“Naked and alone we came into exile,” wrote the American novelist Thomas Wolfe in his 1929 novel Look Homeward, Angel. “In her dark womb we did not know our mother’s face; from the prison of her flesh we come into the unspeakable and incommunicable prison of this earth … Which of us is not forever a stranger and alone?”
A study published by the relationship charity Relate would suggest that Wolfe was on to something. One in 10 people in the UK said they had no friends and one in five reported feeling unloved in the fortnight preceding the survey.
Those who have friends frequently go through life unaware that others do not, because those others are so isolated as to be socially invisible. Because I have written about depression, some such people have reached out to me for advice, describing its universal bleakness and the bleaker reality of suffering without the cushion of love. “I was extremely unhappy and I didn’t feel I could tell anyone,” a woman named Claudia Weaver told me. “I avoided the world.”
In an era in which Facebook has made “friend” into a verb, we often confuse the ambient intimacy of websites with the authentic intimacy that comes with sharing your life’s challenges with someone who cares – who will be sad because you are sad, happy because you feel joy, worried if you are unwell, reassuring if you are hopeless. We are imprisoned even in crowded cities and at noisy parties.
Prof Simon Wessely, the incoming president of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, has indicated that only one-third of people with mental health issues in the UK are receiving treatment of any kind, which means that the number receiving effective treatment must be much smaller. It has been suggested that treating mentally ill people is expensive, and that in the current economic climate, funds cannot readily be found for such treatment. But not treating the depressed is ultimately more expensive than treating them. People who cannot function end up on the dole; parents may not be able to take care of their children; men and women too depressed to sustain their physical health could develop serious conditions that cost the NHS a great deal. Such neglect would never be tolerated in response to a physical illness.
Depression is a disease of loneliness. Many untreated depressives lack friends because it saps the vitality that friendship requires and immures its victims in an impenetrable sheath, making it hard for them to speak or hear words of comfort. Worldly success does little to assuage that agony, as Robin Williams’ suicide this week makes clear. Love – both expressed and received – is helpful, not because it ameliorates the symptoms of depression (it does not), but because it gives people evidence that life may be worth living if they can only get better. It gives them a place to admit to their illness, and admitting it is the first step toward resolving it.
It would be arrogant for people with friends to pity those without. Some friendless people may be close to their parents or children rather than to extrafamilial friends, or they may be more interested in things or ideas than in other people. The Relate research suggests that married people are mostly happier than the unmarried, but marriage is not right for everyone. Creating a social system that shoehorns people into relationships or friendships they don’t want– as the Victorians sometimes tried to do in the name of good fellowship, or the Soviets in the name of communism – is not likely to solve the ever-widening depression crisis. Insisting to people who don’t want companionship that they’d be happier if they were less lonely is not a useful intervention.
Many people, however, are desperate for love, but don’t know how to go about finding it, disabled by depression’s tidal pull toward seclusion. Loneliness will not be fixed by medication, though pills may instigate the stability to open up to friendship’s liabilities: potential rejection, exhausting demands, the need for self-sacrifice.
For some, friendship has become a vocabulary as obscure as Sanskrit. Lack of emotional fluency may cause depression; it may exacerbate it; it may cast a shadow over recovery. But there are ways to help people who want friendships to learn the language of affection. Parents and schools can teach children productive ways to engage.
Literature, film, poetry, music and art can show what relatedness looks like. For those who are too far along for such high-minded modelling, psychotherapy can help translate the methods of friendship’s alarming, vanished language. Over and over again I have heard tones of astonishment as social relations are built – often starting with a therapist. Many of us are more alone than we need to be, living in gratuitous exile. Friendship is an impulse encoded deep within us, but it is also a skill, and skills can be both taught and learned.
• The photograph caption on this article was amended on 29 August 2014 to better reflect the text of the article.
- “I Have No Real Friends”: A Lie Depression Tells Me Is True
- The Depression Problem No One Talks About
- Are You Blocking New Friendships?
- Have You Been Giving People The Wrong Message?
- Social Skills Are Learned And Need To Be Practiced
- Handy Hints To Help You Find New Friends
- Numbers don’t matter.
- Look beyond the barriers of age, race, class, and gender.
- Make friends online, but don’t let them be your only friends.
- Turn your passions into sources of new friends.
- Build a social circle by cross-introducing friends.
- Aim for friendships that have a deeper connection.
- Don’t Go Chasing Friends
- Worries Of People Who Have No Friends
- “Having no friends must mean I’m totally defective”
- “People will have a negative reaction when they find out I don’t have any friends”
- “People are always asking each other about their social lives”
- “Even if other people don’t care, not having friends will make me act off-putting”
- Free training: “How to double your social confidence in 5 minutes”
- “If you don’t have friends, it makes you boring and have nothing to talk about”
- “You have little to offer potential friends if you don’t have your own social circle”
- Assumption #1: Everyone gives a lot of consideration to a potential friend’s social contacts and who they might meet through them
- Assumption #2: The only worthwhile thing you can offer people is a network of friends for them to connect with
- Assumption #3: Everyone is really focused on having a giant social network
- Assumption #4: Everyone is focused on big group activities like parties
- Assumption #5: Someone who hangs out with people, but doesn’t have any social contacts of their own to offer, is “mooching”
- Assumption #6: Almost all friends are made through existing friends
- “It’s way easier to make friends if you currently have some”
- “If you have no friends after a certain age or point in your life, you have no hope of ever making any”
“I Have No Real Friends”: A Lie Depression Tells Me Is True
Sometimes I feel like I have no friends.
Or, let me clarify, no real friends. It’s not that I don’t have nice conversations with other people, or get invited to hang out in groups with them. Instead, I think that people only ask to hang out with me because they really enjoy hanging out with my boyfriend (and just are unluckily stuck with me too). Or I think they are talking with me just to be nice to me, but don’t actually care about me or my interests.
So it more or less feels like I have a ton of acquaintances—like I’m surrounded by happy people who can get on just fine without me in their lives.
It’s hard, too, when you see other people on social media hanging out and sharing happy moments in their friendships, or when you hear stories about the things other people did (and quite obviously you weren’t invited to participate in). When it seems like you are surrounded by everyone having these awesome fun times and everyone else being friends with each other, it can feel very isolating and lonely.
I don’t always have this feeling, though. I have found that these and other negative thoughts tend to creep in and magnify whenever I’m feeling down and stressed out. But when I’m in a good mood and have my stress under control, I don’t find that I’m troubled by any perceived lack of friendships—instead, I feel pretty good and optimistic about the relationships that I have!
This is all not a coincidence: feelings of loneliness often go hand-in-hand with depression (which I have), and can often be fueled by anxiety (which I also have).
Making friends when you are dealing with depression can be difficult. This blog here has some great tips, such as joining support groups/interest groups, making healthy decisions, and taking the friend-making process slowly (all, of course, while also continuing with your depression treatment!).
But what do you do when you in fact have a friend network, but your depression starts to make you feel like you are isolated and friendless?
Here are some tips that help me when I find myself sliding into this situation:
- Recognize that the feeling comes from the illness of depression, not reality. Living with a mental health issue doesn’t mean eliminating your symptoms, but rather managing them when they arise. Being able to acknowledge when something is a symptom of your mental illness—such as feeling no one truly likes you—can help to remove the power of that symptom!
- Ignore social media. SOVA has published many blogs on how we represent ourselves on social media, and how these representations are not always accurate at describing our lives. Remembering that social media posts are often just carefully chosen snippets of someone’s life (and possibly an inaccurate representation of what is happening) can help you to work at not comparing your friendships/relationships with others’ social media presences. Another option is just to ignore social media altogether for a bit!
- Give yourself a value-oriented definition of a close friendship. What is it that makes a close friend to you? Part of the problem is that, culturally, we don’t have a great definition for a close friendship the way we do with other types of relationships, such as romantic partners. Still, there are some common themes seen in how people do tend to define close friendships! We often interact with close friends over multiple contexts—for example, they are not just someone we share one class with, but may also interact with in an after-school activity, extra-curricular group, family function, etc. In addition to shared interests and activities, close friends are often people who are well-trusted and who can be confided in. Finally, close friends respect each other and encourage each other to be better/enjoy life more.
- Recognize situational changes in friendship dynamics. Our friendships and relationships can change over time, especially as our priorities and those of our friends change. For example, moving to a new school or new part of the country, caring for a family member, and increased job responsibilities are all factors that can take away from our ability to be close in friendships and can modify the close friendships that we do have. We often have little control over these factors, but identifying that they have come into play can help you to avoid blaming yourself. For example, the statement “They don’t talk to me anymore because I’m not worth being friends with” can become “We aren’t able to be as close as we once were, but I still think of ___ as a good friend”!
Do you ever feel lonely, or like your friends aren’t close friends? What do you do if you get these feelings? Let us know in the comments below!
The Depression Problem No One Talks About
Even if someone wants to help in general, it’s not uncommon for them to back away when the real, damaging symptoms appear. Depression is depressing. Who wants to be depressed? “I can’t have this conversation anymore. It just cycles,” one of my best friends said. And she was right; cycling thoughts — the inability to roll an idea around in your head until you come to a logical conclusion — is a hallmark of depression (as well as many anxiety disorders). “I need to surround myself with positive people,” proclaimed another close, intimate friend, who had recently become pregnant. When I tried win her back, she told me to stop being “so emo.” But I’m not talking about just “feeling sad.” Sadness is spending a weekend in your pajamas watching Netflix amidst a sea of your own junk food wrappers, or a couple of weeks of tear-soaked blues after a bad breakup. “Everyone gets the blues,” Dr. Serani says. “But if you’re feeling sad, irritable, or depressed for more than two weeks, that’s the defining line for a clinical disorder.” The exact symptoms of clinical depression may be different for different people. But for me, true depression means I can’t get out of bed, literally, for days. And when I do, it’s because I’ve mustered all the energy inside me just to relocate to the couch. I can’t remember the last time I showered or brushed my teeth, because my mind is consumed with doomsday scenarios: No one understands me. There’s no hope for me. Nothing means anything, and my life is over. I’m fighting against a “reality” that isn’t real — and depression usually wins. In a moment I’m not proud of, I reacted to a third friend’s engagement with snark, instead of joy — which was unusual for me. This friend had worked hard for her happiness. She’s a warrior who battled cancer six years ago at age 24. Though she was understandably absent from my life during this period, I did everything I could to support her, including raising money for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Foundation and running the New York City Half Marathon in support of her fight (she finished the race before me — a testament to her strength). But after I crapped on her happy news — and quickly apologized profusely, reminding her I was not in a healthy state of mind — she wrote me off completely. I even tried to educate her about depression’s stranglehold on a person’s emotions and actions, to no avail. “Many say things they normally would not say,” says Melinda Gallagher, PhD, a psychologist in New York City. “It’s important that loved ones understand this as a symptom of the disorder and that with treatment and time, she will feel better and more like herself.” So, if it’s the sufferer’s job to seek help during a serious case of clinical depression, what’s the role of friends, family, and other loved ones who feel helpless, drained, or overwhelmed? It’s simple. Dr. Gallagher says the simple gesture of acting with compassion can go a long way toward healing. That means doing your best to understand the emotional state of this person you love and what they’re going through, even — especially — if doesn’t make sense to you. You don’t have to fix someone with depression. That’s not your job. You don’t even have to interact with that person if it’s too much for you. But if you truly do love the person and you want to maintain a relationship in the long run, listen with compassion, that desire to understand, and help in the ways you actually can. Communicate your boundaries with compassion. Don’t take the illness as a personal affront and certainly don’t abandon them; that’s probably the worst way to react.
Friendship is the gift that keeps on giving, which is why it can feel so utterly demoralizing when it is not forthcoming.
If you have no one you can call a true friend, the loneliness can be hard to bear, but there are things you can do to remedy the situation.
Whether you feel like you have no friends at all, or just no friends at school, in college, or at work, you should not let yourself believe that you are unlikable.
You just have to examine the possible reasons why you haven’t yet befriended anyone, and seek to address them.
The first step is to look inwards at your own life.
Note: if you’re actually an outgoing and social person, but your personal situation has changed and you miss having friends around you – maybe you’ve relocated, left work to have a baby, recently retired, or something else – the advice in this article is still relevant to you and worth taking on board.
So one answer to the question, “why do I have no friends?” is that you are unknowingly sabotaging your own efforts.
Are You Blocking New Friendships?
If you’re reading this article, chances are you are lacking in friends and quite often feel lonely. So it might seem strange to ask whether you are actually preventing new friendships from forming.
You want more friends, so why the hell would you be getting in your own way?
Well, the answer is that you might not even realize that you are doing it.
The mind is a complex beast and many of the things we do come from a place far below that of consciousness. We do them automatically, without thinking, and without considering how they might be affecting our lives.
These behaviors, which are hidden from you, normally form because of some unresolved personal issues.
You don’t need to have experienced major emotional or physical trauma or abuse to hold some deep hurt within your unconscious mind.
Seemingly unimportant events from your past can affect your present mindset and cause you to put up barriers to friendship.
Perhaps you were raised in an environment that encouraged independence and self-preservation which now means you don’t feel able to rely on other people for anything – including friendship or fun.
Maybe you have been let down by people in the past and you are trying desperately to prevent that same feeling of hurt from happening again. You fear betrayal and disappointment, so you keep people at arm’s length in order to avoid such real risks.
Do you simply feel unworthy of the friendship of others because you suffered from bullying and harassment during your early years?
These are just three examples of how you might be putting up mental obstacles to forming meaningful friendships.
The beliefs you hold and the thoughts they give rise to can make it difficult for other people to make friends with you. Ask yourself if this might be the case in your life.
Have You Been Giving People The Wrong Message?
People are usually quite open to making new friends, but they have to feel that the other person wants to be their friend too.
They assess the situation by reading the signs before choosing whether or not to try and forge a connection with that person.
So, you need to be asking yourself whether you are giving off the wrong signals to those around you who might be potential friends.
Do you shun invitations to social events? Have you done so in the past? If so, you have to realize that people will soon stop asking if you keep rejecting them.
They will just assume that you are either not interested or that you have better things to do.
Then there’s your body language and the influence it can have on other people.
If you appear closed off with arms crossed and head down, it doesn’t fill people with confidence about coming and talking to you.
If you look like you don’t want to engage, they will steer clear to avoid a socially awkward interaction or potential rejection; after all, they are human beings too.
When someone does speak to you, how do you respond? People like conversations that flow naturally and that don’t feel forced.
If you give blunt replies and neglect to make any attempt at prolonging the discussion, the silences will soon have them saying their goodbyes.
You may also like (article continues below):
- 7 Alternative Social Activities For Those Who Have No Close Friends
- 10 Ways To Make Your Friendships Closer Than Ever Before
- What It Really Means To Be An Introvert
- 14 Signs Of Fake Friends: How To Spot One A Mile Off
- 9 Types Of Friends To Ditch (Without Feeling Bad For It)
- 10 Confidence Hacks For The Socially Awkward Person
Social Skills Are Learned And Need To Be Practiced
Once you have figured out how you might be standing in the way of new friendships, you have to address the issues you have uncovered.
As with any skill, you have to take steps to learn the basics of socializing and then practice every day to become better at it.
You can start as small as you like, even as little as saying hello to a familiar face once a day, but the more often you try, the faster you’ll see results.
You should choose activities that address the particular areas you highlighted in step one.
So if your independence is getting in the way of potential friendships, you should try asking for help as often as possible; start off with tiny things and build up from there.
If you normally decline the offer of a quick after-work drink, why not ask if you can tag along next time your colleagues head off to the bar.
You only have to stay for one drink before leaving, but you’ll get to know them so much better in a social situation that you ever will in the work environment.
If conversations don’t come easily to you, perhaps memorize a short list of cues that you can use if the dialogue dries up.
Make them generic topics like what someone did at the weekend or what their plans are for the next holiday in the calendar.
Simple things like this can prolong a chat and build the first threads of a bond between you and another.
Handy Hints To Help You Find New Friends
There are a number of things you ought to take into consideration when trying to make new friends.
Numbers don’t matter.
When you have zero friends, the number that you are able to make doesn’t really matter. A single friend is better than none.
So don’t worry about trying to form a connection with lots of different people at once; focus your efforts on a small number – perhaps just one or two – and then slowly work your way up from there.
If you find that you can’t keep friends after making them, ask whether you are spreading yourself too thin in terms of the time and attention you are giving people.
This is especially important when you first make friends with someone. Regular contact and connection is what forges strong bonds.
Look beyond the barriers of age, race, class, and gender.
As an adult with no friends, it can be easy to think that you are most likely to make friends with those who are of a similar age, social background, or gender, but the truth is that these things matter less than you think.
What matters is shared interests, shared values, and compatible personalities.
So don’t limit yourself when seeking new friends; go beyond the barriers that keep people apart and discover a whole world of potential companions.
Make friends online, but don’t let them be your only friends.
With millions of varied forums, Facebook groups, chat rooms, websites, and other places for online engagement, it is often easier to find like-minded people through this digital medium.
This is not a bad thing by any means, and it can help you to practice your social skills in a safe environment, but don’t rely too heavily on friendships of this type.
Turn your passions into sources of new friends.
Shared interests are often good building blocks for a budding companionship, so why not take the activities you enjoy doing and turn them into a way to make new friends?
Use services like meetup.com to find like-minded people/groups in your area and then join them to indulge in the things you all find fun.
This tip is so simple, you’ll have a social life in no time.
Once you have made one or two friends, you could help strengthen the bonds you have with them by introducing them to each other.
If they enjoy your company, there is a reasonable chance that they will enjoy each other’s too. This is especially true if you all share interests or have similar temperaments.
Do this successfully and you will have created a circle of friends which is more resilient and likely to last.
Aim for friendships that have a deeper connection.
There are different types of friendship and one key way in which they vary is in the level of intimacy present.
Superficial friends are far easier to come by than those where you feel comfortable opening up and sharing your darkest thoughts.
When you seek to make new friends, it can be tempting to opt for a more surface-level connection, one which carries fewer risks and is easier/quicker to form.
The friendships that matter most, however, are those handful that stand the test of time and enhance your life in a major way.
So try to turn one or two of the friends you make into close friends.
Don’t Go Chasing Friends
It’s important that you don’t try too hard to make someone your friend if there is no real connection there.
Chasing people and trying to force friendship upon them is never going to work.
So while you should always give people a good amount of time to see if there is the potential for the deeper connection we just spoke about, know when to call it quits.
It’s a bit like dating; if it doesn’t feel like a serious relationship (in this case a friendship) is on the cards after a short while, you don’t have to feel guilty when parting ways.
Right now, as you’re reading this, it may seem to you as though you have no real friends and no one likes you. Just remember that it doesn’t have to be this way.
You have the power within you to forge new friendships and create a social network of people you hold dear.
It takes time and determination to build those bonds of companionship, but once you have, the rewards are great.
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Worries Of People Who Have No Friends
Another article on this site covers some general worries anyone can have when they’re trying to make friends. Among people who want to build a social life, a sub-group with some unique fears are those who have no friends at all. The worries they have can be quite limiting and help keep them stuck in their situation.
Below I’ll pick apart friendless people’s most common worries. Before I get to that I’ll mention two that are made up of many of the individual ideas farther down:
- “You need friends to make friends. It’s a Catch-22. If you don’t have a life you’ve got too many things stacked against you to fix things. But if you already have some friends, then you can easily make more than you’ll ever need.”
- “You need to hide the fact that you don’t have friends.”
“Having no friends must mean I’m totally defective”
As with any type of social problem, having no friends may be an unpleasant, discouraging state to be in, and could be a sign you have some weak spots you need to work on, but it doesn’t mean you’re fundamentally broken. Lots of people have had periods in their lives where they had no one to hang out with. Your worth isn’t solely determined by your number of friends. Plenty of scummy jerks have large social circles. Lots of good people have been lonely.
When someone doesn’t have friends it’s almost never because their core personality is unlikable. It’s usually due to a mix of interfering factors such as:
- They’re not knowledgeable about the skills for making friends.
- They’re too shy, socially anxious, insecure, or unconfident to pursue friendships.
- They don’t mind being alone, and so don’t have as much motivation to go out and meet people as someone who constantly craves company.
- Their current situation has left them without friends (e.g., they just moved to a new city, their old friends moved away).
- Their life circumstances are really stacked against them (e.g., they work a lot of hours, have a long commute, and live in the middle of nowhere; They go to a small, rural high school where they have little in common with the other students).
- They’ve been lonely for long enough that they’ve developed behavior patterns that are keeping them in a rut.
“People will have a negative reaction when they find out I don’t have any friends”
No, not necessarily. Some might, but others won’t care. This worry assumes everyone is really harsh, judgemental, and choosy about what they look for in a friend or colleague. Some people are kind and understanding. They get that someone might be shy or never learned how to make friends. They may have struggled with those issues themselves. They realize someone might have a thriving social life one year, then lose it the next when their friends all move away. Yes, at times people are judged negatively for being friendless, but you can’t let the possibility of that paralyze you.
How people respond to tends to be based on someone’s reason for having no friends:
Reasons for being friendless most people will understand
- You’ve just moved to town
- Your old friends all moved away
- Your old friends got super busy with other parts of their lives, like work and kids, and dropped off the map
- You peacefully drifted apart from your old friends, due to changing values or interests
Reasons for being friendless some people will be understanding of, but others won’t
- You were in a long-term relationship and spent all your social time with your partner – Some people might wonder why you didn’t have at least a friend or two, but many understand that if you really get along with your partner it’s easy to make them your only social outlet. That’s especially true if you have kids too, which can keep you cooped up inside.
- You lost touch with your friends because you got super busy – They may question why you couldn’t at least keep up some contact with them.
- You’re not that naturally social. You prefer to only have a handful of friends, and sometimes that slips into having none at all – Some people know that being less social is an acceptable, common personality trait, but others have all kinds of false ideas about it.
- You had a falling out with your old friends – People may wonder if you’re high-drama or difficult to get along with.
- You’re too shy or unconfident to make friends – Some people are sympathetic to shyness. Plenty have felt it firsthand and know how hard it can be. Others don’t get it.
- You’ve had a longer-term mental health issue, like severe social anxiety that’s kept you stuck at home – More people than you think are understanding of mental health struggles, but others have a prejudiced view of them.
Another factor is how long you haven’t had friends. Has it only been a few months, or over a year? If it’s been longer some people will still understand, but that situation isn’t as common, so more will be curious about why it’s been so long.
As a rule, the older people get the more understanding they are. You’re more likely to get a petty, immature response in high school. The more life experience someone has they more they realize that people can go through lonely spells, often through no fault of their own.
Even if people aren’t understanding, they probably aren’t going to cruelly mock you. They may not be sure how to take the news yet, but if you explain yourself and otherwise seem like a solid person, they may decide they’re okay with your circumstances. If they do reject you, odds are they’ll quietly withdraw contact, not laugh in your face.
For the most part a lot of what people think of you is determined by how you interact with them in the moment, not the on-paper information they have about your life. If you generally come across as at least somewhat together and likable, people won’t care that much if they find out you don’t have friends. How you are as a person carries more weight than any abstract ideas they have about “friendless people”. They already like you, so they’ll put a charitable spin on this new thing they’ve learned.
It works in reverse if someone hasn’t gotten the best impression of you. If they find out you have no friends they may react negatively, but it’s more because they already had a so-so opinion of you. It’s not really about your friendlessness itself. If they clicked with you they’d have had a different response.
If only one or two people aren’t fans of you, that may be down to an incompatibility – you can’t have everyone like you. If you find you get a cold reception from most people, that’s tough, but there are tons of ways you can work on yourself and eventually get warmer responses.
This article goes into more detail about the practicalities of telling people you don’t a social life at the moment:
Telling People Or Hiding That You Have No Friends
This one plays into worries of being found out and judged. Some friendless people are so scared of their supposedly shameful secret getting out that they avoid socializing, because the topic of their friends might come up. They may even have exaggerated fears about someone painstakingly grilling them about their friendships until they’re forced to confess how alone they are.
It varies from person to person, but I find people don’t ask each other about their social lives that often. There are lots of other things to talk about, and everyone generally assumes other people have friends, and so don’t feel a need to ask about it. Naturally, they essentially never do in-depth interrogations. That’s a distorted worst case scenario.
Sometimes the subject does come up. Like someone might ask what your friends are up to this weekend, or who in your small school or town you hang out with. Again, this article goes into how to tell people. Overall, if you’ve been dodging social situations because you’re worried everyone will suss out your friendless status within minutes of meeting you, realize that’s not likely to happen.
“Even if other people don’t care, not having friends will make me act off-putting”
If you don’t have any friends it may make you unappealing in a self-fulfilling-prophecy way, by causing you to act too desperate, nervous, and overeager. However, those are all behaviors you can put a lid on. For one, you can look at your situation differently, in a way that can reduce your desperation (hopefully the article you’re reading right now will help). You can also consciously try not to act in ways that read as needy (e.g., sending someone a bunch of “what’s wrong, are you mad at me?” texts when they don’t reply after half an hour).
Article continues below…
On the link below you’ll find a training series focused on how to feel at ease socially, even if you tend to overthink today.
It also covers how to avoid awkward silence, attract amazing friends, and why you don’t need an “interesting life” to make interesting conversation. .
“If you don’t have friends, it makes you boring and have nothing to talk about”
There are two iffy assumptions behind this belief:
For a lot of social circles that’s not the case, and they mostly talk about other things besides each other or the antics they got up to last week. Also, there are a ton of other ways to have interesting or entertaining things to add to a discussion. You can talk about a TV show you’ve been watching or a place you recently visited, or share your insights on a world event, or joke around, just to name a few options.
Assumption #2: If you don’t have friends you can’t do anything to be interesting or have things to talk about
Some people with no friends spend most of their time at home, doing things they believe make them “lame” and “boring”, like watching movies or playing video games. Why do they stay in so much?
- They may feel ashamed of their loneliness and are trying to hide from everyone.
- They may be feeling down and discouraged, and not be in the mood to go out.
- They may unconsciously assume that since they don’t have social plans to take them out of the house, they have no other option but to stay home.
- They may be younger, have some homebody tendencies, and just not be aware of all the things they could be doing outside their house or apartment.
You don’t need a social life to go out and do fun, interesting things. There’s a lot you can still do on your own, which will give you things to talk about (aside from other benefits, like just having a good time or maybe being able to meet people). Again, to give a few options, you could go on a hike, visit an art exhibit, or see some live music.
Also, while there are lots of upsides to getting out of the house, staying in and reading and playing games doesn’t automatically make you boring. I get that if that’s all you do you might want more variety in your life. But around the right people you could easily have a long, engaging conversation only about what books, movies, or games you’ve been into lately.
The idea here is that people won’t want to befriend you once they realize you don’t have a group for them to possibly meet and hang out with. This belief is also made up of several assumptions that don’t hold up to closer scrutiny:
Some people really value possible new social contacts, but many don’t. When they meet someone new they focus on the person and what they think of them, not what hypothetical connections they could make. All else being equal, having a social circle to offer doesn’t hurt, but there are dozens of other personal qualities people care about more. When you meet someone do you immediately start wondering how big their social circle is and what you could get out of it? If you don’t, wouldn’t it be reasonable to say some other people think along the same lines?
Assumption #2: The only worthwhile thing you can offer people is a network of friends for them to connect with
Of course there are tons of ways you could be valuable as a friend. If someone finds you fun, interesting, hilarious, and supportive, are they really going to turn you away because they know they can’t meet ten more people through you?
Again, some people value that, but just as many don’t. A good chunk of the world is happy to have a small number of close friends. Some people even think a large social circle is a draining hassle.
Assumption #4: Everyone is focused on big group activities like parties
They supposedly want to meet people with their own big networks so they can get invited to more big bustling get togethers. They also allegedly see hanging out one-on-one as a distant second. Once more, everyone is different. Some people prioritize large gatherings. Others prefer spending time with their friends one at a time. They’d see it as a negative if a new friend had two dozen buddies they partied with every weekend.
If you’re spending time with someone, and they genuinely enjoy your personality and company, how is that mooching? Friendships aren’t a simplistic exchange of social contacts, where if that doesn’t happen it means one person is “taking” something from the other.
Assumption #6: Almost all friends are made through existing friends
It’s certainly a big way people make friends, but far from the only one. People often form social groups from scratch through methods like joining teams or clubs, taking up new hobbies, or volunteering. If someone can’t meet new friends through you they have plenty of other options.
“It’s way easier to make friends if you currently have some”
Obviously it does take less effort to make more friends when you already have a social life. It would be naive to say otherwise. Below is a list of some advantages it gives you. However, while they’re nice benefits, it doesn’t mean you’re beyond hope if you don’t have friends. They’re just bonuses, not essential keys to having a social life. The good news is that once you make your first few friends, you can cash in on these perks too.
- You may act more confident around potential new friends. It’d be nice to have more mates, but you don’t need them. If someone turns you down, you know there are several people who already like you.
- You come across slightly better because you’ve got a stamp of approval from some people. You’ve got unspoken proof that you’re not completely impossible to get along with.
- You can meet people through your friends. Even better, you’re not meeting total strangers. You’ve got a pal in common. You likely have some similar interests. Your friend is introducing you, which is an implicit recommendation.
- You can hold get togethers with your friends, and then have a fun event to invite even more people to (e.g., asking a co-worker to come to a party you’re throwing).
- When you’re out with your friends you may be the big, fun group that other people naturally gravitate toward.
- If you want to check out an event in town, where you might meet new people, you have company. You don’t have to be the self-conscious person who shows up alone.
- And yeah, some people may be more open to being friends with you because they realize they can get to know your friends as well.
What gets brought up less often is that an existing social group can also be a liability:
- Knowing you have friends can make you lazy and complacent about meeting new people, even if you’d like to have a larger or more varied circle.
- You may not be motivated to talk to unfamiliar people at places like parties, because you already have fun friends to chat to.
- You may not feel you have time to talk to any new people at get togethers, because you have to catch up with your current friends.
- Your friends may actively keep you from talking to new people, like they may complain about being ignored or left alone.
- New people may be hesitant to approach you, because you’re in the middle of a giant, intimidating clique, or since they assume you wouldn’t want to meet anyone else.
- Your current circle may unintentionally drive some people away. Not every social group is a high-end club other people want to be a member of. For example, people may think your friends are obnoxious and not want to hang out with you if it means having to put up with them too.
- Your friends may deliberately drive people away. You may want new friends, but they may be happy with the status quo and resistant to outsiders. If you invite someone to your weekly board game night your friends may be rude to them.
I won’t insult your intelligence and claim having no friends is an advantage, but there are two small ways it can help:
- It gives you motivation and drive to meet people.
- It leaves you unencumbered. When you go to an event you can spend all your time trying to meet new people. You don’t have to spend most of the night with your buddies.
“If you have no friends after a certain age or point in your life, you have no hope of ever making any”
Someone may worry that after college, or after the age 30, if they haven’t made any friends then the opportunities dry up and they’ll be lonely forever. The fact is it’s never too late to work on your issues and have a happy social life. It is harder to meet people after high school and university, but hardly to the point of it being impossible. There are plenty of cases of older, socially inexperienced people making a group of friends.