Why Don’t I Know How to Make Friends? (aka: Adult Friendships)

5 years later…

It’s disappointing how little has changed since I wrote this post. I’ve since joined additional Meetup groups and attended many. My work environment has changed. I engage in frequent conversations and generally get along very well with coworkers and people I meet. As always, I am friendly and kind and courteous. I listen to others and express interest in what they say. I am usually positive and cheerful, and never speak badly of anyone. And a year and a half ago, I spent time dating a wonderful man, and we had a positive connection.

But I still remain friendless.

And maybe it is me. I’m sure that I have a strong invisible barrier around me that keeps me from really trying hard enough to go from being friendly to friends with others. It is built out of fear that I will like someone more than they like me. Fear that they will like me, then they will change their minds and disappear. Fear that has been reinforced so much that it has become a reasonable expectation.

I would make a very good friend. I’m such a great person! And I like me. But I am 43 years old, and still chronically lonely — not so lonely that I’m willing to befriend someone who is bad for me, or unkind to others, or has little in common with me, but still quite alone. And I now accept that I will remain that way for the rest of my life.

The Girl From Jupiter

Shy adult can't make friends(Okay, a brief pause from poetry appreciation to address this confusing and overwhelming topic of friendship).

Why is it so hard to make friends as an adult? Okay, well, maybe it isn’t hard for most adults. Maybe many adults make acquaintances and friends easily, thanks to adept social skills, more outgoing personalities, etc. And certainly for many adults, it is less devastating when friendships end, because it is not so difficult to move on to the next friendship. I wish that I knew how to be that way.

But here I am, 38 years old and feeling once again like the misfit kid on the school playground, reading a book instead of playing tetherball – not because I don’t love to play tetherball, but because no one has invited me. Or because I asked to join the game and was told, no way, not you. So what do you do?…

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28 responses to “Why Don’t I Know How to Make Friends? (aka: Adult Friendships)

      • I’m thinking that it would be useful to address the invisible barrier perhaps through counselling (of course I say that I’m a counsellor – but I do believe there could be some real benefit). Also I actually learnt this week about the neurobiology behind the idea ‘fake it til you make it’ so while I don’t support faking who you are, perhaps just imagine that everyone you meet already is your friend and see where that experiment takes you?

      • Thank you for your ideas. Unfortunately, counseling is too costly for me right now (time away from work as well as money), so that’s out. I like the “imagine that everyone you meet is already your friend” idea, and I actually try to do that. But there’s a huge gap between getting along with strangers to have a friendly conversation or do something fun, and being on a level where you can text/call that person or get together to do things out of context (away from work or organized activities). That gap is like the Grand Canyon to me, and whenever I’ve tried to leap across, I’ve crashed. (Been ignored, gotten the brush-off, or found that we have nothing in common out of context). And this is about friendship, not dating or anything, so it seems like it shouldn’t be that hard, but it really is. And maybe it’s just as well that it never works, since I’m so afraid of getting too attached, then being rejected, anyway.

      • Where there’s a will there’s a way – I’d like to think you could access free or subsidised counselling, perhaps even out of hours (but we are in different countries – feel free to come to Oz for a free session!). That last sentence jumps out to me as being a big reason for the Grand Canyon Gap. I’m so proud of you for your efforts and encourage you to continue. If you assume everyone is your friend and you see something you’d like to take a friend to, ask, you seem to me like an incredibly strong woman who although hurt by rejections knows she can survive. Online is another good way to get to know people and personally I’d love to be an email/text buddy with you!

      • I’ve actually looked into the therapy thing before, a few months back. I make far too much money to qualify for anything subsidized (it just all goes toward life, raising teens), my benefits only cover 3 free sessions, and my health insurance only provides therapy if you have been diagnosed with a mental illness. Last time I checked, loneliness was not on the DSM IV. 😉
        Thanks so much for your kindness and encouragement. As optimistic as I tend to be, I honestly just don’t think I am meant to have any close friends in my life. I have encountered so many people, even unkind people, selfish people, people riddled with issues, who seem to have many friends. I no longer believe that it is the result of being a good person, or outgoing, or of loving yourself, or of being authentic and kind, but a result of circumstance or luck. 8 years of friendlessness with only one short blip on the radar has made that clear.

      • You certainly have put in a lot of effort! I think you have a fair point re: circumstance and luck and I think upbringing, my one last (?!) suggestion is next time the loneliness gets too much, book in for those 3 appts, they may actually be all you need or at the least give you a good start. Your teens are lucky to have you

      • A few months ago, I actually tried. The first therapist I signed up for was no longer accepting patients, and then the booking system wouldn’t remove his name, so I had to call tech support, and then the next therapist was also unavailable. What a frustrating experience! 😕 Hesitant to bother with that again. The next time I really need to talk to someone, I’ll just do what I usually do — blog or run or read a book.

      • Makes me so sad to hear of doors closing like that on you ☹ systems need to do so much better. Those three options are pretty fantastic though! You are one resilient woman

  1. This goes hand-in-hand with shyness, a trait I know we share. My “trick” is to imagine that the other person is equally timid and therefore I’ll make the first move to suggest a simple way to get together (eg, meeting for coffee) when I meet someone who has friend potential.

    At that early stage I’m not invested, so I’m not upset if it doesn’t pan out.

    Best bets are people you meet through shared interests. Running? Church? Singing? A book club or writing group? You’re so smart and talented, there must be people who’d love to know you. Maybe they find YOU intimidating?

    Xx, Alisa

    ps, Great advice from Gee Jen.

    • Thank you, such good advice! 😊 I appreciate all of the suggestions. It’s kind of funny, because I’m actually pretty good (most of the time) at pushing past shyness and initiating conversations with people in social situations. Conversations are easy enough. But it ends there. I wouldn’t ask anyone to exchange phone numbers or get together beyond the context of that activity, because it seems awkward. If someone I didn’t know were to ask me, then I would automatically turn them down, because I wouldn’t trust their intentions, wouldn’t want to give the wrong idea, etc. Group events feel safer, somehow.

      I’m afraid that I’m not in any situations, other than work, where I interact with the same people on a regular basis. Just meetups, where everyone changes all the time, or gym classes, where I really just show up, workout, and go home, without interacting with anyone. No church, no running groups, no writing group. Pretty limited social opportunities.

  2. I think it’s harder for introverts to make friends, and particularly smart intellectual introverts who read a lot (actual books!), because these are not qualities that are widely practiced, respected, admired, or understood in our internet- and entertainment-centric culture.
    And it’s also tough for people who are sensitive.
    And there are probably several other factors at work …

    • Very much agreed. Now toss those together with an unusual combination of interests, then multiply by my ethnic background and the comfort zones other people live within based on their own unconscious biases and prejudices, and you have someone who has spent a great deal of her life without close social connections.

      • And having very high standards (for oneself and others) and ambition, and being honest, can be perceived by others as intimidating, perfectionist, know-it-all, etc.

      • Why yes. Or uppity. “Too good for…” I used to hear that when I was younger, especially from family members who didn’t understand my life choices. Apparently, speaking standard English, not being interested in watching reality TV shows, and not being fond of crass humor or gossiping about other people means that I must think I’m “too good for…” or “better than…” I used to try and force myself to conform, just to get along, and I was miserable. I’d much rather be myself (and be a kind person) than lower my standards or be who I’m not. Even if that means never having close friends.

        It’s weird to think that anyone else might find me intimidating. I try not to project my high expectations for myself onto others, but maybe they don’t see it that way, or they feel like they have to work harder to keep up or something. It’s not a competition. I am only ever in competition with myself. But I guess people are most comfortable being around people whose temperaments (and standards, and lifestyles, and politics, and socioeconomic levels) are closer to their own.

  3. I can certainly understand where you’re coming from! I’ve got to a point where I know what I like and what I tolerate. And I distance myself from everything I don’t like and find intolerable. And despite what others say, I do feel pretty different from the rest of the pack.

    And as much as I’d love to not care, there’s something in me that wants to be seen and heard… hopefully this makes sense lol!

    • That absolutely makes sense to desire to be seen and heard. It can be rewarding, to share parts of ourselves with others. I think it is why I enjoy blogging and tweeting.

      I also feel like I know what I like and tolerate, so I get what you’re saying. But there is always room for growth. Always. It’s so easy to hide ourselves away in our comfort zones, surrounded only by what we know and like. But then we miss out on the opportunity to learn from those who may think or do things a little differently. Or to absorb new music into our collections, or to discover interesting new foods or fashions or styles that did not suit us once, but have come to grow on us. Keep growing, my friend. Every door we shut results in a life a little less well-lived.

      • I’m not scared to try most anything.. I’m fairly adventurous! It’s just peopling that annoys me…. I annoy myself… add people into the mix and I need some much me time…

      • Hahaha yes, peopling can be tough, sometimes. 😉 But why do you annoy yourself? I would love to see everyone reach a point when they like and love themselves, flaws and all. Is there something that you feel needs a bit of work?

      • In person, I am speak when spoken to… on here I am the guy that never shuts up! And it’s not enough that I have over 100 followers to talk to, but I go out and find people lol!

        Is that weird?

      • Does it matter if it’s weird? If it’s what you like, then it’s what you like. I’m pretty quiet most of the time IRL, too. Mostly because I’m not close enough to many people to feel comfortable really expressing my thoughts.

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