I don't have any real life friends. What should I do?
June 23, 2008 5:57 AM   Subscribe

I don't have any real life friends. What should I do?

I was a fairly lonesome kid: the only friend I ever made myself was before elementary school, and the rest I either met through him or online. Even though we all saw each other almost daily in school, I almost never socialized with them: when we got together for lunch, I usually sat by myself, instead opting to communicate with them on an online forum after I got home. I'm still friends with a lot of these people, but we vary rarely talk or meet in real life.

Things weren't any better in college. I made a few acquaintances during the first half of my freshman year, but we haven't really met after I moved. During the second half of my freshman year, I made absolutely no friends and had almost no meaningful conversations with anyone. My sophomore year was a bit better, as I lived with a roommate and gradually learned to be open with him.

My main problem is that I'm extremely anxious about my social partner(s) being comfortable with my presence. I hate awkward moments, and I hate being in situations that I can't easily get out of if I screw up. This fear prevents me from being in situations in which I'm a "host" - phone calls, parties, hanging out - or where I'm invited by myself, such as meeting someone over coffee.

I'm also not a very good conversationalist. My interests are a bit obscure, so finding stuff to talk about often takes effort and leads to awkward pauses. If the other party stops talking, I'm not very good at picking up the conversation. This doesn't happen when I'm totally comfortable with the other person, but so far nobody has met this criterion aside from my family and roommate. I can't be comfortable with someone if I'm trying to make them like me!

Group conversations are much easier for me, but my personality and hobbies seem rather niche (apolitical, moderate, whimsical, and geeky), and I don't really know where to find groups of people who share them. I also vastly prefer socializing with women, but I'm extremely awkward around them and often end up blushing and tongue-tied.

People say I should join in conversations, but it always seems like I'm intruding. I tried joining a few college clubs, but ended up never saying anything.

I have absolutely no trouble making friends online, by the way. In fact, I used to instant message random people just to talk to someone when I got lonely.

So my question is: how do I make friends? And not just acquaintances, but intelligent, interesting friends who unconditionally want to be around me? How do I fight my fears and become a better conversationalist? How do I join in conversations without being awkward? How do I become more confident around women?

Sorry for this heap of neuroses.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (34 answers total) 31 users marked this as a favorite
I'm not sure I can answer all your questions, but as far as this one goes:

how do I make friends? And not just acquaintances, but intelligent, interesting friends who unconditionally want to be around me?

I would say that it's a mistake to think that being a good friend means wanting to be around someone 'unconditionally'. Perhaps you have too high expectations of what friendship needs to be, and so constantly see failure whenever you try and spark up something new. It's ok to have a friend whom you only see once in a while, or however often you feel comfortable with.

You said that you didn't have trouble talking with people online -- if you can develop enough of rapport with someone online, why not try and meet them face to face at some point? Again, 'friendship' doesn't mean that you have to share all your intimate details with them right away or spend hours and hours together. Meet for a drink/coffee/lunch/walk in the park. Time limit to an hour beforehand and make up other plans that you have to get to. That way there is no pressure about when to end the meeting. This works well for first dates too -- it takes a lot of the pressure off.

I think friendships are like romantic relationships in that sometimes they can be instant and full-blown, but they can also be gradually-building and slow burning, and there's no justification to say that one route or outcome is better than the other.

Good luck.
posted by modernnomad at 6:10 AM on June 23, 2008

Maybe you have social anxiety. You can talk to a psychiatrist and maybe get a prescription for anti-depressants.
posted by delmoi at 6:10 AM on June 23, 2008 [1 favorite]

I can't be comfortable with someone if I'm trying to make them like me!

Hm, there is a lot going on here indeed. First thing : get this out of your mind as soon as possible, get rid of it. Most relationships develop throughout patterns and processes that seems natural, or that at least have enough enjoyment to offer to both parties, so that after a while they tend to forget about such statements as the one you mentionned. (sorry this sounds bad, im just keeping the main lines of what seems to go on). This one is for the awkwardness. How long has it been since you escaped formal settings, i mean, work, meeting people at school etc ? One of the keys, i find, is that you usually meet people the moment when you weren't expecting it... On the only good day when you were so content with your own company, that you had actually forgotten you were lonely for instance ^^. Now regarding rare /nerdy interests, its like everything else, if it is raren you need to cover a wider range of people in order to have more chances to come across such people. Believe me they exist, but i agree with the fact that its hard meeting them.... especially one you are out of school.

Talking about neurosis, i don't know how deep the negativ impact of this situation can be to you, but i could only guess, and since i have been there in the last year for some similar and non similar reasons, i'd advice cognitiv and behavioural therapy to you. it helps one deal with the expression of one's negativ self-images, lack of self-esteem, and so on. ... Don't take me wrong, these can occur in people who you wouldn't guess are overtaken by them.

One last thing i can underline, is that social networks take a whole lot of time to develop, and that NGO's, cultural/ethical/musical/non profit organisations groups, are full of very interesting people. Anything that you like doing on your free time, there should be a group or a place in your city, with people whith whom you could share it. I hope it gets better, really, it is never imposible, or late, for such things.
posted by Jireel at 6:18 AM on June 23, 2008

I'm afraid you just have to go out and meet people. Do it, look like an idiot, learn from mistakes, make friends, fall flat on your face -- it doesn't matter, be thick skinned and put yourself out in those hostile environments instead of protecting your persona behind an online wall. Don't overthink and overanalyze this stuff.

Also, if your interests are niche try some more mainstream stuff for a bit, most of it isn't so bad. You could also try hanging out with guys instead because it's easier and generally most of them are too laid back to care about all the stuff you're wondering about.
posted by the_ancient_mariner at 6:25 AM on June 23, 2008 [1 favorite]

the_ancient_mariner nailed it. Improving your social life isn't easy, but it's pretty simple.
posted by mpls2 at 6:27 AM on June 23, 2008

There are mates and there are friends, and there are close friends.
In my experience, close friends are rarer, friends less so, and mates are reasonably easy to aquire. It's about expectaions. Close friends start out being mates.
So that's where I would focus your efforts. Indeed, you won't find a close friend, they will find you. It is a numbers game though, the more you get out amongst it, the better your odds.

I wouldn't worry about your interests not being mainstream, that can be intresting to others. Perhaps talking about those topics is where you can find confidence, build on them. Everything is related, so for every interest you have, there will be other intrests closely related to them, so you could broaden your scope that way.

For awkward silences, you could try asking a question. Some people love to talk, some prefer to listen.

It sounds like you lack confidence, and that isn't uncommon.
Confidence is the absence of fear. Find the source of your fear and deal with that.
I am not a doctor, etc.

Good luck, mate.
posted by matholio at 6:38 AM on June 23, 2008

If you dont' mind me asking anonymous, what are your hobbies?

This is a really good start. Many people just don't have hobbies and are in a similar situation. It sounds trite, but it's very true. A shared interest can often open the doors to other interests/discoveries etc.

I wouldn't discount seeking people with similar interests.

Also, regarding meeting people for coffee or being in social situations, it takes practice.
posted by mattoxic at 6:40 AM on June 23, 2008

you mentioned that you have fairly obscure interests. start seeking people out who share one or two of those. meetup.com may be your friend here.

I'm not going to say anything about the larger picture. it seems you already know you should have a few conversations with a professional if you wish to deal with the larger issues.
posted by krautland at 6:43 AM on June 23, 2008

Presumably you like what you're studying, yes? Usually when you like something, it's easier to talk about it than about random things like current events or the weather. Maybe there is a big test or project coming up in one of your classes? Next class, ask the person sitting next to you (or someone else in class who seems approachable) if they would be interested in studying together one evening. You have a built-in conversation topic that you know is of some interest to both of you, so go from there. Don't worry about awkward pauses in the conversation. You can pretend you are looking for something in your notes if it really bothers you.

And you said you've already checked out some clubs. There are tons more clubs out there. I suggest you look for one where you DO something, rather than talk about stuff. It's much easier to strike up a conversation with someone when you are both focused on DOing than with TALKing. So volunteer to hand out water bottles at a local running race. Is there a Habitat for Humanity project on campus? Join an intramural team, if you're at all inclined that way.

And also? Take a deep breath and remember that nobody cares (or will even notice) if YOU act awkward, because they are too worried about appearing awkward themselves. Most people are just like you, and a friendly hello may be all you need to get a conversation started.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 6:54 AM on June 23, 2008

You can start small.

Whatever you do, keep remembering that many other people have this sort of problem, even if it's not quite as bad. If you can put them at ease somehow and make them feel that you like them, they might have an easier time doing the same for you. How to do that depends on your style. I feel better with people when they seem to listen to me, care about what I'm saying, and give a real smile from time to time.

Also notice if there's anyone else who seems to be less social or socially successful than average. It might be because they're obnoxious, but maybe it's because they're also shy.

By the way, it's definitely saying something if you managed to get along well with a random roommate. (And if he wasn't random that means he chose to live with you, which is saying something too.)
posted by lullabyofbirdland at 6:56 AM on June 23, 2008

2nding seeking treatment for social anxiety.
posted by cowbellemoo at 6:58 AM on June 23, 2008

Other people are just as anxious and awkward and afraid as you are. They want to look good for YOU. It's OK to be all these things, and get out there anyway.

I can't be comfortable with someone if I'm trying to make them like me!

You can't make anyone like you any more than you can make someone like chocolate ice cream if what they really like is vanilla. You said you want unconditional friends. Then you have to be exactly who you are, because if they like you based on what you're pretending you are, then they CANNOT BY DEFINITION like/love you unconditionally. You've already set yourself up to fail. If you're being awkward and anxious, then you're being awkward and anxious. But you can decide to be something else. It's not faking, it's acknowledging "yes I'm afraid but I am going to do it anyway." That's being courageous. That's creating an opening to be something other than awkward and anxious.

Look, you learn to ride a bike, you ARE GOING TO FALL. it's inevitable. It may take you a great while to get the hang of it, but once you do you are going to have that forever. You can only get the hang of it if you keep getting back on the bicycle and be willing to fall down again and get scraped up. I taught myself to ride a bike when I was 22 because I never learned as a kid. I did in a local park and fell down repeatedly in front of eight year old kids who were effortlessly riding circles around me. I'm sure they were thinking I was an idiot. I did this for HOURS. And then I got it, and now I'm never going to forget how to ride a bike.

What kind of life do you want to live? You are worth taking the chance of falling down repeatedly. Your life is worthy of it.
posted by desjardins at 7:07 AM on June 23, 2008 [1 favorite]

Your first problem is the fear of talking to people and the second problem is the lack of friends. It is somewhat of a causal relationship.

nth social anxiety.
posted by k8t at 7:07 AM on June 23, 2008

By the way, your title is dishonest. You already know what you "should" do. You don't have to ask us or get permission from us. You know. It's a matter of doing it.
posted by desjardins at 7:10 AM on June 23, 2008

I'm going to advocate in favor of two things that have really helped me with my social anxieties:

1. Toastmasters. There's probably a club at your university, and if not, there will be one in your nearby community, though it may be a somewhat older crowd than you want to befriend. It'll help you learn to speak more clearly (the perception is that it's all about speeches, and that's definitely a focus, but it's also about communicating better in general, including more casual conversations) and also give you a hobby where you not only won't go to the meetings and never say anything, you can't possible go to the meetings and never say anything, since saying things is precisely the point of the meetings in the first place.

If you do join Toastmasters, ask around and see if one of the members has the 'Interpersonal Communications' advanced manual or if it can be ordered for you (advanced manuals are cheap). You can actually practice casual conversations, something that seems weird at first, but does help, and the manual can offer some suggestions on how.

2. Meetup.com. Your obscure interest is probably represented, and if it isn't, there are also lots of general social meetups. They're pretty low key, group events, and often groups have very casual meetings where you can show up for a relatively short time and leave again when your social anxiety starts freaking out. When I started working from home, I was well on my way to being a recluse, but now I'm one of the assistant organizers for my women's social group on meetup, and I have days in which I can't decide between which of the several social invitations I've received I'd most like to accept.

Other than that, go to the counselling center and ask for help with your social anxiety issues. Not necessarily medication, though there are probably drugs that would help, but even just counselling and therapy could help you.
posted by jacquilynne at 7:13 AM on June 23, 2008 [1 favorite]

Learn to talk to people. You sound like an intelligent person with lots of interesting ideas in your head. Learn how best to express them to others. I'd start by reading this book. It's so old, it's almost a cliche -- but it's actually filled with really useful advice.

Therapy would also help, but I would only seek medication as a last resort.

And in your attempts, if you try and fail, you have to learn to get over it, laugh it off, and try again.
posted by whiskeyspider at 7:39 AM on June 23, 2008

Nth recommendation for meetup.com. And I would add, just make it your goal to show up. Don't worry about saying a thing, there are lots of 'quiet' people out there. If you can just keep showing up, you will become more comfortable with people and the talking will just happen. I do not agree with people who say you've just got to get out there and force yourself to talk, because most of the talk you will encounter in the typical places (bars, clubs etc.) is inane drivel that you're not going to be interested in and any attempts to force it will be transparent & awkward.

So start with meetup, or something like it, to improve the chances of finding common ground. Then, show up -- and keep showing up. The talking will flow.
posted by mattholomew at 7:50 AM on June 23, 2008

Go to bars. You can either learn to like beer or not even drink, but this is a great place to have "regular" meets with friends. Or, if alcohol isn't your thing, try a coffee shop, etc. If you go to these "common" social places on a regular basis, say once or twice a week, you can't not develop a friendship with someone at some point. Talk about beer or coffee. These things are interesting! The idea, of course, is to move this relationship into a more trusting friendship.

You are not alone. Billions of people are "alone" and this brings us together.
posted by deep_sea_diving_suit at 7:52 AM on June 23, 2008

Whiskeyspider nailed it. That book has helped a lot of people become considerably less socially awkward, including my 17 year old daughter. Combine that with CBT therapy for your social anxiety, meds if prescribed (there is no shame in seeking to reduce the biochemical fight-or-flight response so that you have a shot at being comfortable in anxiety-inducing situations), patience with yourself, and putting yourself in social situations, and you will get there.
posted by notashroom at 7:52 AM on June 23, 2008

You sound like you need a social skills instructor. A psychiatrist can hook you up. A lot of people feel awkward in social situations because they somehow never quite picked up all the social cues that people use in their daily interactions. They then say or do awkward things which make them feel insecure about themselves often leading to even more awkward behavior. The book referenced above (How to Win Friends and Influence People) can help, but a social skills instructor can help more. You can teach yourself to play tennis with a book, but you will be a much better player if you use a tennis coach instead. The same goes for social skills.
posted by caddis at 8:08 AM on June 23, 2008 [1 favorite]

The real secret is this: You need to be good at something social that you can do on your own, and people will start talking to you, just like online. You need to become a leader. For example, join a taekwando school and practise all the time till you are good enough to train others. By the time you reach that stage, you will be social. You can develop on your own, but by being good, people will flock to you and you become a sort of leader.

This is a shortcut.
posted by ChabonJabon at 8:12 AM on June 23, 2008

Work against your anxiety gradient. In any given social situation, look for the path/action which causes you the most anxiety, and do that.
You'll fall flat on your face the first 2 or 12 times, but what doesn't kill you makes you stronger.
posted by signal at 8:30 AM on June 23, 2008

I'm in a similar boat. I used to have close friends that I hung out with all the time. But they have since moved away and thus aren't as 'close'(even though I email/chat with them everyday still.)

I have 3 main interests: anime, running, and scuba diving. I don't scuba dive enough. And watching anime and running are mainly things I like to do alone. Even though there are clubs for them which are mainly comprised of high school and college students. I'm a 30-something guy.

Might not be popular around here: I've been most successful meeting people at church. Church culture is such that they are pretty welcoming to new folks and want them to stick around. My own problem, personally, about that is having to get up on Sunday mornings.
posted by CrazyJoel at 8:37 AM on June 23, 2008

Do you think you might have Aspergers Syndrome? If so, you might be able to find a support group you can attend in your area.

I struggle similarly. One thing I noticed that helps is that at gatherings where the same group of people more or less tend to be included, there are usually some awkward and / or quiet types. It seems that just showing up consistently is enough for the other people to come to accept them consider them part of the group and they become accepted, awkwardness and all. That gives me hope. Good luck!
posted by WWJB at 8:46 AM on June 23, 2008

I hate awkward moments, and I hate being in situations that I can't easily get out of if I screw up.

Don't raise the stakes in your mind about a possible "awkward moment". A few awkward moments are inevitable, but also inconsequential. If you focus too much on avoiding them, you're setting yourself up for more of them. Slowly open up to people and hope they reciprocate.
posted by ersatz at 9:03 AM on June 23, 2008

posted by Jireel at 9:04 AM on June 23, 2008

In addition to the above mentioned "How to Win Friends & Influence People" I would also recommend this book.
posted by superduperfly at 10:02 AM on June 23, 2008

If you go to these "common" social places on a regular basis, say once or twice a week, you can't not develop a friendship with someone at some point

If you can get through years of school and college without developing any friendships, you can certainly get through endless time in a coffee shop, bar, etc, without doing so.
posted by Freaky at 11:10 AM on June 23, 2008

Go live in a hostel or large shared accommodation for a while. Especially with the hostel thing, you pretty much can't help but meet people, which is sort of a crucial start.

As an aside, beware not to start the most cliche conversation in a hostel "so where are you from?" its gets old real fast.
posted by figTree at 11:52 AM on June 23, 2008

Ask people about themselves. Be genuinely interested in other people - not just pretending to, but actually interested in them. Help people out. One of the things friends do is help each other. Volunteer. When someone who lives in your dorm is carrying something heavy in from their car, just go up and ask if you can help them. Be of service to others, and they will see your worth.
posted by MythMaker at 12:40 PM on June 23, 2008

I've always had a hard time making friends and I'm in a new town so I started going to meetups, now I have one really good friend and some friendly acquaintances.
posted by Melsky at 1:58 PM on June 23, 2008

the_ancient_mariner is wise. I'll add this. Currently you appear to view social mistakes as a reflection of your worth as a human. You'll know that you are on the right track when you view your social mistakes the same way you view other common mistakes, like when you mistype or misread a sentence. It's not a reflection on the worth of your self, it's just a mistake.

Ask people questions. As long as you are curious, kind, and ask in good faith, chances are it will lead to conversation.
posted by ferdydurke at 3:21 PM on June 23, 2008

Pretend you will be quizzed on a person's eye color after you're done talking to them - it'll get you to look them in the eyes.

Pretend your job is to learn as much as you can about the other person. It'll make every interaction more fun for both parties. You'll like it better because it's doable. You've succeeded if you've learned something about them.
posted by selfmedicating at 8:03 PM on June 23, 2008 [3 favorites]

To have a friend, you must be a friend. In other words, don't focus on what you may gain from a potential relationship, but what you may give.
posted by dudiggy at 10:48 PM on June 26, 2008

« Older buzz off   |   Public financing of campaigns. Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.