Need help getting over my fear of intimate friendships
September 1, 2014 5:57 AM   Subscribe

I have fear of intimacy issues - how do i overcome them? I'm currently a 33 year old male. I was pretty unpopular when i was in middle and high school - i was a particularly awkward kid and i often got rejected when trying to make new friends or invite people to things. I spent much of high school feeling particularly lonely or alone and isolated. Though the adult world is different, i'm still carrying these same fears and it's been terrible to my social and personal life. What are the best steps to work out of these?

I'm posting this anonymously because there's friends and coworkers that I know that read Metafilter (and you'll see why i'm insecure about it, below).

Going on to college - it was a totally different place. I was normal - but I carried this on-going fear of being not good enough - not cool enough - so that everytime I was welcomed into a social group I would stay somewhat at the fringes of it - making sure I was at the fringes of other social groups as well as to not put all my 'popularity capital' in one baskey. I would do this because I feel like I was scared of being seen as a fake or not worthy to be with that group. I would keep people in ALL these groups at arm's length and not tell them my fears, my worries, my emotions or anything else. So lots of people would know me and invite me to stuff. But they wouldn't know me well.

I would also try to get into really co-dependent relationships - having an attractive but needy girlfriend would give me the confidence to vault myself into lot of social situations where i was insecure about being unpopular. I would seek out someone that was younger and codependent so they were reliant on me as well so I wouldn't be dumped (like in the type of social manner that i was scared of above). It wasn't a healthy way to do things by a long shot but i did this a few times.

This has continued later in my life as well. I join a lot of activities because I am by nature curious and excited to try new things. But at the same time in all these things, I also keep people at an arms length. It is easier to get away with this now, becausein a professional, adult setting , people are busy this creates a dynamic where I know a lot of people and a lot of people know me.

To overcome some of my fear - I try to have solid social events to bring all the people I know together. I've successfully had house parties where 40-60 people show up - everyone has a great time, meets new people, loves coming (lots of friends and acquaintances have remarked how they always meet kind, friendly people there)

The secret? Everyone thinks I'm really super outgoing and have - well, basically a close ring of folks in my life. Which isn't true - i've held everyone at arm's length because i still have this ridiculous fear that people are going to discover the real, unpopular me (which is so ridiculous for someone in their early 30s - no one really thinks like that anymore). So people have tried to become closer friends with me (or think i already have that and no space for it), but it's all a lie.

I recently got out of a three year relationship a few weeks ago where I realized both my desire to seek a codependent partner was destroying my emotional wellbeing, and that was also keeping me from building close relationships with anyone else (because of my need to attend to her and my own fear of intimacy issues).

So Mefi- best suggestions for navigating my way out of seeking out codependent relationships AND also dealing with my fear of intimate relationships? Working on therapy but books or methods or different types of support groups are absolutely appreciated. I don't want to live like this anymore!
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (7 answers total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
Building closer relationships is hard.

This might not apply to you, but I turned into a perfectionist as a way to deal with the insecurities I suffered after being bullied in junior high. This meant that I would try to always present myself as having it together. Guess what... It's hard feeling close to someone who never admits to feeling vulnerable. I've been practicing turning to people when I need help. It can be help with little things or big things. It can be asking someone to listen to me rant after a bad day at work. I got really sick and had to ask friends to help me manage my life. So that's my advice: let others help you. You will soon figure out who you can trust - and soon people will also start to trust you and ask you for help.

Also, consider throwing a dinner party where you invite only 3 or 4 people you really like. Plan activities in smaller groups. That way, you get to know who they are more intimately than you would at an all out party.
posted by Milau at 6:37 AM on September 1, 2014 [7 favorites]

You sound very self-aware, which is great. Also, it's not ridiculous to have those adolescent feelings later in life if you were bullied. Being bullied causes trauma, and you can get stuck on repeat from it, so to speak. Social anxiety affects all ages. The trauma of being bullied is real and nothing to be ashamed of. Anyone who has been bullied is experiencing what you are, to a greater or lesser degree.

I really think therapy can help, in conjunction with reading books like Intimate Connections and How to Be an Adult in Relationships that Metafilter constantly recommends.
posted by sucky_poppet at 6:59 AM on September 1, 2014 [3 favorites]

The only way to get deeper relationships is to let people in. Who do you click with the most, out of those 40-60 people you had over for a house party? (BTW, it's impressive that you can get 40-60 people over for a house party, so feel good about yourself for that!)

Cool, you have identified some people you want to "let in" even more. Ask them to hang out, one on one or in small groups. Go somewhere that you can really talk, and let them know some things about yourself. Ask them about themselves, the really deep questions that people often wish they'd be asked.

Some will decide they don't want that type of relationship with you, and that's fine. You have a huge pool to choose from, and it's a process to see who fits with you. You also get to decide who you want to be closer with, and they are probably worried that you might reject them, as well.

Don't think that the world is made up of you and a population of well-adjusted, ready-to-reject-you perfect people. Everyone is scared to death of rejection and pain, and the only way in is to open yourself up to it.
posted by xingcat at 6:59 AM on September 1, 2014 [5 favorites]

I could have wrote this question myself, and have asked a similar question in the past.

This fear of not being good enough or that someone will discover your unpopular side is totally understandable, and it's when we try to do away with those feelings of vulnerability that lead us down a path in which we feel unworthy of belonging. I would suggest reading the work of Brene Brown on this.

I would follow the suggestions above, bringing together smaller groups of people who you would like to get to know better and moving at a pace that's comfortable to you. The hard part is trying to filter out what other people might be thinking of's so inhibitive of building intimacy when your mind is doing this.

I wish you all the best and hope you can follow up with us if possible!
posted by wallawallasweet at 7:19 AM on September 1, 2014

Well, I am typing this from Burning Man, so it's probably not so accessible elsewhere, but have you done any intimacy workshops, group meditations, etc.?

I spent a good and wonderful part of this week looking strangers in the eye and telling them my secrets while I listened to theirs. It can feel awkward, but what comes out of it is the realization of how similar we all are. Once you recognize that, it really lowers the stress level for intimate relationships.

It might be a tool that would be helpful.
posted by Vaike at 9:31 AM on September 1, 2014 [2 favorites]

Wow, you're describing my life and my current social situation down to uncanny specifics, and I am also in my early 30s.

When I was 25 I realized my behavior wasn't healthy. I craved close connections and friendships but I was terrified and brutally reticent to the point where the idea of attempting to actually initiate and maintain such relationships felt like reliving a traumatic injury, so I went to a psychiatrist. I was diagnosed with Avoidant Personality Disorder that stems from extreme social rejection and isolation during my formative years, particularly by women (even my own mother and grandmother). Cognitive Behavioral Therapy has helped immensely, but I still hold most people, save a scarce few, at arm's length, even as I have become what most consider "popular." In fact, being invited into a variety of social circles has made my symptoms flare up recently, leading me to unhappily realize the chronic nature of the illness. Still, I am doing MUCH better than I was even 6 years ago, and CBT has helped me to cope with negative thoughts and emotions regarding social situations that I would have otherwise, well, avoided entirely.

I am not saying you have APV, but you may want to speak to a psychologist. It can't hurt. Memail me if you want to talk this out more.
posted by Young Kullervo at 11:27 AM on September 1, 2014 [2 favorites]

Hey, it's tough isn't it? :( -
I'm a fan of the 'adult comic strip' writer Harvey Pekar (American Splendour). There is a line in one of his comics that says something about how 'friendliness isn't the first thing I seek in a friend, reliability is'. These days I find I think about this more and more as a possibly health gauge. (I'm in my 30's too). Problem for me (and you may relate) is I myself have become a bit more unreliable/unavailable I think.. due mainly to past hurts I think and perhaps in part the inevitable increasing self reliance of adulthood.

You may find it interesting to read up a bit on social/emotional/sexual anorexia.. though there isn't loads written about it.

A therapist friend goes to encounter groups and talks highly of them - these seem to be short bursts of intimacy with people interested in the issue, for her they have led to important friendships. Personally I have mixed feelings re: this stuff.. as you don't really know whose in the group but it can scratch an itch or even work well.

As for 'codependent' girlfriends.. I dunno.. maybe don't be so quick to write them off! There's scope here re: how (you) think about them and a lot of things are a matter of degree. A true codependent is actually rather closer to healthy relating than a lot of people.
posted by tanktop at 4:56 AM on September 2, 2014

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