I feel insanely unlikeable
September 17, 2017 6:49 AM   Subscribe

... I'm pretty sure it's not just me. How do I work on this?

Growing up, I had one very close friend. He introduced me to new friends, who would become my friends, but not close friends. Nevertheless I felt like I had a very socially fulfilling childhood and adolescence. I also dated an extrovert in high school and met about a zillion people through him.

Ever since we parted ways after high school, I have not made a single friend. I'm now 30 years old and I feel very isolated. I live with my (college) boyfriend, but of course that's not the same as feeling that you have a real place in the world. He's also quiet and introverted, but I think dating introverts and extroverts both have their pros and cons, so that's not an issue.

I've been aware of my social anxiety for a little over a decade. I've reasoned my way out of a lot of bad thought patterns, and I'm on an antidepressant that helps dampen the intensity, but I still have a lot of "embodied" anxiety (racing heart, tension, difficulty speaking) in social situations. Not giving talks or presentations: those I find easy. But groups and one-on-ones are very hard for me, my nerves take over and I talk too much or trail off and don't know how much eye contact to make, get nervous during eye contact, etc. It's really tiresome but I don't know how to even begin to address it.

The net effect of all this is that I think I'm pretty unlikeable. People are definitely not drawn to me, except, occasionally, straight men who think I'm pretty and sound smart or "different." This was kind of quirky and manic pixie dream girl when I was younger, but I'm 30 now, and it feels very silly. I do have an easier time making friends with men, probably because it's easier to catch their attention in the first place. Women seem to dislike me; I don't know if I come off as competitive or defensive in a way that they can immediately spot, without attraction getting in the way? Gay men gravitate toward me, but I've never ever been friends with a gay woman, despite several gay women in my social circles being people I particularly respect. So I don't know what the gender/sexual dynamic is in my friendships, except that I'm probably intimidated by women and find men's attention easy to roll with.

People close to me say I seem to handle social situations well, so I don't think it's anything overtly annoying that I do, just the sum total of my inability to control my behavior (and involuntary physical responses) when talking to someone. This is true around almost everyone; even my best friend, even my whole family, even my boyfriend when we've been apart more than a week. I guess I have zero confidence in my ability to really socialize with anyone, and I have no idea how to read social cues and ramp up a casual acquaintenceship. I don't even really know how to read an individual conversation-- how often to speak, when it's ok to pause, how much to share, etc. I've done the share too little and share too much and I can tell when they drive people away, but there have also been lots of times I didn't know what I was doing wrong.

I would say that I enjoy talking to people, but I'm easily peeved, which is something I'm working on. The effect is that I tend to be outwardly very friendly and polite while inside very stressed and anxious to get out of the conversation ASAP, before I can screw it up. I brace myself all day at work for impending social scenarios and breathe a sigh of relief when they're over. I miss being around people, but I find it absolutely torturous to actually be in a social situation. I think I'm too sensitive and my self-esteem is too low, so I get defensive and also tend to put up walls, only wanting to talk about things outside myself, or only talk about myself in ways I'm comfortable with, which are generally neutral. It's hard for me to take teasing well.

Anyway, all of this is to say that I've been having these troubles for a long time. I've come a long way from being deathly quiet around strangers to now openly attempting conversation and voluntarily putting myself out there. But I just don't know where to go from here? When I see people who are more socially "oblivious,", I admire their confidence and carefree "selfness" but get nervous and hyper aware of negative attention. But people who are more popular and normal seem to see through me to the weird awkward nerd inside. So I feel that I fit nowhere.

At the end of the day, I don't know what I want; I'm easily bored and I know for a fact that many people I meet are not people I really want to be friends with because the conversation isn't very interesting. But usually when I meet someone who I do feel like I click with, things slowly fall apart as I make them more and more uncomfortable with my nerves. How can I even start to work on this?

I've gone to group social anxiety therapy as well as individual therapy in the past. My therapist and I talked about feeling the "flow" of a conversation to know when to speak, etc. But it's hard to remember these things and calm down my twitchy freaking out body in the moment. Is there anything that could work for someone like me? Exposure therapy of some kind? A way to understand how friendships ramp up, what the rhythm of a normal conversation feels like? Any hope at all to actually learn how to enjoy other people and be myself?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (11 answers total) 32 users marked this as a favorite
 
I'm not convinced, from what I've read here, that other people don't like you. I'm not even convinced that they notice how awkward you feel when you speak to them. You haven't really provided examples of HOW your awkwardness 'drives people away.' Just a) you feel awkward and b) you feel lonely, and you clearly think there's a step in the middle where other people are deciding they don't like you... but thinking that people don't like you when there's no real evidence of it is also part of social anxiety!
posted by showbiz_liz at 7:51 AM on September 17, 2017 [9 favorites]


I'm easily bored and I know for a fact that many people I meet are not people I really want to be friends with because the conversation isn't very interesting.

I think you start here, by challenging this assumption and switching your default mode to 'someone is interesting until s/he proves otherwise.' As has been established in other threads, getting to know you type conversation is not going to be the most thrilling conversation of your life, and that's not really what it's about. It's about getting a feel for the other person and whether that person can engage in a normal conversation. Plus, if the conversation isn't very interesting, you're half of the problem, aren't you? Intro conversation is also the start toward more interesting conversation, and you can steer it that way. You can seize on something interesting the other person said and ask them questions or ask them slightly more offbeat questions than the typical getting to know you ones (just *slightly* more offbeat - think 'Did you have a good day today?' versus 'What do you do for living?' Don't whip out any of those, 'If you could have any superpower, what would it be?' type questions.) I'm an extroverted woman who pays attention to other people's reactions, and I would pick up on your boredom. It is hard to hide. I think this is probably what more people are picking up on than competitiveness or defensiveness or weirdness, but without having met you I can't say for sure.
posted by unannihilated at 7:55 AM on September 17, 2017 [16 favorites]


From what I've observed, likeability can be learned, and likeable people often have the following habits:
- Focusing on the positive aspects of each interaction
- Doing your best to have fun
- Liking other people
- Having relaxed mannerisms
- LOLLing a lot (good naturedly)
- Watching demos of other likeable people (watch interviews of celebrities, listen to podcasts)
- Focusing on learning about the other person / a new topic of interest that they are well-informed about

It sounds like you might be focussing too much on yourself - just set a specific goal, schedule in opportunities to practise your social skills, and see how you're doing after a week/month/year.

There also seems to be quite a lot you might want to talk through with a therapy (maybe find one that works for you), or consider medication. Chemical imbalances can lead to a lot of anxious mental noise which can interfere with one's ability to engage fully in interactions and therefore connect with others.
posted by Crookshanks_Meow at 7:57 AM on September 17, 2017 [14 favorites]


We have a lot in common. I am familiar with that feeling of wanting to connect but also getting impatient during conversations - usually because I have trouble with interruptions or I feel like I have to get to the next thing - even if it's not that important.

I agree with showbiz_liz that there's nothing in the above to suggest that other people don't like you, just that you have trouble making the kinds of connections you want to make.

I'm also highly sensitive and if I don't sense that someone *wants* to be around me and talk to me, I'll stop initiating conversations with them and inviting them to lunch.

Some ideas
* Meditation. It's almost as much of a cliche as therapy on the green, but it can help and you don't have to be a super-awesome disciplined meditator to benefit from it. You can learn to identify early on that you're getting anxious and slow your breathing and self-soothe.
* Therapy. Try a different therapist. Maybe a few different therapists.
* Practice being friendlier with some of these "non-interesting" people. The stakes will be lower which should mean less anxiety. I'm not saying mislead people into thinking that you want to be BFFs, I'm just saying work on getting to know a little more about them, notice how you're feeling, practice patience.
* Exercise. It helps with anxiety and it can also lead to bonding, if you exercise with a class.
* Pay attention to your sense of empathy and what makes it respond. I am anxious and in my head a lot but there are times when my empathy kicks in and then it becomes very easy to listen to someone with patience and sympathy.
* It helps me to think of people as icebergs - I see only a fraction of who they are. Underwater they may have trauma, secret dreams, passions, interests, histories. They are who they are today because of their experiences which I will probably never know anything about.
* Use online platforms to supplement. I have a friend who is intensely anxious in social situations. Once she told me I was easy to be around and I was surprised, because I could still feel her anxiety coming through. Because of our emails and FB posts I knew she was witty, smart, and a person of integrity who I deeply respected, and I knew that she cared about me. So I stuck it out through a lot of awkward coffees and lunches etc, and we're finally in a spot where we can have a lunch that feels easy.
* Look around you and see if there are any others who are struggling to connect and need a friend. That can change your interior narrative into one of taking initiative to help others - through which you will also help yourself.
posted by bunderful at 8:22 AM on September 17, 2017 [6 favorites]


You sound like me! This is what I do when I start thinking about how other people must have reacted to me and what I said wrong and how maybe I was wrong to do X and what did they really mean when they said X and did my face look weird and did I make the right amount of eye contact and was I being too pushy and what if they don't like me is I fucking

STOP IT

NO

That is NOT ALLOWED

now recite a poem. Think about my shopping list. Plan my day. Put some music on. Read a book. Go work out. Put on you tube. Text someone about Something Else. Just. Fucking. Stop! I literally *yell* in my mind. Sometimes I even say it out loud. "Stop this. Think about something else".

If you fuck up in conversation, it literally doesn't matter. Nobody is keeping tabs. Nobody cares. Consider every interaction as practice. If you notice someone actively reacts badly to something you say or do, note it ("this is the wrong crowd for that kind of story") and move on. You will typically know when you've fucked up. You will also notice if you observe, that people are frequently checking in with each other about whether they have fucked up. You shouldn't do this yet. You are too insecure and will go overboard. But after a bit when you are more comfortable this is a tool you will have.

I also used to find it easier to talk to men than women, especially men that I wasn't super attracted to but who were attracted to me. I realised this was largely because these men would put in a lot more of an effort to get my attention, engage me in conversation, seem attentive, and make me feel better about my screw ups. That is, they would do the heavy lifting to ensure I enjoyed talking to them, and the added sensations of power, playfulness, and feeling desired (i.e. wanted), significant and admired would read to me as acceptance. Which takes the clothespin off the tongue and loosens the "am i doing it wrong!?" terror that can crush me into a stuttering, oblivious mess.

I started making a point of developing female friendships and its hard work! I don't have a map or guideline for it, it is scary and challenging to navigate. There is a lot of that "am i making too much eye contact, does she secretly hate me, OHMYGOD WHAT DO I SAYYYYYY" shit that I have to navigate and lock down hard when it comes up and i start to lose my shit. But i just keep at it and after time the "don't go there, stay HERE" response becomes more ingrained.

A few little techniques I use to give myself some bearings are:
-have a set of pre determined topics to go to in case you get flustered. Allow the pause in the conversation, then segue into one of your safe topics.

-remember stuff they tell you about their lives and ask about it

-invite people you might like to do activities that you are both interested in or go to coffee. Two to three invitations max. After that, if they always say no and/or don't attempt to reciprocate, drop it.

-accept invitations for stuff you're not super enthused about for the sake of being someone who shows up

-don't spend too much time focused on one person or you start thinking about their flaws and foibles too much

-do lots of low-stakes interacting for practise. Chat with the cashier, the bus driver, the neighbour you see in passing. Learn to talk about boring topics. Boring conversations are usually not someone's entire soul; people show a public face until they get to know you a bit. A lot of people have a lot more depth than you'd anticipate from a standard social encounter e.g. at work.

Good luck!
posted by windykites at 8:38 AM on September 17, 2017 [16 favorites]


I'm very bad at interacting, so perhaps not the best person to offer advice. But what I have found helpful, though it's not always easy to keep in mind, is to change my outlook/attitude. Instead of thinking of myself, think of the other person.

This does not come naturally to me. But I saw this in my late bf: he genuinely cared about others, so he didn't have to make the effort.

Instead of worrying about myself, I try to think about how can I make the other person happy, or comfortable, or feel valued. What can I do for them? How can I brighten their day a little? I try to ask about them, take an interest in whatever they care about.

This may sound simple-minded, but I think it's at the core of how to interact.

I also find women much more difficult to interact with than men. (I am a woman.) I think women have more of a radar for subtle digs and humblebrags, so they detect those sometimes even when they are not intended. I find I have offended women without knowing how sometimes.
posted by Vispa Teresa at 9:02 AM on September 17, 2017 [5 favorites]


You can work on likability 1 2 3 4. Just take it with a grain of salt. Be good to people, but recognize that you deserve to have people be good to you. Most articles on how to be liked verge a bit into doormat territory. Long run, being yourself and being strong is more likable.

Reach out. People are busy, have friends, are shy, etc., so don't wait for people to befriend you. Plan something fun, say, a visit to the Saturday Farmer's Market. Mention to a potential friend that you're going, if they show interest, Want to join me? Look at what's available - the library or bookstore may have a book group, the pet shelter may want volunteer pet walkers, there may be a board game night at a coffee shop. Meetup is full of opportunities. Does BF have any interest in new friendships? You could have people over for Sunday brunch & board games.

You have so much focus on whether people like you; focus more on who you like. Try to see beyond popularity, popular people may already have a full friendship slate. Who's funny, smart, kind, interesting. You probably end up with the work friend you go out with after work occasionally, the book group friends, the special interest group friends, and maybe some of them become that really close friend.
posted by theora55 at 9:23 AM on September 17, 2017 [3 favorites]


Ever since we parted ways after high school, I have not made a single friend...

vs.

People close to me say... even my best friend, even my whole family, even my boyfriend

These two things do not compute. Objectively, this is not the social circle of someone who other people don't like.
posted by DarlingBri at 1:24 PM on September 17, 2017 [5 favorites]


You're me :)

I'm actually curious if you feel these negative thoughts about yourself all the time, or if you have phases where you feel just fine? If you are like me, I go through cycles of self doubt and self hate, but it's not all the time. If so, try just blindly trusting the "up" cycle you that you're actually fine and it's honestly no sweat if someone happens not to find you to their personal taste.

I also wanted to add that I think I just got friendships with women right in the last couple years (I'm 31). I guess I just started really actually *liking* women, appreciating everything women do, how simply incredible most of the ones I have met are. I like the energy women bring, and feel like femininity = the all consuming need to create, to have things be beautiful and just so, resilience, toughness. Whereas before I associated it with tenseness, being judgemental, touchiness, and the need to tread carefully. Older women are inspiring to me and younger women I admittedly have some spiky relationships with up front but I know it's just my own weirdness and when I show warmth, no matter how small, the ice is broken. A lot of it had to do with, because I stopped feeling competitive and threatened, I started opening my damn eyes to who they really were and their actual lives and what they brought to the table.

I think I just got sick of waiting for people to think I was cool and like me, hearing I was too aloof and quiet, and just started thinking they were cool and liking them?

Anyway, I related to your question a lot and I hope you find some truth in any of this that could help you.
posted by moons in june at 3:12 PM on September 17, 2017


You mentioned you are on an anti-depressant, but it sounds like you are still having fairly intense experiences of social anxiety:

I've reasoned my way out of a lot of bad thought patterns, and I'm on an antidepressant that helps dampen the intensity, but I still have a lot of "embodied" anxiety (racing heart, tension, difficulty speaking) in social situations.

The effect is that I tend to be outwardly very friendly and polite while inside very stressed and anxious to get out of the conversation ASAP, before I can screw it up.

. . . but I find it absolutely torturous to actually be in a social situation.

. . . things slowly fall apart as I make them more and more uncomfortable with my nerves. How can I even start to work on this?

But it's hard to remember these things and calm down my twitchy freaking out body in the moment.

I am not a doctor, or your doctor, but have you considered going back to see your doctor/psychiatrist and mentioning you still have these symptoms? I actually started anti-anxiety medication myself because I was having all the physical symptoms of anxiety that you mention due to job-related stressors (not social ones). With the medication I am on now, it is very rare for me to feel physically anxious like that for the same reasons I used to. As another piece of anecdata, my relative also takes an antidepressant for social anxiety (same one I do actually) and remarked that once he was on the right dosage, his physical anxiety in social situations and racing thoughts was greatly decreased (just like the anxiety I had for abrupt changes in routine and unpredictability).

And as far as this goes:

Is there anything that could work for someone like me? Exposure therapy of some kind? A way to understand how friendships ramp up, what the rhythm of a normal conversation feels like? Any hope at all to actually learn how to enjoy other people and be myself?

I am also not extremely socially smooth, but I genuinely enjoy being around people for the most part and learning about their lives and things they think about. I think if you have conversations with a genuine interest in what the other person has to say, they can sense that and will be more forgiving/possibly not even notice the lack of polish on your social skills.

As a final note, I have an old friend who is (was?) a bit more socially awkward than myself and yet did not have the same curiosity in other people. She mentioned to me one time how she had just read How to Win Friends and Influence People and it was like a revelation for her. I can't vouch for it personally, but if you have time to do so, it might be worth giving it a read.
posted by sevenofspades at 3:16 PM on September 17, 2017 [1 favorite]


I am pretty outgoing and now make friends relatively easily, but I have also gone through long periods of my life where I felt really socially anxious and felt like I was pushing people away, and I really feel like I understand a lot of what you're going through here.

The single thing that has helped me the most is to constantly remind myself (and really internalize this practice, which is hard) to focus on just enjoying other people in social interactions. Don't focus on getting them to like you, or what they think of you, or whether or not you want to be their friend - focus on trying to enjoy yourself talking to that person in the moment. Treat it like a game if you need to - make the goal of each conversation to find out something interesting about the person, or finding common ground you have with them.

An example: I still have a hard time at large gatherings where I don't know many people. I tend to feel awkward and assume that people will prefer to talk to their "real" friends or the "cool people" instead of me. In the past, this made me terrible at parties because I would feel really nervous about talking to people, and if I did get into a conversation with someone, I would find myself assuming they were just killing time until they could talk to people they actually wanted to talk to. I even once had someone else take my restlessness as a sign that I was looking for someone else to talk to, which felt terrible and made me realize how silly I was being.

But! If I just talk to people with the goal of enjoying their company or finding something to connect over, then it goes a lot better. Because I'm not trying to impress them with how cool I am, or trying to hide what an akward dork I am - it's not about me, it's about them, or the two of us in conversation.

I think this would also help with your anxiety about being drawn into relationships with people you find uninteresting. Don't worry about the future. It's not about making new friends you will then be forced to hang out with. It's about learning about this new person, and finding out interesting things about them, in the moment. I have had lots of interesting conversations with people at parties that I never hung out with again. I have also talked with people I knew for years and had my impression of them completely changed by one conversation where I was being open-minded about the other person.
posted by the sockening at 4:28 PM on September 18, 2017 [2 favorites]


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