The Friendship Doctor

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

Change Can Challenge Friendships

Major life changes can make it challenging to make and keep close friends.

QUESTION

Hi Irene, 

I'm 27 years old, working as a journalist, and recently ended a three-year relationship with a close male friend I has known for nine years. Now that I'm single again, I have room to make new friends. However, I've found it much easier to make friends with men. All we need to do is to spend time over an activity. And even if we do talk, it's usually me consulting with them over a problem, looking for logical solutions.

While I have good friendships with my male buddies, I feel deprived when it comes to female friends who can actually be my shoulder to cry on and encourage me to connect with my feelings. I feel like I stopped making long-lasting female friends after college (my late teens), and every attempt since then has been a failure.

Before college I had two long-term best friends from grade school, but in recent months those relationships feel like they are in limbo due to international distance. I've been apart from both of them for more than 10 years but keeping in touch had been easier before: One of them, because we shared a religious faith—which I recently stopped practicing; the other, because she wanted to keep in touch despite having a family and half a dozen businesses to run.

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Since then I just haven't really found a female friend that I genuinely like or trust. Some are annoying, some lie to me and break my trust, and others are just too competitive for my liking. As for my personality, I can be outgoing due to my job as a TV journalist, but take awhile to genuinely warm up. But once I do, I'm very friendly, caring, trusting, honest, and would put in more hard work than anyone else, including in fostering a friendship

Most people think that I'm intelligent and are pleasantly surprised when they discover the fun side of me, like my music tastes, my involvement in community theater, my attempt to learn photography, and my travel experiences. 

Making friends as a globetrotter (2.5 years per move on average) has not been easy. I thought settling down in one city would solve it. But I've lived in this city of 12 million inhabitants for six years and my social circles change anyway, often beyond my control. 

Two church scandals got me so disgusted I had to leave, theater club disbanded, my radio show's season didn't get renewed, graduated from college, and just when I thought I was happy with my job, I get transferred to another company within the group. So it's not that I'm not around people, but the places that keep me and these people glued together never seem to last very long.

Next year I'm planning to move abroad again. I'm planning a career change and grad school with an exciting thesis research on a topic close to my heart. I figured I don't have much to lose because I don't have any strong enough friendships here to keep me from going anyway. But I don't want to be lonely in the meantime, and I certainly don't want to be drowning alone in my research when grad school abroad starts. What can I do to change my track record and connect with other likeminded women in their mid to late 20s? 

Signed, Jane

 

ANSWER 

Hi Jane, 

It's hard to know why you haven't been able to have close and trusting relationships with other women since college. Perhaps, one reason may be that being involved with the same guy for three years took up so much of your free time outside of work that it kept you from developing relationships with women. 

Regarding grade school friends, I'm not surprised that you have drifted apart. It's really nice when two childhood friends have enough in common to stay connected over the long haul---but it's quite common for friends to veer off in different directions after college, as has happened to you, because people are finding themselves and their places in life. 

It sounds like you are quite outgoing and social, and have mastered the skill of making superficial acquaintances. But, in your own estimation, you fall down when it comes to taking these friendships to the next level. 

I don't see any reason why you couldn't handle your relationships with women much the same way as you do with your relationships with men. Start off doing things together and allow them to slowly deepen over time. People may seem annoying or competitive at first, but your feelings might change after giving them a chance.

Although you have lived in the same place for six years, everything else has been changing: your relationship with your male friend, your job, possibly your career path, your church, contemplating a move abroad, etc. I can see how all these changes would make it somewhat challenging to make and keep close friends. 

By deciding to move abroad again next year, you have put yourself in a state of flux once again. Why don't you use the time you have this year to convince yourself that you can sustain friendships with women? Try to patiently nurture one or two of the distant friendships you have already made and see if there is more there than you realize. 

Hope this is helpful. 

Best, Irene

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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