I know I’ve said it many times before, but I’ll say it again: it is hard as fuck making friends as an adult. I used to think maybe it was just me, that there was something I was doing wrong that was making me unable to authentically share myself with other people outside of a relationship setting or with the exception of my childhood friends, but after consulting almighty Google, it turns out that I’m not the only one who has problems with it.
I blame the fact that as we get older and ‘wiser,’ our naivety disappears and we begin to see the potential people have to not only be good–but to be bad. Negative past experiences have shown us that rejection hurts a lot more than we’d like, and the best way to protect ourselves from that is to only allow others to wade around in the more shallow pools of our psyche. If someone rejects us based on what they see on the surface, it isn’t as painful because they aren’t rejecting our real selves. For some, a large number of rejections or one or two very home-hitting incidents damages their trust to the point that they anticipate rejection or being taken advantage of right out of the gate, before a new person can even get a chance to want to know you.
Introverts have it even a little tougher, because it’s difficult for them to want to go out into the world and meet people in the first place, which is of course, the obvious first step needed to make friends. Yes, unfortunately, you have to actually be AROUND people. Extroverts enjoy talking to other people and being the center of attention; it energizes them, where an introvert is drained by such experiences. The effort an introvert must expel just to establish enough of a baseline with a stranger to see whether or not they’d ever be compatible as friends at all is uncomfortable at best, and downright exhausting at worst. Introverts are careful about selecting who they spend their energy on, and sometimes this makes for a very picky initial process, increasing the struggle to find good “friend material.”
But let’s say you do somehow find other humans that you like to be around, who like to be around you as well, and you decide to cultivate the friendship. You thought finding people was the hard part?
Making friends as an adult has many similarities to cultivating a romantic relationship, without all the sexy bits–you get to know someone, find common interests, slowly let down your guard and let them know more about you, hoping that they’ll do the same. Trust slowly grows as this person proves themselves reliable and authentic, and a real connection is forged. Unfortunately, some of the same pitfalls exist in friendships as they do in relationships–people staying in bad ones because they fear being alone or because they’ve invested so much time and effort already, lack of communication out of fear of hurting the other person’s feelings, jealousy and entitlement, taking or being taken for granted. We all know relationships take hard work, and so do really good friendships. THAT SHIT BE HARD, YO.
But it gets even better…oh yes, for some out there, the obstacle course of navigating true friendship is placed in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean with stupid, unpredictable icebergs fucking EVERYWHERE, and your skills as a captain of social ability will truly be tested. Welcome to the bonus round: anxiety!
Picture this. You and a few friends are all hanging out together, eating lunch, when one of them announces that they are planning to see a concert, and everyone should go! It’ll be really fun, the tickets are cheap, we don’t often all get together at the same time…also the band sounds pretty awesome!
Hmm, that sounds really fun! I spend so much time at home because of my weird introverty nature, so going out and having a good time is long overdue! Count me in!
Granted, there will be a LOT of people there…and I do hate crowds. Loud noise…hmm. Maybe I shouldn’t go.
Anxiety: But if you don’t, your friends will probably think you’re lame. You’re going to feel really guilty if you don’t go…they’re all counting on you to join them. You’ll probably be the only one in the group who doesn’t make it and they won’t forget it. Maybe they’ll think you don’t like hanging out with them and they’ll stop inviting you to things.
…you’re right, that would suck. Plus, part of me really does want to go! I love hanging out with my friends! I hate people in general, but I like them, and I like music. So it’s settled, I’ll brave the crowds and have fun with my friends.
Anxiety: I wonder if they only invited you because they knew you didn’t like big, noisy events and they knew you’d tap out.
Anxiety: They don’t even like you that much, they might have just invited you because they feel sorry for you. Because they’re your only friends and all. But hey, it’ll be fun! Enjoy the side of shame while you pretend to fit in at the concert!
You’re a dick.
This is somewhat exaggerated, but you get the point…if you’re an anxious person like me, I’m sure you’re no stranger to the little voice of self-doubt that tries to sabotage your efforts to connect to other people. This little voice is also responsible for convincing anxious people that they’ve done something wrong when one of their friends is upset (not at them), that they are incapable of having meaningful relationships, that something is wrong with them, etc.
This insecurity manifests itself in our interactions with other people once we start to leave the surface area and wade into deeper waters–the stakes get higher after we have established that a person has value to us, and anxious people are less sneaky about hiding their fear of messing it up. Hello weird need for validation that pushes people away! Hello inappropriate and random shame for needing validation that shoves you into your house for days as you cope with your anxiety to keep it from irreparably ruining your relationships! Ugh…I’m telling you, so much hard work involved here.
So imagine wanting desperately to make friends, but disliking going out to meet people and being fearful that you’ll mess it up somehow regardless of the circumstances. This is the struggle of the anxious introvert…but do you try it anyway?
Hmmm, be alone for the rest of my life and talk to my cats and watch Game Grumps, or allow myself to be emotionally vulnerable and risk rejection, but potentially gain valuable connections with other human beings? Who maybe also like Game Grumps and cats? Decisions, decisions. xD