The Friendship Doctor

Send in your friendship questions and quandaries and get expert answers and solutions

Why Am I Having So Much Trouble Making New Friends?

Making new friends takes confidence, creativity, and time

QUESTION

Dear Irene,

Friendships have become a sore point for me at this juncture in my life. I am in my 30s and have a lovely husband and toddler son. I used to work full time and hence, never really developed any friendships in my neighborhood. I've met a few people at social events but never followed up. 

Now that I've been home for the past few months, I feel so much at sea with the new friends I've made at our community park. These moms have kids who are at least three years older than my son. I feel disconnected from the other moms who talk with each other, meet at school, and leave their kids for playdates. I feel rejected because they don't call me--- or do so only rarely--and now I am beginning to feel they don't like me and don't really miss me/us if we aren't at an event or gathering. 

I feel like I don't have much to offer. I am a well-educated professional with interests and hobbies but people seem to be intimidated by me. I have kept wondering if it is just me or the type of person that I am that doesn't work for these friends. I come from a highly intellectual background from educated and well-travelled parents

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Now that I am re-connecting with some old school and college friends, I feel afraid of being rejected by them too, i.e. they may not call me after our first conversation or may not show interest in keeping in touch. 

As I walked through a greeting card aisle today, I saw cards for a best friend and close friends. Over the past ten years of my friendships, I was trying to think of someone I could give this card to, or someone I could get one from. Maybe one or two people came to mind vaguely.

I really want to change myself so that I can work on things that I have control over and nurture close relationships. Right now I just feel at sea and lonely that I don't have a close and fun relationship with a friend.

Signed,

Amber

 

ANSWER

HI Amber,

You've undergone a number of major life changes in a relatively short period of time: You've gotten married, have become a mother, and have left the workforce. You're living in a very different type of setting from the one in which you were raised and there may well be a mismatch between you and many of the people around you. 

Given these factors, having difficulty making new friends doesn't sound that unusual. It takes time to get accustomed to the role of being a full-time parent and to find your place in a new community. It's great that you are reaching out to other young moms on the playground----but you may be the type of person who is more comfortable with one or two close friendships rather than the "cocktail party" type who craves a group of acquaintances. 

When we're lonely, it's natural to think about reaching back into the past to resurrect relationships with old school chums---but be cautious. You may realize that you have even less in common with these friends---except for your shared history. 

Your note raises several questions that may be worth considering: 

1) Have you tried to place yourself in situations where you can potentially meet people who have more in common with you? For example, can you join a mom's group with mothers and toddlers closer to your son's age? Can you arrange to get out of the house one evening a week to pursue a hobby or interest, or join an organization with other women in your community? Are there any former co-workers that you would be interested in getting together with from time to time? Is there a neighbor whom you could invite over for coffee or tea while you son is napping? 

2) Could you be mistaking a low mood for loneliness? If you aren't feeling good about yourself and feel like you have nothing to offer to other people, it's hard to get close to others. Are you having changes in appetite, sleep problems, or other symptoms that might be associated with depression

3) Because of your insecurities or shyness, could you be giving the impression that you aren't interested in making new friends? Are you timid about making overtures to people whom you like to get to know? 

I raise all of these issues as possibilities for you to think about. Don't give up hope or be too hard on yourself just because you haven't yet found a kindred spirit on the playground. Building relationships takes time and also some creativity in thinking about new ways to find friends if the ones you are trying haven't worked.

Best,

Irene

 

Some prior posts on The Friendship Blog about making friends:

Irene S. Levine, Ph.D., is a psychologist and professor of psychiatry at the NYU School of Medicine. Her latest book is Best Friends Forever: Surviving a Breakup With Your Best Friend.

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