how do i deal with not having a best friend, or even close friends?
August 11, 2022 10:19 AM   Subscribe

recently graduated from college, moved to a new city, and in a generally lonely and friend-lacking period of my life. while I do have some friends from college, and I am making new friends, I don’t have a best friend, or even close friends, and that feels very painful for me. how do I cope with this feeling and fulfill the need?

I’m not really sure what I mean when I say that I’m looking for a best friend. I think I’m looking for someone who understands me, appreciates me, and is equally invested in our friendship. Someone that I can feel like myself with, where talking to them feels natural, and I don’t need to perform. I don’t want a million friends; I am an introvert, so I really don’t need that many friends. But I do wish I had more fulfilling friendships. On a more concrete level, I miss getting texts from friends with random daily life updates/memes/interesting articles and just generally feeling connected to people. I miss being part of group chats and making plans. My phone’s pretty dry and my calendar is pretty sparse.

I’m struggling to understand why I’ve yet to find a best friend. I feel like I’ve been modeling the behavior of a good friend: I am fun, curious, available, compassionate, proactive, present for my friends when they need me. I think the chemistry/sense of commonality is missing between me and some of my existing friends - we get along well, but maybe not enough to be closer than we are. I think with other friends, the chemistry is there, but the reciprocity is not; while I would love to become closer to them, they are not necessarily interested in that. They have partners or other friends that they are closer to; they don’t need me to fill that role in their lives.

When I’m making new friends, I find it easy to find shared interests/experiences/etc with people (which I think is always a good starting point for a potential friendship). But then, I struggle to progress those friendships…it makes me feel like I am an overzealous alien who is passionate about humans. I’ve done the research on ways to make friends, how to be a good friend, I’ve developed the social skills to be friendly and friend-able, and I try hard, but I still cannot make truly close friends. Sometimes I feel like I’m the only one struggling with this, like everyone else already has their best friends, or is simply better at making close friends (which makes me feel further alienated). I worry that there’s something deeper wrong with me - even though I’m acting like a person who’s worthy of friendship, something about me might be off-putting or simply uninteresting to people?

On reflection and discussion with my therapist (and I plan to keep discussing it with them), I think I’ve determined that part of the issue may be my desperation to find a best friend/closer friends. I think wanting it so much might lead me to put off a vibe that other people don’t like? Either way, I don’t think it’s healthy for me to be wanting closer/best friends so badly. How do I stop wanting that?
How do I fulfill that need myself? Are my expectations simply too high - do people just not have best or very close friends that they see/speak to regularly in adulthood?

To be clear, I have plenty of hobbies, exercise regularly, and am finding groups to join regularly (just joined a cool book club that I am excited about). I don’t think the issue is not having the means to find friends; I think the issue is what happens when I do find potential friends.
posted by cruel summer to Human Relations (25 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: In my experience, it takes about a year to go from meeting someone to thinking of them as anything more than a casual friend. All the time in between can be fun and entertaining and interesting but sometimes it can also feel like work as you try to understand the other person, their worldview, life experiences, where they're going, etc, and figure out whether you have enough in common in a values sense to create a sustained (and sustainable) connection.

Based on your descriptions above, the missing ingredient is time, and you need a lot of it to establish a friendship. Fortunately, you also have a lot of it.

Think of it like building a house - you could build a structure of some sort in a day, but it would likely not be very comfortable or protect you from heat or cold in any substantive way, nor would it last very long. If you want a house that lasts, it will take time to find all the necessary pieces and put them together into something solid and stable and functional.

All of which is to say: you are on the right track! Just lean in to a mindset of patience and realise that in a few years you will likely have several friends and feel more connected to community in your life.
posted by lulu68 at 10:36 AM on August 11, 2022 [9 favorites]

Best answer: A very important thing to try and learn as young as you can learn it: Love is not an achievement.

Very smart, driven people are used to Applying Themselves, Studying All Available Information, and thus getting what they want. You can do that with a lot in life, but not with friends or with lovers.

Yes, by working on your social skills and putting yourself out there you can make plenty of connections, as you're seeing. But all of the effort and skill in the world cannot make the stars align on chemistry, availability, and all the other ineffable things that make "a person I know" into "a friend" and then into "a best friend." That part just takes luck, time, patience, and openness.

You're doing fine. There's nothing wrong with you. You're right out of college, which is a scary time full of change, in which people can get reaaaaaal spun up trying to Make Everything Be Perfect Now, but that isn't how it goes.

I assure you, you are not the only person in the world without a best friend 4 lyfe. And your friendships now will grow and change, or fall away and be replaced by new ones. You just can't force it. You don't have to stop wanting it, but you do have to stop your brain from demanding it.

And for that achieving, solution-oriented part of your brain that is like MAKE THIS WORK: Learning to be alone/a little lonely without being miserable is one of the greatest skills anyone can ever attain, so why not run with that?
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 10:41 AM on August 11, 2022 [38 favorites]

In the pre-pandemic era, here's how I did it:
0. Want a best friend.
1. Decide I was my own best friend.
2. Become part of a community through extensive volunteering.
3. Meet someone and be annoyed because I didn't have TIME for a new person in my life, but there he was.
4. All these years later, he's still here. I'm still my own best friend, but he's what I had in mind in step #0.
posted by aniola at 10:49 AM on August 11, 2022 [12 favorites]

For the first couple years after college, I was pretty unhappy. I felt like everyone was having more fun than me, and I constantly compared myself to other women my age. It takes a while to realize that we are all just kind of bumbling along the best we can. If I could go back in time to that period, I would have buckled down a little more into building a good career and developing good self-care habits to take me through the rest of my adult life. Stop worrying about other people and take care of yourself. My thirties have been EXPONENTIALLY better than my twenties. Hang in there.
posted by cakelite at 10:56 AM on August 11, 2022 [6 favorites]

Best answer: Finding a best friend is a lot like -- or possibly literally is -- like finding a soulmate. It takes a long while and you have to meet a lot of people. It's much easier in college when there is a constant flow of new people coming through your life.

I left my best friend behind when I moved to a country where I barely speak the language. My choices are very limited here, but despite my strong desire to have good friends I have been regularly put off by people who want to move too fast. I too am an introvert and there are a limited number of slots in my personal life. Vetting people takes time.

So my advice both for finding people and for feeling okay in the interim is to slow down. Start thinking in months and years. While it may suck in the meantime you are working towards a goal and that helps take the edge off.

Good luck with your search, and just remember to take everything very slowly.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 11:01 AM on August 11, 2022 [4 favorites]

I think aniola sums it up as well as anyone, though Blast Hardcheese has got some good points too. Adult life is much more fragmented than college, which means that there isn't a solid cognate to 2am dorm room deep conversations for generating best friends. I would argue you're looking for "meaningful" relationships rather than just "enjoyable" ones. Meaning really comes with deeper commitments and deeper trials. Those "life events" are where you get to traverse some thresholds of commitment and compassion for others. If you're only engaging with people in their 20s, you're generally going to need to wait for one of those "enjoyable friends" to get married or have kids. If you're engaging people 10 or 20 years older, you will get a mix of marriage/children/divorce/aging parent care/mortality scares. If you engage people outside of your social class, you may discover there are lots of opportunities to "deepen" those commitments.

I just moved to a new town with my wife last year, and so far there have been no best friends that have emerged, besides ourselves and old friends who have come to visit. It's not just you, and there isn't a linear path to this.
posted by SoundInhabitant at 11:24 AM on August 11, 2022 [2 favorites]

SoundInhabitant wrote...
Meaning really comes with deeper commitments and deeper trials.

As least as far as trials are concerned this is another big difference between college and working life. For most people college is a time of regular drama and tribulations, and bonding happens more easily when you're all suffering together.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 11:33 AM on August 11, 2022 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I agree with the above commenters. In my experience one of the ways to get closer to potential friends happens when you are able to emotionally authentic with people. Not that you should show your raw, bleeding heart to anyone you might want to be friends with! But it is okay to be not-perfect sometimes, to let people know how you are really feeling instead of focusing on always being fun and positive. I may not be explaining myself very well, but I feel like crossing the line between "this is my shiny public persona" and "this is my real self" is important to developing true friendship and deeper connections with others.
posted by zoetrope at 11:35 AM on August 11, 2022 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Just want to second lulu68's point - it sounds like you're doing all the right things, unfortunately it just takes time. Which is no help when you're pining for a friend now and don't have a fast-forward button. Or when you keep trying to press the fast-forward button and other people don't reciprocate because they're running on their own sweet timescale.

But it does mean you can stop beating yourself up or wondering what you're doing wrong, or what's wrong with you.
posted by penguin pie at 11:40 AM on August 11, 2022 [1 favorite]

Friendships post college are hard for just about everyone. For most of our lives we've been in an artificial environment with a large cohort of folks who were born around a year or two.

And unfortunately, I don't think the 21st century has a great answer for young adults. Traditionally, young adults met people through parents of their children and/or religious groups. But those are not options (yet) for many young adults for very good reasons! But society hasn't adapted to fill the void.

All I can say is try to get involved in activities with other people in your current city. (Also, keep up old friendships). It will get better, but friendship post college looks a lot different than before this point.
posted by oceano at 11:43 AM on August 11, 2022 [1 favorite]

Social disability and social poverty exist. There are good reasons why there’s a taboo against acknowledging this fact, primarily that depression does distort perceptions in some people and there’s a possibility that folks will point to the phenomenon of social disability and social poverty and use this as a reason to give up, when they might be able to gain connections by treating their depression. However, neurodivergent folks of all stripes, particularly those read as women and femmes, disproportionately suffer the consequences that the degradation of society causes to our ability to build connection. I have found that understanding that a huge part of why I am not seen as likeable is because of late capitalism, not because I am bad in character, gives me considerable solace and relief. Additionally, leaning into things I can do without being likeable, being conscious of where likeability barriers may hamstring something I’m working on, and making peace with death have given me room to panic less and do more, including following all the good, hopeful advice such as that which is mentioned in this thread.
posted by The Last Sockpuppet at 11:44 AM on August 11, 2022 [5 favorites]

Best answer: Read up on Shasta Nelson and Friendship Circles for the best advice I've seen on this topic.
posted by jenfullmoon at 11:56 AM on August 11, 2022 [2 favorites]

To fill in the gaps while you meet new people, do you have any college friends who have also moved to new places and are still trying to connect with people there? Also, it might be worth reflecting on how long it took you to make true good friends at college. It probably took a while!
posted by bluedaisy at 12:08 PM on August 11, 2022

Best answer: Sometimes I feel like I’m the only one struggling with this, like everyone else already has their best friends, or is simply better at making close friends (which makes me feel further alienated). I worry that there’s something deeper wrong with me - even though I’m acting like a person who’s worthy of friendship, something about me might be off-putting or simply uninteresting to people?

Trust me on this: Most people are mostly just hanging out with their college/high school/childhood friends - tough circles to penetrate, this is not on you!

I don’t want a million friends; I am an introvert, so I really don’t need that many friends

You *do* need that many friends, my friend. I think your strategy needs to be to meet as many people as possible and hang with whoever is available, and from there you will naturally start finding people where there is mutual interest in hanging out more. That's how it's always worked for me. Someone who I'm loosely acquainted with becomes a happy hour friend, then a weekend dinner/concert friend, then a birthday invite friend, then next thing you know you're inviting them to go on a trip with you. It happens gradually and like others in the thread have pointed out, takes time and patience.

It sounds like you're a likeable and affable person and I would not lean too hard into this "but I'm an introvert" identity stuff that people tend to put so much weight into. Just go forth and meet people as you have been, keep doing stuff, keep an open mind, say Yes to every invitation, and many of your friend seeds will eventually bloom.
posted by windbox at 12:13 PM on August 11, 2022 [10 favorites]

Best answer: This probably isn't super useful advice, but I think the best thing you can do is to get really comfortable being with yourself. Counterintuitively, that makes it easier to be friends with people (since you're not putting as much pressure on interactions to be specific things), and also makes it OK if you don't make any close friends for a while.

There can be a lot of joy in loneliness — I suggest you take advantage of that while you have it.
posted by wesleyac at 12:38 PM on August 11, 2022 [4 favorites]

Best answer: You're probably right that the desperation is a big part of what's getting in the way. At the intrapsychic level, that sort of desperate craving will at the very least make it difficult to be patient about this process in the way that many others are sagely advising. And at the interpersonal level, others may experience, however subtly or unconsciously, something as too high-stakes in their friendship-adjacent interactions with you.

Just remember that this is not "something deeper wrong" with you - this is a common and difficult adjustment to make to adulthood, and one among many that you've recently encountered after graduation.

Yet something also seems terribly fearsome and painful about the possibility of not having (immediately? ever?) a very close best friend. What is that about for you?

This question is not to suggest you shouldn't feel this way, or that you should work to not feel this way, but rather as a departure point to continue exploring in your therapy. And not just exploring in terms of solving the problem of "making close friends," but in terms of getting some new knowledge of how you operate, consciously and unconsciously, as a human being, e.g., "What is it about this that frightens me so much? What is it about this fear that is so intolerable?"
posted by obliterati at 12:39 PM on August 11, 2022 [3 favorites]

Best answer: I think the most important thing to realise is that post-college, all things being equal, the more time spent together = the closer the friendship.
Friendships are mostly no longer forged in late night soul baring sessions or other emotionally high stakes, intimate experiences. They grow slowly by themselves and mostly by being around each other, being trustworthy and pleasant.
Obviously, things are mostly not equal and you'll always find exceptions.

But the very best thing you can do is to hang out with people regularly, often, in a low stakes way. Don't try to make friendships happen. Try to be around people and enjoy them for who they are. Trust friendships tp grow out of that, slowly.

Once I stopped evaluating people for whether we were already friends or not, and WHY NOT, I found myself cherishing their little expressions of affection and attention. The coworker who shared her coffee with me. The neighbour who hung around to talk with me. All of these were offerings, with potential to grow a small step closer. I realised how people were constantly showing me in small ways that they liked me and enjoyed being with me. And I had completely blanked that out because in my mind it wasn't Close Friendship(tm), it wasn't the Big One and so it didn't count. And also I was rather particular: I expected friendship only from people in my age group, of my social class. Other people didn't even register.
So I wasn't able to soak up what they offered me and I ended up starving emotionally. You sound starved, too. Maybe you have more going for you than you know. If you can see past that imagined threshold of true friendship and see that there are millions of ways people reach out to each other and each of them can warm your heart and let you reciprocate.

If you take joy in people as they are, and show them that you value them, some of those relationships will blossom into more.
posted by Omnomnom at 1:06 PM on August 11, 2022 [4 favorites]

My practical advice for you is to use Bumble BFF. It and Craiglist stricly platonic (which is sadly not a thing anymore) garned me way better results than meeting people "organically." The reason being, as you've experienced, most people are not looking for friends. ALL of the other women on Bumble BFF are looking for friends. It worked GREAT for me. Yeah, going to book clubs and stuff can eventually, maybe, slowly and painstakingly net you friends. But I had way better success just being balls out honest on the internet like "Hey, this is me, I'm lonely, anyone else wanna be my friend?" I responded to anyone who showed enthusiasm and found several really good friends, solid people.

Oh, I almost forgot to add - a Facebook group of women looking for friends also worked for me. And once you meet people, INVITE THEM TO STUFF. This works.
posted by stockpuppet at 1:13 PM on August 11, 2022 [1 favorite]

I know the feeling. Give it time. Shortly after college, the impulse to rank people's worth to me (aka "best") - and to put all my focus on one person - faded away pretty quickly. I instead had good relationships with roommate-friends, work-friends, hobby-friends, date-friends, drinking friends, old friends, etc. I was/am close to those people in different spheres in different ways, and relied on them for different kinds of support. "Best friend" duties and benefits were, basically, divided among different people at different times.
posted by nkknkk at 1:31 PM on August 11, 2022 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I'm in probably half a dozen active group chats, in none of them do any of us live in the same place. The friends I talk to on the phone largely live in other states. If what you want is your college friends back, reach out! Start that group chat! Be the person who sets up a watch party or mario kart. Take the edge off the desperation by realizing that those friendships you had before you moved still exist. They're just a little nascent right now and need some upkeep and care from you. And then when you do find people in person, you already have things you can invite them to join. A mixed virtual in person hang is pretty normal in my friends' group right now. Our watch parties are often two or three people in each screen on a couch together.

Talking to your friends will help you cultivate the art of talking about things that aren't what you're going to do together this weekend, which is a great skill for making new friends.
posted by Bottlecap at 3:48 PM on August 11, 2022

I moved to a new city right before the pandemic, and here I am 3 years later, and I *still* don't have a single close friend in my new city. I want friends, but I've found them very hard to make.

I lamented about this to a friend who lives in my old city. He said this, and I think it's true:

"Consistent, periodic exposure + Time = Friendships."

...and, assuming that you meet a person who you click with, there's a good possibility that you'll become friends.

I made friends in my old city through work. I'd see the same people day after day, and over time, I became close friends with some of them.

Now, I work from home. I took a new job last year and I'm 100% remote. I have never met a single one of my co-workers, and most likely, I never will.

The ONLY people I have gotten to know in my new city are the people I've met at the dog park, because it's a place I go to almost every day, and they do too, and I've gotten to know them over time.

If you want to make friends, find something to do that makes you meet with the same people regularly. Give it time. If you don't like any of those people, find something else.

...I should probably take my own advice.
posted by cleverevans at 4:27 PM on August 11, 2022 [8 favorites]

Best answer: Great advice above but also to remind you that you have recently had some very upsetting and traumatic endings to friendships and this is probably clouding your perceptions and making things harder for you. Be kind and gentle to yourself and give yourself time.

Fwiw my friends as an adult have almost all come from an educational setting where you really get the chance to spend extended time in a shared environment with people. If getting a Masters degree is potentially in your plan then you might get a college 2.0 experience with a group of more mature and interesting people to mine for friendship than undergrad had.
posted by Balthamos at 11:09 PM on August 11, 2022 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I sometimes felt awfully lonely when I was younger. I had friends, but like you I didn't feel as close to them as I would have liked. I have close friends now, without ever changing much about my approach to friendship. Some of them are actually the same friends from back then. Turns out it just takes quite a long time for me to really feel close to someone. But let me tell you, it gets a lot easier to believe in the strength of a friendship once you've been through some shit together, through joy and through boredom, through fair and foul weather; once they've seen you at worst, your most miserable and unpleasant, and didn't give up on you anyway; once you've had a fall-out, and didn't speak for months, and yet managed to overcome your pride and make up again, because you both found the friendship too valueable to just throw away like that; once you've kinda lost touch and happily managed to meet again after years, and find that inspite of all those years and changes between you, you can quickly pick up just where you left off; once you've consistently shared so many small moments of everyday joys and sorrows that never seemed very remarkable at the time, but eventually accumulate into something quite profound.

But I imagine that all these calls for patience might be hard to hear, when you need a close friend now. It's hard to wait for something bitterly needed, especially if there's not guarantee at all that it will ever happen. Some people, through no fault of their own, might wait in vain all their life. Because it's not just a matter of likeability, of social skills, of your own willingness to invest effort of time (which you all seem to have!) - it also takes luck. And that's probably a hard thing to accept. But I think it might help you to accept it; I suspect that blaming yourself for not working hard enough at this migh be contributing quite a bit to your suffering.

Some thoughts that helped me be at a bit more at peace while waiting:

1) Just as life paths diverge, they can also converge again. One reason I felt so lonely when younger was that I was always somewhat out of synch with my age group - when everyone talked about getting a driving licence, I found that I hated driving; when everyone talked about getting a boyfriend, I found that I don't do boyfriends; when everyone started really getting invested in their careers, I found that I lost all ambition; when everyone started talking about buying their own place, I moved back in with my parents. But this too shall pass - at some point, everyone got their driving licence, their boyfriend, their promotion, their place (or not! turns out these milestones are not actually as salient for everyone as propaganda might have you believe; my impression of "everyone" has often turned out to be a bit superficial and premature), and there are other topics again to talk about. Some of those are still topics I can't contribute much to (kids, fashion, real estate), but it has been a big relief for me to find that stuff like "Sex and the City" grossly overrepresents the amount of talking about men among grown-up women. Nowadays most of my friends are either in longterm stable relationships without much drama, lesbians, single moms too busy for dating, or older women who have mostly been there, done that. We usually talk about hobbies, health, money, culture, politics, personal development, current events and non-romantic interpersonal drama, all topics where I'm much more at home. When you feel that everyone is heading somewhere you won't follow, you just have to wait a while to find common ground again. Life is so much more than ticking certain boxes; there are so many other things to connect over. It's easy to lose of sight of that, because people do sometimes get temporarily blinded by the box-ticking urge. But as I said, this usually passes.

Right now, timing seems to be working against you, but timing can also be on your side. Sometimes stuff happens that makes people grow apart, sometimes stuff happens that makes them grow closer! I grew a lot closer again to an old high school friend, when we both changed careers and started teaching high school at roughly the same time. I have always been fond of my cousin's girlfriend, but we only became really close friends, after my cousin broke up with her. You are probably right to observe that most people have limited "close friend" slots because of their busy lifes and preexisting social obligations, but I think it's premature to write someone off completely just because all those slots are currently filled. Relationships end, kids grow up, jobs might become less stressful once you've established yourself. If there's a general sense of affinity, it can pay off to have some patience and sit out those friendship drought periods.

2) Casual friendships are valuable, even if they never turn into closer ones. This may seem counter-intuitive to an introvert. My social batteries are relatively quickly drained and I do need a fair bit of alone-time to recharge. Spending those valueable social batteries on intimate one-on-one dates with a few close friends certainly seems a lot more attractive than casual friendship activies like small talk, parties and group outings. There's a certain temptation to just not bother, because the cost-benefit/risk-reward calculation seems a bit off for me with those. But I've found it crucial not to give in too much to that temptation. Casual friendships remain important, even once you do also have close friends, actually! Casual friends can sometime cheer you up and distract you from your misery just as well as close ones, they can introduce you to new people and new ideas and broaden your horizons, they can take you out of your bubble, they are sometimes even easier to approach in a crisis, because the stakes and expectations are lower, so it would be easier to deal with a rejection from a casual friend than from a close one and because sometimes someone with a bit more distance to a problem might find it easier to actually help. Learning to appreciate the value of casual friendships was one of the most important steps of my personal growth.

3) Others will never quite see me the way I see myself, and that's okay. The way I see myself is not always the entire truth either. The desire for close friendship is the desire to be truly seen, but was is the truth anyway? I've come to see it not as something already independently existing, waiting to be revealed, but rather something co-created. You say you want a close friends you can be your authentic self with, someone where you feel you don't have to perform. What's stopping you from doing that with the people you currently interact with? You're probably not sure you can trust them that much yet, and I can't say that caution is misguided. It's probably also there on their part sometimes! And that's okay, it's okay to take some time to build trust. The way to do that is to take some smaller risks before you take big ones, to test the waters, see how people handle sensitive information, difficult conversations, less fun aspects of your personality and life. Do they act dismissive, do they immediately change the topic, or can they sit with doubts and sorrows? The things we find difficult to talk about, we like to keep from others - those are the currency of intimacy. Sharing them takes trust, and trust deepens bonds. But I do think it's a good idea to proceed carefully and take your time.
posted by sohalt at 3:27 AM on August 12, 2022 [3 favorites]

Best answer: (Another reason you might find it hard to be your true authentic self with others right now, is that you might not really know your true authentic self yet. Which should be quite common at your age! Getting to truly know yourself better is really helpful in getting to truly know others.)
posted by sohalt at 3:56 AM on August 12, 2022 [1 favorite]

I was in a similar position in my early twenties, and eventually lucked into a group with a standing meetup, and kept showing up.

One thing I did not realize in my early twenties was the importance of inertia for building friendships. Most of my current close friendships either started with or now involve a TV-watching group, because it is a low-key event with a regular schedule (either enforced by the show or just because it feels like a normal interval).

Even my extroverted friends can't plan enough individual events to stay connected, we are all busy and tired. Regularly scheduled events (TV or sports practice or whatever) are way easier than proactively deciding to do something new every time.
posted by mersen at 9:28 PM on August 12, 2022 [1 favorite]

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