Irene S. Levine, Ph.D.

Irene S Levine Ph.D.

The Friendship Doctor

Why Would Someone Have No Friends?

It's not an uncommon problem, but it has many sources.

Posted May 19, 2011

QUESTION: I have a problem that has been ongoing for my entire life: I have no friends. Well, let me restate that: I have no friends who keep in touch without me doing all the effort and even then it is spotty. I am 35 years old.

A little history, in case it is applicable to my current problem: In middle school, I had a very close best friend but she dumped me, which was really tough. Then, in high school and into college I had some best friends who I ended up dumping abruptly over the littlest thing, which I have since realized was due to trust issues that I have worked through now.

So why can't I keep friends? 

I have a group of three friends whom I have known since I was about 21. They don't call me or email me really, but if I email and rally everyone for a get-together we have fun. But then, nothing. And I hear from them that they have gotten together in the meantime. I don't get it—what is wrong with me? 

Around the neighborhood I chat, make meals for the new moms, etc. but then nothing. And the other moms get together without me. I have female cousins who are really great, we have fun when we are together—but they never call or ask me to get together. It always has to be me. 

The fact that this is a pattern in all my female friendships troubles me and makes me think that I am doing something wrong, but I don't know what. I am a caring person and go out of my way to ask people about their lives when I am having conversations. My therapist has said that there is nothing wrong with having to be the one to always initiate a get-together, but then I see others who have a group of close friends who get together and really support each other, and I wonder, why not me? 

I am an only child and sometimes just feel very alone. Other times I feel okay with having no friends. But all in all, I wish it were different.

Signed,
Amanda

Hi Amanda,

Ouch! It sounds like you feel like you're a pariah. It's impossible to guess why your friendships don't "stick" and there's no uptake by others but the problem seems to be a pattern rather than a one-time occurrence—and something you want to change. 

Can you self-identify your specific problem(s)? Here are some of the resons why people struggle to have close reciprocal relationships with friends:

Temperament. Are you shy and uncomfortable around others? This can make the people around you feel uncomfortable too.

Insecurity. Do you feel like you can't measure up to the people you want as friends? Are you able to trust other people? These may be barriers that create distance between you and others.

Preference. Are you introverted? When push comes to shove, do you actually prefer being alone rather than spending time with friends? Do you think people know this when they're around you? Or, are you extraordinarily social—so preoccupied with making lots of acquaintances that you lose out on making close friendships?

Psychological Issues. Do you have a history of difficulty establishing intimate relationships with others? Are you uncomfortable with people knowing the real you? 

Lack of Experience. Regardless of age, some people lack the skills needed to make and maintain friendships. Do you think you have what it takes to be a good friend?

Situational Obstacles. Do you live in an area where it is particularly difficult to connect with others? This might include living someplace rural where there are few people or, because of a history of frequent moves, being someplace where you feel like an outsider.

Disabilities. Unfortunately, because of stigma, people shun individuals with mental or physical disabilities.

Personality. Is there something about you that others find grating? Are you needy? Too pushy? Too talkative? Too controlling? Are you fiercely independent—wanting to call all the shots regarding what, when and where? Sometimes, there is something off-putting about a person's behavior and that individual lacks awareness of the problem.

Communication Style. Do you respond to your friends' overtures as well as initiate contact? Are you available online or by phone, depending on your friend's preferred mode of communication?

Time Management Problems. Do you have a hard time juggling all the responsibilities and demands placed on you? Do you consider making time for friends selfish or frivolous?

Unrealistic expectations. Have you led your friends to believe that you will always do the organizing? Do you have an unrealistic, romanticized notion of friendship? Do you expect all friendships to be perfect and last forever? 

Talking to an objective third party is a good way to gain insight into something you can't figure out about yourself. It doesn't necessarily have to be a therapist; it could be a spouse, sibling, or someone else you trust. 

Since you are already in therapy, perhaps this list will provide a useful starting point to explore various possibilities with your therapist. I agree that something is amiss given the scenario you have described and your desire for more reciprocal friendships.

Hope this is helpful.

Warm regards,
Irene