Short version of background: I was a lonely kid. I remember reading a story in 5th grade that described a friend as someone who you told your deepest secrets to, and felt mystified enough by that to mention it in this letter two decades later. Fell into some social circles by middle and high school, and fell right out of them again once those concluded. Dropped out of my first year away at college so hard it registered on seismometers. My bad breakup that year made me terrified of any negative feelings in a relationship – the moment the first hint of jealousy showed up after that, I would shut down completely.
After years of underemployment and living at home, I joined the Army. For two months prior to basic training I felt like a normal person. I was working out two hours a day with a small group of dedicated future soldiers and everything just clicked. I was well-liked by peers and superiors, and did well enough to make Staff Sergeant. However, despite being respected, I never really made lasting friendships, whether with co-workers or while pursuing my hobbies outside of work. Either I would invite people to do things and they would consistently flake out, or I would join people for social events outside of work and feel more distant than ever. I did go to a succession of therapists while I was in for (basically) dysthymia but never did seem to get anywhere.
Now I’m in a vocational program in a new city and between jobs. I’m going to meetups and pursuing my hobbies but the whole making friends thing still eludes me (as does a greater life purpose, but one problem at a time). I don’t think my social skills are bad – I can Dale Carnegie my way through most interactions. Active listening isn’t a problem because people usually are pretty interesting if you give them a chance to talk, and I do far more listening than talking. I just feel like real connection is consistently eluding me and I don’t know why. Obviously if I can’t make friendships then anything romantic is a non-starter. What few romantic relationship attempts I’ve had fizzled out when she lost interest.
I’m having a hard time visualizing what a close friendship would even look like, beyond showing up and doing things. I’ve been carefully curating what I say for so long that I don’t know how to be authentic in a relationship in a way that isn’t emotional vomit. Expressing how I actually feel has consistently had negative results; reaching out to others always left me feeling disconnected, so I stopped.
So in sweeping terms the answer seems to be vulnerability. However, I’ve read your material, as well as reading Brene Brown’s book and several other sources (Mark Manson, etc) and where I’m arriving consistently is “yes, but how?” There’s some sort of underpants gnome logic here that I’m clearly missing.
Stuck in a Fishbowl