The Friendship Doctor

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

Making Friends: Having Trouble Getting Close

Having a “wingman” can be a useful if you have have a hard time making friends.

QUESTION

Hi Irene,

I find it difficult to make friends. I've got some friends and had some in the past but when I analyze how we became friends it’s almost always either via someone else (usually a friend of my husband or brother) or because they made friends with me (and are generally extroverts who love the sound of their own voice). So the actual making a friend bit wasn't my doing if you see what I mean.

I'm quiet and was painfully shy as a teenager but have mostly got past that now. I'm good at making acquaintances and am willing to get out there and meet new people but seem to struggle to make the final leap to friendship. I do make requests to spend time with people but often they are either evasive or never seem to take us beyond the reason we met (e.g. our children).

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I've seen reports that moving a lot as a child can affect this ability and this is certainly true of me as I moved 5 times before the age of 13. What crucial social skill have I failed to develop and how can I learn it now?

Signed, Patsy

ANSWER

Hi Patsy,

It’s difficult for someone who doesn't know you to speculate about what’s wrong in your specific situation. You’ve stated that you are shy and often need a “wingman” to bring you out. That sounds like a pretty adaptive strategy and I think you deserve some credit for making those friendships happen! Not everyone is outgoing and comfortable, and hanging out with people who are can help you connect with others is a useful approach.

A couple of years ago, I wrote a post titled: Why do women have such a hard time making friends: Nature or nurture? It was one of most popular posts on this blog (with 539 comments and still counting) so the problem you are describing isn’t yours alone. That post cites a study suggesting that frequent moves in childhood are one factor that may influence a person's ability to form friendships later on. Being shy may compound that difficulty but, truthfully, many different factors may come into play.

It’s good that you are focused on looking forward, rather than looking backward. If you feel you are missing certain social skills in getting close to others, you can speak to your husband or brother (or someone else you are close to) to see if they have any ideas about what might be wrong. While it isn’t likely, it may be something that is obvious to others and they might be able to offer you some clues.

Alternatively, you might find it worthwhile to speak to a mental health professional to help you figure out what’s wrong. For example, you may be making bad choices of friends; acting in some way that inadvertently interferes with your goal of forming deep and rewarding friendships (e.g. trying to get too close too quickly); or not giving these friendships the time and nurturing they need to develop.

Hope this helps a little.

My best, Irene

 

Visit the newly designed TheFriendshipBlog.com  for more advice on navigating the murky rules of friendships.

 

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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