I need some help, Doc.
Throughout my younger years (including college) I was not allowed to spend time with my “friends” outside of school. I use quotes because, as you can imagine, this restriction kept me from having any *real* friends—they were just friendly acquaintances that I’d hope would let me sit near them in class and maybe include me in their group for group projects so it wouldn’t be so obvious I was a friendless freak.
Suffice it to say that I am stunted socially. I’m now 30 years old, have no friends and have never dated. I still live with my parents, so, aside from coworkers and cashiers at stores, they’re the only people I interact with. I’ve been feeling lonely with increasing frequency these past few years, and feel especially bad whenever confronted with the idea of friendship or significant others (through songs, books, movies, coworkers talking about their lives, etc.). I’m also becoming increasingly worried about being totally alone when my parents die some day (although their health is okay-ish, they’re in their late 60’s).
I assume the only way to solve my loneliness is to make some friends or get a boyfriend.
I have a few things going for me. I have interests/hobbies/passions that I can speak enthusiastically about and that people seem to think are “cool.” I *did* have close online friendships that lasted a few years in high school, and those friends told me that I’m good at meaningful conversations, talking through problems, being supportive and caring, and am cheerful and positive.
I also have things going against my friend/boyfriend-making aspirations. I’m awkward, anxious, and introverted. I fear driving to new places. I am severely lacking in the looks department (but don’t want to start wearing makeup and horrible clothes because then I’ll be miserable in a different way). The idea of any level of intimacy seems foreign and uncomfortable and something I can’t imagine partaking in, so I’m not sure if that’s from having no experience, or if I’m asexual. I can’t move out of my parents’ house because I don’t want to leave my mom alone to deal with my dad (and since they’re aging they’re going to need me around anyway). Overall, it seems like making friends or getting a boyfriend would be very time-consuming, tiring, stressful and unfeasible, so I have doubts about this whole endeavor.
Considering these issues, I figured I should take baby steps and start with making some online friends again (maybe even someone who lives in my vicinity that I could then meet in person someday).
I’ve been trying to find friends on a Reddit subforum (Needafriend) for about a year. I’m careful to only contact people I have some things in common with and who put effort/personality into their posts, but I haven’t had any luck. The most “success” I’ve had was, in the beginning, e-mailing back and forth with three people for three months before I ended the correspondences. They were pleasant people, but I ultimately got bored talking to them and didn’t feel like I could be “open” with them (I was dealing with harassment at work at the time and would have loved to talk to someone about that…just talking about normal or happy things when you’re upset is exhausting).
I’m still trying to make friends there, but people either ghost on me after one or two messages, or I ghost on them. Sometimes I stop replying because they only talk about themselves and don’t show any interest in me, but more often than not I just start to feel like the whole thing is a chore that I don’t have the energy to force myself into continuing. I realize friendship takes time and effort and you won’t click with most of the people you meet, but I must be going about this wrong. My previous online friendships happened gradually and naturally over time. Setting out with the specific goal to make friends seems so much harder and like I’m setting myself up to fail.
I also joined a popular forum related to one of my hobbies and was active with posting there for a few months, but instead of feeling like I was part of a community or like I was connecting with people I might want to try to be friends with, I just felt insignificant and alone and stopped going there.
Can you offer any new perspective about any parts of my situation? Any suggestions on better websites to look for online friends, or advice on how to better go about making online friends?
Hopefully Not Forever Friendless
Here’s a handy rule of thumb about how we make friends, HNFF. Generally the things that influence who we become friends with are:
Part of what makes it easier to make friends in school is how often we run down that list. We’re all of similar ages and in similar stages of life – even if we have nothing else in common. We spend time around each other every day and – as any marketer can tell you – repeated exposure makes us like something (or someone) more. And we have shared experiences to draw upon that really drive home the “we are the same” and that connect us. Using these as a guideline can help make it easier to make friends in adulthood – finding people who are similar to you – shared interests, similar lifestyles, etc. – and spending time with them.
But with that in mind, I think you’re going to have a hard time doing so.
I hate to say it HNFF, but you’re going about things the wrong way. Not in trying to make friends but the way you’re addressing the problems. Finding more friends is going to be important, but before you do that, I think you need to work on your emotional issues. Think of it like emotional triage or an order of operations in an equation: if you don’t take things in the proper order, you’re gonna get the wrong answers.
With your anxiety and fears, it’s going to be hard to relax your shields and let people get close to you, regardless of whether it’s online and in person. In fact, odds are that those issues will make even minor issues – like just not clicking with people – feel far worse than they should be. That, in turn, can make your anxiety worse and creates an unpleasant, vicious circle. It’s hard to open up to people when every failure makes you feel like you’re terminally unlovable.
The best thing I think you can do is start talking to a counselor, especially someone who can help you with developing social skills and anxiety management. Talking out some of your issues and fears with a professional can be a relief in and of itself, even separate from any therapeutic value it brings. They may help you find some mental exercises that’ll help you manage your anxiety or they may recommend a medical route or both. These are all valid ways of addressing emotional issues like the ones you have.
Now this doesn’t mean that you should get the clean bill of emotional health before trying to make new friends; in fact, your counselor might be able to walk you through how to connect with the people you’re meeting or answer questions you may have about what’s going on. But I think the more you address the bigger issue, the easier it’ll be to find friends.
As for finding friends: yeah, it’s harder in college and online can be a good way to start. But I think one of the best things you can do to find them is to simply…be. Instead of focusing like a laser on making friends with a capital F, find online communities that represent things you’re interested in and just join them. Lurk a bit to get a feel for the place (and decide if they’re cool or it’s a waste dump of toxic assholes) and start participating in the conversations. You’ll find people you are talking with or responding to more often, people who you click with. These are people who might make good friends and you can start connecting with them on Facebook or Twitter.
Just take it slow and easy, HNFF. All will be well.
Dear Dr. NerdLove:
My ex and I were together for nearly 3 years. We spent a good bit of that time as best friends with benefits and made it official last summer. She’s a small town girl. Very close to her family. Very old-fashioned, traditional values.
I graduated college and took a job in Atlanta. We spent about a year dating even though we were two hours apart. We saw each other every weekend and it worked out just fine. She always wanted to move to Atlanta to be with me and finally was offered a job that allowed her to do that and paid off her existing lease.
She and I never fought, never really had a bad moment together. We always communicated, hot along, and loved each other.
She moved to Atlanta about a month ago and broke it off with me a couple of weeks ago. She mentioned that she felt different and needed space. I tried talking to her about it but nothing could change the fact that she needs time. We haven’t spoken for 6 days now and I am trying my hardest to move on to save myself the grief.
It came out of nowhere. No signals that it was coming, no time to talk about the issues she was having, just done.
She started her period the week she said she started having the different feelings. She’s on birth control for migraines and so her periods are physically and emotionally intense. She is in a new city, she has a new job, she’s away from her family, and she’s also concerned about her age and when she’ll marry/have children. She thinks at age 29 this year that she’s too late.
My question is this. Is it possible that she just became overwhelmed and just needs time to sort through it all? Her brother in law reached out to me and said she was experiencing 100 different emotions and is very upset. He said that he thinks she just got scared of the future and told me that I just needed to give her some time. She was honest with me and said there was no one else. BIL also confirmed.
All I can do is move on right now and quietly hope that she gets ahold of me one day but some reassurance of my idea of things would be nice to hear.
– Lost In The ATL
Change is a motherfucker, LiTA and your ex has had some massive changes in her life. She’s moved to a new city, a new job and a new life without her previous social network. That’s going to give anyone pause and want to reconsider her life and her priorities. There’s about five billion emotions that’re going to be tied up in all of this and trying to sort through them all can be overwhelming as fuck. When you’ve been uprooted from everything you knew and all of the usual outlets for support are gone (or at least, hundreds or thousands of miles away) then you can be left feeling like you’re on your own with all the shit that’s starting to hit you like a ton of bricks.
Small wonder she needs time apart. She’s trying to sort out who she is now in this new life, whether her life is going in the directions she wants and what she should do about it. Minimizing distractions is part of how she’s processing. The fewer conflicting demands on her time, attention and emotions, the more bandwidth she gets back to sort through everything. She needs distance, perspective and most of all calm. Don’t take this the wrong way but one less thing pressuring her for a decision is going to be a relief… especially if one of the things she’s reconsidering is whether she can be in a relationship right now.
So yeah: you have no good options outside of space. The best thing you can do right now is let her know that you’re there if she needs you and give her the space that she needs. As she starts to get her feet back underneath her and feeling more secure, she may well realize that she’s ready and able to continue her relationship with you. Or – and I have to be honest with you, this is a more likely choice – she may not. Massive life changes tend to blow up relationships, LiTA; they make people question and reprioritize things. But there’s not really anything you can do here to guarantee the result you want. Doing anything other than letting her have her space is more likely going to end your relationship than save it.
Give her space and be ready to treat this like a break-up. Let yourself hope… but give yourself space to grieve too. If it’s meant to be – whether now or down the line – she’ll come back to you.