The Struggles of Being an Anxious Introvert

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

 

 

Friendships With Mommies (when you aren’t one)

Every now and then (more often as of recent), I find myself with a desperate urge to make friends. I’m in my mid-20’s, and for some reason it seems impossible to make real, good friends, like how you did in high school, or college if you attended. First of all, I don’t go anywhere that I really meet people my own age, except for work, and they’re all my clients. Many of them are great conversationalists and temporarily fill my gap for human interaction, but how many of them would actually say “Absolutely!” if I asked to have a drink with them? I feel like 90% of them would give me the half-hearted, “Sure, we’ll have to get together…EVENTUALLY.” I mean, what if your dentist asked if you wanted to hang out sometime, or your tax guy? Weird.

Secondly, I’m not an extremely social person. To be honest, I don’t really like people, especially groups. Which leads to my third point, I have a significant other, and we live together. Meeting other couples is like a clever game of mind chess as you attempt to figure out if they’re both normal, if one is crazy, if they hate you collectively, or if you have a real connection, all while being polite enough to not piss off not one, but TWO people. And your significant other is doing it too…sometimes one of you is less skilled than the other and says something stupid that just ruins it for the both of you. And whether your new friend-in-question is part of a couple or you’re just out on your own, let’s face it–people are full of crap. Weeding through the bullshit to get to the morale and character of the person you’re talking to is the challenge in finding a true friend as an adult. Teenagers are jerks too, but adults just seem to have something to prove, and a specific set of shoes to fill, and it’s a lot more effort to chip away that wall than it is for a teenager talking to other teenagers.

Truth be told, I haven’t made a single -true- friend as an adult. They’re literally all people I knew in high school, or even before high school. My two best friends and I all met when we were in elementary school. We’ve remained friends, but not as close as we once were. We’ve moved around, gotten jobs, had to become adults, you know? Life gets in the way and you get busy, especially if you, like them, become a mother.

I’ve often thought about the differences between my friendships with my two best friends since they’ve had children. Now I’d like to be clear here, just because I’m NOT a mom doesn’t mean I’m a delusional moron who expects my friends to still come over every weekend. I understand that kids take a lot of time, dedication, and resources. I’m not a party animal who wants them to go drinking with me twice a week (if I did this, I bet I’d have more friends…xD), and I’m not a bitch who immediately changes the subject whenever either of them brings up their children because I don’t relate. It isn’t hard to imagine caring for a little person and making sure they grow up to be functioning, happy adults. Both of my best friends have changed with motherhood in regards to our friendship, but in different ways.

Friend A-The Doting Mother

One of my friends brings up her kids CONSTANTLY, at least several times in each conversation. She sends me pictures of them with Santa every year (which I enjoy!), she texts me pictures of them mid-blink because it’s the cutest thing ever, she asks me if she told me about how her daughter used the table to stand herself up the other day (yes, you’ve told me four times). Her kids are the light of her life. She rarely talks about her job, but does talk about her relationship issues, which are likely a contributing factor to why she puts so much emphasis on her kids. It’s like “My relationship track record is abysmal, but I have these adorable children! Do YOU have adorable children? Are they as adorable as mine? Unlikely. Let me tell you about how awesome they are.” Our phone conversations are normally pretty good; they often center around her, but about once a month we have a really good chat where we catch up on life.

We don’t see each other often anyway because she lives about an hour away, but we’re used to that. I started to really notice a change when she started hanging out with different people…people who are also moms! Single moms, like her.

One time, one of these friends came in to get tattooed and told me about the fun that she, my best friend, and another single mom had when they and their children went to the zoo together the week before. I tried to act excited, but inside I was thinking…what the hell? We live literally ten minutes away from the zoo, I could have easily met up with them. She didn’t even mention ever going to the zoo until I asked her about it, at which time she played it off as “Oh, yeah, we all went to the zoo, it was fun.” Even though I’ve hung out with her children (only one at this point I believe) a hundred times, and her 4-year old son loves me, I couldn’t help but wonder if it would just be awkward for them if I was the only one without a child present at the zoo.

Since then, I’ve seen her attending birthday parties with these friends, most of which I know from high school but am not officially acquainted with, unless you count Facebook, and pictures of her children at the mall or wherever they may be. But my friend has only, in the 2 1/2 years since my boyfriend and I have been living together, visited my house one time. I normally end up making the hour-long drive up to her house if I want to see her.  She AND her children are welcome to come over any time! But for some reason, I feel guilty saying, “Hey, I know you’re a single mom and you have a 40 hour workweek just like me, but since we have the same days off, maybe you could come visit ME for once, since you haven’t seen our place that my boyfriend and I moved into over a year ago? It sure would be nice to see you!”

Friend B-The Socially Awkward Hermit Mother

My other best friend is almost the exact opposite. She tries her best to keep in touch with me and actually initiates visiting about as often as I do, which is great! The reason behind this is that she has very, very few friends, and for the first 2 years of her mommyhood, she didn’t really interact with other adults, at all, except for her then-boyfriend and her current fiance. Most of her high school friends were bad influences–they did drugs, had random sex, ran away and snuck out of the house, and she did a lot of that with them. After you have kids…not so much. The plus is that our significant others get along well enough too for us all to go out together and not kill each other as well, and she lives a bit closer than Friend A.

We don’t talk a whole lot in between our visits, but I try to stay caught up and we never miss a “Happy birthday” or “Merry Christmas”. When we do talk, this friend doesn’t talk much about her kids at all, unless something amusing happens. She thinks I’ll be bored of hearing about them because I don’t have kids of my own, and because they aren’t mine. On the contrary, I do enjoy hearing a little bit about them (just not about every booger they picked or the shape that they were laying in for their naps this afternoon)! Her kids absolutely adore me, and I always end up playing with them when I visit her house, but she seems embarrassed that they ‘harass’ me because it’s not something I do on a normal day. I’ve offered to babysit countless times (her girls are 5 and 3), but she always laughs and says that I don’t know what I’d be getting into.

My Conclusion: 

What I glean from these two perceptions is that apparently, because I don’t have children, that I’M different. Friend A prefers to hang out with and talk to other moms because she feels that she has more in common with them now than she does with me. Friend B likes to pretend that she doesn’t have kids when we hang out because she fears that I will find her boring and stop hanging out with her. She believes that because I don’t have kids and because I’m undecided on whether or not to have any, that children revolt me, that I don’t understand them, and that they frighten or aggravate me with their very existence.

But the truth is that I care very much about both of my best friends, and I welcome their motherhood lifestyles and simply want to be part of their life in general, despite my own lack of genetic offspring. I wonder why it seems so different? Thoughts?