Help me learn to make friends when I don't feel like I deserve any.
January 29, 2007 11:28 PM   Subscribe

I've become dissatisfied with my social skills. Please, help me learn to act more like a normal human being.

Since I was a little kid, I've preferred my own company to that of others. I spent most of my time in elementnary school on my own and I never felt a lack. I rarely socialized outside of school and didn't really understand why other people did. I mean, I sae my friends at school every day. What was the point of seeing more of them when all I wanted to do was read or play imaginary games on my own? The last few years, though, I've started to feel like I somehow missed out on friend-making 101. It's not that I have a problem making them; I've usually never had trouble making friends with people when I'm in a new situation. It's just that I can't keep them, or I can't turn a casual friendship into something more. For instance, say I'm in a class with someone I know casually. I'll spend the entire semester or whatever hanging out with them, talking, working on projects, whatever. The problem comes when I see them outside of that context; I usually don't even acknowledge them. Not because I don't want to, but because I assume they don't want to talk to me. My first assumption is always that people don't like me, which leads me, I think, to sometimes treat people badly in an attempt to ward off their rejection. I can easily make the first move when it comes to getting acquainted with someone, but the next move, the one that turns into actual friendship, is something I'm incapable of. This also causes me to lose touch with friends I no longer see in class or whatever. We just drift apart, and I can't seem to be the one who keeps things together. This has happened with people I've known since elementary school and with people I meet randomly over the summer. Even on something as dumb and superficial as facebook, I'm never the person requesting to be friends. I just hope people will come to me and when they don't, I think it's because they don't like me, not because they may be waiting for me to do it.

This probably isn't very coherent, but I'm trying my best to tie a bunch of things I've noticed about myself together into something that makes sense. Mostly I think my problem is a basic lack of that old school counselor stand-by, self esteem. I really just don't think I'm all that great. I make my friends laugh all the time, people don't usually actually recoil from me and seek out my company fairly often but I assume I bore people, that I come across as fake and strange and uninteresting and awkward. I'm shocked when someone wants to talk to me (barring my closest friends). Being a 17 year old girl, I worry about my physical appearance as well. Sometimes when I look in the mirror I'm surprised by how not-ugly I am, because my working image of myself is not particularly attractive. Sometimes I think things will get better in college, but chances are that no matter what my circumstances, I'll still find myself running up against the same problems. Now that I'm more or less done whining, I suppose I should ask a question. How can I change myself? Have any of you felt this way, and how did you create a normal social life for yourself? How can I feel like an integral part of a group instead of a pathetic hanger-on? How can I change my wokring image of myself into something that deserves other people's time and attention?
posted by MadamM to Human Relations (23 answers total) 50 users marked this as a favorite
I thought everyone felt that way when they were 17. I certainly did. It did get better at university, but only slightly - I'd still hang around with a core group of gradually acquired close friends, and make limited attempts to expand my social circle.

I'm quite a bit better at all that sort of stuff now (I'm 28), and people often tell me I'm easy-going, charming and good with people, despite the fact that it still doesn't feel like that from my side of the fence.

So now I'm done whining. Here's what I would tell myself, if I had the opportunity to step back in time 10 years and give myself the benefit of my not-particularly-hard-won experience:

* There's nothing wrong with being the one making overtures towards friendship. If everyone took your approach of waiting for the other person to initiate or maintain contact, then no-one would be friends with anyone.

* There's also nothing wrong with not being an extroverted socialite, and having a few close, treasured friends.

* That said, even if you're being rejected as much as you can bear, and you think this is somehow proof that no-one likes you, you're probably wrong. Being rejected as much - or even muc more - that you can stand is, if you're somewhat introverted and possessed of low self-esteem, about the normal amount that everyone else is being rejected, you're just taking it harder than they are.

* Things like this do, in fact, get easier as you get older. Out of high school, and out of university, people and society are generally more subtle and nuanced about this sort of thing, and etiquette is generally structured to make sure everyone has an easy a time of it as possible.

* Try not to spend as much time in your head thinking about this sort of stuff. Most of the time you'll be going in unhelpful circles rather than achieving anything useful. Join as many clubs at university centred on things you're interested in as you can, do some local volunteer work, start a band if you're musically inclined, work with people on collaborative art projects - anything which provides a natural setting for talking to and interacting with people regularly, on topics and in situations you're interested in can only be a good thing.

* Try to get out of your comfort zone as much as you can. My comfort zone is relatively well appointed, and there's a fair bit to do in there, but it's fucking small, frankly, and could do with an extension or loft conversion or at the very least a redecoration every now and again.

My particular bugbear is public speaking, which is aggravating since it's something I should be good at - I enjoy writing, and improvised, seat of the pants thinking, I'm just crippled by fear when too many people have their focus on me. If you can regularly put yourself in situations which are an amplified version of something you're already insecure about, then the situations that crop up much more often sort of have the noise turned down as a result. You might even find that once you've got over the initial crippling fear, you enjoy the nervous energy you get from doing it on following occasions. I've joined a public speaking group to practice this, and I still find it terrifying, but very enjoyable nonetheless, and I've met people - and different types of people - that I wouldn't have otherwise.
posted by Jon Mitchell at 11:57 PM on January 29, 2007 [9 favorites]

The thing is, if you're not that interested in other people, you can't imagine why they might be interested in you. What you have to develop is a genuine curiosity in other people.

You've surely heard the expression "Interested people are interestING". Well it's like that.
posted by mjao at 12:03 AM on January 30, 2007 [1 favorite]

If it makes you feel any better, I think many people struggle with just these same questions. This probably isn't much comfort, but know that you aren't alone.

Though you want to be an integral part of a group, the answer really starts with finding out who you are as an individual -- what makes you feel good? I'll bet you can figure out three to five activities in your life that invariably make you feel better after you've taken part in them.

For me, the answers involve regular exercise (something that's underrated, I think, among all genders and age levels for improving self image and mood); performing creative tasks like writing; and getting outside, whether it be to take photographs or just see new places.

That will help address your self-esteem issues, I think. You'll also notice that many of these activities -- maybe for you it's drawing, or yoga, or a sport, or acting -- will help you meet people with common interests. Forming a bond over shared tasks, especially tasks that generate positive feelings. might be more effective than just sharing classes with people.

You can also use this as a starting point to try new things you've always wanted to, and people who try new things are interesting. It'll give you more in common with people, more to talk about when you meet new folks, and help you think of yourself as someone with much to contribute.

As for the other part of your question -- how to create a normal social life for yourself -- that's a very broad query. The general advice I can offer is this: Remember that most everybody could use another friend. It takes courage and effort to continue to offer friendship, but it's rewarding.

For specific techniques, I'd suggest you try to create routines that are almost like appointments with friends. Depending on what you and your friends like, that might be "on Fridays I have lunch with X and Y." If it becomes a habit, it's easier to keep up with it.
posted by jeffmshaw at 12:12 AM on January 30, 2007 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Well, the thing is, I am interested in other people. I don't have any problem casually socializing; I'm not that terribly introverted even. I love to listen to people and find out about them.
My problem is I can't seem to believe that people find me as interesting as I find them. I don't see why they would be. I assume they're much more interesting and well-adjusted than I am, and then I figure they probably don't like me very much because why would they, when they have so much going for them? I don't try to be their friend because I figure they don't want to be friends with me.
posted by MadamM at 12:15 AM on January 30, 2007

Jon Mitchell above makes some good points... sometimes you just have to widen your circle of acquaintances as far as you can. Also if it makes you feel any better, I'm in my late 30s and have come to realize that a majority of people are not really interested in maintaining friendships unless they're convenient -and- beneficial. People these days are just too comfortable in their daily grind, especially once they settle into their careers, and when family comes along that's often all the social scene that's needed beyond token acquaintances outside the family.

As far as the minutae of your problem, here are some things I would look at:

1. Lack of self-confidence. In short, no one wants to hang out with a loser. There's a slew of ways to fix this though.

2. Inability to share your feelings. Maybe people can't connect with you, or can't relate to you. I've had a few friends that seem to be behind a glass window; hanging out with them just means the usual small talk and banter.

3. No demonstrated interest in others. Think back on your conversations with others... do you often talk casually about -their- life and concerns? Throughout my life I've met a surprising number of nice people who were only focused on their own lives. I grew to dislike hanging out with them.

4. No interests/hobbies/activities. If you don't have any life experiences and a dry personality, there may be little you can offer friendshipwise.

5. Aspergers Syndrome? Since you mentioned having little need for friends in your childhood, I would take a look at this as there's a gold mine of coping skills to be learned that would help. More than likely your problems are just security/esteem, but I wouldn't rule this out.
posted by rolypolyman at 12:23 AM on January 30, 2007 [3 favorites]

My advice, and I know it's not great but it's my opinion, is to just start observing social niceties. Manners exist for a reason, and one of those reasons is so that everyone can feel like they're on equal grand. As long as you realize that anytime you see someone you know, there is a context, you will be fine. The context is just that you know then and the polite thing to do is to say hi. If they don't say hi back, they are the ones with bad manners and you can gossip about them later with your real friends-- the ones who you'd never think twice about saying hi too!

The more you are out there, the more people you'll meet and the more chance you'll have a real connection. College is great for that.
posted by cell divide at 12:29 AM on January 30, 2007 [1 favorite]

Take a Myers-Briggs personality test (here's one example) and read about your most likely personality type(s). You'll discover your natural strengths and weaknesses, so you'll have a better idea what to focus on.

I am also shy about asking people to hang out, and I've found that a useful technique is to say, "Hey, I'm going to [some activity] tonight. Want to come along?" If they say no, it's no big deal because I was going to do it anyway (which usually isn't true).

I've had self-esteem issues, but turned it into a positive by turning all my self-hatred ("I'm ugly", "I don't understand finance") into motivation for self-improvement (going to the gym, reading finance books). A self-esteem boost comes from realizing that, even if I have flaws, I can become great at anything because I work on improving myself. Most people don't visit sites like Ask MeFi to improve themselves like we do!
posted by deepbeep at 12:31 AM on January 30, 2007 [1 favorite]

I'll tell you the secret. You have to need something from other people. No matter how shy or introverted you are, if you aproach someone in a manner that you are trying actually be friends with them, you will discover that they will be great friends to you. If you don't care about them, there will be no friendship.
posted by markesh at 12:35 AM on January 30, 2007

Best answer: i tell myself,
"you're comparing your insides to other people's outsides,
and it's impossible to make guts look as pretty as skin."

here are the rules i play by.

1. wear a FRIENDLY FACE in public.
i have the kind of face that can look mean (small eyes, big lower jaw), so i have to go out of my way to look nice- i do this by lifting my eyebrows a bit when i look at people, so i look "ready" and cheerful. a friend has crooked teeth that make her shy to smile- but it's way more important to have a friendly smile than perfect teeth- she reminds herself to smile at new acquaintences.

2. always GREET EVERY PERSON in a group.
it's okay to be shy but you must not be rude. not saying hi is very, very rude.
so greet people by name. go around the circle if you must. when you enter a party, for instance, you want to do this: "hi kira, hey alison, oh, um, hi, i'm michelle, what's your name? oh, nice to meet you, ben. hey lisa." it sounds a little awkward to you- but to kira, alison, ben, and lisa, it sounds nice. you want every person to feel singled out & special.
if verbal greeting seems inappropriate in the moment, give a distinct friendly look to each person and silently greet them. with friends, you can make a face or a gesture- a wink, thumbs-up, high-five, etc. if you don't know them well, just smile at them or mouth "hi" with a little smile.

greetings are very important. do not exclude anyone! ever! they will notice and feel hurt. if you accidentally do exclude someone, mention it and make up for it- "oh my god, patrick, i didn't even say hi to you when i came in. i must have seen something shiny and got distracted. i'm sorry-- how are you!"

after you acknowledge every person in the group, it's okay to not talk much and just listen.

3. try to make a PHYSICAL APPROACH when you meet someone for the first time, or whenever you see someone you like. lean forward a bit when you say hi, or smile and slightly point your chin towards them, or wave, or wink, shake hands, cheek-kiss, etc etc- whatever the etiquette is in that gathering. never meet a person without leaning towards them a bit. physically extending yourself towards them is friendly and polite. it will make them feel liked, so they'll be more likely to include you later because they're confident you like them and will accept.

basically if you do those three things, you'll seem "receptive", which will counteract your shyness and help you not seem standoffish. people will feel that you like them, so then they'll be confident enough to take the lead and do lots more of the work in inviting you places.

i think it's great that you're trying to fix these habits, by the way. to me that indicates that you're sensitive, observant, and willing to work towards personal change- which are three of the most valued personal traits among everyone i think is cool.
posted by twistofrhyme at 12:46 AM on January 30, 2007 [18 favorites]

work with groups of KIDS. adults are just giant kids, and watching groups of kids will help you identify the subtext of groups of adults.

HELP THE UNDERDOG. the best time to be friendly to people- the time you'll get the most bang-for-your-friendly-buck- is when they feel vulnerable. it happens to everyone, so pay attention. for instance, when someone does a presentation- watch them as it ends: they're like little kids- they're a bit embarassed but they *deeply* hope they did a good job. that's the moment to catch their eye and smile with a little mime of "that was good". they'll be so grateful- that little smile will make their day.
if someone's mean or rude to someone else, catch the victim's eye and show them you're on their side. if someone sneezes, say bless you. if they trip on the stairs, look concerned, then smile that it's okay. compliment new haircuts and notice new clothing choices. catch them when they need your niceness, and it counts double!

watch NBC's THE OFFICE, and act like jim and pam, who are basically the most likeable people on TV. they're fun and playful, and most of all, they're kind when people truly need it.

MOVIES are easy to talk about. keep up to date.

and finally, BUG STORIES are a conversational coup. next time you have a weird run-in with a big hairy bug, anecdotalize it at a party- keep it short and colourful- then watch the conversation take off like a rocket, because everyone can contribute. bug stories are funny, apolitical, and make the teller seem flailey and undignified, which is always likeable. i've recesuitated many a dying brunch with the 60second story of the day my cat found the darth vader of kingdom insecta, a shiny segmented fucker that was BIGGER THAN HIS PAW, and how i hyperventilated and giggled with terrified hysteria as i doused that terrorist asshole bug with windex and flushed his ass down the can.
posted by twistofrhyme at 1:16 AM on January 30, 2007 [5 favorites]

Best answer: It sounds like you actually interact with people quite well, which can itself be a difficult goal to achieve for many people in similar situations.

When you say "I can't seem to believe that people find me as interesting as I find them," how does that feel to you, when you think of times where you've been in that position? It sounds like the kind of thing to me that would inspire, at its root, fear and/or anxiety. Fear of rejection is quite a common thing, especially in the context of taking a friendship to the next level, because it also requires a higher level of intimacy from you. You have to put your emotional being more on the line, which increases the potential "damage" if you're hurt.

Changing the way you look at yourself is a process of unlearning the negative behavior of being down on yourself, by reinforcing a positive image of yourself, over time. First, you have to be willing to accept (conceptually, mentally) that you are a worthwhile, interesting person. Make a list of the things that you like about yourself. Keep it handy; you'll want to refer back to it.

Next comes the reinforcement part. When you find yourself feeling like you're not really that great/smart/interesting/etc., you need to name that behavior, call yourself out, bust out your list, and refute those feelings. This may seem silly, especially at first. But over time, you'll realize that being down on yourself is actually the silly behavior, and it will get easier to see yourself as the truly great/intelligent/inspiring person that you are. I'd encourage you to update your list as you go, too. Trust me, you'll find more stuff to put there.

So how does this help you make long-lasting friendships? Well, when you feel good about yourself, it becomes easier to bring that out for other people to experience, and to not be afraid of that "next step." I would encourage you to practice that behavior too. Sure, you'll get some rejections here and there. You'll probably make a number of rejections yourself. But there's nothing like a good friend or three to help you reinforce those positive feelings about yourself. And you'll be doing the same for them. And that's what friendship is all about.
posted by Brak at 1:17 AM on January 30, 2007 [2 favorites]

OK, you're an introvert. Welcome to our exclusive club.

Pick up a copy of Dale Carnegie's How to Win Friends and Influence People. It's a guide for folks like you and me, to help us understand what we can do to be real friends to others.
posted by ikkyu2 at 2:50 AM on January 30, 2007

I used to have your problem MadamM, and I still do to some extent, but I try and not let it bother me as much as I used to. The nagging vioce is still there, that tells you that you're not good enough to warrant any attention, but that's not the truth. (If you weren't interesting/friendly/unique, then people would not like to spend time with you. But they do.) So if you're asking what you can do to overcome this feeling of inadequacy, the first thing to do is to stop thinking along those lines.
As far as your problem about making new friends outside of class is concerned, why not find who you are first, and then go about making new friends who suit your needs, and whose needs you can fulfill.
How do you go about doing that--well, ask yourself what your likes and dislikes are, and don't be afraid to acknowledge them. Be assertive with yourself, and tell that voice in your head to shut-up. You're only as good as you allow yourself to be, so don't give up. Let your hair down, and don't be so guarded with your emotions and your feelings. One of the best ways that I realized about making friends with people who were new to me was to open up to them. Sure, it'll be clumsy at first, and you'll be afraid that they might laugh at you, but they won't--not if they're worth having anyway. So chin up and go get em tiger, er, ress... tigress:)
posted by hadjiboy at 6:31 AM on January 30, 2007

Try arranging to go to a movie with one of your close friends, then invite someone from one of your classes that you talk to but don't hang out withh-- just say "hey, me and my friend are going to see Pan's Labyrinth today, would you like to come too?"
Even if they say no, they'll be flattered and they'll understand that you think of them as a friend and not just an aquaintance.
Or invite them to the mall, or to eat lunch with you. Trust me, they won't be offended, nearly everyone wants more friends anyways.
posted by Citizen Premier at 7:26 AM on January 30, 2007

My problem is I can't seem to believe that people find me as interesting as I find them. I don't see why they would be. I assume they're much more interesting and well-adjusted than I am, and then I figure they probably don't like me very much because why would they, when they have so much going for them? I don't try to be their friend because I figure they don't want to be friends with me.

I understand what you're feeling here, but -- what if they DON'T need you to be interesting? They may be looking for traits like loyalty, or good listening, or enthusiasm or logic.

I have a few friends who, if you were counting attributes, might seem externally less-interesting. (No hobbies, not an exciting job, no risk-taking.) I need these people in particular in my life and I don't need them to be any more interesting. They're the people I can get to do things with me because they've never done them before. They're the people who will listen to my problems and give me some focused attention. (Some of my more "interesting" friends can be too self-absorbed.) They ask great questions and are insightful with feedback. I have one friend who's never dated at all, but she discusses love and committment from such an unusually naive point-of-view that I love talking to her about it. It makes her so much more interesting to me than the friends of mine who've dated every kind of human on earth.

In short: don't sweat being "interesting" because not everyone needs their friends to be so. And maybe you'd be interesting by their criteria anyhow, just because you're different than they are.
posted by xo at 9:24 AM on January 30, 2007 [2 favorites]

Hey, if you're on MeFi you must be interesting! Right? At least that's what I keep telling myself... But seriously, you sound a lot like I did at 17.

Being a 17 year old girl, I worry about my physical appearance as well.

That's pretty normal for 17, you are still getting used to yourself. Try taking some dance classes, or some sort of sport, preferably one populated by women with a variety of body shapes and ages. The idea is to develop a positive attitude towards your body.

I usually don't even acknowledge them.

This is read by others as 'being unfriendly'. Practice smiling at people and greeting them, an easy way to start is with people who work at a store or restraunt.

How can I change my wokring image of myself into something that deserves other people's time and attention?
First -- you are a "someone"! You need to reprogram yourself in having a better opinion of yourself, it's just an opinion, and the 17 of us who commented and 15 who favorited your post (so far) dissagree with that. Check out What to Say When You Talk to Your Self , I've used it for this same problem. It's full of little scripts that you can read to yourself in the mirror each morning (for bonus points you can notice how pretty you are, and pratice making eye contact with yourself at the same time). This will feel really silly, but it actually works. You can add in your own positive messages to yourself too.
posted by yohko at 11:26 AM on January 30, 2007

It's mainly about keeping responses to others positive rather than negative and making every response in a converstion an attempt to keep it going rather than tying it up in a neat package.

Maintain eye contact. Smile.

Narrative Therapy and Cognitive Therapy can help. In each, the therapist helps you recognize what you're doing that frustrates others' attempts to make and maintain contact.
posted by KRS at 11:45 AM on January 30, 2007

I was very similar to you, and actually still struggle quite a bit with my introvertedness. I will tell you that it does get much easier to socialize in college. In High School, social structures have already been established to a large extent and for the most part everybody has known each other since they were 12 or so. In college, nobody knows each other when you get there and everybody is trying to figure out their own identity free from the expectations of parents or old friends. It might take a little bit of time (for me it didn't really happen until sophmore year) but at a certain point, it becomes difficult to not be social in college. Join clubs and go to parties. Even if you feel uncomfortable at first, give it a chance and stick it out.

Sports are particularly good for this. I didn't consider myself athletically inclined at all before college, but there are plenty of club or intramural (minimally competitive) teams at college that will provide you with an instant social network. For me, it was Ultimate Frisbee (which I would recommend you try if you haven't before), but I bet you can find a club that interests you. Teams practice together, party together, and travel together, giving you plenty of opportunities to interact socially.

As for how to feel like an integral part of a group rather than a pathetic hanger-on, this is kind of tough for us introverts. One thing I've noticed is that it's very easy to get sidelined in a conversation with 3 or more people, particularly if it's a heated discussion. I often find myself with something I want to say, but can't find a break in the conversation to interject. By the time there's a break, the topic has already moved on. It can be very frustrating. If this happens to you, you need just a slight amount of assertiveness. Not to the point of interrupting somebody of course, but you might start at the same time, and then say "oh sorry, go ahead." That way they will know you have something to add and will include you in the conversation. You should use this sparingly and politely, but it really is better than just sitting by silently while everyone else talks. Even if you want to talk, if you are not assertive enough, people will assume that you're not interested in the conversation or don't have anything to say and will continue to ignore you. If you've expressed an interest, you will be included more readily.

Your first assumption that people won't have any reason to like you is something I share as well, but it's something you can get over. I'm guessing that like me, you weren't one of the "popular kids" and maybe even got picked on a bit when you were younger. The damage that this does on your self-esteem is subtle but very real and can really weigh on you if you aren't careful. Middle school can be brutal for those of us who weren't in the elite social circle. It gets much better in High School when people grow up a bit (I'm sure you've noticed). By the time you get to college, "popularity" matters not at all. I don't really have any advice on how you should get over this feeling, because for me, it just kind of dawned on me one day. I thought, "you know, I'm really not that ugly, kind of fun to hang out with, and good at lots of stuff...hey, I'm actually a pretty cool guy." From there, I took the attitude that if people didn't want to be friends with me, it was their loss, since they were missing out on hanging out with somebody fun. People respond to confidence. There's no magical way to get it except by constantly trying to improve yourself. Since you're posting here asking for help, it sounds like you're already on the way. Most 17 year olds don't really have it yet. Hang in there.

Also, don't think of your introvertedness as an unqualified negative. There are some great things to learn to appreciate about being introverted. It gives you time for personal contemplation and makes you a bit more comfortable being by yourself. Once you've made some good friends, it lets you be comfortable just sitting around in silence instead of awkwardly saying something to fill the silence. One good thing is that since you are shy, it takes somebody very outgoing and social to approach you. I find that a lot of my good friends are extremely outgoing and friendly because they are the ones that had to approach me. So don't worry about not being the one to instigate overtures, it can be a good thing too.

Just remember there's nothing wrong with you. It might take a little more work, practice, and conscious effort for people like us to socialize, but you can definitely train yourself to do so.

And just in case that doesn't work, they don't call alcohol a social lubricant for nothing (Disclaimer: after you turn 21 of course).
posted by SBMike at 12:46 PM on January 30, 2007 [1 favorite]

Oh, and you should realize that making friends can be very much a hit-or-miss phenomenon. There are a few people I meet with whom I develop an instant rapport and immediately feel comfortable around. I call these people "clickers" and they are very rare. If you find one or several, congratulations, pursue these friendships somewhat aggresively. The vast majority of people out there aren't clickers though. You can still develop meaningful friendships with these other people, but it requires spending a decent amount of time together. Sometimes you end up hanging out with people once and then have the relationship just fizzle out. Some people you end up hanging out with periodically and somewhat randomly without it seeming like the friendship is "going anywhere." Sometimes a friendship will develop over a period of time. All of these are valid and shouldn't discourage you. Don't spend too much time worrying about the fizzlers. Sometimes friendship just isn't in the cards for two people, even if it seems like you would get along really well.
posted by SBMike at 1:04 PM on January 30, 2007 [1 favorite]

College is the PERFECT opportunity for you to make and keep new friends! Your slate is wiped clean- no one knows those embarassing stories from elementary school- and all the freshman starting at the same time as you are in the same boat- away from home, looking for new friends.

Make sure and attend as many orientation activites at your college as possible- the fun stuff, anyway. :)

DEFINITELY acknowledge people outside of the classroom (or wherever you know them from)- at least smile and say hi- if you don't acknowledge them, then they assume you don't want to be friends outside of the classroom or wherever you know them.

A lot of people talk about how self-esteem will really help you. Yes, but sometimes it's hard to just generate self-esteem out of nowhere. I found it helped me to pretend. Pretend like you're interesting and have all the self-confidence in the whole world. At the very least, try to figure out the signs you give off that say "low self esteem"- can't meet eyes, self-deprecating comments- and do the opposite everytime you have the urge to do those. Watch someone who seems friendly and extroverted and see what they do. I'm not saying try to act like someone you're not- but sometimes acting can actually change your feelings (like acting happy when you're depressed can actually make you happy).

Also- all those negative thoughts running through your head when you're in a friendly encounter- nix them. Do whatever you can to NOT think those things. Distract yourself- catalog the other person's freckles, try to really listen to what they're saying- whatever it takes to excise those negative thoughts from your head.

I did this when I joined college- I had low self-esteem concerning boys. So, when I was flirting with a boy (or attempting to) I made sure to not think about my small boobs, or why would this guy ever be into me? I acted the part of a sexy co-ed and it worked, even if I wasn't sure if I had a great body, etc (sounds a little demeaning now, but I needed it). The REAL self-esteem booster came later when I snagged one of those guys who was stunned when he found out about my body issues and now tells me everyday how hot I am (to the point where I'm bored of it, frankly). ;) But I wouldn't have gotten to that point without faking it first.

One more thing- people like people who make them feel good. Like a lot of people said above, if you act interested in someone they will love to talk about themselves. Don't worry about whether you're interesting not- the more they talk the more you can relate what they're saying to your own experiences and add your input. It's not just about listening to make them feel good, but also identifying with them and showing you can relate.

One more tip (hehe)- if possible, try to make friends with someone is really extroverted- they might not be the closest friend you make (sometimes extroverted ppl have a hard time retaining friends because they're all over the place) but they will surely introduce you to a million more. Take advantage of their network.

Hope this all helps! Like I said, college is the perfect opportunity for your self esteem to blossom (that's when mine did). Take risks, invite someone you think is cool to eat at the dining hall with you after class. Ask someone to come over and study and then have a few beers afterwards or watch a movie. The friends I made in college have become my best friends in life- you will prob. have a lot more in common with your college friends than high school, and thus more to talk about. :)

My advice is to go to a college away from home and not a state schools- state schools tend to attract locals who are all already friends with each other, and they can be huge and overwhelming. Go to smaller, more intimate college far away from home- then it's guaranteed everyone is in the same boat and is definitely looking for new friends. You will all bond like crazy being out of your comfort zones. :)

Sorry for the long response, I just had a really positive college experience regarding self-esteem and friends, and it saddens me when I hear others talk about their schools like it's no big deal or just a nuisance they had to get out of the way so they can get a job. It is SO much more than that. :)
posted by thejrae at 1:24 PM on January 30, 2007

I believe you've stated two goals that might not be that obvious to you.

1. You want to be sociable.
2. You want to be interesting to those you encounter, so they will seek you out.

Since you are 17, you've not encountered active listening yet. I think you will find that using active listening skills will draw conversation out of people. I encourage you to use this method to become sociably attractive, i.e. interesting, to others.

2. You mentioned playing imaginary games. Let me suggest that you transform your imaginary games into stories that just have to be retold. Now, no one will want to hear about your imaginary games, so portray them as coming from a book you read, a Dear Abby-type letter, or Dr. Drew conversation, a blog you read, Tiger Beat or Weekly World News. With all the information and entertainment sources out there these days, I doubt whether you'll be called out on your little fabrication.

That means you have to learn how to tell a story, i.e, communicate from inside your head through your mouth and into a interested ear. Sort of like an elevator speech, another term you are not going to be familiar with. See the links for some instructional guidance.

* The crafting of an effective Elevator Speech
* Worksheet to help develop your elevator speech
* Story Spline for shaping your business story

Develop a sense of humor. Honestly, take look at almost any internet dating personal ad out there. People want to laugh and enjoy someone with a sense of humor. Read and study how to be fun/funny. It is a social skill that is worth cultivating. I know. I've been working diligently on my sense of humor, meaning minimizing my use of sarcasm and increasing puns and word play.

Finally, rent the movie documentary, What the Bleep Do We Know?. It will open up new realms of possibility for changing yourself.
posted by choragus at 9:24 PM on January 30, 2007 [1 favorite]

As someone who went from being extremely introverted to more extroverted, I can tell you that you can definitely learn to interact better with people and make friends. The important thing to realize is that with people, just like with anything else, there's a system to be learned, and it's something you can definitely learn given enough time and practice. Since you're fairly introverted, you probably learn well from books. Here are some to get you started: How to Win Friends and Influence People, First Impressions, How to Start a Conversation and Make Friends, How to Make People Like You in 90 Seconds or Less, and Social Intelligence.

These books will give you lots of specific actions and techniques to add to your social toolkit, but what it all boils down to is this: People will like you based on how you good you make them feel. And there are plenty of ways to make people feel good: by participating in shared interests, doing things together, listening to them and learning about who they are, empathizing with them and understanding their problems, providing advice and knowledge, deep philosophical conversation, by telling stories, by being funny... there are loads of ways to interact with people and make them feel good.
posted by lsemel at 10:01 PM on February 2, 2007

MadamM, don't be so hard on yourself. First of all, as you described preferred your own company and not feeling the worse for it, you are a classic Introvert. Nothing wrong about that, perfectly normal, and you are in excellent company. I recommend you get a hold of The Introvert Advantage a great book by Marti Olsen Laney.

Secondly you describe not being able to move past casual friendships with others. Is it possible that you are also a little shy? That could be part of it. And lacking the skill to move to the next level. BTW, being introverted and shy are two separate things. Not all introverts are shy and not all shy people are introverts.

Anyway, as a moderately shy introvert myself, who has also let friendships slide, I can tell you that moving past just being casual acquaintances comes down to spending time with people outside of work or school settings. You will have to drum up the nerve to say, "I enjoyed talking with you, casual acquaintance. Let's have coffee sometime." or "Hey, causual acquaintance, Ryan Adams is coming this weekend. Do you like him? Yeah? Well, I'm going. Do you want to go with me?"

If you're shy, this is pretty scary stuff. But it's the only way you're going to get the necessary face time with casual acquaintances to turn them into friends. This has worked for me. I befriended another shy person at a past job and now we're fast friends who frequently go to movies and plays together.
posted by PartyGirlNot! at 11:35 AM on January 16, 2008

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