her. I really, really don't want to be the boss of a friendship. I know that she is shy, and doesn't socialize much, doesn't have a lot of income, and has underlying medical issues that sometimes make timing get-together difficult. I have a lot of sympathy for that. But for me, friendship requires at least some reciprocity. I'm not talking about financial reciprocity or even visiting location (she could come to my house any time, we live a couple blocks away from each other).

She just never called. So I stopped calling her.

Could that we one of the issues for you? You're trying not to push, to be reserved, not to offend people, but your reserve may make them feel like if there were to be a relationship, they would have to be "in charge" of keeping it "on the burner"? I know you said that you make invitations to people, but if they are vague and/or you don't follow up they may not be perceived that way. For example, change "I love theater! We should go to a play sometime" to "I bought some tickets to that great Albee play, Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf, for 7 a week from Saturday. Would you like to join me?"

I wish you the best. You sound like a nice, thoughtful person who WILL be able to make this work. I wish I could recommend a therapist in OC.
posted by miss tea at 6:25 AM on November 4, 2013 [5 favorites]

Quite a few of the things you wrote about I could've written myself. What's interesting to me is that you said that your father treated you like an invisible, but that you were also abused by your family. I grew up in a very emotionally abusive environment and the result for me was that I TRIED to be invisible as much as possible. When you are abused by others you generally don't want to be seen by them, because when they notice you they start to abuse you again.

I'm just saying that perhaps this might be your problem? It has been mine at least. For almost 20 years of my life I became introverted. I shrunk away from my parents as much as possible so when I left home I didn't know how to be visible to others... which is really the same as sharing yourself with others. If you don't share the real you with others openly then they can't feel much for you. Introverts have friends, but you can't be too introverted and have them. When you're older it's generally harder and takes longer so don't try so hard and be patient.

Another issue is age. I don't think you mentioned how old you are, but it's a fact of life that after high school and college it becomes a lot harder to make strong friendships. That's just the way it is. However it's not impossible. And also- people can smell when you are trying to get a friend and it makes them feel uncomfortable and can make them break away. It can also make you look a little desperate. I learned this the hard way. Friendship can't be forced. It just happens on its own. So in a way in order to have it... you have to stop wanting it. BUT you have to not want it AND still put yourself in situations where you will be always meeting people.
posted by manderin at 6:47 AM on November 4, 2013 [3 favorites]

I'd like to second Obscure Reference and MelissaM on a couple of points:

- Group therapy, a twelve-step group, or something similar, might be a big help to you. If your social troubles do stem from something you are doing, a group therapy meeting would be the ideal place to get constructive feedback, and practice your social skills, in a confidential, supportive, non-judgmental setting.

- Have you lived in OC all your life? Do you really love living there? Sometimes people find themselves living in a place which is a poor fit for them, and moving to a new environment makes all the difference. You might want to seriously think about moving.

Or, failing that, give some thought as to the kind of people you are approaching for friendship. Some groups, or circles, or environments, or hobbies, or what have you, are much more cliquish and aloof than others, and have a concept of "the inner circle" versus "outsiders" which is cold and unwelcoming, unless you are One Of Them. You could be trying to make friends with people who seem like wonderful, interesting people, but who in reality are not very nice, or else are so in demand as friends that they can be choosy and snobby.

Frowner's suggestion to get involved in volunteer projects and causes that interest you is a good idea. I would also suggest church or synagogue if you are religious, or the Unitarian Universalists if you aren't conventionally religious. If you are an atheist, there are atheist/secular meet-ups as well.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 6:48 AM on November 4, 2013 [3 favorites]

If such connections weren't rare, they wouldn't be valuable. But it almost sounds like you're expecting relationships to spring fully-formed from an overwhelmingly positive, affection-at-first-sight kind of initial reaction, like your soulmate or best friend exists out there and all you need to do is meet them.

This is what I was wondering, too.

I know a woman who... well, it was as if I blinked and she was heavily involved in my life. I barely remember meeting her or agreeing to hang out the first few times, but she was persistent and I liked her fine, so I kept hanging out with her. But it became clear over time that as far as she was concerned, we were bffs, and it was if if this was a decision she made unilaterally. We get along well, so now we are best friends. It wasn't organic at all, and I think it came from a similar place as what you're describing- a lack of people you really connect with, and a desire to hang onto the few people you do.

I was beginning to pull away when she moved out of state. I still like her, but to be honest, our entire relationship was kind of bewildering to me; I barely even know how it happened, still. I wish she had given me more of a chance to get to know her organically, before jumping right to 'we do everything together!'
posted by showbiz_liz at 8:01 AM on November 4, 2013 [2 favorites]

Some groups, or circles, or environments, or hobbies, or what have you, are much more cliquish and aloof than others, and have a concept of "the inner circle" versus "outsiders" which is cold and unwelcoming, unless you are One Of Them.

This is true..and it's also a perception thing sometimes, especially if you've had a history of rejection from people you thought were "cool." Even now that I've had a little bit of social success and don't feel like quite the pariah I assumed I was, I still find myself scanning for cliquishness in my groups and taking random things to heart that I shouldn't. So I get that.

I finally found a group of people who aren't like that, they are pretty universally friendly and welcoming...but the only time I see them is when there's an event going on. I'm totally fine with that, personally, I like that once or twice a month I can see a group of people who will be genuinely happy to see me! But I have another friend in the same group who is thinking of removing herself - because she feels like she's not in the inner circle and that no one cares about her.

I share this story only to show that a) groups can be fun and also a low pressure way to get social contact, and b) it's okay if you don't fit with a particular group.
posted by cabingirl at 8:30 AM on November 4, 2013

Some of this is just where you live, man. In the LA area, it's totally normal to make plans with people and then blow them off, to not keep up with people, to not make an effort at all. Last time I came into town, I had 7 people demand I make plans with them, and we're talking people I've known for years and would consider some of my closest friends. And by the time my trip was over, 6 of them had flaked/cancelled/not followed through. That's just sort of the way it is out there.

Now, that's not to say what other people are saying in this thread doesn't have some merit, but a lot of it is Los Angeles.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 9:01 AM on November 4, 2013 [2 favorites]

Your personality sounds a bit like mine- sensitive, strong feelings for people we like, and a need to make deep connections. I haven't really had the difficulties you seem to have making good friends, perhaps because of a different environment or upbringing, but I do recognize some of your frustrations.

Here are a few things I've learned which may help:

-Most people don't have a lot of really close friends. I've noticed that once people are adults many of them become consumed by relationships (spouse or romantic) and jobs. Even for people they really like, fitting in time for friends is often difficult. It's a shame that's how things are, but it's often a fact in our society and doesn't reflect on you.

-There are busy people with relationships who would like friends to hang out with, but a lot of the time these people are just looking for someone to pal around with, not a deep emotional connection- either because they don't have the time for that, or because their emotional needs are met elsewhere. So, people sensing that you are offering/wanting a "deep connection" may shy away a bit.

- As for not being hit on, that's common and not about you, most likely. Public "hitting-on" doesn't happen that much except in specific areas and situations. Also, if you are shy, you may make less eye contact and people may be less likely to approach.

Have you tried dating or meetup sites? People on these sites are specifically looking to meet others and probably are willing to invest time into it.

Another thing you might consider is volunteering with people who are in need of companionship. You sound like a caring person and by giving to others, you might fulfill some of your needs for emotional connection.
posted by bearette at 9:02 AM on November 4, 2013 [1 favorite]

another thing: try to appreciate the connections you have for what they are. When you have a nice laugh or good conversation with someone, count yourself lucky instead of focusing on what the friendship lacks or the fact that you can't see the person that often. When you start focusing on the good stuff you have, your life will seem much fuller and you will be in a better place for making further connections. You might even start feeling good as-is!

Also: treat yourself well and enjoy the time you spend by yourself.
posted by bearette at 9:06 AM on November 4, 2013 [3 favorites]

For a long time I thought of myself as someone who had trouble making friends, who was always on the fringes of the inner circle, who no one felt close to.

I also imagined that if I had "real friends" they would be intense Anne-and-Diana affairs, where we were in constant communication and shared deep dark secrets and spent a lot of time alone together. My adult friendships simply haven't been like that, but they're still satisfying. We see each other on a regular basis, enjoy doing things together, and talk about what's going on in our lives, but there isn't a sense of intense devotion.

Things really changed for me when I shifted my focus to becoming involved in communities, rather than making friends with individual people. Seeing the same people regularly in a structured way, getting to know many of them at once, and automatically having something in common with them -- that's what made me feel like I had found "my people."

The barrier to get over is that making the jump from "acquaintance" to "friend" requires repeat interactions over a period of time, and most people save their planning energy for those who have already crossed that barrier. It's the social equivalent of the "can't get a job without experience, need a job to get experience" conundrum. That's why it helped me enormously to get involved with a scene or community -- the repeat interactions happened without anyone needing to get over that inertia, and over time I made the jump to "friend."

A few frustrating social things happen to everyone, and I learned not to see them as evidence of my failure as a likeable person. There's the "let's get coffee" fiction as described by kagredon above, where it's shorthand for "I know we don't see each other much and that probably won't change, but I want to express goodwill." Similarly, old friends drifting away -- rare is the person who can maintain close relationships with friends once the context, whether that be a shared activity or a scene or a location or what have you, is gone. Also, people cancelling plans they've made because they don't have the energy, or because something else came up that they want to do instead. All of this happens to even the brightest of the social butterflies.

One negative thing you don't mention in your question, but that I used to do myself and I've seen other lonely people do, is devise little tests of friendship that your friends don't know they're taking. Like, "I'll find out who my real friends are by not calling anyone or attempting to make plans and seeing how long it takes for anyone to reach out." Or "I won't mention to anyone that I have a birthday coming up and see who remembers without my telling them."

Quite often, your friends will "fail" these tests and you'll wind up feeling lonelier and more resentful, but that failure is meaningless because people have settled into patterns in how they interact with others. I have one friend who is wonderfully caring, but likes to manage her social life on her own terms -- the kind of person who throws lots of parties and invites people over, but is difficult to entice to other people's parties or homes, and frequently flakes in situations where other people are doing the organizing. I decided early on in our friendship not to keep score. Some people are organizers and inviters, some people wait to be invited. Some are more comfortable as hosts, some as guests. I don't worry about it. If you run tests or keep score, you'll make yourself feel worse and undermine your existing friendships.
posted by beatrice rex at 9:41 AM on November 4, 2013 [20 favorites]

I can relate to these feelings too, for lots of reasons (growing up in a dysfunctional family, for instance). And while I obviously don't know you personally, or your age/stage in life (which matters, as it's often hard to make friends post-college or grad school), I do think that location has a lot to do with it. I've lived in both LA and OC and find them to be socially isolating places. Some of it is the culture of flakiness that Ghostride mentioned, but some of it is sheer geography. People might make friends at work or school, but if those friends live 15 or 20 or 25 miles away, which can happen in this part of the world, getting together socially becomes much more difficult. Add in the lack of decent public transportation--it's getting better, but only in teensy, tiny increments--and the unpredictability of traffic and, well, you can see the problem.

I'm not suggesting that people in southern California are so shallow that they won't drive for an hour or more to see their friends. But even people who make the effort to see established friends might not be willing to make that effort for people they don't already know well.
posted by chicainthecity at 10:06 AM on November 4, 2013 [1 favorite]

I agree with Beatrice Rex about the difficulty of moving from acquaintance to friend. The article Why is it hard to make friends over 30? is pretty useful, "sociologists... have considered crucial to making close friends: proximity; repeated, unplanned interactions; and a setting that encourages people to let their guard down and confide in each other."

What you need is time to make friends with the people you like and planning meetings with them probably won't work. You need a space people are comfortable in and come to often already that you can go to. I have a few close friends, one from childhood, one from college (that I knew since childhood and it took college for us to get close to each other), one I shared a house with for several years, and one has kids the same age. This last friend is my most recently made, and I will tell you it took at least a year of us happening to go to the same storytimes, and free kid art and play classes before we started having playdates, scheduling meetups at the playground, or inviting each other to rare parties and several years of that before we actually felt like good friends. So give yourself more time before you're trying to schedule things with friendly acquaintances, but find ways to see people naturally.

I will also point out that I feel like I have the friends I want, with four friends, one of whom I primarily talk on the phone with, and three that I get together with every few months. You may be wanting more extroverted friends that you talk to or get together more often -- if you find introverted people like me, I might think we are friends where you think I never call.
posted by Margalo Epps at 10:32 AM on November 4, 2013 [2 favorites]

I know dating coaches exist - maybe you could find one who could help you with friendships too?

Someone above told you you were doing off-putting things, but there's no way to really tell from a distance. I wonder if you could find a coach to observe your interactions and critique whether, and when, they start to go wrong.

You might also try an acting coach.

Worth a shot. I think something like that, with direct observation, is going to get to the heart of your problem faster than we could.
posted by tel3path at 11:07 AM on November 4, 2013

Okay, kiddo, I've had similar problems. It's fixable, but it's going to take some work. If you follow bananafish's plan for making and keeping new friends and dates. I think things will get better. But you really have to follow it:

(1) Step one: You must check out as many social organizations that are open to the public as you can find. Here are some ideas: (1) Unitarian Church ( you don't need to be religious) (2) Hash House Harriers (drinking club with a running problem, chapters all over the world) (look here: (http://hash.org/) (3) Hiking clubs in local Sierra club or maybe this (http://www.meetup.com/HikingOC/) (4) Meetups -- yes you really do need to check out meetups (4) Volunteering. Try volunteermatch.org (5) running clubs at your local running store (6) you must have a hobby -- pick a group for that; (7) tennis clubs. For this step, I'm going to insist that you go and check out ten different groups. That's right, ten. This will cost you all of ten evenings or weekends at the most.

(2) Step two: Pick 2 or 3 of the ten you visited that make you feel the most comfortable/seem to have the best feeling of friendliness among the members.

(3) Step three: You must volunteer for leadership positions and/or offer to host events in your home for those 2 to 3 events you picked. Taking a leadership position is very important to having other people stick around and become better friends. Trust me on this. Go to any group. Who are the people who have the most friends? That's right. It's the person leading the group. Why? Because that person interacts with everyone. That person is invested in the group. That person is going to be there for the long haul.

(4) Step four: Fuck waiting for other people to ask you out. That's bullshit. I met and married my husband because I had the guts to ask him out. He was "on a break" from girls at the time so if I had waited I never would have gone out with him. You need to treat dating like you have a product to sell. And you need to go out there and sell it. Make a deal with your self. You have to go on three dates or three dating related activities a week. So three ok cupid dates and two ok cupid dates and one singles event you get the idea. Just keep going. You're going to have to go on a lot of terrible dates. Maybe even dozens or hundreds of them. But eventually, you'll find someone if you keep at it.

Good luck. This really worked for me and it can work for you if you want it to.
posted by bananafish at 1:04 PM on November 4, 2013 [8 favorites]

It's rare when I meet people I really do feel like I click with, and have a deep affection for.

I can see two things that might be going on here...

One is that you're looking for a connection first, and then hoping friendship will follow. I've been there. I spent a long time looking for people who understood me and saw me for who I really was. My plan was to find these people first, and be friends with them second (it turns out this is backwards). If this is what's going on, try befriending a larger group of people casually, and over time a few deeper connections will have a chance to develop naturally.

Or you could be honing in on people who are unavailable for friendship with you. Maybe people who recreate your family dynamic in some subtle way? The advice for this is the same - widen the group of people you reach out to. Don't wait for that deep affection, go for the people who are sort of interesting and a little fun.
posted by balacat at 6:37 PM on November 4, 2013 [2 favorites]

In the LA area, it's totally normal to make plans with people and then blow them off, to not keep up with people, to not make an effort at all.

I'm respectfully calling BS on this. It's like when people talk about how LA is so superficial and full of bimbos and aspiring screenwriters... when the reality is that that represents the tiniest fraction of the actual people in this town. If you are associating with a very particular crowd - say, 25-year-old people working at the fringes of the entertainment industry - maybe you're on to something, I don't know. In my experience, some young actors can indeed be pretty scatter-brained, unreliable types. But all of LA? Nope.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 7:29 PM on November 4, 2013 [1 favorite]

I've been in your situation and reading this book really helped me as far as developing a concrete plan for making friends.

I think the key is to be as dispassionate about it as possible. If someone has rejected your friendly overtures a few times, move in to the next likely candidate. Also, make it easy for them to say yes or no. Instead of "we should hang out sometime..." ask them if they want to get coffee this Saturday afternoon, for example. It will always still hurt to be rejected but if you make it as much of a numbers game as you can, I think it will soon bring you more joy than sorrow.

Finally, I hope this goes without saying but make sure you don't lay your emotional and psychological issues in people as soon as you meet them. Gradually revealing vulnerability is good in a friendship but the really heavy stuff needs to wait until you are established BFFs. Otherwise you're just putting up barriers.
posted by Jess the Mess at 5:55 AM on November 5, 2013 [5 favorites]

I'm only guessing here, but you sound a little bit like some of the people I know. Could it be that you are being caring and honest because you subconsciously think that caring will lead to the connections you crave? I think people can always tell if someone cares but also has an 'ulterior motive', and that detracts from how much you care about THEM individually. I am not sure how to articulate this, but if someone who doesn't want anything from you appears to cares about you, then it seems more personal and sincere because it shows that they find you interesting as a person. If they care even though they are don't want any of all the things you might have on offer (help, companionship, emotional support, career advancements) it feels more flattering, because they are thinking of YOU in all your complexity/quirky interestingness.

But if someone cares about you a lot AND clearly wants you (or anybody) to be their friend then in a way they want something from you that is impersonal, and not specific to you, and that subconsciously it makes you want to pull away and counterintuitively actually makes you feel less special, just another vessel of connection/friend-figure.

So what I am trying to say is that if you care but don't want/expect anything in return (let go even of the natural expectation that they reciprocate) it is more likely that they will. Read this somewhere on askme but 'treat interactions as ends in themselves, not means to an end.'

Also nodding along to what everyone else has said about repeated interactions (e.g. in a high-commitment drama society/society/church group) and online dating (because who knows, might be fun to be wined and dined. If it sucks then delete your account and continue riding on the serendipity train. Nothing at all to lose.)

Good luck! There is nothing different/wrong about you. :)
posted by dinosaurprincess at 11:13 AM on November 5, 2013 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks for all the answers. Seems I have left out some details. In response- I have a few close friends that I enjoy, I absolutely appreciate them and appreciate what I have. It took a long while to find them, but I'm quite happy to have them. I more or less want to expand my circle of friends, and want ways to do that. I've come a long way emotionally from where I used to be when I posted an earlier question (leaps and bounds!), but still seem to find sort of dead-ends with new relationships. I am in no way shy with meeting people (I love talking to new people, initiate with strangers, and initiate with people I am already friends with). I invite people to do specific concrete things, initiate contact with them saying hi if I haven't heard from them in a while. Like an above response touched on, if I don't initiate contact I won't hear from these people. This makes the relationship feel onesided, and I'm not into that sort of thing. This would be after multiple attempts to reconnect by me, and a lukewarm response in return. This doesn't happen with everyone I know, so I guess I can just brush it off.

I am truly interested in what other people have to say (not putting on a "face" or not being genuine, like an above post had suggested). I'm not looking for a "soul mate" either as someone else suggested, or an instant "bond" (I think that would be crazy). I don't want a soul bearing conversation with everybody, and especially not with someone I just met. I know friendships develop over time. I don't expect an instant "friend". I also don't cling to people either. I'm just out of the 20's so yeah, I know meeting people at this age is hard.

I have been online dating, for a few years. I've changed my profile, changed to different styles of photos, and it doesn't seem to go very far. This is probably typical for this medium. I absolutely don't wait for someone I like to ask me out, I'll talk to someone I find attractive with no real hesitation, and don't feel shy about giving them compliments or showing interest. I even do it in the online dating forum, receiving lukewarm responses typically, which makes me think maybe who I'm attracted to are simply out of my league, but I still do it because why not?

I am a good friend, I always remember my friend's birthdays, little things they like, do thoughtful things for them. Not because I want expect/something back, but because I like seeing happiness of the faces of the people I care about. I'd be the first to lend a hand (or dump a body ;) for someone who's important to me.

I already volunteer, indulge in new hobbies, do things I want to do no matter if someone else is with me or not.

For a more concrete example which was said was lacking in my question: I've been going to a sort of "gym" for over the last 7 months, and have sort of made friends with someone who works there. We have an insane amount of things in common (a lot is more
obscure kind of tastes in things that I barely ever find with other people) and we talk for lengthy periods of time when I'm there. I've invited this person (and gave my number and email) to do a couple shared activities on several different occasions with myself and another friend (so it wasn't just a one on one type of thing), and never heard from this person. I only extended invitations after I got a lot of "oh I'd do that if you'd do it too", and a lot of positive feedback and vibes from this person. I know they're at work and maybe it's work friendliness (this person mostly complains about how they don't really like their job and want to find a new one). Also I really I feel I can tell the difference between common politeness, and it is uncanny how well we get along and how much we have in common (even living literally right behind each other). And no, this person isn't trying to sell me some "training package" or something. It's not that kind of environment.
The rejection in this case is puzzling, because we have so much in common, and have developed such rapport over 5 months. So there's an a recent example.

I think when I use the word "connection", it's being interpreted other than I meant it. I'm not looking for something instant, and I don't expect connections with everyone I meet. The way I meant it, is that even after knowing someone for quite a while, I still don't feel very much of a closeness or "connection". I do with the few close friends I do have, but that's also to a point. I absolutely let people in and talk about what's going on in my life and listen to what's going on in theirs. I am vulnerable to people, and not in an over the top way. I guess I don't feel I'm capable of feeling truly and really close to anyone- the few people I have done that with in the past have rejected me in the end. I also have trouble with the "middle" of knowing someone, I'm absolutely great with strangers/meeting people, and also with people I know pretty well, but the ones that fall into a middle category, I have a hard time maintaining.

I would love group therapy, I have looked for it but can't find it in my area.

So back to my question- I really wanted to know if this is a common occurrence (because I can't seem to get further with most people, and have had this issue to a more of an extent when I was younger). I've made so many changes and improvements to myself and my outlook/physical appearance, I just am frustrated that it seems I still have the same problem, though I feel I've worked so hard on improving things in my life.

Any other thoughts or suggestions on what I might be doing wrong, I would definitely appreciate. Again, I do have some people I really do care about and appreciate what I have. I just want to move forward and expand my interactions with people and make progress and find positive outcomes. Also again if anyone had a solid recommendation on a therapist who's really helped them and might be able to deal with this problem, I would love to hear it.

Whew! Sorry, there was so much to respond to! Thanks again, and by the way, this site has been so helpful to me in so many ways, so a big thanks to you, Metafilter!!!
Much love :)
posted by readygo at 2:39 AM on November 7, 2013

I really wanted to know if this is a common occurrence

Yes! Being an adult is quite lonely. I was staggered to learn just how few friends the extraverts in my life have. It's certainly not what I thought was the case. I think all friendships are difficult to make and expand on really. At school, you've got a lot of people with little in common who are forced to interact; at uni/work, much the same. If you have kids, you kind of make a lot of friends through your children. Everyone has their own rules about where they build friendships - some are very staunch no-work-friends; others would be more than happy to marry someone they worked with. Everyone's different.

So yeah, it's really difficult for everyone and a very normal thing.
posted by heyjude at 3:01 PM on November 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

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