Dear Liza: How Do I Make Good Friends?
I'm writing because i'm struggling. We've started a new year and so like so many others I've been reflecting on my life and the last year and myself. I'm generally quite upbeat about my life, although I harbour big doubts and worries and often wonder if I need to talk to someone about my mental health, on the surface I feel like I can't complain. I have a good life, family, friends, a good education, on the road to a successful career... yet I feel lonely.
I mentioned before that I have friends, yet for many years I've felt alone. Once upon a time I had a wonderful social grouping, however between moving around universities, jobs in various countries let alone cities, I've found myself with many friends but lacking anyone close. It feels quite schoolish to say it, but I miss having a best friend. I want to plan holidays and weekend trips, yet find myself with nobody close enough to ask. And as my life becomes more and more adult like I find myself question if I'll ever find that kind of friendship again or if I've ruined my chances by letting older friendships fade. I find it difficult to find new friends now, I would love to throw myself out there to meet new people but I just don't know how or where, I sometimes wish there was a dating app for friendship, but I know it's not that simple.
So my question, or the advice I need I suppose, is this: how do I find friendships? What advice do you have for someone who is socially anxious with new people to find ways to make new friends?
Thanks for reaching out! I know how hard that can be when you're feeling lonely. First things first: please don't feel bad for feeling this way. Of course feeling lonely is a horrible experience, but I don't want you to make it worse by feeling guilty when you've seemingly got a great life. People with hundreds of friends can feel lonely, and it's far more common than you would think.
Having said that, making new friends is a great start to combatting it. I'd normally say that it's good to work out where these feelings are coming from, but it sounds like you already know. A close friend can be such a positive experience in life, and the good news is that it's never too late to make one. It sounds like you've had very good friends before, could you maybe get back in touch with some of those? You probably won't go straight into being as close, but it might be a nice way to touch base with who you were back then and it can be fulfilling to talk to people who have known us for a long time. Just recently an old best friend of mine has come back into my life and I'm enjoying the presence she has now in his curious combination of old and new friendship.
As for making close friends, this is a little bit more tricky but certainly not impossible. If you already have people in your life that you would like to get to know better, now is the time to take chances. Invite them over for dinner, or out for drinks, or for whatever activity you think you would enjoy together. Getting to know someone takes time but with a little courage and effort it can definitely happen and it won't be long before you can reach the point of the weekend getaways that you want. With that, too, it might take sticking your neck out there to suggest it but plans always start with one person floating the idea and there's no reason that that person can't be you. It's scary, but won't it be worth it when you're giggling in a European city together?
For meeting new people, my advice is to look for a group or activity that you think you would enjoy and start going regularly. Whether it's the local zumba class or a book club, a weekly meeting over a shared interest can be a great way to build confidence and facilitate friendship. You already have a head start on finding something to talk about, and it makes bonding so much easier.
Finally, I find that true friendship stems from being vulnerable with people. It's easy to stay on surface topics but finding appropriate moments to go a little deeper is usually how good friendships come into being. Share the odd anecdote of vulnerability, maybe even admit that you don't find making friends as easy these days. Ask questions, and take a real interest in what the other person has to say. I have always found the harder conversations to be where good friendship flourishes, and you can work towards making that happen.
Social anxiety is a horrible thing and I appreciate that what I am asking of you requires courage that you might not think you have, but I'd really love to see you try. Remember, if it doesn't work out the first time, try not to let that discourage you. Not everyone will be the right friend for you, but keep at it and you'll find the person or persons that make life more enjoyable. It does take time, and it will take effort and vulnerability on your part, but I think it will ultimately pay off. It certainly has for me: this advice, after all, is build off of my own experience and I can relate to a lot of what you're saying. It might not all work for you, but I urge you to try and see what does.
And remember: even those with the best of friends still feel lonely from time to time. Just because you still feel those familiar pangs, doesn't mean you're not making real progress with the friendships with your life.
I wish you the best of luck!