Trying to understand why no one likes me
May 12, 2016 3:30 AM   Subscribe

It feels like in pretty much every sphere of my life everyone around me makes friends with each other as though by magic but no one ever makes friends with me. I really can't see what the difference is between me and these other people and how we interact but this is such a consistent pattern it can't all be in my head. I want to learn how to become a likeable person which mostly seems to be something about someone's energy or manner rather than anything tangible or concrete.

Please don't tell me I must secretly hate myself because I don't. I am just so sad observing how unwanted I am. Imagine having a baby or a piece of art you've made that you love but whenever anyone else sees it they just look disgusted or bored and so you gradually figure out there must be something wrong with it. This is what it feels like with my personality. I expect at least a few people to like me because I think I am a likeable person which is what makes the gap between my expectations and reality so crushing.

I feel like I never get anywhere because people have learnt that the 'right' answer is to say to love yourself and then people will want to be around you. Even in therapy it mostly turns into talking about my feelings about being lonely but honestly my feelings aren't the problem the problem is there is something about me which makes me unlikable. I feel like there's a kind of glue which makes people somehow become friends while talking to each other and I am missing it and want to know what it is.
posted by ninjablob to Human Relations (74 answers total) 41 users marked this as a favorite
What does your therapist say?
posted by Sebmojo at 3:41 AM on May 12, 2016 [10 favorites]

If you're absolutely convinced that there's something wrong with you that makes you unlikable, have you tried asking people who have interacted with you in real life whether that's the case? Because we here on the internet are definitely not going to be able to tell you whether you're right or wrong. We haven't met you.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 3:42 AM on May 12, 2016 [6 favorites]

Have you considered a life coach? Being in therapy is good, but therapists don't tend to give concrete advice, and they don't see you interacting with people and out and about in social interactions. A life coach will be able to help you in the social sphere, give you tips on how to present yourself and strategies to make yourself more likeable. Honestly it sounds to me like you've built up a big idea about being unlikeable which is probably transmitting itself to other people and making them uncomfortable, however much you don't think it is. Having an outside person with skills and knowledge to train you could help you get over that mental block and start being better at engaging with people, which is the first step towards friendship.
posted by mymbleth at 3:52 AM on May 12, 2016 [10 favorites]

My therapist says I need to find people I can 'be myself' around, which is a sweet sentiment I guess but probably not how the world actually works?
posted by ninjablob at 3:52 AM on May 12, 2016 [2 favorites]

I apologize if this is obvious, but have you tried showing interest in other people? Sending signals that you enjoy their company? Initiating further contact? Making plans with them?
posted by Waiting for Pierce Inverarity at 3:57 AM on May 12, 2016 [23 favorites]

What happens when you try to make friends with people? Think of someone in your life who you've gone out of your way to say hi to regularly, occasionally invited to things, and followed up with questions about things they have mentioned about themselves ("How did that exam go you were studying for?" "Did you finish that book about birds? Was it good?")

Did they not reciprocate so you eventually stopped trying? Did they actively reject you in some way? Did things just never get closer than small talk?

I think you need to pinpoint exactly which part of making friends isn't working for you, and then you can start to figure out what the problem might be. I'm betting it isn't something fundamental about you. (I know plenty of terrible people who seem somehow to have friends anyway.) I am guessing maybe there's something you are doing in your attempts to make friends that is socially inept and setting you up for failure.

Or maybe you aren't actively seeking out friends and doing the above sort of emotional labour and are just hoping that friends might randomly happen to you. (Which would be a problem too). But from what you have written so far, it's not possible for us to tell.
posted by lollusc at 3:58 AM on May 12, 2016 [19 favorites]

My therapist says I need to find people I can 'be myself' around, which is a sweet sentiment I guess but probably not how the world actually works?

But if you construct a fake persona that "people will love", then aren't they still loving someone else, not you? They're loving that creation, and it seems to me that the best you can hope for in that situation is a sort of superior "look how I conned these rubes" feeling, which still seems like it would be toxic to your happiness.
posted by Mogur at 3:59 AM on May 12, 2016 [3 favorites]

Your therapist is right. That is how the world works: be yourself and the people who are worth your time will take an interest in you. Everyone else are just extras on your stage. People are intuitively good at detecting inauthenticity.

I don't know how old you are, but there is a point in life (I'd say 27+) where most people have established groups of friends. Immediately connecting with people past that age is harder. These people are also less likely to go about their lives looking for social reassurance or handing it out. Most people also don't spend much time thinking about you and your needs. They implicitly assume that you have your own life going on and don't need validation.

Don't expect insta-friendships. The trick to making friends at that stage is to be patient. Try to participate in events that bring you in regular contacts with others. Be an autonomous adult. Interact as though you are completely satisfied with your life as it is right now (not as someone who needs something from the interaction). As has been mentioned, when you meet someone you find interesting, be obvious about finding them interesting. Take an interest in others (but only the others you really truly like, not everyone out there... That reads as inauthentic).

And finally: stave away perfectionism. See every interaction as practice. If you feel like you stumbled, find a way to laugh about it.
posted by Milau at 4:08 AM on May 12, 2016 [25 favorites]

Your post makes my heart hurt - you are not unlikable, I promise. Finding good friends can be like finding a loving partner - it can take a long time, it happens to everyone at different points in life, and you might meet a lot of ones who are kind of lame or hurtful before you meet good ones.

What struck me was how casually you tossed aside the idea of loving yourself so that others will want to be around you. May I explain that to you in a bit more detail, to see if you can understand the real stuff behind it? It does sound trite and people do throw it around a lot as a brief idea, but there's truth in it.

- If I meet someone who is generally happy, and comfortable in who they are, there is no work for me to do there, initially. I can casually strike up a friendship with them on the basis of a similar interest or viewpoint, or something we do regularly together. The work starts when we become better friends, and I choose to be there for them in times of need.

- If I meet someone who doesn't like themselves very much, or is very lonely, or desperate for my friendship, there is a lot of work for me to do. I need to establish boundaries, I may feel like I need to immediately try and help them with their problems, and I feel increasingly responsible for their happiness the more time we spend together.

Now, not everyone would be put off by the latter. But can you see how, for perhaps the majority of people wanting to take the "path of least resistance" in life, it would be much easier to strike up a friendship with the first person? I want to make very clear - it's not impossible for the second person to make friends. But it may take a lot more work for someone to be their friend, and a lot of people will not choose to do that extra work.

In practical terms, what does "loving yourself" really look like? It's finding the things you love to do and see and be a part of, and doing them, and not feeling weird or silly about doing them. It's trying to be the best version of you, for your own sake. It's owning who you are, whilst simultaneously figuring out who you want to be, and making that transition a tiny bit every day in positive ways.

Please memail me if you'd like to discuss this further. I have someone very close to me who has gone through a similar struggle to yours, and expressed similar sentiments to your question.
posted by greenish at 4:15 AM on May 12, 2016 [74 favorites]

The trouble is I already am 'myself' but people do not take an interest in me. It never even gets as far as doing stuff like arranging to meet up with people as I never have even as basic a connection that would make suggesting that seem anything other than weird and desperate. People never invite me to things and if I was making a good enough impression that making an effort would be worthwhile surely that would happen like 50% of the time rather than 0. I do take an interest in other people, but people don't want just anyone to take an interest in them they want popular worthwhile people to take an interest in them, interest from losers comes across as weird and awkward. Guess I am just the inherently shitty person that I thought it's good to have it out in the open at least
posted by ninjablob at 4:19 AM on May 12, 2016 [1 favorite]

No one is inherently unlikeable, full stop. I've met some very awful people in my time and they have friends and romantic partners too.

With that in mind, I think there is a really huge lesson to learn from this very thread given that no one is inherently unlikeable.

I'm noticing that even here people are offering advice and reaching out - but you are not paying attention to what people are saying, and you are shutting down friendly approaches. Is this what you do offline too?

This is really armchair psychology 101, but I'm thinking this could be something you might want to examine in therapy.

Hold your head up high. You are lovely.
posted by kariebookish at 4:29 AM on May 12, 2016 [45 favorites]

People also pick up on self loathing. If you don't even like hanging out with you, why would I want to?
posted by raccoon409 at 4:29 AM on May 12, 2016 [33 favorites]

No one takes an interest in another person unless they want something from them. People rarely have the confidence to make plans with new friends. If you want friends, then you have to take an interest in other people and take the initiative. When you go to social events, commit to learning three things about as many people there as you can. When you hit on a common interest, ask knowing questions about that interest. Keep conversations light, short, and not all about you. It takes time to build a friendship. The beginning stages simply require basic social skills. Read a little Ms. Manners and get to work. The more you stay out of your own head and interested in what the other person is saying, the more successful that you will be.
posted by myselfasme at 4:30 AM on May 12, 2016 [3 favorites]

I do take an interest in other people, but people don't want just anyone to take an interest in them they want popular worthwhile people to take an interest in them, interest from losers comes across as weird and awkward.

No! Adults have left high school behind and don't go about their lives as though its a popularity contest.

Is it possible that it is this type of distorted belief about the world that keeps you from interacting genuinely with others? You could be bringing this into every interaction, thinking people are judging you. As Greenish pointed out, people usually detect this and will choose the path of least resistance.

Try to enter interactions without the drive to be liked. Just be in them. Don't be concerned about the outcome of whether or not will like you.
posted by Milau at 4:33 AM on May 12, 2016 [14 favorites]

Your question: Trying to understand why no one likes me.
Answer: You have yet to meet the people who likes you.

So, my story very short: During university I had difficulties to attach to people. I was basically tolerated by my peers. No great friendships (with a few exceptions).

But in my first job after studies..! Wow! I still hang out with some of those people many years later. We were on the same level, had the same kind of perspective on life and the world. I felt at home.

You will find your home too. MeMail me if you want to ask more details of my journey.
posted by Rabarberofficer at 4:38 AM on May 12, 2016 [1 favorite]

As a formerly extremely shy and insecure person who has come a long way and more or less found a happy place in the world, I really feel for you. I know it's incredibly difficult to believe that you are likable person when the evidence is everywhere that nobody likes you, but as been pointed out a number of times already, this is a circular, self-fulfilling prophesy sort of situation. A belief that one is unlikable obscures the good stuff one has to offer, demands a lot of emotional work from the people one interacts with, and can even be threatening to anyone who's suffered unhealthy social or emotional entanglements in the past.

My therapist says I need to find people I can 'be myself' around, which is a sweet sentiment I guess but probably not how the world actually works?

I'm actually going to agree with you on this, but not in the way you expect. It's not a matter of finding the right people to be around; it's a matter of finding the courage to be yourself around other people.
posted by jon1270 at 4:50 AM on May 12, 2016 [15 favorites]

"Why doesn't anyone like me?" questions are tricky bordering on unanswerable. None of us can give you an accurate explanation - or even verify that your perception of people not liking you is correct - without observing you in person and seeing how you interact with other people. You need in-person guidance through this, and the life coach suggestion is a good one. If your therapist isn't helping you with this, dig deeper with them or find one who does help.

I'm going to take you at your word that you like yourself just fine and are full of confidence and self-acceptance. If you aren't, that's the first thing you need to work on. It totally fucking sucks: you have to like yourself before other people like you, but how can you like yourself without outside evidence that you're likeable? I struggled with this for years, and it sort of went against everything I thought and felt about myself, but yes, you do have to really sincerely like yourself first, without conditions or disclaimers, and yes it's doable. If you come across as clingy, desperate, defensive, standoffish, overly self-deprecating, etc., people are not going to want to hang out with you. It's easy to develop a style of interaction that projects one or more of those, so much so that it can feel ingrained, but it's not you. You can be yourself without being any of those things.

Having said that. There's an element of passivity running throughout your question: "as though by magic," "no one ever makes friends with me," "then people will want to be around you," "there's a kind of glue which makes people somehow become friends." I think this a big clue to what you're missing. You make friends. You make friends. You can't just wait for people to come to you. (I still run into this: I see people grow close together and I'm like "what do they have that I don't?" and then I get a text from an acquaintance and I'm like "ahh this is new and weird how do I respond?" and then it's like "duh, that's how people make friends, by talking to each other.") Friendships grow gradually and can't be forced, but they require both people to cultivate them. Start initiating. Say hi. Invite people places. Expect some rejection or fizzling - not because people don't like you, but because friendships are difficult to get off the ground, for everybody except the most extroverted. For every friendship you see, there are a dozen others that never really took off, and that's okay and no reflection on either person. You can't let it get you down, you just have to keep going and try again and be patient.
posted by Metroid Baby at 4:54 AM on May 12, 2016 [46 favorites]

I think what you're doing is the friendship equivalent of someone who has a picture on a dating website, no information and under the category 'looking for' it just says 'anyone' because you're looking to fill a need rather than enjoy people. What sorts of people do you take an interest in? Whose company have you genuinely enjoyed? Why? Monitor these things. What are you 'sharing' of yourself? Can your 'seriousness' be felt or sensed by others? People really feel 'neediness' in others. Go deeper than just 'I am being rejected'. I have the same feelings as you at times but when I am given the chance to change things, do I make an effort to converse? Not really. Not a genuine, relaxed, shooting the sh~, fully contributing conversation. Just pleasant small talk. Why? Partly because I lack some social skills to move towards more nuanced and interesting conversation but also partly because I don't care. I am socially very lazy and I have had to come to terms with the fact that people who are not interested in me are usually people I am not interested in. I could be talking to my colleagues but instead i'm on here. I feel I want to connect with people but I can't do what is required of me to achieve it. I know you said you're interested in people but i'm not getting any sense of excitement about people from you. Just a need.

I do, however, also agree with Rabarberofficer - you may not have yet met your 'people'. You might be around very bland, MOR folks. Where would your people be?
posted by ihaveyourfoot at 4:57 AM on May 12, 2016 [3 favorites]

From my experience, you get what you give. Your world is a reflection of you.

I used to be in a similar place to you (although, honestly, without the self-loathing that you deny is present but clearly is). I was depressed. I didn't like myself. I felt like nobody wanted to be with me. In truth, though, I didn't want to be with other people. I was far too self-conscious. Everything I did, I did to try to please other people and/or make them like me. I was projecting a false image of who I really was. It was a version of myself, sure, but it wasn't 100% authentic. (And I know, "authentic" is one of those cringe-worthy self-help words -- but it's a very useful concept in this context.) Plus, I was far too over-analytical.

Today, I'm totally different. Today, I like myself. I genuinely enjoy talking with other people. Whereas a decade ago it was difficult for me to connect with others, today it's easy. Also, I've let go of my tendency to overanalyze everything.

Most of this change has come about due to increased confidence. This developed s-l-o-w-l-y over time. But another part of this change was getting the courage to discard the parts of my life that weren't working, actively working to become a better person. When alone, I learned to focus more on improving myself (both mentally and physically) and less on other people. When not alone, I learned to not focus on myself, but to focus on the people and world around me.

Looking at your AskMe history, you've been asking this same question (or variants of it) over and over and over again. You deny that you dislike yourself, yet it's clearly the case.

Obviously, we know very little about you. Yet from what we can glean from your posts here, it seems to me that you're a passive participant in life, waiting for good things to happen to you. That's not how life works. Life and luck favor those who are pro-active, the people who take an active role in building the sort of world they want. That means making yourself a better person (like I mentioned above), learning to accept and love yourself, figuring out how not to give a shit what other people think, and -- most importantly -- actively working to create the sort of world and lifestyle you want.

How do you do this? Instead of waiting for other people to approach you, you approach other people. (You're going to get rejected, no question, but so what? Eventually you will make connections.) Instead of letting life happen to you, you happen to life.

One of the best things I ever did to improve my own self-image and self-worth was solo travel. By taking weeks-long organized tours in other countries, I was able to form temporary connections with other people completely outside my normal daily routine. And in these groups, the dynamic was totally different. There was no baggage from home. People treated me differently because I behaved differently. (Again, your world is a reflection of you.) I got to see that yes, yes I can be likable and liked and form real connections with people. After doing this a few times, I got the courage to take an active role in my own life at home (instead of passively allowing life to happen to me). I restructured everything about my existence, which included the end of a 23-year relationship. Today, I am a happier, healthier person because of it. So, maybe consider some solo travel as a way to get a "blank slate" to play with, even if it's only for a week or two?

In the end, nobody can fix this for you. You are the one who has to change.
posted by jdroth at 5:03 AM on May 12, 2016 [43 favorites]

In order to have great friends, you really do need to be the friend you want to have. Here are some traits that I look for in a friend, and that I try to nurture in myself. Are you hitting these marks?
A good friend:
1. is kind
2. is honest (but not mean)
3. has interests and passions (or even one BIG passion), and likes to talk about them
4. is curious
5. is reliable
6. is generous with compassion and time
7. has a good sense of humor (either makes me laugh or laughs at my lame jokes, or can laugh at themselves)
8. is thoughtful (i.e. work buddy off sick? send a text to ask how they are and say you're thinking of them type stuff)
9. is patient
10. is a good communicator (this is important to me personally)

If you earnestly try to nurture all of these things (even if you're not always successful), I cannot see how you could possibly go through life without someone liking you - unless there's a HUGE glaring issue you're missing.

Look, I didn't like myself for a long time... and I felt like I had to invite MYSELF to things, and that made me sad. I would feel crappy when I went out because I suspected I had nothing to offer. It was almost unbearably lonely (and I was also clinically depressed and anxious--but you don't seem open to the idea that you could be depressed and experiencing a distorted image of yourself). But maybe one day, you'll be at work and you'll think to yourself, "Hm... that person always has been kind to me" and throw out a small smile or token of kindness yourself. Maybe after a few acts of kindness, you'll get to talking... and you can look at some other ways to be a good friend.

Hang in there.
posted by Dressed to Kill at 5:22 AM on May 12, 2016 [10 favorites]

I have this uncanny knack of making friends with the best people. When I say the best people, I don't mean the most popular, or influential, or richest or coolest or whatever people, I mean the people who seem the most friendly, interesting, attractive, responsive, to me. Honestly, I have this like 95% success rate with making friends with the people I want to be friends with. It's awesome! And here's the thing. I am nothing special. I am not particularly attractive, or succesful, or influential. But I am genuine. And I am genuinely interested and attracted by and to these people. And I relate to them in a genuine way that reflects my interest in them and I share myself with them in a genuine way. Voila! We are friends!

I became good at making friends because I went to a lot of different schools as a kid. I learned that when I was stepping into new but occupied territory, I had to show myself as a listener and a learner first before I became a talker. So, here's the trick. Pick the people you think you may want to be friends with, and then let them talk you into being friends with them.
posted by Thella at 5:24 AM on May 12, 2016 [8 favorites]

You sound an awful lot like someone who is comparing your own insides with everyone else's outsides. What are you basing your observations of other people on? If it is social media, disregard it. If you are comparing yourself with people at work or at school, maybe those people are just more fluent in getting along in that environment. They may actually not be making friendships that will last past that work or school experience.

Can you get into group therapy or a twelve-step meeting or something else that will allow you to share more vulnerabilities and less of the social front people put forward?
posted by BibiRose at 5:26 AM on May 12, 2016 [1 favorite]

I guess what I'm increasingly realising is it's possible to both be someone who genuinely enjoys their life and interests, and is fundamentally broken when it comes to be around other people.

Like, I do actually enjoy my life, I have lots of things I care deeply about and lots of things that interest me and bring me joy. But this doesn't translate at all to being able to share them with other people. Being able to share stuff with other people is its own skill/ mindset which can't really be developed in isolation. I have basically been alone for so long that I do not exist as a social being any longer. It is comforting to think that 'neediness' is something that can be overcome in isolation by 'working' on yourself but really I think it is the body's warning system that a person has reached a critically low level of social connections and needs to reach out now.

The person I am when I am alone is not really a person I can be around other people. I guess most people's lives are so enmeshed with others they can't really see the difference. Like going about my day or doing stuff that interests me I have lots of thoughts and opinions which are valuable to me but which I cannot really share with other people because they are not the thoughts of a social being or social thoughts, and so they would be alienating to other people. If you're a social person you probably already have a bunch of stuff you've already run through a social filter and so you can just yourself because you're already a social person. But I'm not and I think most of my trouble is precisely this idea of being myself rather than learning ways to interact positively with other people. I mean, 'being myself' basically means standing in the corner and not talking to anyone, like that is who I authentically am. Honestly, the more I focus on my own interests and solitary life the less I am able to be around others. I have built a life that has no real space in it except for people who are like me in very specific ways. I could either smash it all up but then I'd have nothing at all or just live with knowing this is my life and it could have gone differently but didn't.
Thanks to everyone for their suggestions.
posted by ninjablob at 5:50 AM on May 12, 2016 [2 favorites]

I do take an interest in other people, but people don't want just anyone to take an interest in them they want popular worthwhile people to take an interest in them, interest from losers comes across as weird and awkward.

I think you are right about the first part and wrong about the second. (Well, for some people you are right about the second but with practice you can suss those types out and not even bother with them.)

People *don't* want just anyone to take an interest in them. They want attention/interest from people who genuinely like *them* for *their* traits/personality. The problem with being lonely or having low self-esteem is that you are open to *anyone* who will like you.

When your therapist says to find people you can be yourself around, s/he means you have to start from what *you* like - in another person, in yourself, in activities, in whatever. What is your ideal of a friend activity? For some people, that's sitting on opposite ends of a couch reading separate books "together." For other people, it's a party with chit-chat and jokes. For still others it's arguing over politics. What kind of personality meshes with you?

For people who are lonely, the answer to that is "anything! All of those sound great!" But when you are open to anything, you're not contributing anything for people to latch on to. There's no "real you" that people are seeing, so nobody to like or not like. It's not that you're unlikable, it's that you're neutral.

And when you'll go along with anyone, no matter what they offer, if only they would offer, then you're not seeing them as individuals either. And that's what people pick up on.

I used to be drawn to extroverted storytelling types, mostly because my family of origin are all extroverts and I thought that's how I was supposed to be. As I've gotten to know myself, I've found that I'm truly more at ease with quieter, gently speaking bookish types - but not smarty-pants soapbox types. The pickier I've gotten, the deeper my interactions have become, and some friendships have developed over time. If I were hoping for party/happy hour/coffee invitations as a mark of friendship though, I'd still be waiting.

When you are secure in yourself, your true personality, preferences, quirks come out. And *that* gives people something to like or not like. Of course when that happens, you still won't be a good friend-fit for a lot of people. But that's life for all of us. The thing is though, you won't notice or miss those people, it won't hurt you that they don't "like" you - because you won't like what they're into either, or what they're like, or their political outlook, or whatever. And the people who *do* fit your mold will stand out a little. And those are the people you befriend.

I have lots of thoughts and opinions which ... would be alienating to other people.

To some, maybe even to most. But not to all. Only by taking the risk of standing out - risking outright rejection - will you find those few who fit you.
posted by headnsouth at 5:51 AM on May 12, 2016 [3 favorites]

tpeople never invite me to things and if I was making a good enough impression that making an effort would be worthwhile surely that would happen like 50% of the time rather than

This is really not true. You get to a certain age (early twenties I guess?) and you don't just get invited to things. I mean, I have very dear friends and they do heaps of stuff without me (including me waaaaay closer to zero than 50% of the time). If they make plans with their other friends, there's no reason to include me. I need to make plans with them directly, myself, or it doesn't happen. And I sympathise with you because it used to be easier, people just hung out in bigger groups and a 'hey, come along' invite was more likely. But that's a small window of time.

And passive hints aren't enough, because adults are supposed to be self sufficient enough to spend time alone. So saying 'I have absolutely nothing planned this weekend, I don't know what to do' is not going to be read like 'hey, please please please invite me to your boyfriends parents for the weekend because I am so lonely I will die if I have to spend all weekend at home'. Be open with people, make it clear that you want to spend time with them.

If you ask people to do X (X being something they are likely to enjoy, people have the right to turn down activities that they have no interest in) and they are still rejecting you without good reason then that's on them. You're not inherently unlikeable.
posted by kitten magic at 5:51 AM on May 12, 2016 [2 favorites]

You mentioned several times how you have skills and hobbies that you really enjoy. Have you tried participating in a local group about one of those hobbies? After one hour playing Magic or discussing horse riding or what have you, you won't have made friends for life. After several weeks of this, however, you will definitely have someone you've talked to enough times to feel comfortable hanging out with outside of that environment.
posted by tofu_crouton at 6:07 AM on May 12, 2016 [2 favorites]

Guess I am just the inherently shitty person that I thought it's good to have it out in the open at least

the more I focus on my own interests and solitary life the less I am able to be around others

This combination of rigidity and instability you have going on is pretty intense.

I realize you're frustrated. But you can't think or feel or argue your way out of this one. There aren't rules about this. You can't "figure it out." And it's not that black and white.

What you're thinking is wrong.

You make friends by extending friendship to people. You make friends by being welcoming.

It's slow, and it can feel like work, and not everyone should be your friend. Definitely not everyone you try to be friends with will become a friend! If you can acknowledge that you're frustrated and mad about it, and maybe try to let some of that go, the process will get less fraught, and more natural.
posted by RJ Reynolds at 6:09 AM on May 12, 2016 [7 favorites]

I've known people that no one wants to be around. The reasons differ. I can't tell you what you do to make people feel that way. You've certainly drawn a lot of people to answer your question.

I have basically been alone for so long that I do not exist as a social being any longer.

As a practical approach to your problem, I suggest group therapy. Ask your therapist if s/he knows of any groups looking for new members.
posted by Obscure Reference at 6:14 AM on May 12, 2016 [10 favorites]

You seem rigid in your beliefs about how other people work. Perhaps this is getting in the way of you really getting to know people for who they are.

Most people have non-social hobbies and interests and introverts notoriously enjoy spending time on their own, where they are free of "social thinking". You're not alone in this.

Most people, whether introverts or extroverts will say things that "flop" while in social interactions. It happens to everyone. They say something and no one picks it up as a topic. The key is to let it go and move on, right then and there, change the topic or better yet, let someone else introduce a new topic. Note: some topics will work in certain groups and not others.
posted by Milau at 6:18 AM on May 12, 2016 [7 favorites]

I bet that you're not around people in situations that let them see your good side over time. I bet you do come across as kind of abject and needy at first, because it's very clear from your questions that you see yourself in a position of abjection - an outsider without good qualities who has been cast off by the world.

However! When I meet someone who comes across as abject initially, maybe because they are in kind of a sad headspace, and over time I realize that we have stuff in common and they also have an interesting, fun side, then I am okay with being friends. I have absolutely become friends with a couple of people who seemed like real wet blankets on first acquaintance, because I saw them regularly and saw more of their personalities.

I would strongly suggest volunteering and a book group or film club. Volunteer somewhere where it's not just you alone in an office. Over time, you'll get to know people and they will see more of your personality. Also, in volunteer settings there's often group parties that everyone is casually invited to - you should go to those. You may feel awkward or not necessarily wanted there, but go and socialize. Those types of parties really are intended for everyone - I have given and attended many - and if you go to a few, people will get to know you more and like you better.

I mean, I have kind of been you, and sometimes I drop back into abjection. I'm not good-looking, I'm kind of weird, I don't have a great career, and sometimes I feel bad about myself for those reasons. Sometimes otherwise cool people with better jobs look down on me because although I'm intelligent I don't have a professional job. Sometimes people look down on me for my appearance. Sometimes I get in a bad headspace and am grumpy and weird with people and they don't like that, quite reasonably. Sometimes I get depressed and stressed and snap at people when I really should not, and it makes things awkward. I totally, absolutely have that unlikable side, and there were times in my earlier life when it absolutely dominated my social interactions.

It took a while to build myself up out of that, and I bet it will be a long slog for you, too. One suggestion that works for me a bit: focus on getting good at something you like and seek out a milieu where you can be a little bit of a star. Do you like science fiction? (To give an example) Specialize in some aspect (pulps, feminist SF, fandom history, forgotten cyberpunk, whatever) and spend time online or in real life around people who like SF and among whom you can shine. Then, when you feel down on yourself about other things, you can look at yourself and say "but I gave a panel talk on gay pulp cover artists and lots of people attended!" or whatever. Again, don't think of this as likeability - think of it as star quality. Being a good baker or a good embroiderer or an expert on Renaissance shoe-making will draw people to you as long as you can be minimally pleasant (which doesn't seem to be your problem.)

Therapy sounds good, sure. But I think that if you find an area where you can shine, it will help you. Don't write this off - you have something you do where you can shine if you work on it and seek out real life or internet communities.
posted by Frowner at 6:22 AM on May 12, 2016 [12 favorites]

All of the advice you are getting is good advice, but not tailored to you. You sound very similar to a friend of mine, so let me give you advice that has been helpful for him.

First, do NOT be yourself if you haven't had close friends in a while. It will be way too off putting, because you don't naturally know what the boundaries that everyone else consciously listens to while still "being yourself". This is great advice for someone further on the path than you. Not for you.

For you, your best bet is to go to places where you can meet a lot of people, fake interest in the things they are talking about, and offer them something if they mentions something that sounds like a problem you can fix. Offer it casually, as though you were just a genuinely helpful person.

This is not a great long term strategy, but will at least get you to more casual interactions, which will help you understand how to be around friends.
posted by corb at 6:37 AM on May 12, 2016 [5 favorites]

I don't think there is anything particularly wrong or broken about me, socially, but I have awkward non-connections with people all the time. I've lived in places where I had literally zero friends (for years), where I did not do anything social with another person for months at a time. I'm not for everyone, and everyone is not for me, and not everyone is right for each other at any given time.

Making connections with people is really hard, but going into interactions believing that there is something wrong with you (and trying to stop people from noticing it) makes it harder. It's much easier to just accept that a large percentage of your interactions with other humans are going to be weird and unpleasant and unsatisfying, for reasons entirely outside of your control.

In terms of actual advice, I would say you should see if you can identify any low-hanging fruit of things you could change - like, do you smell bad, or do you avoid making eye contact, or something like that? But maybe you don't have anything obvious to go after.

Secondly, I think you need to get out there and spend more time around people. It's great if you join a choir or a book club or go on a group tour of Europe or whatever, but if that's too much commitment, just get out of the house and be in public with people. Like, at a bar or a coffeeshop or a museum or a library. You don't have to talk to people if you don't want (beyond ordering your drink or paying for your ticket or checking out your books or whatever. And if the place you go feels unfriendly, try another place.'

Oh, also, check out Doctor Nerdlove. Sex/romance-focused but a lot of the same principles apply to any kind of relationship.
posted by mskyle at 6:40 AM on May 12, 2016 [2 favorites]

So "be yourself" didn't really sit well with me growing up, either. I felt I could easily be myself but "myself" was someone other people didn't have a genuine interest in. I had a journey that I can share more via MeMail if you like.

First, one day I accepted that however I was in that moment, I accepted it. I felt people were friends with me mainly from pity, and I decided to accept that if that was the case, then maybe it is what I needed, and I was in a stage of receiving support, and maybe later I could support others. Accepting the present reality (as I perceived it) was huge for me because I had been stuck in a critique, in dissatisfaction. After this I could move more freely. This was a form of self-acceptance for me. For you it might be, "I like myself, others don't seem to in a way that makes sense to me. I don't like that. I'd like it to change." And just sit with that, don't attach big feelings to it, go about your day.

Here are other things that I did. They're my personal experience and I share mainly because they are a bit different than what I hear others saying.

Some of what I did was to realize that "myself" was the best version of myself, and I could put effort into building that person. Like, I was so attracted to some folks, just as people, and wanted to be like them and be around them; and I realized that perhaps this was an indicator that "myself" was expressed in part through some of these peoples' qualities (for me, openness, flexibility, universal kindness, social justice, and some others). Seeking out and practicing the qualities I saw was not dishonest, but a way to explore different facets of myself.

Some of us don't grow up in an environment where we can explore and express who we are. My parents were socially not very smooth and to this day don't make friends easily. I have friends coming out of my ears because I had different experiences, noticed who I thought was amazing, tried out some of the stuff I saw them doing, and kept what was a fit for me. I was responsive to feedback I read here on AskMeFi and I humbly tried things out. I learned active listening. I built/discovered "myself."

"Myself" isn't whatever I default to when I'm alone. "Myself" is who I am when I am most integrated and connected in all of my life, including socially, and that often means putting in effort in ways that don't feel quite "natural," that is, take some intentionality. If I want to be friendly and engaged and have to be intentional to do that, it doesn't make it less authentic. Earlier on I would make little scripts of what people might say and how I'd respond. I would repeat "Eyes open, body toward this person" in my head because I had a tendency to look away and curl up. This kind of thing was authentic for me because I wanted to engage in a way other people would find engaging, and I hadn't learned the skills yet.

I used positive self-talk. I found a sense of identity and purpose impermeable by what others thought of me. I listened for feedback and took it seriously. I joined small community groups, eg a yoga group, self help, church small group, and clubs or groups where we had to work together to reach a goal. (Maybe people are being friendly just to get the work done, but it still feels good and can help you build skills.) I seek out kind people.

I watched for people who made me feel great, noticed why, and sought to cultivate that in myself.
posted by ramenopres at 6:45 AM on May 12, 2016 [24 favorites]

One thing I noticed looking at your profile, is that you have 17 questions and 22 answers. I'm wondering if even just chiming in on more MeFi discussions would help you feel engaged in the community, which might boost your confidence level in social interactions. And then you could take that increased confidence and leverage it into real life.

Getting a feel for proportionate give and take expected in given situations might also be useful in establishing stable and positive real life friendships. For instance, I just looked at a handful of people above me in this thread, and most have a drastically different answer ("give") to question ("take") ratio. Like, closer to between 1:100 or even 1:500.

I don't AT ALL mention this to make you feel bad about asking questions-- that's what AskMe is for, after all. But I really wonder if your experience of the community would be different if you answered far more than you asked-- I bet you might feel much more powerful, well-liked, generous, appreciated.
posted by instamatic at 6:47 AM on May 12, 2016 [11 favorites]

I have lots of things I care deeply about and lots of things that interest me and bring me joy. But this doesn't translate at all to being able to share them with other people. Being able to share stuff with other people is its own skill/ mindset which can't really be developed in isolation.

Are there online communities focused on the things that interest you and bring you joy? Because while it’s certainly not the same as face-to-face interactions a good online group can be a great way to feel connected and get over the feeling that you’re “unlikable.” And it’s always possible that some people in the group might be in your geographic area and have a possibility of becoming real-life friends. I have a number of people who I’ve known for a good 15 years and I consider them true friends although we’ve never met in real life.
posted by Kriesa at 6:48 AM on May 12, 2016 [2 favorites]

Also, I think the glue you want to know about might be empathy.
posted by ramenopres at 6:54 AM on May 12, 2016 [7 favorites]

In thinking more about this question, I remembered a book that helped me overcome some of what you're going through: How I Found Freedom in an Unfree World by Harry Browne. Ignore the Libertarian politics and focus on what he has to say about personal freedom. This book taught me how to not give a fuck, which in turn led to a much better life.
posted by jdroth at 6:57 AM on May 12, 2016 [1 favorite]

Get a Rolodex and become a joiner. Join clubs, hiking club, Rotary club, ect. Show up. A lot. Get folks names and numbers, call them. Call just to say, how're you doing, need a ride to the meeting? Want to grab coffee tuesday?

rinse repeat

a lot, as much as you can

If someone needs a hand with ANYTHING, show up.

give it a couple years and you'll have more friends than you know what to do with.

yes, you'll have many acquaintances, but in retrospect, oh say a few decades later, a few close friends.
posted by sammyo at 7:04 AM on May 12, 2016 [2 favorites]

Do you actually take an interest in other people? I mean not because you want friends, but because you find them interesting, you have things in common etc. Just going hey you your a warm body, why aren't you my friend isn't how it works. Your therapist is right having interests in common and shared experiences is how you make friends. Yippy start out as not friends, polite acquaintances and it builds to friends. You have to do the preliminary steps first and the easiest way is as your therapist says, over a common interest.
posted by wwax at 7:25 AM on May 12, 2016 [1 favorite]

I'm going to give you the perspective of a woman with mild autism spectrum traits. Whether you are like me or not, it seems that you have some of the same struggles that I have had during different parts of my life. Asperger-oriented social strategies have helped me, though I've never received a formal diagnosis. But if they work, why not use them whether "really autistic" or not?

I have trouble reading social cues. I cannot tell when a person is done speaking, so I never know when it's my turn. I find eye contact dizzying, so without even realizing it, I was avoiding it until someone pointed it out. I cannot modulate my own voice tone. Apparently I am soft-spoken to other people and I don't know it. But when I speak loudly enough to be heard, I sound angry. I often have a poker-face regardless of what emotions I am feeling. I don't know why. When I realize I'm not smiling when I should be, and I consciously smile, it often apparently looks like a pained grimace. I have "resting bitch face." I have interests that are kind of obscure that other people can be bored by or even intimidated by, and a lot of the typical gendered presentations of femininity seem like too much work to me, and very phony (for me, other people do it with savvy), so I don't bond with other women over fashion all that much. I don't have kids or want them. I'm poor, at least at the moment. I'm radical politically. So it's a combination of being blind to social cues, and being a "nonconformist" that has put me in the position you say you're in. I also received a lot of advice that didn't really fit me and the reason it didn't was because it presumed that I had the ability most people have to recognize social cues and respond to them. That assumption is embedded in phrases like "just be yourself." When you are socially awkward at your very core, it doesn't work and you know it doesn't, but not why. And it's frustrating!

However, I have found friends. My friends are either people like me, who aren't neurotypical--not just Aspies, but people with other differences such as bipolar, or on the schizotypal spectrum OR they are people who are more conventional who consider me a lovable eccentric, or who I don't see that often and manage to present as more "normal" than I am. I can do that for short periods of time.

You sound exactly like someone who would have been an integral part of my post-college friendship group of anarchists, LGBT activists, and artists. I miss those folks, but we're scattered to the corners of the earth now and left with Facebook. Some of us had terrible self-esteem problems, suicide attempts, crying jags, and episodes of asking people repeatedly what was wrong with them. We were still all friends. So I guess what I'm trying to say is this:

1. There is nothing "wrong" with you. You are not defective.
2. You MAY have difficulty recognizing social cues and be completely unaware of when to smile, when to speak, your vocal tone, how to make eye contact, how close to stand to someone, etc. I remember when I realized I had these issues. It was so enlightening. I didn't even know such "minor" (to me) things mattered so much to others. I consciously trained myself to do those things that other people just pick up by osmosis.
3. You haven't found the right people to be friends with. Some of my deepest connections have been with other people who were lonely misfits with mental health issues rather than "the cool people." My friends are cool to me.
4. Why not go ahead and let it all hang out? Who cares if some judgey person who has always been effortlessly popular thinks you're needy? Letting your freak flag fly is the best way to connect with other freaks.

I found my friends through things like SF fandom, activist groups, artist collectives, gaming, and even support meetings. I used to go to CoDA and Al-Anon, and I've been to a few feminist gatherings. The friends I met had other friends and I became friends with them.

It also wouldn't hurt to cultivate a "fuck 'em if they don't like me" attitude rather than your current one in which you have given them the power to bestow liking upon you. These people are not above you! They may not even be who you want.

I hope this helps, and I highly sympathize with your struggle.
posted by Beethoven's Sith at 7:40 AM on May 12, 2016 [26 favorites]

I think people sometimes respond negatively to a vibe of desperation. This happened to me a lot when I was dating. Then one day, I had enough of the dating rat race. I actually had a conversation with my mother about leaving my home city and moving to a smaller town where it would be cheaper to be alone forever. Then a week later, I met my now-husband :-)

Sometimes, you have to just stop trying so hard. It sounds counter-intuitive, but it's the truth. I do still find it hard to make good friends. I have people I am friendly with at work, but I don't know how to convert that into 'these people want to invite me to a movie.' I have found I do better in group situations. When I was single, I took a lot of classes. Now, I am pregnant and I suspect my next big friend-making evolution will be to join baby groups and meet parents of other babies. I'm okay with not being the big social butterfly :-)
posted by JoannaC at 7:41 AM on May 12, 2016 [2 favorites]

Try switching your instances of using the word "am" with "feel"

Because you may FEEL useless. You may FEEL worthless. You may FEEL that your thoughts are so anti-social you can't share them with anyone.

But you're not useless worthless or inherently shitty.

Also: what do you want? What do you want in a friend? What does the perfect friend look like to you? What are you yearning for?
posted by Dressed to Kill at 8:00 AM on May 12, 2016 [3 favorites]

People have consistently given you good advice and you have consistently made excuses for yourself. The reason you can't make friends is because you have a distorted way of thinking that tells you it is fundamentally impossible for you to make friends. This is both untrue and so completely distorted it makes me wonder if you need more serious help than you're getting, frankly. You sound deeply depressed. Has your therapist made a dent in any of this? Have you spoken to an actual MD doctor?

You say that you try to engage people. I don't buy it. You also said that, by being yourself, you would stand in a corner alone. How often do you actually try to make plans with people? If you want friends you need to consistently talk to them, then actively try to do things with them. Are you spending months talking to people at work, etc. to really get to know them? Have you suggested hanging out? I'm getting the impression that you make banal small talk and expect friendship to happen to you. That's not how it works. Have you actively sought out people who share your interests?

There is NO SUCH THING as thoughts that are too ~unique ~to be shared by other people. Everyone has thought this at some point.... And then you grow up and say, hey, humanity is wildly diverse and it is utterly impossible for me to be alone in my experience. This is a distorted thought pattern that I would guess is responsible for 95% of your problems. Point blank. But you are consistently making excuses for why that is not the case.

Until you get help for the distorted ways of thinking you have shown here, nothing will change.

I'd also be interested in what these thoughts are that you think you absolutely cannot share with others. Can you post some?
posted by Amy93 at 8:01 AM on May 12, 2016 [14 favorites]

I'm taking a class in Interpersonal Communication right now, which is something it sounds like you might benefit from. I'm very introverted and have trouble making small talk, etc. I have a lot of friends but other kinds of interactions are still weird for me (with coworkers, classmates, etc). Having the "rules" explained has really helped me a lot.
If you don't have access to/time for this kind of class you can get the textbook for pretty cheap on Amazon. It's easy to read and there are entire chapters on how we "do" friendship. William Rawlins Six Stage Model of Friendship might be something you want to learn more about as well.
posted by primalux at 8:09 AM on May 12, 2016 [3 favorites]

It feels like in pretty much every sphere of my life everyone around me makes friends with each other as though by magic

It only looks like magic because you cannot see inside their heads. Seriously, check out the "friendship" tag on AskMe: everyone agonizes and calculates and frets about how to make friends. Even the most naturally extroverted do at some points, if possibly less often than others. Depression makes the interior lives of others invisible to you. Depression eats your empathy.

I feel like there's a kind of glue which makes people somehow become friends while talking to each other and I am missing it and want to know what it is.

Seriously, and meant with kindness: I have been following your questions on AskMe for a while as well. The glue you are missing is an effective depression treatment.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 8:10 AM on May 12, 2016 [19 favorites]

I forgot to add - have you tried role playing? Sometimes it's easier to make pretend friends, and in the process learn more about friendship .
posted by corb at 8:43 AM on May 12, 2016 [1 favorite]

I want to learn how to become a likeable person which mostly seems to be something about someone's energy or manner rather than anything tangible or concrete.

Energy and manner are both tangible AND concrete. "Manner" consists of specific actions and words and choices that express the person is considerate of, engaged in, and interested by another person. Energy is a little less concrete but it is absolutely tangible: it is the vibe you literally feel off of a person, how the interaction makes YOU feel.

Most kinds of energies and manners are going to appeal to someone. For example, I am told that I give off a mostly laid-back, calm energy. My most natural manner is kind of quiet and sarcastic, but in social situations, I strive to have a more friendly and open, less sharp manner. This isn't magic: I make a conscious choice to speak up to someone, to ask questions, to remain judgment-free in my reactions to the answers.

This isn't the "correct" manner to have for making friends; it's the one that I find attracts the people I personally want in my life. My partner has a completely different energy and manner--he's much more frenetic, he's silly and goofy and likes the spotlight. But in both of our cases, a lot of our "manner" has to do with what we're giving the other person. Partner's gift is making people feel entertained and giving them space to get silly. Mine is in giving people space for feeling safe while expressing themselves honestly. This is what makes us likeable.

Our interests and thoughts make us interesting, which is a different thing, and which helps spark the friendships. What we give to others is what sustains the friendships and makes us likeable.

So what makes you likeable? What makes you interesting? Try to figure out what you can give to someone in a social interaction. But again, depression eats your empathy; this is going to be super challenging until you get it under control.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 8:51 AM on May 12, 2016 [8 favorites]

Nix "nobody likes me" from your vocabulary. There are just too many people you haven't met yet to make that statement. ninjablob, I like you already. I would totally be your friend. We may not ever meet, but I am a real person who doesn't bullshit people to make them feel better. If you were in my neighborhood, we would be hanging right now (if you liked me, too).

Here's a few of the things I like about you:

You've put your heart out here. I love that in a person. Especially knowing how difficult and heart-hurting these types of emotions are, it makes you brave to put these questions forth. I like brave people. I like to be friends with brave people.

You think and say non-social thoughts....I do, too! All the time. Your non-social ways wouldn't scare me a bit. I have been diagnosed with agoraphobia. PTSD and I are friends. I hate people! I love them, too, but in general, no.

I like people that stand in the corner and don't talk. I recognize that in myself and tends to make me think you might be the deeper, brooding kind of person I gravitate to. You have deep thoughts going on in there, probably. I would come up and talk to you. If you for some reason blew me off...well, I've been blown off before, and I lived. I wouldn't think you were unlikable. I would think you didn't like me.

You are very likable, you just don't believe it. That's ok. You don't have to believe it for it to be true. Keep putting yourself out there, and someone like me will recognize themselves in the great things about you, and maybe you'll reciprocate the feeling and boom, you're friends. Try to be open and when you're around people, and put forward your best self. Someone like me is waiting to meet you and be friends. Be polite. That's all I'll need to approach you.
posted by Grlnxtdr at 9:12 AM on May 12, 2016 [4 favorites]

"Just be yourself" is advice tailored towards people who are otherwise social people gripped by fear or people trying and failing to imitate someone else, giving off a vibe a desperation or unpleasantness.

Social skills are "skills" and they can be practiced and learned. And a lot of people who were naively given the "just be yourself" advice react to the reality of social skills as "people are acting fake when they're with other people!" And that's not really it at all. Rather people exercising social graces are making their presence pleasant for others.

You're also going to have to content yourself with the process of getting together with people for no particular reason other than wanting to get brunch or a drink or whatever. Of course you need to start out by doing things in groups and while you are there, be a pleasant person to be around.
posted by deanc at 9:38 AM on May 12, 2016 [3 favorites]

I sometimes feel just like you, that nobody likes me and that I'm impossibly weird and (I honestly have thought this) my family will have to hire pall bearers at my funeral. I have social anxiety and tend to compare myself to everyone I meet in a negative way-which keeps me from reaching out to anyone new after I meet them.

This viewpoint is really not true at all. It's just a filter that I'm seeing through when I'm having a rough day. Some days I still can let myself see things that way. My therapist one day began listing all the people I had mentioned at various times and asked me what had happened to them. She pointed out that people make efforts at starting friendships with me, but I shut them down myself. It was completely unconscious on my part, I always just assumed that they were only being polite. Is that possibly happening with you?

Another thing I did was begin to model my behavior on people that I knew that had a lot of friends. There are many many small actions that go into building and maintaining friendships that seem insignificant, but really are essential to connecting with other people. I wasn't good at those things, but I was able to learn. You can learn those skills at any age, but you have to be able to force yourself through being uncomfortable sometimes.

You mention that you can't share your thoughts or whats going on in your head with anyone because it's off putting. I guarantee you that whatever it is you're interested in or think about, you aren't the only person in the world. You have to force yourself to find your tribe, it will be scary and uncomfortable and might take some time, but they really are out there and they're waiting for you.
posted by hollygoheavy at 9:41 AM on May 12, 2016 [2 favorites]

This idea that people you don't currently know well, or at all, are going to like you for you, for your essential, deepest self, or that this deepest self can even be communicated in one or ten encounters, ordinarily, is a bit wrongheaded, imo. If you end up with five people who know and love you like that over your whole life, that's a gift. We're all always a bit alone. We have moments of connection, and more sustaining relationships if we're a bit lucky to meet them at the right time and place, and work at those relationships.

Everyone's self-absorbed, ok. With strangers who might be potential friends, it's all about how they feel in your presence, and the things you do for them - the actions you take - that make them feel good about themselves around you, accepted, liked. Lots of good advice on how to do that above - do, because it does involve practical steps, like asking people questions about themselves, which demonstrates that you're interested in them (the way you hope others will be interested in you). See also the granddaddy of self-help books (tl;dr summary here but also all through this thread).

(Other things people do for others that cause them to be sought out, initially: make things lighter by making people laugh, being funny; offer some kind of status by assocation, by doing something statusy, etc. We all cultivate different approval-seeking strategies from childhood on, and have different levels of skill in these strategies (and luck). Listening to others and making them feel good about themselves is by far the most accessible, and usually, successful.)

Is doing this sort of thing manipulative, I guess, but that is part of most communication (you want to have an effect on someone or thing or else wouldn't speak at all). Is it dishonest, inauthentic - no, imo; it is expanding your repertoire of behaviour. Also (and I mean the point is ultimately that) you may find that in asking people questions and hearing answers, you do in fact become more interested in them, and find points of genuine commonality and connection.

It takes practice, if you're not practiced at it; if you're not practiced at it, it will feel awkward and may not be 100% successful, initially. So give yourself good odds, aim for easy targets at first - talk to unthreatening people - and persevere. Smiling is a big thing that helps.
posted by cotton dress sock at 9:48 AM on May 12, 2016 [7 favorites]

I feel like I used to be you. I had a bad case of untreated depression and anxiety which made me (A) feel like I couldn't connect with people, and (B) too afraid to really try.

Once I started taking anxiety medication, I started to feel more comfortable taking small risks with socializing. Instead of always staring at the ground when I walked past people, I'll look them in the eye and smile and say "hi". For some people, that's all it takes, and they'll just start up a conversation with me. I make an effort to remember tidbits that people mention about themselves so I have something to ask them about later. I make jokes with people, and sometimes (often) they fall flat, but it's ok because when the jokes work, it's satisfying when people laugh. People will react very positively to just having someone show interest in them.

It basically comes down to: treat people how you want to be treated. Get excited about what you can learn from other people, about what their interests are, about their stories, and people will usually reciprocate. You don't have to be fake, you don't have to be constantly happy and bubbly and smiling, but you do have to be positive and interesting enough to give people a reason to want to know you.
posted by a strong female character at 10:10 AM on May 12, 2016 [9 favorites]

I agree with folks above, your question and follow-ups are full of distorted thinking. I know, because I used to have some of the Exact Same Distorted Thoughts. Now that my mental health is better I proactively stop myself when I hear words like "fundamentally broken" or "loser" in my own mental monologue, because I recognize them as distorted thinking that harms my mental health.

Clearly therapy is not enough. In addition to individual therapy, try meds, try coaching, try group therapy, try SOMETHING more for your mental and social health.

One thing that strikes me is that you insist your thoughts are inherently unsocial, which doesn't jibe. If you're having opinions about something that you're passionate about (Anything other than your own suckitude, which is distorted, see above), there is someone who wants to hear it and discuss it with you. Find places online or through real life meetups where other people care about your interests. Listen. Engage. You will gain social skills and connections.
posted by ldthomps at 10:46 AM on May 12, 2016 [3 favorites]

You seem very focused on the advice to “love yourself” and “be yourself” and feel that you are doing those things but you are not making friends. Well, that’s probably because loving yourself and being yourself are both great things to aspire to, certainly worthwhile, and not bad life advice overall, but in and of themselves are not sufficient to make friends.

Better advice would be to “love others” and “be a friend.” And you’ve gotten a lot of advice to that end.

The “love yourself” and “be yourself” model has at its core the flawed idea that you just stand there like a stone pillar, and be cool and awesome and smart and confident, and people will come to you like moths to a flame and ask to be your friend. This is similar to your idea that you are a “baby or a painting.” That’s not actually how life works, at all. You are not an object people look at like a painting, nor a helpless immobile baby. You have agency. The reason you need to “love yourself” and “be yourself” is not because those things act like really alluring perfume. It’s because if you have friends, but do not love yourself and be yourself, what will happen is those friends will walk all over you and be a bad influence in your life, and either they will drag you down, or you will drag them down. Or you will make friends on false pretenses and have it fall apart later. So it’s like a necessary first step, the preparation stage. The “get your ducks in a row and your mental health together” stage before the stage where you actually go out in the world and do the work of making friends.

And making friends IS work. It is hard emotional, physical, and intellectual labor that requires skills you develop through practice. It is similar to asking people out, you have to break a lot of eggs and face a lot of rejections. You have to start with small interactions and build up gradually. It is painstaking and can be maddening. But for a truly good friend, it is worth it. You need to think of yourself as a door to door salesman playing a long numbers game. You need to be mentally and emotionally prepared for this hard work, this heavy lifting and this giving of yourself for a non-guaranteed outcome.

As for your idea that “the person you are alone is not a person you can be in front of other people” – again, you are a not a finished product like a painting. You are a living, breathing being with agency who is changing, consciously or unconsciously, every second that you are alive. Bounce ideas off of others and you will find yourself reacting and changing in turn. You need to let go of this static image you have of yourself.

As for a good primer for social skills- I like the website ""
posted by quincunx at 12:45 PM on May 12, 2016 [6 favorites]

You've been dealing with some pretty heavy stuff over the last couple of years, have you talked to your therapist about getting medication for depression and social anxiety? You might find it helps a lot.

Also, screw "being yourself". I hate when people say that. People don't come out of the gate knowing how to interact socially with others. People skills are a *learned skill*. You have to construct a social persona, we all do it! It's just that for most people it happens when they are so young, and it gets so integrated with their core personality that for them it is "being themselves". If that didn't happen for you, you need to make it happen now.

Don't try to be yourself -- try to be *who you would like to become*. Don't try something so outlandishly far from your own core that it feels ridiculous, but taking some steps out of your comfort zone is not a bad thing here. Eventually this will start to feel natural, and you'll be able to socialize with more ease, and fine tune it so that you have a socialized veneer with most of your 'true self' showing through, so it doesn't feel fake. It will at first, though, and that's ok.

I find a lot of times people overly identify with their thoughts, opinions, and feelings, and mistake it for their 'true self'. I know I did. You wrap yourself up in this identity that's constructed of external things like politics or internal problems like depression and anxiety and you start to think 'this is who I am, if I changed, I wouldn't be myself anymore!" But that's a lie. You are not your politics, you are not your depression. There is a deeper core within you. So drop the labels, fix the things that don't serve you, and realize that you are still going to be yourself when you're happy and fulfilled.

Also, you're an adult. Please stop thinking in this high-school centric modality of social standing and popularity. That's not how adult socializing works. If the people you are around think it is, you have my permission to roll your eyes at their immaturity and go find other, cooler people who have grown the fuck up.
posted by ananci at 12:46 PM on May 12, 2016 [7 favorites]

As far as "having to love yourself before anyone else can love you," I have loved and liked many people that have had self-esteem issues. You don't have to be perfectly confident and a paragon of mental health before you deserve love. I find that attitude highly counterproductive, and if someone is going to be that judgmental you probably don't need them as a friend anyway. It's easy to blame someone by telling them they're not self-confident enough to be lovable and it's actually pretty darn mean!
posted by Beethoven's Sith at 12:54 PM on May 12, 2016 [3 favorites]

Hey um so have you noticed that one of your MeFi comments has 32 favorites? Here's how you ended it:

I think its deeply important to do the work of decoupling lgbtq struggles from colonialism. A key way especially for other white people to do this is to remember our own history, especially the violence of it which still doesn't feel adequately acknowledged. I've found Dark matter rage a good resource for this, I'm sure there are plenty of others I can't think of right now.

You sound like someone who's really engaging, and also really engaged with the world, politics, other people, etc. (I especially like this critique you posted.) You mention in an AskMe that you were 'dumped'. You can't get 'dumped' if you haven't made a meaningful connection with someone at some point. Your 'Playing card mystery' post is charming. Your questions also mention a series of relationships. And going to parties (at which you get hit on by the wrong people).

Your total contributions to Metafilter: 55. You have been favorited by others 524 times. One of your AskMe questions received 80 favorites: clearly you have interests in common with others. (Um, but perhaps you don't perceive it that way: you have favorited other people's contributions exactly twice.) Favorites are a lousy way of looking at Metafilter, but a better way of looking at you: those numbers provide us with actual quantifiable data, unlike your question.

You have a massive discrepancy between your self-image and reality. You've also constructed, though your series of AskMe questions, an impressive Narrative of Doom Spiral. (E.g.: "I feel like I am turning into stone.") Those two things sound a lot like me, when I was diagnosed with major depression. Note also that depressive episodes are often triggered by stressful life events such as going through a bad breakup, as you report doing in late 2014, when your Doom Spiral Narrative first appears on Metafilter. I am not qualified to diagnose people IRL, let alone over the internet. But I am going to go out on a limb and say: YOU NEED WAY BETTER MENTAL HEALTH CARE THAN YOU'RE GETTING. Maybe your therapist is crap, maybe she's the wrong type of therapist, maybe you're not medicated and you really really ought to be, maybe all of the above, I have no idea, but PLEASE GET HELP. You do, actually, seem like a pretty cool person with interesting interests -- when you aren't focussing on your Doom Spiral Narrative -- and I would like to meet you someday (preferably, I must admit, after you quit your Doom Spiral Narrative), and therefore would like you to STILL BE AROUND, ok? And not walled up in some castle, or whatever.

Look, depression lies. The classic way it lies is by convincing you that what you are perceiving -- your Doom Spiral -- is objective. As an interesting twist, you can currently be diagnosed with major depression (in the USA) even if you aren't 'feeling depressed', although it's argued that this sort of depression ought to be classified differently.

A dysphoric mood is not required for the diagnosis of DSM-IV major depressive disorder. Individuals who deny depression, sadness, or feeling blue may nonetheless be diagnosed with major depressive disorder if they have lost interest or pleasure in all, or almost all, of their usual activities, and experienced at least four other symptoms of depression. -- abstract of paywalled article. *Note: this group also seems to have the wrong time-scale for what you're experiencing. Like I said, I'm no substitute for proper diagnosis.)
posted by feral_goldfish at 1:32 PM on May 12, 2016 [28 favorites]

Further to the above
posted by cotton dress sock at 1:35 PM on May 12, 2016 [1 favorite]

From reading your post history it seems you are depressed. I'm not sure whether it's bc something traumatic happened to you ie situational depression or its organic but something I haven't seen anyone mention yet is that most people don't like being around gloomy folks. Angry sarcastic types still find their niches with others of the same outlook (although that is not my tribe ..I like sweet optimistic types) but the moping sad wallowers usually end up alone..which is a bummer bc it feeds into their sadness and makes them feel worse which pushes people away more. So my advice is if you need a clinical solution to get happy then work on that in therapy or with meds. But in addition right now think about the activities that fill you with joy and giddy glee (if you can't think of any that furthers my point about you bring depressed). Then go do those activities with others who are doing them in group settings. What are these hobbies you say you love? Tell us and maybe we can point you to the right kind of meetups or clubs or orgs.then you can find your people.
posted by TestamentToGrace at 2:28 PM on May 12, 2016

What's worked for me: Stop focusing on trying to make friends. You're not there yet. Focus instead on two things:

1) Take up a hobby that sounds interesting to you that REQUIRES (not just one that could involve) other people. Focus on developing your interest and skill in this hobby. Don't try to start relationships with people. For instance, I've seen lots of socially awkward people in social dance classes, but if they're genuinely interested in the hobby, their awkwardness doesn't matter. Social dancing has the bonus of teaching social boundaries, eye contact and other skills. But unless you're in a major urban area that has same-sex dancing or females as leads, it might be too traditional-gender-roles for you. Don't join a dance/art/writing class to meet other people. Join it to develop and focus on a skill in the presence of other people. Give yourself and the people around you a break in terms of pressure to build relationships. For an unwilling socializer such as myself, I find it's easier to socialize if I treat relationship-building like the sun: don't look directly at it.

2) Focus on quieting the editing, self-analyzing part of your brain. Either in a social setting or in an individual setting, do things that focus on improvisation or meditative control. You already like creative things. Express your depression in your art or writing. Try to focus on creating lots of things (like a one-thing-a-day challenge) without regard to self-judgement.
posted by FiveSecondRule at 3:25 PM on May 12, 2016 [2 favorites]

Group therapy.

The reason: in individual therapy, your therapist can only see you relating to one person in a very artificial environment, and thus it tends to be more about you (the individual).

In group therapy, the focus shifts dramatically and it's mostly about you (the social creature). And you get feedback from a bunch of different perspectives.

You can do both individual and group therapy simultaneously. Ask your current therapist about referrals.
posted by soylent00FF00 at 4:47 PM on May 12, 2016 [2 favorites]

I feel this way sometimes, so you're not alone. The first step is to love yourself, be nice to yourself. One day you'll meet someone that likes you for you, but you have to like yourself first.
posted by lunastellasol at 6:20 PM on May 12, 2016

Further point, looking at your post history: you're really fucking smart with some damn good ideas. Look, it's hard when you think about things really deeply, because majority of people do not. A majority of people just go through life doing their thing. That's not to say that most people are shallow, because everyone falls somewhere on a spectrum of how hard they think about things in life, and that's fine. But when you fall toward the end of thinking really-fucking-hard, yes, it's easy to feel alone and hard to meet your kind of people.

But you are not alone. You are not even particularly unique with this. Because there are a fuckton of people out there who share your ideas, who stand back, who observe and try to find their place. And a LOT of these people do find each other. But, on their part, it takes work, it takes risks and rejections, it takes authenticity and an utter belief that they can and do deserve to find people like them.

And distorted thinking patterns + deep depression will never get you there.

But my god. You're not alone with your thoughts at all.
posted by Amy93 at 7:40 PM on May 12, 2016 [1 favorite]

Trying to Make a Friend is like trying to Grow a Tree. It takes a long time. Before you Grow a Tree, you can easily Grow a Sprout. That's my advice to you. Start small. Create little sprouts of warm interactions with people.

You can't make a friend in just a few interactions, but you can definitely increase your connection with a nice person by, say 2% in a single interaction. So do that!
What can you do that will make you 2% closer? Lots of things!
Be considerate and kind. Do quick, low-effort nice things for people (I say quick and low-effort because receiving too much effort from an aquaintance will make people feel awkward).

Sometimes I will:
- Email or Facebook someone a job posting or opportunity I think they might enjoy (Short is good- "Hi Lee! Saw this, thought of you! (link) I hope you're well, cheers!")
- Send a private FB note to someone going through a rough time: "Hi Jae, I saw your post, just wanted to say I'm sorry that happened and I'm thinking of you and sending positive vibes your way."
- Offer someone a ride home, or to split a taxi trip (men should probably be more cautious in making this offer to women as it can seem creepy)
- Donate a small amount to someone's fundraiser- even $5 or $10
- Wish people happy birthday on Facebook
- I keep harping on Facebook because it's so easy to do those 2% interactions. Make a profile and use a well-lit photo, outdoors, of you smiling. Don't post angry, ranty, morbid, or overly political content. Just use it to send tiny bursts of warm energy to people.
- Attend people's events and shows or whatever they make Facebook Events for. Send a short email afterwards (Hey Dan, I enjoyed the show- loved the song about eggs! Great to see you rocking it up there!)
- Private-message a person with a sincere, short compliment (Hi Alice, When that awkward thing happened today it was kind of weird but I wanted to say, I thought you were really gracious with them and I admired the way you handled it. Have a great weekend!)
- Verbally compliment something they did or chose - "Hey was it you who chose this catering company? Those sandwiches were amazing!" (for now maybe avoid complimenting people on their looks as that can blur boundaries while you're re-learning how to relate to people)
- Say Bless You when people sneeze.
- Say How was your weekend? on Monday mornings.
- If there's free bottled water get an extra bottle for the person beside you.
- Pat someone's dog (ask first) and ask about the breed, compliment its cuteness, let the person gush about their pet and listen and laugh and try to connect for a couple minutes.

Do these kinds of small, short, kind things for people and they will like you 2% more, which opens the door for a deeper relationship to gradually build- and it will also help you feel more connected and gain social confidence.

Your question hurt my heart and you sound depressed but NOT mean or unlikeable. I truly hope you keep working at this and respect you for asking this question and trying to work on this issue. I wish you luck and perserverence!
posted by pseudostrabismus at 3:23 AM on May 13, 2016 [12 favorites]

Popularity is for teenagers. You come across from your question as if you are trying to fit into whatever desirable group of people because you think they're cool and popular, and yet they don't like you in return.

I suggest you initiate the friendship. If you take an interest in someone, anyone, just tell them you like them and would like to see them again. Sometimes it is that artificial.

Another route is to develop friends on the Internet first, then meet them in real life.

But the best would be to ask someone who knows you well to provide unabridged and honest feedback. Listen. Do not respond.
posted by Kwadeng at 4:13 AM on May 13, 2016 [2 favorites]

I was thinking about your question again as I so much identify with feeling that way in the past. I just wanted to validate the impression you have that some adults have not left their high-school attitudes toward popularity behind. You're not crazy to feel that way. It's called office politics. Or special interest group politics, depending on where you're encountering this. Milau's comment is right that real adults do not continue to act that way, but unfortunately a lot of people have past woundings that keep them in a state of arrested development. So if you've encountered grown-ass people who act cliquish and exclusionary and want to be keeewl, you may really be seeing that behavior in them and not just projecting due to your own issues. I would like to see you go easier on yourself and not get into an endless pattern of beating yourself up because of how much you beat yourself up. Stay out of that hall of mirrors.
posted by Beethoven's Sith at 10:18 AM on May 13, 2016

You are getting a lot of great advice on this thread that I hope you are taking to heart more than your answers in the thread point to ;)

Just a couple things that I'd like to reiterate-

1) Making friends as an adult is MUCH harder than as a child/adolescent!
2) Shared hobbies where you need to meet regularly over a long period of time smooth the path towards making friendships as an adult. Most friends I've made since my late 20s are from dance and language classes that I went to regularly on a weekly basis, and even those friends are not as close as the ones from my school days and early-mid 20s.
3) I am a fairly "popular" person (or so I'm told, because I'm constantly busy with social engagements), but I have to do a TON of the heavy lifting myself to the point where it's kind of annoying, especially if I'm really busy with work. I have to do a lot of the planning or initiating just because most people naturally are passive or busy. The rewards are worth the occasional irritation, though. If I waited around for invitations to just come in I'd just end up sitting at home most of the time. If you're new to initiating things, just base it on things that are coming up that seem interesting to do- like if there's a food truck festival, asking people if they want to hit it up next weekend, etc.

Best of luck to you. Be good to yourself.
posted by raw sugar at 5:50 PM on May 15, 2016

But there are lots of people it's not hard for. Lots of people who don't have to always be the one to make the effort. People who are invited to parties even if they never show up just on the off chance. I'm not saying I want or need everyone to do everything for me but that I can't cope with the feeling of being a loser. There are people people want around and people people grudgingly accept being there. I don't want to be the latter or put people in the position of having to be nice and spend time with me out of politeness.
I am not mostly sad I am only sad about my chronic inability to be liked and the feeling that the world is very different for some people. People who move through the world as though they are made out of light. People who people talk to, make plans with, etc. It's hard to believe until you see it for yourself. The world just is a different place for them.
posted by ninjablob at 6:15 AM on May 17, 2016

And I just feel like I'm starting from nothing all the time. Like I can't casually invite people I sort of like along to something fun I'm doing with my friends because I have no friends, and inviting people to stuff one on one would be weird (not that it's inherently weird before someone jumps on this as a sign of my inherent passivity, just that it would require a different dynamic/ stronger connection between us). I can't really *make an effort* on social media because I know no one and who, for instance, would follow a Twitter account with no followers, who wouldn't be put off an acquaintance who gets 1 like on their statuses, blah blah blah. My interests are too specific for meetup which mostly caters to vaguely left of centre nerds so I can see why people here recommend it but it hasn't worked for me.
It's comforting to think that everyone is likeable it's just a case of putting the work in but humans are hierarchical animals and once you've been alone past a certain point people can sense it on you and there's no real way out.
posted by ninjablob at 6:22 AM on May 17, 2016

When you come right back with "but there are lots of people it's not hard for", what I see is someone who is stuck in a feedback loop of her own pain. You are in so much pain that you can't fix your problem, because you are in too much pain to move.

The only way to fix chronic problems is to take boring little steps over time, and I could tell you stories of people who went from friendless outsiders who pinged everyone's weirdo-meters to popular party-goers, but that won't help you because you are hurting too much. I mean, seriously, I had one friend who when I met them was the classic sweaty-clammy oddball and people actually said to me that this person creeped them out. Slowly, over time, this person did lots of little steps and became, quite literally, popular and beloved. It is possible, but you need laser-like focus and determination, and you can't have those when you are in so much pain.

You should go to a therapist who will let you talk.

Look, I have had this kind of obsessive pain that you can't let go. I found that the only thing that helped for me was to find a therapist I could trust and just talk about it until I was done talking about it. It took almost two years of meeting about three times a month.

You have a problem - you can't make the friends you want. But you have an overarching meta problem - the pain of being unable to make these friends is paralyzing you so that you can't take the steps to solve the problem. Just like someone with any kind of chronic injury, you need to get ahead of the pain first.

Note that I am not saying that you hate yourself, or that you need to love yourself or whatever. What I notice is simply that you are in a lot of emotional pain - and usually that has pretty complex causes.

The other thing that a psychiatrist once pointed out to me: being depressed in depressing situations is totally reasonable. You're in pain because you have experienced painful things. You feel bad because rejection hurts. Whatever other emotional stuff you have going on, you're also responding very naturally to really shitty, painful, damaging experiences. Maybe you're only responding to shitty, painful, damaging experiences - maybe this is all just the cumulative result of some bad luck that turned into self doubt that was compounded by more bad luck until it feels permanent.

Basically, a therapist should be like a super-metafilter - a metafilter which will focus only on you, a metafilter with professional expertise and the willingness to hear you talk until you're done. You're here asking these questions periodically, but you can't really just sit down with metafilter and have a focused hour once a week. The fact that you're coming back with these questions suggests that you need that support; it's just that metafilter isn't quite set up to provide it.

I am quite serious - there may be nothing at all wrong with you but pure sadness because your life has caused you pain, but you still need to get ahead of that pain. There is a way to accept painful circumstances without being paralyzed by them.
posted by Frowner at 6:51 AM on May 17, 2016 [8 favorites]

Yes I agree I think that is exactly the dynamic. I get sad and angry because part of me knows I need to make friends and connections like actually need it the way people need vitamins over time for their bodies to not get completely fucked up, but then by getting sad and angry about not having friends I know that I'll never make friends because who wants to be friends with someone who is sad and angry? So there is no way out. I just get more and more unlikable, when all evidence points to me needing to be more likeable than I am in the first place. I don't really feel like talking to a therapist about it has ever helped that much, because it mostly just feels like getting a watered down version of a caring relationship. I would look for a therapist I could see over a long time because why not I guess but how am I supposed to afford it? Even low rates are too expensive for me on an on-going basis and everything through organisations is time-limited. And then basically paying someone to act like they care about me which is the only upside I can really see to talking therapy in my case basically tricking myself into feeling like I have a caring relationship in my life so I can have more strength to find people who might actually care about me is fucked because obviously the therapist doesnt really care about me so the whole thing will just reproduce the feeling that I am unlovable, because I've shared so much of myself with someone who cannot care about me in the way I need.
Idk maybe there just is no way out, like there often is no way out, people die people lose things that they need to survive, people become tiny shrunken versions of themselves because of circumstances beyond their control there's not always a solution, people get trapped in situations they can't get out of all the time, I would have wanted to ideally be someone connected to the world and valued but we can't all get what we want I'll just have to find a way to survive by myself the best I can.
posted by ninjablob at 7:29 AM on May 17, 2016 [1 favorite]

I'm sorry you're so miserable.

If there is one actual piece of advice in the moment I could give you, it is to stop repeating these words about being trapped to yourself. I do that too - I have lots of stories that I tell myself in very persuasive, very glib words. You sound persuasive and glib as well, and you are almost certainly just reinscribing these narratives in ways that hurt you more and more.

What I tell myself sometimes is "yes, life sucks, it will still suck tomorrow, I can think about it then", and then I try to focus on something else.

This doesn't solve your problem, I know, but it can interrupt those horrible cycles where you just feel frantic with anxiety and pain. When you start mulling and repeating and rephrasing, the only thing the mulling does is makes a bad situation worse. I really, really feel you on this one, because I am really good at talking myself from "yes, this is a problem and it makes me sad" to "I am terrible, nothing will ever bring me joy again".

I have had some success with breathing really deeply for a few minutes, actually. It's ridiculous and sometimes it just makes me laugh at myself.

I have also found that being outside helps, and being among other people helps - at the library, in a book group, in a cafe, etc. Obviously, this isn't the same as being among friends, but it breaks some of the misery cycle.

As far as therapists go, two things I have learned:

1. You can find a therapist who cares about you. My therapist cared about me and liked me, and I cracked him up all the time. It's a professional kind of caring, like with a doctor or a hairdresser, but it's not fake.

2. Therapy works if you let it. One thing I had to do was to let go of my conviction that a lot of therapeutic modalities are bullshit. Intellectually, I am deeply skeptical of a lot of stuff about therapy, and I know about all the criticisms, and therapy-speak is annoying, etc, but when I really put some trust in the therapeutic relationship and actually decided to try to let the methods work, they worked. Not all of them, not perfectly, but once I let myself relax into the process, it did help.

Where are you? I feel like there's simply got to be someone who can help you navigate the therapy landscape of your town (or help you access Skype therapy or something) that is better than what you're getting.

If you can't actually go to therapy on a regular basis, there may be some support groups or other things you can access regularly.

I will tell you - some of my problems were not solved by therapy. Some of them may be problems I never solve. I still have a couple of big character flaws that hamper me (fear of conflict, self-doubt, a preference for the easier path). Sometimes that does make me really sad. But all of my problems are a lot better and I almost never have those spasms of pain and despair that I used to have. My life isn't perfect but it is better, and I am more able to face the problems I do have.
posted by Frowner at 7:49 AM on May 17, 2016 [3 favorites]

just feels like getting a watered down version of a caring relationship

The thing is that a LOT of times therapy works because we're getting to practice the relationships we want to have. For example, before being able to tell my family member I was angry at her, (something that always scares conflict-averse me), I found myself getting angry at the therapist over something. And telling her. And she responded by listening and modifying her behavior. And that gave me the confidence I needed to speak with my family member. It wasn't like I set out to do this, but apparently it's so common in therapy that it gets chapters in books. It's kind of like training wheels. Sure, my therapist was going to respond to my anger by listening; a big part of their job is to help clients experience healthy relationships. That's why it works.

So I think you are absolutely right, that your therapy relationship will be full of you wondering if the therapist really likes you -- that will be therapy working as it's supposed to. Maybe you'll arrive at a point where you feel liked. Maybe you'll arrive at a point where you don't care and are free of the question. Maybe you'll go through three therapists trying to find one who likes you, until you finally start looking for one that you truly like. Who knows.

But if all therapy does is give you the strength to take little steps in your daily life, that's great. These steps are ones you need to take. Because while I agree with frowner that the first step is to find a therapist and get your pain to ease up, and to explore this fear you have that people secretly don't like you, I want to offer a little tough love around the idea that lots of people make no effort and that the fact that you must make effort means that you'll never succeed at having real friendships. Likability is not so much an inherent [has it / didn't have it] kind of thing. A lot of it has to do with consistently putting in effort.

But there are lots of people it's not hard for. Lots of people who don't have to always be the one to make the effort.

This may not be helpful, and I'm sorry, but you're right. Some people seem to have a gift for being liked, or at least seem to be effortlessly charismatic. But the rest of us poor schlubs DO have to work at it. I suppose that's okay; each of us has some areas of life (writing, math, fixing things, being a good listener, dancing) where we are more effortlessly skilled and others we have to work at. That doesn't mean that the result of those efforts are fake. Being likable is a lot about the effort we put out to be caring and kind and to have fun with people. Example: back in college, any email I sent to keep in touch with my high school friends, I'd start by systematically commenting on everything my friend wrote about, being sympathetic or asking follow up questions. That was just a formula; it didn't come naturally. But I ended up keeping in touch with a lot of my friends, so it didn't hurt either. Now, years later, I take forever to reply to emails, and the number of long distance friendships I've maintained has dropped off a lot. A lot has to do with where and how your effort goes. Good luck, and I'm so sorry for what you're dealing with.
posted by salvia at 11:06 AM on May 17, 2016 [1 favorite]

"But there are lots of people it's not hard for. Lots of people who don't have to always be the one to make the effort. People who are invited to parties even if they never show up just on the off chance."

I mean, lots of people have tens of millions of dollars also, and I don't. And I probably never will--I'm smart and I'm a hard worker but most of the time, big money happens because you were born to a certain class/income level, and I wasn't.

So OK, it's always going to be harder for me to pay my rent than it is for someone else I might see in the world. I have, therefore, a number of choices available to me:

1) decide to give up, quit my job, stop paying rent, and die in the gutter because life is unfair
2) work super hard and save every penny and invest very wisely forever until I am financially comfortable
3) decide that I don't want to work that hard or save that much and just figure out how to be happily poor
4) somewhere in the middle of all of these - work as hard as I can while still enjoying my life; save reasonably; occasionally lament the unfairness, because yeah, income disparity is a real thing and it sucks, but then pet the cat and drink a hot coffee and feel basically okay.
5) I lottery???

Your attitude re: friendship is the equivalent of (1). What would happen if you instead went with (4)? Make as much effort as you can muster to connect with people, engage in therapy to work at the mental blocks in your way, occasionally let yourself rue the unfairness of it all, but then force your mind to move on?

Look, I really am sorry, you are obviously in terrible pain. I have been where you are--not re: friends, but romantic partners. I lost most of my family and all of my friends to a long, ultimately super-boring, downward spiral. Yeah guess what? I was way mentally ill.

People tried to logic me into seeing reason and reality but I am smart, and I'm really fucking good at arguing and I would basically do what you're doing here, argue until I was "right" and all "solutions" had been dismissed. (I shoulda been a lawyer, then maybe I'd have a shot at those millions, amirite?) Guess how many people wanna be friends with someone who lawyers them to death about whether or not life is a waste and the world is pain? NONE PEOPLE, MY DUDE.

The reason I'm getting a little "snap out of it" with you here is because that was what finally prompted me to get the help and put forth the effort I needed. At a certain point you can't keep blaming the world or other people. You're an adult. Treating depression is really hard; I'm not trying to trivialize that. But life. is. hard. It just is. For everyone, in one way or another. And the hardness of it doesn't actually excuse you from being in control of your life.

I'm sorry, it sucks, now get to work.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 3:48 PM on May 17, 2016 [9 favorites]

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