Late-twenties guy with no friends?
April 29, 2016 8:15 AM   Subscribe

I'm a late-twenties guy with no friends. I feel like I need to get out of this situation somehow. What to do?

Hi MeFi,

So, I'm a late-twenties guy and I seem to have no friends. On many days, it's not a problem: I'm very career focused, so sitting around all day and working on my projects is a pleasure. But then I look around at people having their barbecues, getting together for beers, having parties, etc. etc. etc. and I just start feeling outright miserable. I've never had that kind of relationship with anyone. These days, I can go for weeks without talking to anyone but my folks.

This has always been a problem for me. Since I was little, just talking to people felt like the biggest trial in the world. I was even terrified to talk on the phone. The only way I could make anything resembling friends is through osmosis: seeing the same people day-in, day-out in a relaxed environment and basically waiting for people to talk to me. (This didn't actually happen in class — I barely talked to my classmates — but I got to know the people I ate lunch with.)

In college, I spent 2 years lonely, even living in the dorms. My roommate and I got along well (again — osmosis), but I didn't really make any friends. Then I ended up living in a large house with a bunch of people, and that went better than anything else. The social osmosis was strong in this environment: people were constantly floating in and out of the common areas and intersecting around common tasks and activities. I made a number of friends here (or maybe acquaintances? what's the dividing line, anyway?), but several years later we barely even talk, even though we all live within driving distance from each other.

When I started working, I got along well with my co-workers. It was honestly a lot of fun. For the first time, I had peers that I could actually talk to about my main interests. Yet again, osmosis made it all happen: the institutional forces of a small, smart company made us discuss problems, eat lunch together, etc. I've been out of that job for a few years now and don't talk to those people anymore, but it was fun while it lasted.

Now I'm in the worst possible position for my social life. I'm an solo developer/artist working on my own projects (and I don't want to change this), I'm living by myself, and all my work is computer-based. Somehow I need to change all this — after more than a decade of festering in this state! — but every step I could possibly take feels like a inch up a mile-high mountain.
  • Perhaps the main issue is that I just feel physically incapable of having 1v1 conversations with people, particularly strangers. Coming up to someone I don't know (or even someone I do know) and saying "Hey, how's it going?" feels about as easy as sawing my finger off. I'm pretty sure I project this. I don't sound natural. My face looks funny. I simply cannot handle it. Doesn't even matter if it's a "you'll never see them again!" kind of situation: I've found no success in hostels or bars.
  • For the most part, I... really just don't know what to talk about. I've seen stats about how many text messages young people send these days. I seriously cannot get through 5 in a single session without running out of things to say. It's my main fear when talking to people 1v1. It's not like I don't have hobbies or interests; I do in fact have a ton, ranging from culinary to artistic to technical. But for some reason, I just can't seem to talk at length about them. In fairness, I've noticed that I have great chatter with people who are generally bubbly extroverts, since they don't need me to carry the conversation all the time... but I feel like that just feeds into the waiting-for-stuff-to-happen-to-me issue. (I've also met a single introvert who I could talk to for hours at a time, but that literally happened once in my life.)
  • To piggyback on top of that, my conversational style is... weird. Maybe it's a matter of practice, but I feel like I can't think on my feet. I don't seem to have a sentence-based stream of conscioussness like many people do, so I can't just open my mouth and say what I'm thinking. It takes a while to gather my thoughts and express them, in contrast to the rapid-fire delivery that many other people my age seem to have.
  • I have a hard time being genuine. It feels like my every move has a lot of momentum behind it. You can really tell when a person is in the flow of life, in their speech and their body language. Maybe they smile at just the right time. Maybe they do a little dance when their favorite song comes on. Maybe, when someone gives them some bad news, they immediately react with "Oh my gosh, are you alright?" Me, I have a hard time reacting to anything. Again, it takes me a while to gather my thoughts and even figure out what I'm supposed to say. The last time somebody told me something bad happened to them, I literally froze for few seconds and then did my best attempt at an "oh-my-gosh-are-you-alright" enounciation — but I know it sounded artificial. Like, seriously, I feel like a robot sometimes. Boop, beep.
  • I have way heavy resting bitch face, partly as a defense mechanism I guess. I project coldness. I'm pretty sure most people think I hate them. And, actually, in many ways I guess I do feel bitter a lot about other peoples' social lives.
  • I've found in recent years that I actually do well in groups and in casual small talk situations, as long as I'm not the instigator. I'm not oblivious to the flow of conversation: in certain situations, I can ride the wave really well. (Moreso if alcohol is involved, but I guess that's a given.) People I interact a lot with tend to think I'm charming, witty, and really funny. (They have said as much.) But often, and especially around people I don't know, I come off as aloof, cold, and even creepy. (Which I've heard as well.) On good days, I remember and believe the former group. On bad days, I think of all the times I've sat awkwardly around people and found myself completely unable to resemble a functional human being — even in environments where people say "you can't help but to make friends!"
  • For some reason, I get along way better with women than with men. Unfortunately, most of my hobbies are male-dominated.
OK, so that's my checklist. What on earth can I do about it?
  • Join a club or meetup. Well, I tried for a bit in college, but everyone seems to already know each other, so I just end up fading into the background. Also, most of the meetups I've seen only meet once a month, which is not nearly frequent enough. I feel like "talk to strangers 1v1" is a requirement for this to go well. Plus, there's the gender balance issue, as I mentioned earlier.
  • Join a multi-person house. I feel like this could work, but a) I'm pretty sure I would bomb most interviews unless the stars align on that day (as past experience has shown), and b) if I end up not getting along with my housemates (quite likely — I've lived in a ton of multi-person households while traveling and mostly ended up becoming an awkward household shadow) I'll either be stuck in an uncomfortable situation or be forced to move.
  • Host some events. This fills me with about 2x as much dread as meeting up with people 1v1, on account of my fundamental social role. I don't know how I could do this.
  • Therapy? For a multitude of reasons (both practical and personal) I feel it's not right for me. I'd rather not debate this point...
  • I feel like the only places where I've done better than average socially are institutions — school, work, etc. — where people are kind of smushed together by outside forces to do interesting stuff. Unfortunately, I'm currently not active in either school or work. I'd be interested in joining a new institution, but I can't think of one that meshes with my interests and goals.
Maybe the best option would be to somehow get over my fear of 1v1 encounters. But even the prospect of meeting up with someone makes me feel ill the entire time leading up to the encounter. I have no idea how to possibly fight thorugh that feeling over and over again. (And even if I did, unless they're just the right kind of person, the conversation would just end up tepid anyway, to no one's real benefit.) I have no idea if it's insecurity, lack of practice, or some fundamental physiological deficiency.

Reading over the above points, it seems like I completely fall apart when it comes to initiating social encounters, but do fine when social stuff just happens to me. I don't know if I should fix that or work with it, and how to proceed regardless of which one I choose. It seems to me that neither diving in the deep end nor desperation will drive me out of this situation. I need to find some way to take small, gradual steps towards my target. But it feels about as obvious as growing a third eye.

Any ideas? Stories from people who've turned their social life around in their late-twenties? Thank you!

(And thanks for reading! I hope this didn't come off as too self-wallowing. My self-esteem is actually quite high — except about this very important aspect of my life.)
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (36 answers total) 33 users marked this as a favorite
If you enjoy board games, there's likely groups that get together to play games near you. The meetups might look sporadic, but often the same group of players will play at different locations throughout the month, and after you integrate into the group you'll also get invitations to people's houses to play.

Volunteering is also a good way to both improve the world and meet people.
posted by Candleman at 8:32 AM on April 29, 2016 [12 favorites]

I'm a member of a group that attracts smart people who might not be so great at social stuff (yeah, it's the one you're thinking of, and I'm intentionally not naming it). What we've found attracts people and engenders conversations and friendships is Board Game Nights.

Check for a board game Meetup in your area, or go to a local gaming store and check for a bulletin board or ask the people there.
posted by Etrigan at 8:34 AM on April 29, 2016 [3 favorites]

I was 40 when I turned mine around. Spent the first 40 years pretty much just quietly doing my own thing with the odd friend/boyfriend here or there.

What turned it around was going out to do things I was interested in that incidentally had new people at. In my case it was table top gaming & RPGs like D&D. I went from a couple of friends back in Australia & hubby here in the USA to a bunch of close friends and about a dozen more casual friends I see once a week when we game. You don't say what your interests are but I found this a very effective method.

What was effective about Tabletop games & RPGs is that you have something to talk about & you are thrown together into a group & usually have to work together in some way, so whatever your interests are look for some with a similar sort of dynamic. Building things in a make shop where other people are working on things might work more than going to a class where you all sit quietly & just listen to one person. The "forced" interaction removes a lot of the need to think up topics of conversation, you have the built in topic.

Seriously you even mention that these sort of areas are the ones that work best for you. Maybe let Metafilter know your interests & the hive mind may come up with ways you can do something you enjoy & meet people as well. Then if worst comes to worst & you don't make any friends you are still doing something fun.
posted by wwax at 8:34 AM on April 29, 2016 [4 favorites]

Three answers up, and no one has suggested Toastmasters? It will help you thinking on your feet. It will help you make connections. Try a few meetings!
posted by kellyblah at 8:41 AM on April 29, 2016 [5 favorites]

It's more challenging because you're at that age when people start to pair up. They may not be looking for new friends, but instead they're looking for life partners.

If I were you I would just join some community group that matches your interests. It could be tabletop gaming, or maybe it's salsa dancing. Maybe take up a martial art or something.
posted by My Dad at 8:44 AM on April 29, 2016

- Volunteer. If there is a lull in the conversation, you can just focus on the task.
posted by saturdaymornings at 8:44 AM on April 29, 2016 [7 favorites]

I'd suggest contacting your lapsed former friends individually and just going out for drinks, lunch or dinner and for conversation just do the catching up thing and then say "Let's do this again" and make a plan right then for a month or two down the road. Make an effort and do something like go out twice a week with a different old friend.

These are people you have already connected with so the social awkwardness should be lower and the friendship opportunity should be higher percentage.

After the catch up phase start inviting people to do things. Call a couple of friends and go to a movie or concert - very low conversation awkwardness in that. Introduce people who don't know each other but might get along.

Volunteer to help potential friends. Somebody moving? Offer to help. Helpful people are rarely short of friends.
posted by srboisvert at 8:45 AM on April 29, 2016 [8 favorites]

It really seems to me that you have the classic symptoms of social anxiety. I know it gets trumpeted here a lot, but therapy could really, really help you with this.
posted by cooker girl at 8:48 AM on April 29, 2016 [22 favorites]

You're going to have to put some effort into this. Making friends gets harder as you get older. You don't have people in your life with whom you have a history, it starts to matter once you get into your thirties.

Join a few groups where an activity is being performed, meet some folks there. Habitat for Humanity is good because you're doing good in the community, learning skills and meeting like-minded folks.

Have you thought about dating? You can be 100% blunt about how painfully shy and awkward you are, and see if anyone bites. Then get some practice with dates, and if it sticks, your new SO might have a good friend group you can get into.

Take in person classes. Learning Annex, Adult Night School, a Degree Program. I did an intensive MBA where the class stayed the same and the professors rotated in and out. I'm still friends with those folks.

You dismiss a lot of stuff out of hand, very firm on the fact that it's not going to work for you. It's almost like, "I've tried nothing and I'm all out of ideas." Try things a few different times, the most important one is therapy. It seems like you have social anxiety and it's progressed for so long that you think it's a personality trait rather than a mental health issue. Talk to your GP about social anxiety, try an anti-anxiety drug if indicated. Give therapy another try, be upfront with what you're trying to accomplish, perhaps even group therapy, where you can meet other people.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 8:51 AM on April 29, 2016 [9 favorites]

Also, most of the meetups I've seen only meet once a month, which is not nearly frequent enough.

I mean, it's more frequent than you are currently meeting up with people, so maybe it's a place to start.
posted by Rock Steady at 8:52 AM on April 29, 2016 [9 favorites]

I share some of your issues with stuff like 1v1 conversation, and I'm an introvert so any social interaction is draining, but I am coming at this from the point of view of both actually having a social life that mostly meets my needs right now, and also realizing that I need to step up more with initiation.

it seems like I completely fall apart when it comes to initiating social encounters, but do fine when social stuff just happens to me.

The only way to get better at this is practice. And it's HARD work if it doesn't come naturally to you. So, the stuff you've "tried" that didn't work out? Like going to meetups and then feeling left out because everyone knows each other? You need to keep going. Because guess what -- after 6 months, you are going to be one of those people that everyone knows.

It's hard to get a core group of strangers together for a meetup more than once per month, that's why that's a popular frequency. You can hack this by choosing 4 monthly meetups that meet in different weeks of the month. Now you've got a social event every week.

Host some events. This fills me with about 2x as much dread as meeting up with people 1v1, on account of my fundamental social role. I don't know how I could do this.

TBH -- as an introvert, I love throwing parties. There's something about being able to hang back and watch folks interact and have fun that fills me with warm heart feelings. And, when you're the host, you can duck out of any uncomfortable conversation with a "oh... gotta check on the [ice|brats on the grill|music playlist]" and go do that, grab yourself a beer, and duck back in on another conversation.

But, if you don't have a social circle to draw from yet, throwing a "party" can be kind of fraught (what if no one comes?!). So maybe start smaller.

Board game nights have been mentioned. But let's make it even less of a stretch: do you work in an office culture that can support twice-monthly board game lunches? Obtain a bunch of games from the easy-to-medium to get into side of the spectrum (think Ticket to Ride and below), schedule a conference room, put up a flyer or two, and start eating your lunch in the "game" room every other Tuesday or whatever. Be sure to bring some games that work with just one or just two players you don't have to have a huge critical mass of folks at first.

Boom -- now you're interacting with people at work on a social level. Maybe it will turn into outside of work friendship, but maybe not and that's fine. But it is practice.

Finally, I get why you don't feel comfortable with the idea of therapy. You need to sit in a room, one on one, and open up to someone about your problems. It's pretty much the worst thing, though it can be a valuable thing if you can push past the pain of it (I, personally, cannot). But, there are techniques, like CBT that you can try to help make it easier for you to deal all on your own. Metafilter is a fan of recommending The Feeling Good Handbook, which I did like (even with the author's stupid smug face on the cover). I also found mindfulness based cognitive training (MBCT) as taught by The Mindful Way Workbook to be helpful, and have more techniques that I've actually stuck with in my daily life.
posted by sparklemotion at 9:00 AM on April 29, 2016 [6 favorites]

Any maker spaces nearby? You can go and just be around other people without talking, ask about their projects without having to do much but nod your head, or maybe even find a like-minded collaborator. Most people at my local maker space are a little socially awkward, but they seem to be making friends all over the place.
posted by galvanized unicorn at 9:02 AM on April 29, 2016 [5 favorites]

Hi, I'm you. So I'm probably not qualified to give advice. But anyway...
I started taking a pottery class at night and I was pleasantly surprised by how many people around my age were there, and a good mix of men and women. I haven't made "hang-out" friends from it, but it's been really good practice for one-on-one conversations, which I sorely need. I'm working my way up to go to meetup groups.
your local art class may vary.
posted by ghostbikes at 9:07 AM on April 29, 2016 [4 favorites]

One more suggestion. Act Two of Episode 584 of This American Life has a story that I think you should listen to. It features excerpts from the first episode of Beautiful Stories from Anonymous People.

In it, a smart funny man, talks to a smart sad man, about how the sad man is the one holding himself back from doing what he wants in life. It was a lot more moving than I expected.

I only listened to the shortened TAL version, so I can't recommend the full version. If you listen to the short version, I think you'll hear something you recognize.
posted by sparklemotion at 9:09 AM on April 29, 2016 [5 favorites]

It seems there are two possible types of approaches: 1) try to get better at what you (and so many of us) are not good at: generic socializing;
2) try to increase the number of opportunities you have to do what you are good at: "intersecting around common tasks and activities" - like the volunteering or meetups that people have mentioned.

Try to do both. But obviously, #1 is very hard. Therefore I think a focus on #2 is likely to be more immediately productive, and it may lead to #1.
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 9:17 AM on April 29, 2016 [1 favorite]

I've been out of that job for a few years now and don't talk to those people anymore, but it was fun while it lasted.

Why don't you talk to them? Your assignment for today is to text them or contact them via fb or whatever means. They already know you and like you. Even if you are no longer in the same city, contact them and go visit them and relearn what it's like to interact with your peers.
posted by the webmistress at 9:19 AM on April 29, 2016

How are you on chat/messenger? Maybe it's worth doing some of the groundwork online before you meet people, so you don't feel quite so weird about doing the getting-to-know-you stuff.

Also, if you're in London, I will hang out with you and I talk a ton so you won't have to fill any silences :)
posted by greenish at 9:38 AM on April 29, 2016 [1 favorite]

Speaking as a very shy person, I have come to realize that social passivity can read as a lack of interest, or even hostility, to the people around you. From your description (able to do all right when the group comes to you, unable to do anything else), you sound very socially passive. You can't just assume that the other person will do the work of reaching out or maintaining contact or that, if they don't, it automatically means they wouldn't enjoy spending time with you. What is stopping you from getting together for coffee with one of your (more recent) older friends? The assumption that if they wanted to see you, they would have arranged it. Well, what if they feel the same way? The situation rapidly gets absurd.

I really think you should talk to a doctor about anti-anxiety medication. Social anxiety is real, and it makes the complex task of having a social life a million times harder. If you can quiet some of the exaggerated fear-response in your head, it will be a lot easier to deal with the more proportional fears.
posted by praemunire at 9:41 AM on April 29, 2016 [5 favorites]

Hey, anon, I have a thought about this from personal experience. Drop me a memail if you feel like it.
posted by Lexica at 9:49 AM on April 29, 2016

I know you said you didn't want to hear this but group therapy can be really helpful for getting practice in relating to people. Many therapists run evening groups for this purpose.

My other idea is a bit off-the-wall: take a quilting class. You will meet women and there's time for casual talk and chitchat while working on the quilt. It's a relaxed, friendly vibe IME.
posted by tuesdayschild at 9:53 AM on April 29, 2016 [2 favorites]

I agree with taking classes, but bear in mind that it might take a while to find a group of people you click with. I initially joined a local historical group that I thought would be right up my alley. I found it impossible to "break in." Then I started taking fencing classes. At first, I really had to force myself to go. I was sure that people didn't want me there, and it took a year to feel comfortable. Now I have made many friends, and it is a huge part of my life. So you will have to endure some discomfort to make this happen. It will be very tempting to give up and just think that you are the kind of person who can't really have a social life. Do not give in to this feeling. You may have to be very persistent and go way out of your comfort zone, but you should be able to find people you can eventually develop friendships with. You're going to want to give up - I certainly did - don't do it. You can make friends.

Another thing to look into is volunteering. Nonprofit groups always need bodies. Helping other people will get you out of your own head.
posted by FencingGal at 9:58 AM on April 29, 2016 [9 favorites]

It sounds like you are working from home now - if that's right, have you heard of co-working spaces? They are basically offices for people who don't have an office. At a minimum, if you find one that has a regular set of attendees you would get back to that stage of regular contact with others. If you say what city you are in people can probably recommend some.
posted by the agents of KAOS at 9:59 AM on April 29, 2016 [1 favorite]

I was a bit like this, then I got married. My wife is much more sociable than I am, she met some people and now they're our friends. This might seem glib but it turns out there is a passive solution to the problem! (And it seems easier to find a girlfriend/boyfriend than just a new friend, as an adult.)
posted by foolfilment at 10:01 AM on April 29, 2016 [1 favorite]

You describe wanting to change a situation that is deeply rooted:

This has always been a problem for me. Since I was little, just talking to people felt like the biggest trial in the world. I was even terrified to talk on the phone
even the prospect of meeting up with someone makes me feel ill the entire time leading up to the encounter. I have no idea how to possibly fight thorugh that feeling over and over again.

... at a time when circumstances aren't helping you:

Now I'm in the worst possible position for my social life... Somehow I need to change all this — after more than a decade of festering in this state! — but every step I could possibly take feels like a inch up a mile-high mountain.

Yet you rule out getting help from professionals who specialize in helping people with things like this. At your request I won't debate you on it. But I think you're cutting off an important solution. Barring that, how about self-help books or support groups related to social anxiety?
posted by salvia at 10:11 AM on April 29, 2016 [1 favorite]

We all have a mix of social skills, and different levels of comfort and competence with them. I think it's fine to focus on your strengths by finding a situation that promotes them. If you've been out of contact with people in general for a while, it makes sense that the skills you know you do have have gone a bit rusty. It'll just take a bit more practice to get the wheels turning again. (If I haven't really talked to anyone for a while for whatever reason, I think I do come across as a bit off, but comfort comes back again in no time. I think that's maybe not unusual, even for people with no social anxiety history.) I have a feeling that the sense of flow generated by operating in your comfort zone might leak over into some other kinds of interactions, a bit, once you're comfortable again.

To that end, 2nd group activities that attract like-minded people, the way your old workplace did - maker spaces, or maybe a well-chosen co-working arrangement; involvement in charities of interest (maybe arts charities). I don't think finding a roommate would be a horrible idea, either, I don't think it's a "cheat" or anything. Lots of people develop and expand friend networks that way, and the company might be nice. Find *one* other person. Put an ad out, describing yourself, and look for a good *match* with whom you could find a new place *together*. Dating, too, why not. Lots of couples balance each other out, and teach each other things, nothing wrong with that.

I think it's ok to not be 100% perfect at all kinds of interactions in all settings. I had social anxiety [past tense, treated with meds] - I don't even feel the anxiety I used to, but I'm still not always *great* at everything. I think that's fine. My mix is - good at: initiating contact with strangers, making small talk, *listening* in 1:1 convos, doing banter in groups (mostly via shorter comments, one-liners, and questions vs. prolonged storytelling, which I think is its own skill). Less good at: talking about or answering personal questions about myself with people who don't already know me (partly because I'm not a fantastic *storyteller*, also because some of those questions make me uncomfortable atm, mostly bc I haven't settled the answers for myself).

You do actually have a lot of skills, sounds like. You're comfortable communicating, authentically and in flow, with a group of people you know and with whom you have shared interests, when it's a "level playing field". Great in groups when you're a little disinhibited. Not so comfortable initiating contact with strangers. It's just that freezing response that's stopping you. I have talked (at length) on here about my ambivalence about the meds that I think helped me.. but I think they did help (with that freezing response). Maybe look into it, weigh out the pros and cons.
posted by cotton dress sock at 10:28 AM on April 29, 2016

Anon, I read a lot of myself in your description. I'm in my 30s now and I said "enough is enough. I can't live the life I want feeling this way." I have been doing a lot of work (therapy, sorry) and my outlook, feelings and capabilities have really changed. I'd be happy to talk more specifics and details privately if you like.
posted by emkelley at 10:34 AM on April 29, 2016

Can you move into a house with other developer/artists? That way you have some social interaction in the way that makes you comfortable (osmosis). Also look into coworking spaces, where you can perhaps recreate the 'coworkers I have lunch with' thing.

For anxiety this deeply rooted and intense, medication is something you might want to look into. This can be, but does not *have* to be, combined with therapy. Your regular doctor can prescribe this for you, or give you a referral to a psychiatrist who will.
posted by ananci at 11:40 AM on April 29, 2016 [3 favorites]

You mention osmosis a few times, so focus on thinking about what would get you most immersed in a sea of people. I would look for any meetup/volunteer/hiking group etc. that meets at least two times a week, if not more. That way you stay much more connected. Also, could you get a few roommates? Maybe get a bigger place that has hang-out amenities (pool, loungy yard, big kitchen, great view) that would bring in people and make them want to stay.
posted by Vaike at 11:49 AM on April 29, 2016 [1 favorite]

Get a hobby -- for which read, passionate interest you are willing to devote most of your social time to, and which you will not have to convince yourself to actually do -- that forces you to interact with other people. It's best if this is, as I said, one of those hobbies that attracts people with deep passion and commitment. Rather than a weekly recreational flag football league or the like, where people come and go and mostly don't socialize outside of that one structured activity.

When I moved to Los Angeles I was in your situation, and then I started getting involved with the comedy community. It's definitely possible to just go to an improv class once a week and go home and never talk to anyone, but most of the schools require you to attend shows at their theater, which leads to a degree of camaraderie with classmates, and then if you start performing regularly you will innately make friends, get invited to stuff, etc. I went from "literally zero friends in this time zone" to multiple social engagements every weekend and some weeknights over the course of maybe a year. I now have a core group of close friends, and it's also how I met my future husband.

FWIW meetups and the like never really worked for me, because it's too easy to just be a wallflower on the edge of a large group. In fact, that's still me at a lot of comedy parties, shows, etc. but there are enough small group hangouts that I ultimately did get integrated into the scene and made friends. You want something where you see the same 5-10 people on a regular basis, and ideally are encouraged to interact on a one on one level outside the main activity.
posted by Sara C. at 12:17 PM on April 29, 2016 [2 favorites]

I know you said you aren't interested in therapy, but I have a (much younger) kid with problems making friends, and his dad an I have connected with a therapist who hosts a social skills group. It's nothing more than a group of kids who struggle in ways very similar to the struggle you describe-and a few facilitating therapists who help coach them through 1:1 and small group social interactions.

Even if you're not interested in 1:1 talk therapy (and if your main struggle is centered around 1:1 communication I get why that would seem daunting) I would heartily second the upthread suggestion to find a therapeutic group. Social skills can be practiced and learned. You seem like a bright, intelligent, interesting person. You can totally overcome this. Good luck to you!
posted by little mouth at 12:31 PM on April 29, 2016 [8 favorites]

I could have wrote this question myself, being a 27-year-old woman who is uncomfortable 1-on-1 but great in groups. Personally, I think the barrier to us making friends is not being able to have those 1-on-1 conversations. They are what will bridge the gap between acquaintance and friend. What I've been forcing myself to do is make small-talk with people I see everyday (boss, coworkers, receptionist) to practice. Also, try to find meetup groups that are much more active. I'm part of some groups that have an event on almost everyday and definitely every weekend.

OP, there was even a point where I almost turned my life around. Through meetup, I met a group of people that I really had a great time with. It was unspoken, but we all went to the same meetup events when we saw each other RSVP for one. In the span of a month, I had a group chat set up with them. A few of them I even kept up regular individual text convos with (note: all text, 1-on-1 in-person was and is still difficult for me). It was the first time in a long while, that I felt like I had friends who I could message at random to hangout/talk. Then I dated one of them, and it all came to shambles a few months later. Basically though, that's what you need to find. Find your people, and the rest will take care of itself.

Now I still go to meetups, and even see the same groups of people quite frequently. Since there's no "click" though, it's hard to make that jump into friendship. I can enjoy a meal or activity with the group and have a great time, but at the end of the day I don't feel closer to any of them.

Also, you mention you get along better with women? Great, try online dating! I actually found myself a couple of platonic friends this way (that have since drifted because either one of us found significant others and got busier).

My boyfriend is also a great ally to my struggle, and has tried to pull me into his friend group (no dice, unfortunately). That's another avenue to making friends, if you have a more socially competent partner.

Good luck on your friend-finding mission! Memail me if you want to commiserate or just talk.
posted by ThatSox at 12:33 PM on April 29, 2016 [2 favorites]

Find a local brazilian jiu-jitsu school and go start training. I've been to schools in different cities and all are great environments. You will make friends there, plus it is good for exercise, health, mental well being.
posted by osi at 1:21 PM on April 29, 2016 [1 favorite]

Get a dog and they will come
posted by jitterbug perfume at 2:16 PM on April 29, 2016 [2 favorites]

I can't express how frustrating it is to hear this. I'm regarded as someone who is rather extroverted, can talk to strangers, and makes friends fairly easily. However ALL of the friendships I have are because I put in the WORK. It's not something that just "happens." Even my roommate, who I moved in with off of craigslist having never met before and luckily became a best friend in a new city- it requires WORK. Within the first 2 days we asked each other questions like "what's your favorite sick food?" And then when she was sick 2 weeks later I went out and got her it, without being asked. It's calling friends at odd hours because they live cross country or across oceans. It's sending birthday cards. None of this just magically happens that I am bestowed friends. It takes work.

It doesn't matter if you're a little awkward or have delayed responses. It matters that you care about what I said and how it made me feel. It matters that you call or text to hang out again.

That being said, I think meeting people is easier when you're both doing an activity you can talk about and can potentially fill the silence; tasting wine, pottery, at a museum, going to a dog park (dogs are AWESOME wingmen for friends and romantic interests), etc.

+1 to stoneweaver's comment.
posted by raccoon409 at 6:03 PM on April 29, 2016 [6 favorites]

In any structured group setting – like a meetup group, club, gym, etc. – the trick is to consistently show up for every meeting for a few months. Meetups usually have a core group of long-term members and a large cloud of floaters. If you're looking to make friends, your best bet is to become one of the regulars, and the only way to do that is to.. well, be regularly in attendance.

Friendships are actually pretty simple. All friendships are forged from repeated shared experiences in a socially relaxed environment. That's why it's so easy to make friends when you're a kid or in college. The common advice is that it's "hard" to make friends, but really it's not hard, it just takes time and effort. The really hard part is turning a casual friend into a close friend.
posted by deathpanels at 8:35 PM on April 29, 2016

If volunteering appeals to you but you don't know where to start, see if there is a One Brick ( chapter in your city. They partner with various orgs so you can volunteer at several different places in a month with the same people, and they're pretty explicitly a social group and always go out for food or drinks after volunteering. The event managers are generally really great about making sure they get a chance to talk to everyone and greasing the social wheels. Also I tend to give awkward/weird people a bit more of a pass when volunteering than at other types of meetups because I assume their presence at the event means they have a good heart :)
posted by sunset in snow country at 7:53 AM on April 30, 2016 [1 favorite]

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