Please help me become a more likable, better person.
July 22, 2014 4:33 PM   Subscribe

I'm unlikable. This is undeniable. Help me fix that.

I know I'm unlikable because many people make me feel unwelcome in social interactions. This concerns me. I would prefer to be a more likable person, whatever that means. (I tried to organize this, but it might be a bit rantlike in structure.)

I have "friends", but not really. I don't know anyone who actively invites me to do things with them. I play Magic and board games at the game store regularly, and there are people I say "hi" to, but there's nobody who says "hi" to me first.

I am only very rarely invited to events. I invited 20 people I'd consider friends to a board game night and not a single person showed up. A few of them said they were sorry they couldn't make it, so I held another one tonight and again nobody came, which is why I started writing this.

I'm prone to saying stupid things, and I'll know they're stupid the second they come out of my mouth. This spans the gamut from "trivial, banal observation" to "mildly insulting".

In fact, I'm not very good at insightful discussion on topics I'm not well-versed in. On dates (via OkCupid) and at social gatherings, I can maintain a pleasant chit-chat, but I can never seem to muster the sort of connection I've felt with good friends in the past. And maybe that's just because they're first dates and all, but I've been told several times now that the person in question wasn't interested in a second date or relationship, and I'm thinking it's got to be some quality in me, since I'm the common link. I'm meandering a bit here, but hopefully this helps.

I'm not particularly well-groomed. I try to look decent, and I hope I have a decent enough wardrobe, but the fact of the matter is, I don't pay as much attention to my appearance as other people do; and when I take the time to do as much as comb my hair in the morning, it still ends up a mess within an hour by some forces unbeknownst to myself.

I isolate these qualities in myself not to put myself down - but because these are qualities I specifically want to change about myself. I'm at a point in life where I have the opportunity to change large parts of my personality, what I do, and who I interact with, and I would like to take advantage of that instead of being stuck in a loop and being alone against my preferences. (I do like having opportunities to be alone by choice, of course.)

However, there are also many parts of myself that are difficult to pin down or describe that are holding me back much more. Please don't limit yourself to advice that specifically addresses those, because I am almost positive I'm missing the forest for the trees here. There's definitely a je ne sais quoi about myself that I only wish I could isolate - I only wish I could describe it well enough to ask for help here.

I work at a local community college, so I have a month off starting very soon between the summer and fall sessions. I'd like to take advantage of that month as best as I can.

Since I've just spent a few paragraphs describing myself in an extremely negative light, here's what I do have going for me:

I don't have depression - at least, I don't think so. I've had some friends with clinical depression and I definitely don't experience anything like that.

I have a job. I'm poor but I can pay for rent, food, and internet. I wish I had more money, but I have enough to make the day-to-day happen.

I live in a large city with many events and places of interest within biking and public transit distance.

I'm not unfit. I jog pretty regularly and ride a bicycle as my primary mode of transportation.

I've had friends in the past. In high school, and college, and even a bit after college, I've had people I considered close friends, who I frequently spend time with and did activities with. I've never had very many at a time, though. (I'm pretty sure this isn't just "oh, everyone only has a few close friends" - I've gone to parties and seen folks with easily 10, 15 people in their friend groups.)

Any advice helps. I've been trying to develop myself as a person for several years now, and it's been, well, an uneasy path at best. Thanks!
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (45 answers total) 41 users marked this as a favorite
I think you can't go wrong with asking people about themselves and really listening to their answers. You'd be amazed but being a great listener is a good quality to have.

I'd check into counseling, it may be available through your student services, ask for an assessment. You never know, it could be anxiety, something on the autism spectrum or depression.

As for appearance, you don't have to be a fashion plate, you just need to be neat and tidy and not stinky. Clean is an everyday thing, and tooth brushing is twice a day. Clothing can only be worn once and then must be laundered (well, jeans can go two days if your balls don't sweat.)

Run a comb through your hair throughout the day, it's not that hard. Set an alarm to remind you.

Those are some thoughts.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 4:43 PM on July 22, 2014 [11 favorites]

Even though you don't have depression, doesn't mean you wouldn't benefit from the help of a therapist. People see therapists for all kinds of reasons. (One of my old therapists told me that someone came to her for help in overcoming procrastination, for example.) You want someone who will be truthful and kind and helpful in guiding you towards becoming the kind of person you want to be.

The other thing I will say is that bringing grooming up to a certain standard takes as much time and energy and effort as changing any habit--quitting smoking, for example, or learning how to play a musical instrument. You have to work at it! Set a reminder on your phone to go off every 90 minutes or so. Go into the bathroom and check your hair, teeth, pop a breath mint, smile at yourself in the mirror, maybe do a quick self-talk to remind yourself to be kind and confident.

One weird tip I have used successfully (on days when I'm feeling curmudgeonly) is to approach every person I meet with the following thought in my head: Oh, yay! Here's my best friend! I'm so glad to see him/her!

Sounds corny, but it works amazingly well. You don't have to say anything out loud, just think it as you approach someone, anyone.

Finally, start with cultivating one or two friends, then move up from there. A party of 20 or more people can be difficult to organize, even for someone outgoing who has lots of acquaintances. One or two friends can turn into a wider circle--or not. Doesn't have to. You can discuss your problems, if they continue, with these friends as you get closer to them. Slowly gained insight (along with therapy) should start to bring about desired changes in your life.
posted by GoLikeHellMachine at 4:53 PM on July 22, 2014 [13 favorites]

Hey there, I hear how frustrated you are and empathize with your situation. Here are some things to think about...

1. Do you smile at people when you see them? Doesn't have to be a big smile, doesn't even have to be one with teeth. A natural, gentle smile can be a very effective way of breaking the ice between you and other people, even if you aren't going to interact with them at all beyond that.

2. What kind of listener are you? Do you truly listen, and respond thoughtfully, or do you interrupt or make snide remarks as a way to appear clever? "How to Win Friends and Influence People" is a great guide for this sort of thing. It's old, but a classic in this sector for a reason. You say you feel you misspeak more often than not. Say a little less, then, and listen more.

3. What's your morning routine and home environment like? Having a routine and a clean, organized home space can make a big difference between how you look and present yourself. Maybe you could set aside 10 minutes every morning to make sure you've done the basics of self care: showered, brush teeth, comb and dry hair, makeup (if this applies to you), iron clothes. You could do the same for your environment (put away dishes, process laundry, wipe down messes, etc). Make this a habit you don't skip so you learn to be more mindful of your home space and appearance from a "I am a professional, decently organized adult" standpoint.

4. What are you doing in your spare time? I never realized how much of a disconnect there was between myself and the people I was trying to be friends with until I started volunteering with a local charity. Being there gave me insights into my values and helped me realize that I was seeking out the wrong people, people who didn't care about the same stuff I did. Maybe adopting some new hobbies would expose you to new ideas and new crowds. That can do wonders for your self esteem and your social life.

5. Do you see yourself as in charge of your life, or more of a passive participant? This may sound weird, but one of the biggest game changers for me was breaking through the victim consciousness I was holding onto and using to inadvertently poison all my relationships and attitudes about life. Suddenly I was celebrating my control over my life and the stories I told, the jokes I brought up, everything was significantly more positive. I wasn't a Debbie downer anymore, and people really appreciated it.

6. Are you dependable, on time, and do you say please and thank you? No, seriously. The basics matter, and if you're lapsing there, that could be a sore point for the people you encounter.

I don't know if any of these questions help, and I may be back with a few more. If you are in California I have some resources I'd love to share with you (or if you're willing/able to travel to California). Hang in there. :)
posted by Hermione Granger at 4:53 PM on July 22, 2014 [64 favorites]

Your comments about saying the wrong thing and being ok at small talk, but not more in depth conversation suggests a few practical things you could do:

- practice your active listening skills. Ask questions, and respond to their answers, rather than thinking about your contribution.

- use the "Quaker minute"-- try waiting a 30 seconds or even a minute to a minute before responding to allow yourself to think before responding. I find this extremely difficult as I chatter when nervous, but when I can slow down it stops me from putting my foot in my mouth.

- could you enlist a cohost (or two cohosts) for the board game night from your gaming group, to take the pressure off and also building on your connections there?

- join groups based on your interest in cycling

- think about the friendship culture in your town. I had a hard time when I moved across the country because people kind of operated on a different level of familiarity, and I was always doing it wrong. I have seen this here as I work with students who come from all over the country and some of them come off as really too eager to meet people as they are from a place that is super hospitable, doors always open, everyone welcome, and you go for dinner the first night you meet, etc while here it is a more slow process of running into each other a few times and then saying "wanna grab a coffee" and then meeting for coffee and then maybe after a month you might go to someone's home to meet them before a movie.

And I agree with Ruthless bunny regarding counselling. Sometimes when our confidence begins to falter, we become less attractive as a potential friend. Counselling will help you build up confidence. I had a family member who always seemed kind of nervous and shifty as a result of confidence, and it was a barrier to people connecting because you kind of focussed on the nervousness and it put you on edge.
posted by chapps at 4:54 PM on July 22, 2014 [2 favorites]

If you want to invite people to do things socially, it might make sense to start a little smaller. Instead of inviting 20 people to a board game night, try inviting 1-3 people to get a beer or coffee or quick lunch or something similar.

I know it's hard, but try to remember that nobody is as critical of your "flaws" as you are - probably most people don't even notice them or regard them as flaws. If you make a banal observation in a conversation, odds are the person you were talking to won't have any memory of the remark ten minutes after you've made it, but you might still be beating yourself up over it. You should do your best to let stuff like that go.
posted by burden at 4:57 PM on July 22, 2014 [3 favorites]

With respect, I suggest you seek help from a professional therapist before doing anything drastic or significant. The anecdotes, language and flat affect to the writing point to undiagnosed issues. If nothing else, a therapist could give you an unbiased opinion to use as a reference or suggest other avenues of assistance.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 4:59 PM on July 22, 2014 [11 favorites]

Other people want to be entertained and validated. My suggestions for you are: 1. become more entertaining, 2. make people feel good about themselves.

To become more entertaining, I recommend watching sitcoms and comedic movies, and reading funny books or articles. After you hear enough funny jokes, you'll make increasingly funny jokes yourself. People like to be around others who make them laugh.

To make people feel good about themselves, you need to say encouraging things and listen supportively, while you're not trying to elicit anything from them. The problem right now is that you're urgently seeking approval and companionship, so this colors the positive remarks you make. Think about the peddlers on the street who might compliment you -- you would ignore their praise because it's obvious they want something from you.

First find situations where you feel pretty self-sufficient and confident. During those situations, listen to people and compliment them.
posted by vienna at 5:01 PM on July 22, 2014 [3 favorites]

Take heart. The world needs us prickly/weird people to make a nice contrast with all those other people.

Here is my advice, from a lifetime of people saying "Why don't you ____?" instead of whatever I was doing. I'm an introvert; your mileage may vary.

Smile more. If you can't smile without it feeling fake, then think of adorable kittens you saw on the internet. This will make the smile reach your eyes, and it becomes a real smile.

Ask people about themselves, find out what interests them. Ask questions. if you have nothing in common with the person, this can still be okay. I, a vegetarian, once had a lovely conversation with an expert salmon fisherman about fishing for salmon. Be open minded.

At board game night, be helpful. Arrive a little early, help set things up.

If anyone seems at all friendly to you, smile at them but don't overwhelm them with talk. This will frighten them and they will think you are weird. It is okay to be weird, but it is better if you are only a little visibly weird. Sometimes keeping the weirdness to yourself is better for friendships.

Be reliable, dependable, and polite. I can't stress this enough. These three things will make you appear friendly, helpful, and nice even if you are weird. Very important.
posted by AllieTessKipp at 5:06 PM on July 22, 2014 [18 favorites]

What happened to your old friends? Even if you're not living in the same city, it can be very reassuring to have old friends you keep in touch with every once in a while. Social media and email make this really easy. Maybe drop one of those old close friends a casual line (send them a link to a website or something they might like/"like" one of their Facebook posts/whatever)? It might make you feel more comfortable in social situations if you feel that there is someone else in the world who genuinely likes you, wherever they are.
posted by oinopaponton at 5:08 PM on July 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

Think about your past close friendships - how did you meet those people? What did you talk about? What made you feel close to them? Now that you're older, you may be missing the things that enabled those relationships to grow - maybe you saw those people more regularly, or had certain types of interactions with them, and as a result you could built up trust and they could see the appealing sides of your personality. There are ways to recreate some of that stuff in adult life - in particular, volunteering at an appealing shift-based project, such as a film society, bookstore, etc, where you'll see people regularly over time and there's down time involved. It's particularly a good idea to go to things that require, for example, a meeting and a weekly shift - those are the very type of things which are likely to generate large potlucks and social events to which everyone is invited. (If you're in Minneapolis, memail me - I have some suggestions for places.) The thing is, when you're part of a large project, people will consider you "one of ours" even if your personality and social skills are a bit meh, and that will help you come into your own more.

What do you like to talk about? Is your expertise/conversation limited to Magic and other gaming stuff? I think if you pick a couple of other topic areas and maybe a hobby like cooking or making something, you'll broaden the base of things you have to talk about, and you'll naturally find yourself making connections in your conversation among those things. You'll have a lot more to talk about, as well. (For that matter, try going on some excursions - explore a neighborhood, go to a remote bookstore, take an all-day bike ride, visit a new museum.)

It's really tricky to make friends. I don't think I actually gave a party until I'd been living here for several years, had done a lot of volunteering and had two housemates who also invited people. It hurts when no one comes to an event you've planned, and I'm sorry that happened.

As far as your appearance goes, it sounds like you need a better haircut - almost everyone can arrive at a haircut which looks good (or at least acceptable) and does not constantly disarrange itself. Not knowing what your hair looks like, I can't say - but I'm sure people could advise if you provided more info. With clothes, keeping things simple and well-fitting is important, and that means trying stuff on and sometimes tailoring. If you don't actually like caring about clothes, finding some well-fitting plain (not amusing, etc - those look stupid unless you exercise some care in choosing them) tee shirts and jeans for weekends and well-fitting plain soft button-fronts and chinos for work are very easy. Note that not all shirts from a store will fit alike, and tees that fit someone else really well may do nothing for you. A well-fitting shirt in a good color and a plain design will last a long time.

Mainly, I think that meeting a LOT of people and gaining new experiences/thoughts so that you have interesting things to say will probably sort a lot of this out. Maybe slowly - probably what will happen is that you'll go through iterations of social life where you're building skills.
posted by Frowner at 5:10 PM on July 22, 2014 [2 favorites]

A low-stakes way to practice interactions is with folks you see in passing -- like the person behind the counter at the post office, or the cashier at the checkout. Smile like you mean it. Say "Hey, how are you?" like you mean it. Say "Thank you" and "Have a good day!" like you mean it.
posted by MonkeyToes at 5:11 PM on July 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

I think I'm somewhere in the middle in terms of likability, and sometimes stress out about this myself. Here are a couple of things I do that I know don't help:
  • I can be pedantic, and have to remind myself that if someone says something that's incorrect or (God forbid) imprecise, it's okay to just let it go and smile and nod.
  • I can be really bitingly sarcastic. A lot of people don't really get this style of humor, or even if they do, are a bit threatened by it. And I understand that, because I've felt that way in the presence of individuals who are even more sarcastic than I am. It's like you can't tell what they think, and you definitely can't tell what they think of you, which is a major turn-off.
So, you know, if either of these qualities describe you, that's fine, but just try to tone it down a little.
posted by bennett being thrown at 5:11 PM on July 22, 2014 [7 favorites]

So just on a really practical level, the hair. I didn't see anywhere whether you are a man or a woman, but it doesn't matter hugely. If you have short hair, you will likely need to be putting some type of product in it. Also, if you have short hair and it's becoming a mess throughout the day, it's probably also too long. Go to a decent salon, get your hair cut and ask for product recommendations. Ask the stylist how to use the product. This is something stylists do all the time and it's part of their job (and they want to sell you the products anyway so it's a win-win for them).

If you have long hair then just pull it back with a clip. Most workplaces you can probably get away with a ponytail.

The fact you don't comb your hair everyday is a bit of a red flag here. The only people I know who don't comb their hair everyday (or even multiple times a day, I have a brush in my purse) had very curly hair and combing it messes up the curls, but even they put product in their hair. I have very easy, manageable hair and I still brush it, put some product in and at the very least pull it back with a hairclip everyday. I can probably do this in 2 minutes. This gets me to "looks fine, nothing special, can go to work or the store."

Also, social skills and life skills are definitely something that therapists can help you improve. Therapy isn't just for the depressed.
posted by whoaali at 5:12 PM on July 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

First, you may be slightly depressed. I think I went through a decently long stretch in my mid-to-late 20s where I was depressed, although not clinically. I spent a lot of time fretting about how I didn't quite fit in and nobody wanted to do anything I wanted to do and I couldn't make friends, etc. I eventually pulled myself out of it and learned to just accept myself. I'm a totally decent person, but I'm quite the introvert and a lot of people won't be able to deal with that and it's OK. I used to invite a bunch of people to stuff (concerts usually) and no one ever came, but I went anyway. It sounds like I'm stealing this from a Very Special Episode of AskMe, but I really do think that accepting myself made it easier for people to like me

Second, I don't think you mention your age, but this seems to be a fairly common mid-to-late 20s thing. You've grown out of or moved away from your high school and college friends and there's no easier place to make friends than at school, so the time period afterwards seems like a friend wasteland until you adjust.
posted by LionIndex at 5:23 PM on July 22, 2014 [2 favorites]

I'm going to focus on one thing from your post, because it might be the biggest bang for the buck - the grooming.

I'm a woman who kind of runs the gamut from schlubby to pretty pulled together depending on my energy level and what I'm doing. I have been making a conscious effort to dress up a little in situations outside of work. Nothing crazy, but better than half-assed ponytail with a cheap t-shirt and baggy shorts. Nice jeans, an actual shirt/blouse, brightly-colored sandals or loafers and fixed hair with light make-up for running errands, or say, standing in line at Free Comic Book Day.

A little bit of effort really changes both how you feel about yourself and how other people treat you. It is a total chicken-and-egg thing (Do I feel better because people are noticing me more and treating me with respect? Or are people treating me with respect because I feel good about how I look?), but the bottom line is - it works. From my experience, I know that when I think "I look decent," I actually probably don't. I'm a more-or-less conventionally attractive person, but I don't think it is about attractiveness. I think it is about looking like you have your stuff together and you know what you are doing.

So put in the time. It seems SO SO DUMB, but you have to be groomed or it is going to make everything else in human interaction harder.

Bonus anectdata:

I work with a very nice guy who is not that great in the grooming department, and even though I KNOW he's nice and smart and good to work with, it is offputting. He doesn't smell bad, but he's got crazy hair with some kind of flaky skin condition and frequently wears clothes that don't fit. I KNOW BETTER, but it still makes me want to be around him less, somehow.

Your grooming is communicating things powerfully to people in ways they are barely aware.
posted by jeoc at 5:23 PM on July 22, 2014 [31 favorites]

If you're mainly trying to grow your friendships out of public board game and Magic nights, consider that the sorts of people who flock to those activities may also be introverts who aren't great at socializing/ not interested in making close friends. (I say this with all respect, as somebody who's attended plenty of board game nights in my time!) In any case, I wouldn't assume that their not saying "Hi" or not coming to your party means that you're basically unlikeable. People have their own issues, you know?

You're getting great suggestions here on tweaking any issues you may personally have, but I think part of your approach should also include broadening your circle of activities to include some things that draw more extroverts/butterfly types, since it's likely easier to get drawn at least into the periphery of those people's circles. Not, you know, clubbing, necessarily, but stuff like church groups, sports leagues (or fantasy sports leagues!), alumni groups, travel groups, etc. Things that people do almost for the sole purpose of making friends.

You may also want to work on a more nuanced approach strategy for building relationships with nice people. Jumping straight from "saying hi" to "throwing a board game party" seems to me like a pretty high-level social maneuver-- certainly not something I'd want to attempt, and I'm only about 50% unlikeable. Maybe try to graft some individualized socializing onto your public socializing-- asking a few friends out for drinks after board game night, that kind of thing-- and graduate from there to outside gatherings?
posted by Bardolph at 5:33 PM on July 22, 2014 [9 favorites]

It really is possible to invite 20 people and have none of them be able to make it. A while ago I gave up on trying to have "big" parties because I would stress out over if no one would come and I would look foolish. And then inevitably only four or five people would come and I'dĀ feel like I'd somehow "failed."

So I just started going for smaller gatherings, and realized I could have fun with just two or three friends or, if it really comes down to it, by myself.

A lot of this could be in your head. To some extent, everyone feels awkward socially. I do think therapy wouldn't go amiss, only because you'd be getting an impartial opinion from a professional. There are degrees of depression and anxiety, by the way. Just because you aren't seriously depressed to the point of not being able to move, doesn't mean you're not depressed at all.

Oh and don't fret over your hair. Some of the advice here about that is frankly ridiculous. You don't need to use "product" unless you're auditioning for an Abercrombie and Fitch ad. The Beatles had "messy" hair and they were quite popular.
posted by drjimmy11 at 5:55 PM on July 22, 2014

I wanted to chime in even though I don't really have any solid answers for you. I am a little awkward sometimes too. It can be hard when you get to a breaking point and you are sort of trying to unravel your shit and figure out what is causing what and how to fix it. You might consider seeking a third party opinion (counseling/coaching/therapy), for that reason. Because it's hard to figure out yourself and go it alone to craft the big solution to fix everything. You said you have been working on developing a solution to develop as a person for a while now so maybe it's not totally working, what you are currently doing.

One thing that stuck out to me is that you said you are insulting people and it might be a significant part of your problem. Banal and trivial are things that a lot of people are a lot of the time so I don't think that's what's totally doing you in. But it's probably worth it to figure out what the root of your saying insulting things to people is. Is it insecurity? Disinterest in social norms? It's not like a scarlet letter to be an insecure or complicated person, but there's ways to manage feeling a certain way or having certain impulses to say something without shifting the burden onto the person you are talking to as it were.

You're also coming off out a difficult and isolating event that no one came to your party and rejection is just universally hard and inspires "What is wrong with me?" feelings in everyone. So know that the experience of rejection isn't unique to you and it doesn't mean you should write off the entirety of who you are. It's sort of a fine line figuring out when to say, "They rejected me and fuck them, I'll find nicer friends" (could well be the case here) and when to say, "I am being rejected and this could be indicative of a larger problem."
posted by mermily at 5:59 PM on July 22, 2014 [3 favorites]

I have a lot of love for broody, unlikable, mildly insulting people. They are some of the best people I know. I'm not the only person who feels this way. And even most socially adept people say really stupid things occasionally.

However, I want to echo and bolster what jeoc said above about how you present yourself communicates quite a lot to other people. Your appearance is part of your non-verbal communication, and you may be giving off some non-verbal messages that you may not mean to send.

Like: I don't care what I look like. I'm not important enough to be well groomed. You are not important enough for me to groom for. I don't care what you think of me. I don't care about grooming. Combing my hair is too much work (and other not positive things)

Your other "flaws" are barely flaws at all to the right people, but if you are sending out this (unspoken) message that you don't care, it doesn't inspire other people to want to get to know you and see your many good qualities.
posted by Grlnxtdr at 6:11 PM on July 22, 2014 [7 favorites]

I don't think you're unlikeable. What you describe isn't particularly unlikeable. I think it's more likely that you think you're unlikeable, and this makes you uncomfortable around people, and they pick up on that and it makes them unsure of what to do, and then you get more uncomfortable, and then they get uncomfortable.

I know lots of people with a big mouth who say the most insensitive things at the worst possible moment, and they have plenty of friends. It's not what they say, it's how they treat people. If you're interested in people, friendly but not overwhelmingly so, treat them nice most of the time, they can look past a lot of small flaws. There's a lot of good advice upthread about this.

One thing that I did when I was trying to develop better social skills was a challenge to myself. Every day I would talk to someone about their interests. If those interests were something I had absolutely no interest in whatsoever, maybe even disdain, the challenge was to try to learn to like that thing by talking to them. If I didn't learn to appreciate the thing for myself, at least I would learn what it was about the thing that they liked so much. Looking at it this way allowed me to have lots of good conversations about stuff I really thought was silly or stupid. It gave me some new friends (because people love it when you're genuinely interested in what they are interested in) and in some cases it gave me a new appreciation for things I had previously dismissed.

It's kind of a mind trick I had to play on myself to go beyond superficial interest and really figure out what it was that they thought was so awesome. Superficial won't get you friends, genuine interest will.

Smile, ask questions, listen, don't be afraid to put your foot in your mouth every once in a while.

As for the grooming - there's a difference between being unkempt and being greasy and stinky. If you don't stink, keep your face, hands and clothes washed and your teeth brushed, you're probably ok. If you're a dude, consider investing in some clippers and buzzing your hair off. No brushing or barber or product needed. Just keep it cut close, it looks funky when it starts to grow out.

One other thought about the parties - when I have successfully organized outings of large groups, I invited people, then I called all of them a day or two before, then I called all of them that evening. Let them know that you really want them to be there and you value their presence.

And a therapist can't hurt - not because I think you have some issue, but because it's really nice to have someone to talk to about this sort of thing. You might be able to find someone who offers services for whatever you can afford, depending on where you live. After my divorce I saw a guy for 15 bucks a session and it helped a lot.

Best of luck.
posted by natteringnabob at 6:19 PM on July 22, 2014 [7 favorites]

when I take the time to do as much as comb my hair in the morning, it still ends up a mess within an hour

If you always feel like you look like a mess, a little gel or wax can go a long way. I actually think part of that goes to confidence rather than to what other people really think of you. As other people have mentioned, if you're bathing regularly and the like, plenty of people won't really care what you look like, but if every time you see your face in the mirror you're thinking that you look like a slob, it will be reflected in your self-image and then in your behavior.

I am about the least vain person on the planet, but I started being able to function a lot better socially when I got a haircut I liked and stopped just doing the lazy ponytail. I don't think the first thing about anybody else's ponytail, but I am just trying to find things like hairstyle and clothes now that make me worry less about what anybody's thinking of me, because then I can relax and enjoy myself more. We're not talking serious grooming routine here, we're talking ruffling a bit of curl cream through my hair after a shower kind of thing.
posted by Sequence at 6:37 PM on July 22, 2014

Well, from your post you seem like a perfectly likeable person :)

The best advice I've read so far (and advice that I should also take to heart) is to actively listen to others.

Also, if you have the time, perhaps try volunteering somewhere. Even if only for 1-2 hours a week. Do what is tedious and dirty. Seek out the unwanted tasks. Be yourself, but approach the world with kindness and generosity.
posted by ageispolis at 6:48 PM on July 22, 2014 [2 favorites]

"No friends currently around" is not the same as "unlikeable." Someone clearly has liked you, in your life. So a party didn't work out; it's not the universe sending you the message GIVE UP AND DESPAIR OF EVER BEING LIKED. It's just a social event that didn't come off. This happens more often than you'd think! Plus, parties are not the best way to meet people. Too high-pressure.

So: join an activity that includes people who do something you like that is different from gaming. Animal shelter volunteer? Social justice group? Crafting of some description? Whatever.

But go in knowing: this may not result in Immediate Friends either, and that's fine. You're going to have a good time anyway. You may not gain new besties from it on day 1, but it beats sitting home being miserable. Focus on the activity, not on finding a friend.

Why bother, you ask? Because having lots of interests, skills and experiences makes you more interesting. It adds texture to your character. Now you're not just "that person who games" but "that person who games and does some other cool stuff that I can ask them about," which makes it easier for people to talk to you (and vice versa). And of course, the more people you meet, the more likely it is that one or two of them will want to hang out.
posted by emjaybee at 7:07 PM on July 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

Noticing is the first step.

You don't mention the way you interact with other people. Are you an optimistic person? Do you encourage others or discourage them? Do you pay attention to their interests or talk mainly about your own interests or problems? Do you have fun with people when you do spend time together? Do you focus on other people too much when you barely know them?

Don't panic. Just start noticing. Over time, just paying attention to this kind of thing could yield the answers you seek.
posted by amtho at 7:15 PM on July 22, 2014

Your anecdotes and complaints don't make me think that you're actually unlikeable. I think maybe you have a hard time connecting with people. Even how you describe these run-of-the-mill conversations you have with people make it sound like you and they are just sort of taking turns talking instead of actually connecting. That's more of a communication problem than a "likeability" problem, though. Honestly, a lot of your complaints seem to me to be more about a disconnect/lack of satisfying communication than anything else.

There *is* something about the tone in your writing, though, that makes me agree with Cool Papa Bell and wonder if something else is going on with you or you might have some kind of undiagnosed (or diagnosed?) issue. I frankly have no idea what that "issue" would be, but something about the emotionally flat tone of your writing and your perspective on your interactions with others is unusual. Not weird or "unlikeable" or anything (actually, I think you're a good writer), just...I don't know, it's familiar to me in a nagging way, but I can't put my finger on it. Do *you* have any idea what that might be that's standing out to some of us?

Anyway, even if there is anything diagnosable going on, therapist wouldn't necessarily be able to help with that -- but she *would* be able to work on communication with you, so if you aren't opposed to therapy, I would check it out for that reason, if I were you. If nothing else, therapy would you practice opening up emotionally to another person, which would probably help you shake some of the rust of your emotional intimacy skills and therefore help you out.

I'm prone to saying stupid things, and I'll know they're stupid the second they come out of my mouth. This spans the gamut from "trivial, banal observation" to "mildly insulting".

Think about what the person listening to you wants to hear rather than what you want to say. Ask people about what they're observing rather than informing them about what you're observing. When it comes to anything insulting, Craig Ferguson has a really good rubric for what to ask yourself before opening your mouth:

1. Does this need to be said?
2. Does this need to be said by me?
3. Does this need to be said by me right now?

Try to stay positive, when in doubt keep your mouth shut, concentrate on listening to the other person rather than getting them to listen to you, and always try to be polite. If you're really stuck, the "smile and nod" thing works just fine.

In fact, I'm not very good at insightful discussion on topics I'm not well-versed in. On dates (via OkCupid) and at social gatherings, I can maintain a pleasant chit-chat, but I can never seem to muster the sort of connection I've felt with good friends in the past. And maybe that's just because they're first dates and all, but I've been told several times now that the person in question wasn't interested in a second date or relationship, and I'm thinking it's got to be some quality in me, since I'm the common link. I'm meandering a bit here, but hopefully this helps.

Rejection is tough, so this must have hurt. Being incompatible with other people doesn't mean that much about you, though. In terms of struggling to connect with people -- like I said earlier, that's more of a communication issue than anything else. It doesn't mean you're not *worth* connecting with.

You sound like you're already doing a lot of the other things that would be helpful -- cultivating interests that are fun to share, inviting people out and making smalltalk, going on dates, etc. The only thing I can suggest you do in the meantime is more of all of that!

Also, I think you might have sort of a skewed view of how social or socially successful other people are. If you're going to parties, on dates, to hobby groups, etc, you're already pretty socially successful yourself. You don't have to be the LIFE OF THE PARTY or the MOST WANTED MAN/WOMAN ON THE MARRIAGE MARKET or whatever to be socially acceptable or likeable. I'm honestly not saying that just to make you feel better -- just to give you some perspective in terms of what social goals might make sense for you. Meaning, on the one hand it makes perfect sense for you to hope to click with one of these people you're going out on dates with, or to become closer with your current acquaintances, or to be more outgoing at parties...but on the other hand, most first dates sputtering out with no second date, or having a bunch of acquaintances who you don't really hang out with casually, or being a bit of a wallflower at parties, is honestly normal/fine/nbd/to-be-expected, and isn't something you necessary can or need to change.

I'm not particularly well-groomed. I try to look decent, and I hope I have a decent enough wardrobe, but the fact of the matter is, I don't pay as much attention to my appearance as other people do; and when I take the time to do as much as comb my hair in the morning, it still ends up a mess within an hour by some forces unbeknownst to myself.

Make a routine. Personally, I have monthly, weekly, and daily things that I do for grooming. Monthly, I do haircut and color. Weekly, I do eyebrows, nails, and laundry. Daily, I brush teeth, shower, shave, wash hair, brush hair and put on product, put on lotion and deodorant, and dress (including jewelry and makeup if I'm wearing any that day).

In terms of larger grooming/neatness habits -- dunno if any of this will be helpful, but this is what I do:

I try to pack for the next day the night before, because I'm a mess in the morning and if something isn't part of my routine and requires only a bare minimum of thought, I won't do it.

I have different wardrobes for each thing (exercising, sleeping, casual/class, and work) and keep them physically separate (as in, separate drawers, separate parts of the closet, etc) again so I can put absolutely minimum thought into dealing with them. I also keep all my stuff for each activity or class or for work or for cleaning a certain room or whatever separate and ready to go (in its own bag/container/notebook/etc). That helps keep everything efficient and also keeps anything from getting needlessly messed up or dirty.

Also, I actually tend not to wash everything after wearing it only once (sweaters, bras, pants, maybe socks and shirts all *might* get worn 2-4x before I wash them) but if you're AT ALL in doubt or if you feel like you're at all disheveled, make sure you wash it. That goes for shoes and bags, too, which also have to go into the washing machine or otherwise get cleaned from time to time. Good hygiene is the #1 priority in terms of grooming, so make sure you aren't dirty and don't appear dirty (meaning, don't wear anything ripped or stained).

If you're neat, clean, and polite, you're probably going to be fine in terms of likeability. People's standards aren't *so* high. But if you want to become more emotionally intimate and connected with people, then you're probably going to have to open up and become more communicative. That's not about increasing your likeability, that's about increasing your communication skills and comfort zone. And that's pretty much exactly what therapists are trained to do, so that's probably where you need to get help next. In the meantime, art is also all about communication, so you might try dabbling more in art (including literature, music, even movies or TV -- whatever interests you) with the goal of flexing your muscles in terms of communication, empathy, and understanding others' (the characters', the musicians', the artists', etc) perspectives better.
posted by rue72 at 7:19 PM on July 22, 2014 [6 favorites]

Lots of great advice above!

Want to nth listening, re communication -- people want to feel heard. Listening and absorbing what's said. It sounds like in social settings, you might be captivated by your internal experience, rather than opening up to the back and forth of conversation. Some reasons I can think this might happen are, anxiety, inattention, lack of inhibition. For anxiety, therapy can help. For inattention, motivation helps -- are you interested in what people are saying, curious about them? For having a tough time not letting your thoughts get the better of you, wait for just a breath before speaking, and try to refocus on the person talking.

Re OK Cupid, your reasoning is off. Most people don't match, it's down to compatibility, which is a dyadic process.

It sounds like earlier in life, your social relationships were given, maybe that your friends were people you happened to meet in the course of certain patterns of opportunity (school, etc.). I agree with Frowner and Hermione's thoughts on taking more of an active role -- re activities outside your comfort zone, and with respect to relationships, particularly. It's not clear from your question how often you've extended offers to people other than the birthday (sorry about that, awful :( ), but you mention a few times expecting others to invite you out. I don't think there's anything wrong with not leading all the time, but it's a problem in adult relationships, when there are fewer stable and predictable opportunities to develop relationships slowly, over time. This is common to most adults, fyi :) We've all got to put ourselves out there.

Finally, please don't talk about 'qualities' or things being 'inherently' wrong with you. These are all patterns of skills, processes and behaviours, and can change. Check this out.
posted by cotton dress sock at 7:20 PM on July 22, 2014 [3 favorites]

Awwww, people are hard. Have a hug!
posted by zscore at 7:30 PM on July 22, 2014 [6 favorites]

Also, see if you can find a role model. See someone who is well-liked and observe them to figure out how they do it.
posted by zscore at 7:38 PM on July 22, 2014

I feel for you. As an introvert who looks at almost everything analytically (including people sometimes), who can really put her foot in her mouth, and so on, I can come across as unlikable, too. FWIW, you do sound very likable in your post!

I recommend group therapy. I haven't tried it, but I've heard it's great if you want the hard truth about how you come across in social situations. One-on-one therapy might get at it, and it might not. With group therapy you have the benefit of the group psychologist being frank with you (Boy, Anonymous needs to shower more) plus everyone else. So you can better suss out what it is about your behavior that turns people off.

I really like GoLikeHellMachine's weird tip. Weird tips are often the best tips.

Good luck!
posted by lillian.elmtree at 8:05 PM on July 22, 2014

I can't believe no one has mentioned joining a running club. You mentioned you like to jog and bike. This is a great way to meet new people and probably a good way to deal with any social awkwardness that might arise, what with all the needing to just breathe and focus on running, etc.
posted by bennett being thrown at 8:25 PM on July 22, 2014 [6 favorites]

From my own gaming meetups, I'd say:

1. Have a sense of humor. (Especially about yourself.)
2. Don't be the smartass in the group who drives people away.
3. Don't be difficult (Insisting you won't play some game/rules lawyering/getting upset if you can't win the game.)
4. Don't intrude on people's physical/mental boundaries.
5. Don't expect too much outside the group, this may be the only time people have time to be social.

Not combing your hair even once a day sounds familiar to me, and I ~am~ clinically depressed. Lack of caring about your appearance is often a significant pointer. Even if it isn't depression, a therapist is a wonderful tool to help you get where you want to go. They coach you, and are there to listen to you while you are trying to fix things, even when you feel hopeless about something.
posted by Meep! Eek! at 8:34 PM on July 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

Oh, re bennett being thrown's comment .. a running club, indeed.

The Harriers, in my town anyway, have a reputation for being a social running club and they have groups all over. There are likely both social and less social running clubs where you are, so ask at a running shoe store what they recommend (and around here all the running shoe stores also have running clubs, so go to the one close to your house first!).
posted by chapps at 10:15 PM on July 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

I think you should tell some of those past close friends about your current difficulties and ask them for some honest and frank advice. They know you and we don't.
posted by Dansaman at 11:13 PM on July 22, 2014 [7 favorites]

I'm not particularly well-groomed. I try to look decent, and I hope I have a decent enough wardrobe, but the fact of the matter is, I don't pay as much attention to my appearance as other people do

This is going to be one of the easiest things to change. You don't mention a gender in your question, but some things that anyone can do to look well groomed are to keep your nails and cuticles clean and smooth, wear clothing that fits you and is a flattering style and color, bathe every day, wear clean clothing every day, clean or polish your shoes, and have good posture.

Be sure to wear an antiperspirant, brush your teeth, and floss. Mouthwash if there's even a chance you might have bad breath. Not doing these things can be very offputting to people and people will rarely tell you if they are problems.

You can find personal shoppers at many larger department stores who can help with picking out flattering clothing. This can be much cheaper than you would think, and once you learn what will work well for you it's possible to buy things elsewhere.

Be aware of clothing showing signs of wear. Even if it's not "worn out" it can still look worse for the wear.

Wearing clothing that will give people impressions about you in line with your personality and interests is a bit trickier, if you want to try that wear one small "conversation piece" at a time. For printed tshirts make sure that you aren't wearing something that comes off as awkward or offensive even if you think it's funny.

A good hairdresser might have suggestions for a different cut or styling product that would help with the hair.

Always look in a full length mirror before leaving the house. After you've left the house, don't worry about it unless you need to comb your hair or take care of something you've spilled on your shirt, things like that.

For gaming, not being a bad loser is common advice but it's far less said that one shouldn't be a bad winner either. This includes prolonging the game by not taking points and such when it's clear you are going to win. Be appreciative to others for gaming with you whether you win or lose, pay people compliments on their strategy when it's appropriate, and avoid giving advice unless asked.

I've been told several times now that the person in question wasn't interested in a second date or relationship

This is the most common outcome of OKCupid dates, it can take quite a few to get something to work out for most people. It can be helpful to move things from chit-chat to slightly more involved topics, even if those topics make some people less interested in you -- you can be quite likeable on a chit-chat level but that's often not enough for people to want a second date. Getting onto other topics will turn some people that you wouldn't be compatible with anyhow off, but give you a better chance of getting into the sorts of conversations that will lead to other dates.
posted by yohko at 5:45 AM on July 23, 2014 [1 favorite]

I've had friends in the past. In high school, and college, and even a bit after college, I've had people I considered close friends, who I frequently spend time with and did activities with. I've never had very many at a time, though. (I'm pretty sure this isn't just "oh, everyone only has a few close friends" - I've gone to parties and seen folks with easily 10, 15 people in their friend groups.)
I think you're comparing apples and oranges here. Yes, there are some people who are quite extroverted who are able to keep up with dozens of friends, but it's also likely that many of these people are acting this way because they're at a friend's party where all their friends were invited. It's possible that an outside observer watching you at such a party would conclude that you have an ample social life.

Unfortunately, this sort of gradual drop-off in friends is fairly typical after college. College is the last time you'll ever be in a large of people your age, doing the exact same thing you're doing, living within shouting distance of where you live. Most people I know (late twenties here) hang out with a few people from college who they still keep up with, maybe a few people from their hometown, and a rotating cast of coworkers or friends met through a hobby or sport. You can kind of replicate the college experience for a few years by getting invited to house parties but eventually the social groups fostered there will taper off as everyone couples up, gets married, has a kid, and lays on their collective couch to watch Netflix for the next forty years. Friends gradually become less important as families are formed. This is the path through life that 90%+ of your acquaintances will follow.

It's never too late to learn social skills. Maintain eye contact. Ask people about themselves. Be polite and understanding. Offer to pay for things when appropriate. You can learn all of this, it is not some special talent that you have to be born with. There are support groups for this sort of thing. Toastmasters, for example. You might look into that. Or if you feel there is something else blocking you from learning these skills, you might want to see a counselor.

But after you have social skills, then it's just a numbers game, same as dating. You have to put yourself in social situations over and over again until you've accrued enough connections that you know you'll have something to do over the weekend. You'll probably never recreate the deep true-blue friendships that you developed in college, but you'll have friends.
posted by deathpanels at 6:26 AM on July 23, 2014 [2 favorites]

Think about what the person listening to you wants to hear rather than what you want to say. Ask people about what they're observing rather than informing them about what you're observing. When it comes to anything insulting, Craig Ferguson has a really good rubric for what to ask yourself before opening your mouth:

1. Does this need to be said?
2. Does this need to be said by me?
3. Does this need to be said by me right now?

Try to stay positive, when in doubt keep your mouth shut, concentrate on listening to the other person rather than getting them to listen to you, and always try to be polite. If you're really stuck, the "smile and nod" thing works just fine.
Oh, this reminds me of my favorite bit of party advice. When you're talking to a new person, pretend you are a talk show host interviewing them. You probably know the schtick pretty well: ask them what they were doing today, keep a running list of points you can come back to, ask about family, work, etc., keep it short.
posted by deathpanels at 6:32 AM on July 23, 2014 [3 favorites]

I'm not particularly well-groomed. I try to look decent, and I hope I have a decent enough wardrobe, but the fact of the matter is, I don't pay as much attention to my appearance as other people do; and when I take the time to do as much as comb my hair in the morning, it still ends up a mess within an hour by some forces unbeknownst to myself.
Also seconding that as long as you wear deodorant and shower, most people are unlikely to care that much about your grooming.
posted by deathpanels at 6:44 AM on July 23, 2014

These are all great suggestions - I've tried most of them, usually "successfully," for the same reason you would: difficulty bonding with people. But if it helps, remember that an important ingredient in being likable is oxytocin levels. It's my completely unprofessional guess that if a person is marginalized and ignored within their own family early on, and has a distant connection to primary caregiver (mother, in particular), there will be only so much that person can do in later life to have the kind of close friendships everyone wants, and most people take for granted. We do the best we can (see suggestions above) with the hand we're dealt.
posted by mmiddle at 6:52 AM on July 23, 2014 [7 favorites]

I think there is a lot of great advice here (work on being well groomed, smile more, ask people about themselves, he helpful kind and polite, etc) and I don't know that I can add much to that. Re the hair getting messy thing. A little bit of "product" (gel, mousse, whatever) can be HUGELY helpful. My husband has the sort of hair that looks insane and scruffy naturally. He keeps it cut quite short but still it gets all sticky-outy and almost frizzy. All he does is put a tiny bit of gel (pea sized dollop) in his hands and then sort of smooths and shapes his hair out while his hair is still damp. Problem solved. It is extremely easy (15 seconds, tops), inexpensive (a bottle of gel lasts him a very long time because he hardly needs to use any), and effective. He doesn't look like he has anything in his hair, it isn't greasy looking or anything. It just looks tidy. He didn't "do his hair" last weekend one day and I was kind of taken aback at how scruffy he looked.

Also, your OKCupid experience is totally normal. Most people don't click with the people they go one dates with, it often takes many many dates with many different people to find someone who you "click" with.

Actually, a lot of what you describe sounds kind of normal or 'to be expected'. Your no-show game nights are understandable and could have nothing to do with how much they do or don't like you. With an invite list that large people often feel like they maybe don't need to go, that it won't be noticed if they don't show up. Also, I don't know the situation of the people you invited, but my evenings are super busy and scheduled, either with basic errands or things to do with my kids, etc. Lots of other people have to work in the evenings as well, have other clubs and hobbies, have other commitments on their time. I have to turn down a lot of invites just because it doesn't fit within my schedule, not because I don't want to go. Add that to the "there will be enough other people showing up that my not going won't matter" thing AND the fact that the summertime in notorious for already being overscheduled and busy... well, it is easy to have a no-show party. Also (and again, I don't know what your group is like so this may not apply) I am always MUCH more inclined to socialize on the weekends than on the week days.

In my experience, you can majorly increase the odds of a successful party/event if you:
- put the feelers out first. Ask a couple people "Hey, I was thinking of hosting a games night in a couple weeks time, but I wanted to gauge interest first. What do you think? Do you think you'd want to come?"
- plan it for a date enough in the future that people will be able to make arrangements to be able to attend. 2 weeks is usually the minimum, for me at least. In general socializing with my friends has to be booked a month or two in advance. No, I'm not kidding.
- be prepared to move the date based upon people's availability. When my book club plans a party it usually doesn't happen on the original date proposed, we usually move it to a different day/weekend because that is when the most people would be available. I went out for dinner with a friend last night, and it took 3 cancellations (I cancelled once, she cancelled twice) and reschedulings to be able to get it done. It is frustrating, but that's my reality.
- invite people in person, face to face, and then follow up by sending out an email with the details to everyone you invited in person that didn't flat out say no.
- it helps a lot to get at least a couple people locked in first, THEN start inviting other people. If you're able to invite people saying "A few of us were going to have a games night at my house in a couple weeks time. I'd love for you to join in!" that helps. I am MUCH more likely to accept an invitation if I know that there are going to be other people going and I won't be the only one showing up.
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 7:46 AM on July 23, 2014 [3 favorites]

Just want to chime in on the big game nights. 20 people is a lot and parties are higher stakes for most folks: more commitment, more time, more socializing, more prep time (what to wear, what to bring). In addition to throwing smaller gatherings when you next plan one, I'd also recommend asking people out for coffee/tea/social beverages of choice. It's like going on a first date, but with a future better friend. You know them a bit from Social Group Activity, but you'd like to know them better. Coffee is casual. It can be short and sweet or you can talk for hours. It gives folks an easier out if they're not having a good time and people like having that easy out.
posted by carrioncomfort at 8:20 AM on July 23, 2014

Please do not take this as any sort of insult. When you say you are not well groomed. Does that include bathing? We have a really sweet guy that plays D&D with us, we all like him, he is one of the group, but he is trying desperately to get us to all play a game with him DMing we'd love to but none of us want to go because he smells.

My husband when I first met him had problems with grooming. He would shower only every few days thinking that as he worked a desk job he didn't need to. He'd wear the same jeans for months, he's not launder his clothes & rewear them. He didn't brush his teeth. He had shoes that stank to high heaven but he thought if his feet where in them people couldn't smell them, but we could. He looked OK to look at but you didn't want to stand to close to him. Luckily we were friends at the time so I could mention these things to him and he got his act together. I'm not saying you are doing these things, hell you could have a personal hygiene routine that puts mine to shame, it's just you mentioned you weren't well groomed so it might be something you want to look into.

Also as a suggestion. Does the store allow small groups of people to play board games there? The store we go to has a huge selection of games and small groups of people are always coming in and playing a game or 2. It might be an easier way to get people together is arrange to meet a smaller group of people at the store to play. Less social anxiety for everyone.

It sucks I know to have trouble making friends, you've got the added difficulty of trying to make friends with people that are probably not gifted socialites too. Oh & Meep! Eeps! advice when gaming is great.
posted by wwax at 9:01 AM on July 23, 2014 [3 favorites]

A lot of people already mentioned the importance of listening well. I strongly agree that this is one of the most important social skills there are. Especially if you are not naturally a big presence, not a great story teller, and aren't a very funny person. Listening, however, is something anyone can learn and is a great genuine and kind quality that people love in a friend.

I figured I'd offer some particular advice on how to listen.

1. Ask about their basic place in life.

Some people are surprisingly touchy about even basic facts about themselves because they're generally guarded and if they don't know you and your intentions they many feel threatened and exposed by your inquiries. For this reason, it's good to start with little, simple questions that are unassuming and inquire more about their day-to-day life rather than their ambitions and quality of life. Do you live around here? Do you work around here? What do you do? What do you study? What did you major in? Do you like living here? Have you been to [so-and-so] place? How do you know [common friend]?

Be sure to smile a lot!!! Nod and keep your expression light (slightly raised eyebrows maybe, eyes slightly widened and some warm eye contact when they say something funny or interesting). This is absolutely vital. Like I said, people might be inclined to dismiss you as pushy or awkward unless they feel you're asking all of these question for fun and simply because you're curious. Don't risk giving the impression you're interrogating them even in the slightest. Also laugh at every single one of their jokes no matter how unfunny they are. Personally, I'm extremely put off by people who don't laugh even a little bit when I'm trying to lighten the mood by saying quirky or silly things. So it's good to be aware of what's underlying their comments in order to pick up on their humor, and also to know what topics they seem to prefer and (even more importantly) what topics make them uncomfortable.

2. Engage with their answers to your questions.

People are inclined to answer in vague ways to basic questions because they feel unsure of how much detail to go into when put on the spot. This is the worst thing that can happen to a new conversation: the other person feels exposed and is unsure of how or whether to open up. I worked in politics so I'm very familiar with this kind of cold and difficult behavior. The only cure to getting through their defensive walls is to become vulnerable yourself. That means listening to exactly what they're saying when they give you those vague answers to your somewhat boring, basic questions. Work with the vagueness by rephrasing their answers in the form of a question. "So, you mean you think [this] about [that]?" Doesn't even matter if you totally didn't understand their weird, vague answer, just shoot in the general direction in order to make them keep talking and to get them to be more direct.

I think there is a misconception that listening means being quiet while a person answers a question. But that's definitely not the case! The worst conversationalists I've known (and I've met tons of new people recently so I feel confident about this) are the ones who just keep asking "What about you?" and then just nod when you answer. The goal of listening is to really engage in what they're saying. The best way to do that is by understanding that the ultimate goal of having conversations is to get to know each other as interesting, complex individuals with their own personal lives. This may be an extreme and intimate approach (and I personally can certainly come off as too intense for some people, but I also often strongly attract friendships because of this attitude and I think it also makes me appear honest and trustworthy even on first impression). A conversation which simply shares superficial interests like discussion of hobbies and geographical background is boring and does not promise potential for friendship.

3. Be dumb.

I believe that being a little vulnerable is important to listening well. Sometimes it's hard to come up with lots of questions and even harder to discuss something you're unfamiliar with (like when the person is a business consultant and you're a teacher, say). In my experience the only way to get through it is to not get flustered by not understanding basic stuff they're saying. It seems like often the other person is nervous too and they don't usually think my questions are dumb or basic. They usually just dive right into the answers. And this is great because everyone loves talking about their work. Often the basic details are actually really fun to share.

"I studied civil engineering in college."
"Oh, cool! What exactly is civil engineer? I remember reading an article about it recently but I can't remember what it was about..."


"I work for a business that coordinates medical research on space stations."
"What?? What kind of medical research exists in space? How does your business work with the medical industry?"

4. Volunteer lots of information.

While they talk, really focus so that you can make connections quickly. Relate what they're saying to your experiences, ambitions, desires. Share some of your life with them. Be careful not to constantly redirect the conversation towards yourself by interrupting and using whatever they say as a bridge to talk more about yourself. Just wait out their answers, then if they're done talking throw in something that you've experienced that is similar to what they just said. The more you share, the more they will share. This is usually true of any kind of relationship. Superficiality will be met with superficiality. Revealing your past, emotions, etc. will be responded to in kind. Of course, be careful not to over-share. You don't want to leave yourself too exposed and thus embarrass yourself and them as well. Take little steps towards opening up, but I think it's important to keep openness in mind as a goal. It may also be good to keep in mind that part of that openness is about lightness of heart at first. Don't be too serious about all this. Like I said, smiling and laughing is important to make it clear that you want to have fun and you also want to get to know them. For the other person that is a win-win proposition.
posted by poilkj at 1:00 PM on July 23, 2014 [6 favorites]

I could not agree more with emjaybee and deathpanels. Specifically, just because you've had a temporary drop off in friends does not equate to being unlikable. That's especially true if these friends have coupled up and started families, gotten mega busy with their careers, or veered off into some other time consuming pursuit that has left less time for them to maintain a friendship with you. That's just What Typically Happens and is not a knock on you. You have been liked in the past and you will be again.

As we get older, we typically have to work harder (or at least differently) at building friendships. Specifically, it's a numbers game. More specifically, I really like the advice offered in this article. In a nutshell, find activities you are interested in which are also opportunities to interact with people on a somewhat frequent, regular basis, thereby cultivating acquaintanceships over time. However, do so with a lighter touch (being yourself, not trying to hard, managing your expectations about outcomes, giving things a try and not taking things too personally if they don't work out, etc).
posted by jazzbaby at 4:29 PM on July 23, 2014 [1 favorite]

But if it helps, remember that an important ingredient in being likable is oxytocin levels. It's my completely unprofessional guess that if a person is marginalized and ignored within their own family early on, and has a distant connection to primary caregiver (mother, in particular), there will be only so much that person can do in later life to have the kind of close friendships everyone wants, and most people take for granted. We do the best we can (see suggestions above) with the hand we're dealt.

Wow, well put, mmiddle, this really resonated with me. Thanks for sharing this.

Just wanted to add that if you have trouble smiling or having an open face and body language when you interact with people, prime your mind with a thought that opens you up automatically. Having been really shy and awkward from birth, this can be tough for me still. The thought I think is, "How do I care more about people?" This is a really powerful one for me because it means so much to me. When I say this to myself I can feel myself opening up and it redirects what I say, too. Priming is that powerful. (It's also probably a form of CBT.)

The other big thing, other than hygiene, that others have mentioned, is body language, which is really powerful. For instance, if you don't know how to interact with a person's personal bubble you can be off-putting, esp to women. Read up on this. There's even a Dummies book about it.

Finally, google "how to be likable" and "how to be social" You get a ton of great tips.
posted by lillian.elmtree at 6:24 AM on July 24, 2014 [2 favorites]

You've got a lot of good advice, so let me go off tangent a bit. The mention of the large city stood out for me. I've always found it easier making friends in smaller cities or towns compared to very big cities where everyone is on their own trip. In fact, I felt a lot like you when I lived in a big city -- totally isolated with just a couple of reliable friends -- and once I moved to a small town, I can't keep up with my social obligations! I also had a good social life when I lived in another big city where people tend to stay within their neighborhoods, creating a community feel. I didn't change my personality when I moved, I don't think*. Some people do well in cities, but it's harder, so if you can, consider moving, or at least moving to a close-knit neighborhood within the city.

* Although, as I started making more friends, I also let my guard down more easily, and stopped trying so hard, because I was less desperate to turn every acquaintance into a friend. This probably helps.
posted by redlines at 9:11 AM on July 24, 2014

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