The Friendship Doctor

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

Making Friends: Having Trouble Getting Close

Closeness and intimacy is never instant, and takes time to achieve.

QUESTION 

Hi Irene, 

I am a 27-year-old woman and find myself lacking the close friendships I long for. I'm well aware of the reasons why. Explaining would take all day but in a nutshell: I was a shy child who warmed up slowly but eventually made close friends I loved. In high school, I developed severe social anxiety and panic disorder, which continued in college. I still managed to make some friends, but only on a superficial level. In grad school, I finally made good friends again but they live on the other side of the country. 

I've had therapy to deal with social anxiety and other issues, and it helped immensely. I know how to make friends and other people often seek me out to be their friend. The problem is that in the past I only reached a certain level of emotional intimacy with friends due to my anxious, shy adolescence. I'm lonely now, and I long for a circle of lifelong, very close girlfriends. 

When I get to a certain level of closeness with new friends, I don't have the skills to carry on. I worry that my friends won't want to be friends with someone who is as inexperienced in close friendships as I am. Additionally, it seems that many people I meet are rather aggressive and argumentative. I can't keep up with this type of relationship nor do I want to. I want to have sweet friends, but they are hard to find. 

Do you have any strategies for how to make my current friendships closer and how to make new, intimate friends? I feel like I missed out on the types of friendships most women have in their teens and early 20s. It seems harder to foster this type of friendship at 27, especially for someone who lacks previous friendships of this type. What can I do to make up for lost time? 

Many thanks, Stacey

 

ANSWER 

Hi Stacey, 

A few thoughts come to mind: While it's reasonable to want to make intimate friendships, you can't go back and make up for lost time. You can only begin pursuing your "lifelong" friendship goals now. Having insight into some of the personality factors that made it hard to connect in the past can serve you well in the future. 

It sounds like some of the prospects you have identified as potential friends, probably aren't very good prospects at all. If your new friends are aggressive and argumentative, that can be pretty off-putting (and intimidating)---especially for someone who tends to be shy and reserved. Being anxious, I suspect that you may be very self-critical and hard on yourself as well.

It might help to approach your friendships in a more relaxed way. Continue to be open to meeting new people. Perhaps, take a course or participate in an activity in your neighborhood (based on your own interests), where you can "sniff" people out and decide which of them might be someone with whom you would like to be friends.

Build on the positive experiences you had in graduate school in your new setting. Smile and engage in small talk (I know you can do it if you try). Show interest in the other individual. Find things you share in common. And when you find someone with whom you feel comfortable, be open to spending more time together (without being smothering or needy, of course). 

As you begin to know each other, slowly peel back and share parts of yourself (your history, aspirations, etc.) with the other person. (This may make you feel like you are taking a leap of trust---and you are, in a sense, but it's the only way to get close.) If you find yourself still feeling uncomfortable, listen to your gut and take a step back to figure out why. 

Thus, your immediate and more realistic goal should be to find a friend or two with whom you feel comfortable as opposed to hoping for a circle of besties. Closeness and intimacy is never instant, for anyone, and takes time to build. Don't worry about not having a "track record" of lifelong friends. You are still quite young and have many decades to find friendships that are satisfying and fulfilling. 

Hope this helps. 

Best, Irene

 

Having trouble making or keeping friendships? Take a peek at The Friendship Blog, five years old this month, for some advice and to share with other others. 

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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