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Question #153: How do I make and keep friends?

Uma Thurman from Kill Bill, holding a sword

Portrait of a self-reliant Bride. Badass. Lonely as hell, though.

Captain Awkward,

My Dad happened to say something the other day that struck a chord with me. He was talking about how nice it was when he recently met up with an old friend from college, and said he had not contacted him previously because he didn’t want to assume his friend wanted to keep in touch.

When he said it, I immediately felt how sad it was that he thought this. Then I realized that I implicitly think the exact same thing all the time. I am writing to you in order to figure out how to not still be thinking that in 25 years so that I don’t turn into my Dad.

I have a really hard time making and keeping friends. All my friendships are short lived and confusing. Most die as soon as we are no longer thrown together by external forces (e.g. sports teams or school). I seem to be capable of other kinds of relationships, like with my fiance or casual acquaintances at work. My parents raised me and my brother to be independent and self-reliant, so it shouldn’t surprise you that we are not a close knit family (though it doesn’t help that I live across the country from them). Happily, my relationship with my fiance is the most sane, easy and right thing that has ever happened to me. I don’t have trouble relying on him or asking for support, which is great because as it turns out I am not capable of being totally self-reliant.

I have been diagnosed with clinical depression, and after some bad episodes, I finally found a treatment that works for me. I finally have a floor beneath my feet. I *never* used to talk to anyone about my depression. In fact I still don’t, but its easier, now that I have a life, to avoid the topic. Yet, I still am that same person in my heart. I see the world differently than people who aren’t depressed. My depressive episodes are like a black hole in the timeline of my life. During that time I had no friends at all (I met my fiance afterwards) because I pushed the world away to sit in my room and cry it out. Before then, I was such a ball of frustration depression and anxiety that its no wonder I didn’t get close with anyone. Now I am 27 and I have my shit together. I take care of myself and found some confidence. But I have no friends, and no idea how to make them or keep them.

With my fiance I feel free, and always have from the start, to talk about depression and feelings etc because he knows how to handle it. With acquaintances, I don’t go anywhere near the topic of downward tilting feelings and I fulfill my end of the socially obligated small talk contract. I’m not shy with new folks because that comes fairly easy to me.

For any relationship between lover and acquaintance, I have no idea how to talk in a way that is at least honest enough to really be myself. I worry people will think I am a burden, a bore, too blunt or pessimistic. I am afraid of talking about myself, but will inevitably feel crummy if all we do is talk about the other person. I am afraid of relying on anyone for anything except someone with a binding agreement that they will be there through sickness and health. I am afraid of assuming people want to hear from me or hang out with me, so I almost never ask. Maybe afraid is too strong a word for all of this. I am not filled with anxiety (at least not the same anxiety of my black hole days), but there is definitely something holding me back.

I am lonely for friends, and am acutely embarrassed to admit that I have no one to ask to be a bridesmaid, let alone a maid of honor. Do you have a set of guidelines I could keep in mind when I’m casting about for things to say that won’t keep me up late at night for the shame? I want to be me, I want to be honest, but I don’t know where to stop and where to push ahead. 

Signed,

A bride, but never a bridesmaid

Dear Bride:

Thanks for the kind words and the book recommendation, I will certainly check it out.

I love reading how your family organized around a central virtue: Self-reliance!  We will be self-reliant and raise our kids to be self-reliant! So you are self-reliant, and all the good things that come with that, but you get the dark side, too.  It’s amazing (in a horrible kind of way) how depression and perfectionism work together inside our jerkbrains. Did you realize that in your letter you are kind of sort of apologizing a little bit for not being “capable” of perfectly self-reliance and happiness at all times, as if that is some kind of standard everyone is holding you to?

It’s also amazing (in that same horrible this-is-how-sausage-gets-made way) how consistently weddings bring out all the insecurities of everyone involved. It turns out that you don’t actually have to have bridesmaids. You can decide to bag that whole thing. But I agree that having friends close enough to be bridesmaids would be awesome, and I see why you want to get some of those.

Way back at the beginning of this blog I posted this TED talk by Brene Brown, about the power of vulnerability. I highly recommend that you watch it.

:Interlude:

Did you watch it?  It’s both extremely comforting and extremely scary on a “yeah, but how do I DO that?” kind of way.

I have some good news for you:  You can be a depressed, blunt, pessimistic person who has a hard time admitting vulnerability and asking for help and still have friends. You can be a great big crybaby needy geeky weirdo who is bad at small talk and still have friends. (Trust me on this). There is no rule that says that you have to achieve some kind of perfection (in your case, steely self-reliance where you prove that you don’t need anybody else and promise to be witty and fascinating at all times and never talk about yourself) before you are allowed to have love or friendship. There is nothing more alienating than perfection or the performance thereof.

You are doing a good thing for yourself by asking this question. The hard work you did to treat your depression has paid off, both in you opening yourself up to a romantic relationship where you feel safe to be vulnerable and in priming you to the place where you want to seek out friendship. Congratulations: You have leveled up on the hierarchy of needs!

There’s some nitty gritty stuff you can do to help yourself with this. About halfway down this post Commander Logic gives you a ton of advice for meeting people and breaking the ice with them.

I look at developing friendships a lot like I look at dating. All the basic Captain Awkward rules apply. They are just other humans, who don’t owe you their friendship or attention, but could potentially be fun to hang out with, given time and exposure.

Your People are everywhere….Your People may be students, townies, single, married with kids, older than you think, younger than you think, churchier, anarchistier, louder, shyer, teetotalers, luddites, technocrats, knitters, blue-collar, ravers, and so many other things that you wouldn’t expect from Your People. To find them, you need to go where people are doing something you love: craft fairs, poetry readings, special screenings, exhibitions, karaoke nights, lessons in anything, churches, block sales, concerts, author book signings, fan conventions, literally anything that you would go to for fun anyway. And then you introduce yourself. A LOT. Or at least as much as you feel you can personally manage, and then talk to ONE more person than that.

“Hi! I’m ______! How did you hear about this event?”
“Hi! I’m ________! I’m trying to get to know people around here; how long have you lived here?”
“Hi! I’m _________! I’m looking for the best coffee in the three block area. Do you know where I could find it?”
“I love [thing person is wearing]! Where did you get it?”
“I’m in [neighborhood] but I’m looking to move, what’s your favorite neighborhood? What do you love about it?”

Praise. Ask advice. People fucking love to give advice. Or be snarky, if that’s your flavor of interaction. If the conversation flows, you might be friends! If the conversation stalls, you might not be, and in an emergency you can Napoleon Dynamite it out of there, and that’s okay. The thing is, your first goal is not “to make friends.” No. Your goal is “meet a lot of people.” Then if someone asks you something like “Why do you want to know?” you can answer “Just trying to meet new people.” If you say, “Just trying to make friends,” then the pressure is on! They might be friend material! Oh noes! I don’t even know if I like you yet! You aren’t friends yet, but you ARE new people who have met. SUCCESS!

They don’t have to be your friends right away. Or ever! The entire extent of your relationship may be that one meeting, or maybe they’ll introduce you to someone who will become your friend. But you are in charge of who you maintain contact with.

And when you meet new people that you like, date them. You know, friend-date them. Until you either become friends or drift apart.

One thing that has worked out well for other letter writers is finding 1) a regular activity (like the sports teams you mention, where you’ve found friends before), 2) that you must do regularly with other people, 3) where you are a newbie and not in a position of having to be good at it right away, which automatically makes you vulnerable.  Roller derby? Foreign language classes? Dungeons and Dragons?

Another suggestion is to ask your favorites among your fiance’s friends or family to lunch or the movies or to hear some music. Choose something VERY casual to do and invite them along (not something that requires you to clean the house and demonstrate cooking/hosting skills). You already know some of these people, right? Try to dance a little closer and see what happens.

Not everyone will want to be your friend. You won’t want everyone you meet to be your friend. When it happens, it will feel easy and good, like it did when you got to know your fiance.

If you’re not currently in therapy and can get access to it, I recommend you go back and talk about these worries. If you start feeling those “oh god what if they don’t really actually like me/I want it too much, therefore that means I can’t have it” feelings and pull away, your therapist can remind you that that’s your jerkbrain being a big jerk to you and it may not have anything to do with what these new friends feel about you. It takes so much work to reset your default to “People probably like me more than they don’t,” but I bet that IS the default of how other people feel about you in reality.  For instance, I read your letter and thought “She sounds pretty neat.”

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46 comments
  1. Beauzeaux said:

    If you don’t mind: what book?

    • JenniferP said:

      Sorry, accidentally trimmed the post-scripts.

      “P.P.S. I think I read in one of your reader question responses that you also were diagnosed with depression. I would like to recommend to you a book that altered how I view my depression, called a First Rate Madness by Nassir Ghaemi. Reading that allowed me to realize for the first time how depression can in some cases be beneficial to society.”

  2. Thank you for that video link, very helpful.

    • JenniferP said:

      I love that she tried to solve emotions with science. She’s one of us.

      • Letter writer said:

        I just loved that video, thanks for the recommendation. Its super cool how she was taking her own advice throughout the talk by revealing so much about herself. You could feel the impact of that working while she talked. I think I’ll go watch it 100 more times.

  3. Nomie said:

    This letter gave me a LOT of feelings. LW, friendship can be totally hard and scary! But if you managed to find love and committment with your fiance, you can do it again with friends who will put a metaphorical ring on it. And age isn’t a barrier – someone I met this past year has quickly become one of my closest friends because we are kindred spirits (yes, I am referencing Anne of Green Gables) and I’m 27 and she’s in her thirties.

    Also, it’s kind of astounding how many people are totally willing to be friends with someone who is open about their struggles with depression. I’m not saying you should feel compelled to blurt it out to every one of your casual acquaintances, because that sounds like something that would deeply freak you out. But the odds that people will be understanding and sympathetic, if you tell them when you feel comfortable and in an atmosphere of trust, are probably better than you imagine. They’re not going to feel like they got sold a bill of goods; they’re going to appreciate it as another nuance of what makes you a wonderful complicated human being. They may even have these struggles themselves, which means they will get it on a whole other level.

    • Gretchen said:

      Definitely this. I used to be very cagey about my past, particularly my late teens and early 20’s as I pretty much lost those years to depression and other issues. I don’t now go around telling everyone, but usually if I’m with someone and we have got to the level of discussing our pasts – and of course depending on the situation – I will begin to open up and gauge from there whether or not it is something they and I feel comfortable talking about with each other.

      It can really surprise you not only how many people are willing to accept it but have also gone through similar issues, actually it can be pretty astounding the number of people you meet everyday that have experienced something similar, and it can be the sharing of some of these experiences that take you from friendly acquaintances to friends.

  4. monica said:

    Like Nomie, this gave me feelings. I have anxiety issues and one of the biggest problems I have is talking to strangers. This column just inspired me to Google “how to small talk” (yes, exactly like that, I know, I’m judging me, too) and I found this surprisingly helpful article from Redbook (weird, right?) that perhaps the letter writer will find helpful as well: http://www.redbookmag.com/recipes-home/how-to-make-small-talk

  5. Ensign Perception said:

    Yeah, I feel ya, Letter Writer.

    One thing I’d add is, it’s OK to allow yourself to be pursued a little bit. Most of the people I’m friends with are people who kept inviting me to things, so I kept going to their things, and then eventually we became friends. Trust me, you don’t have to be “one of the cool kids” to get a few invitations. But it can be tough to get into the habit of accepting invitations, as I well know.

  6. swevene said:

    Oddly, I have just been thinking about this situation a lot too. I was raised in a very isolated way and it impacted my ability to form relationships. I’m hoping to start counselling soon and start working on that and other things too.

    I will try some of your tips too, Captain Awkward! Nice timing. :D

  7. jenjo said:

    Figuring out when to ‘come out’ about having a mental illness can be tricky – do it too soon and you feel like you opened yourself up to people who didn’t really care enough about you to hear something that personal, leave it too late and you end up constantly feeling under pressure to act more OK than you actually are, or leaving out large chunks of the history you tell about yourself. This definitely gets easier with practice though.

  8. FarmerStina said:

    LW – I didn’t have bridesmaids or a maid of honor at my wedding, partially because I didn’t have any close friends at the time. It worked out alright for us though. It did save us from having any awkward bridal party drama. Still, sometimes I think it would have been nice.
    TW for description of anxiety:
    Also, my best friend and I bond over our anxiety and the resulting stomach issues that result from anxiety. For a long time, I didn’t have any close friends and then I met her through work and it was like BFF at first sight. I don’t have to worry about weirding her out when I have an anxiety attack because she’s been through it before. And when one of us goes through a depressive episode and disappears off the face of the earth for a few weeks, the other recognizes that and can just deal with it. Because we’ve both been there. We haven’t worked together in 18 months now, but we’re still friends. I know there is someone else out there who would understand everything you go through completely, because they’ve been there too. I wish you the best of luck in finding them.

  9. Making lots of friends has always come naturally for me, so I’m not sure I have much valuable advice, other than “people want to be friends with people who are fun to be around”. Corollary to this is that it will be easiest to make friends in the context of activities and pursuits that *you* find fun.

    And I agree that the letter-writer sounds like an interesting person who would, indeed, be fun to be around. She doesn’t say anything about her hobbies or other interests, but whatever they are, that would be a good place to start finding other people who like the same things.

  10. commanderlogic said:

    All the small-talking, introductions, and what to say seem to be handled, so I’m gonna chime in with some Patented CommanderLogic Friend Date advice.

    First, there’s no ONE way to invite people into your life. But this is a way to do it that I’ve found useful:

    Do the inviting.
    Make it something you’d do alone anyway.
    If the person can’t come, or is late or whatever, go do it anyway on your own.

    If you can, make it a weekly event, so you have a stock day when you either are going out with a new friend, or doing something nice for yourself.

    “I go to the library and out for lunch on Saturdays while [fiancé] does [thing fiancé does]. I usually go to [location]. Would you like to join me? Have you been to [location]? Do you know another place to try?”

    “I get my nails done Thursday evenings at the BEST place. Would you like to come?” (admission: I never get a manicure except when my mom is visiting. Because I bite my nails. BUT if someone invited me for Nails Timez, I would totally get a pedicure. That shit is awesome.)

    “I’m going to do some window shopping at [store infestation site] on Sunday afternoon. Want to come with me?” (admission: I hate shopping with the fire of a thousand suns, but it is a) a necessary evil b) much better if someone comes with me, especially if they LIKE shopping, because that can be infectious.)

    “I NEED someone to watch [show fiancé hates] with, and I have a backlog on my DVR/a bunch downloaded on my laptop. Friday? My place? Pizza?” (May I once again recommend Downton Abbey, because that is great, but also SO much better when watched with a kindred soul.)

    “I jog/run/yoga/climb rocks at [location.] I can get you a pass if you’d like to try it with me.” (further admission: I DO. NOT. EVER. Work out with people I like or know. I just want to zone out and get through my run as fast as possible. But other people are different! So!)

    If you do one thing together and it seems to go well, don’t wait for the other person to reciprocate; that way pity-parties lie. Just keep inviting that person along with you, and if they are feeling it, they will invite you to their things. Or maybe they don’t have things they think they can invite you to. Not everyone is a social butterfly, and that’s okay.

    • Virginia said:

      I have been a recipient of CommanderLogic’s “I am going to do X and place Y, come if you can!” method of invitations, and it worked great on me. I felt welcome to do the things I wanted to and to take rainchecks on the others, without a whit of pressure in between.

      Her follow up is also good: if I didn’t go to X at Y and asked about it, she said things like “Oh, we had a great time, thanks for asking! [insert amusing anecdote].” There was never any pressure (no matter how slight it might be) of “we missed you” or “hope you can make it next time.” Just acceptance.

      Brilliant all around.

      • JenniferP said:

        She is the Swiss Army Knife of friends.

        • Niemandsrose said:

          She is! Always has a corkscrew and a bottle opener!

          • commanderlogic said:

            And a toothpick! And… what the hell is this thing?

    • Isabel said:

      You make it sound so eeeeeeeeasy, I can’t imagine having any of those conversations with someone I wasn’t already friends with. But I think that’s a conversation for therapy, not advice columns, lol.

      • commanderlogic said:

        No no! It’s simple but it’s not in any possible way easy, especially if you’re shy. I am not shy and I still have to battle the demons of “but what if they don’t liiiiiiiiiiiiiiike me!?!?”

        I also know that – exactly as in dating – the very worst possible thing they can do is say “no.” And then I still have plans to do something that I like. No harm, no foul. You make friends by treating people like they maybe already are your friends.

        But then again, your mileage is gonna vary based on your own personal comfort level, so I give you the fistbump of Doin’ Whatcha Gotta Do.

  11. Allison said:

    Oh man, also with the feelings.

    1. Yes to sports! I signed up for a rec league team with a bunch of people I didn’t know. That was four years ago and it remains one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. I met a lot of great people who are still my friends today — the best, longest-landing, happiest friends group I’ve ever been a part of.

    2. It’s really OK to not hide that you’re looking for friends. You don’t have to pretend that having friends is just a thing that would be nice, but it’s fine, whatever. Lots of people feel the same way you do (as these comments attest).

  12. mp said:

    Just after I moved to San Francisco, I went to an event that I was interested in. There, I had a conversation with a now-friend that went something like this:

    Hi! I just moved to town and am looking to meet new people!
    Hi! All my friends are moving away so I’m looking to meet new people!

    And we’ve been friends ever since. What I’m trying to say is, there are other people in your boat that are also looking for an expanded social network.

  13. Rosie said:

    I think…if I’m not reading you wrong, that part of the deal is you can spend friendly time with people, but have trouble turning that into any sort of lasting bond.

    It’s impossible to have a lasting friendship with the surface of someone. You’re hiding wounds and scars and holes inside yourself because you don’t want to bother anyone else with them. This isn’t a bad instinct on the whole, nobody likes it when someone dumps all their trauma on them in a big, indigestible lump they’re not ready for. However, part of how humans heal is by comparing woes; it’s how we stop feeling alone with our pain.

    Your acquaintances, the ones you’d like to know better, some of them have matching holes in their psyche. Some of them shoved everyone away to curl up in a cave and lick their wounds. Some of them have months or years that they remember as one long, silent scream. And, they like hearing from other veterans of the Biochemistry Wars. It makes a nice change from all the people who told them to just suck it up and feel better, already.

    The trick is to open up a little at a time. Wedge the door open a crack, toss out an offhand remark, and wait to see which doors crack open in response. And if you like spending time with someone, assume they like spending time with you. It’s usually true.

    • JenniferP said:

      I’m in the middle of grading, so can only speak in terms of grades. This comment gets an A+!

  14. roo said:

    Letter Writer, I feel like I know some of what you feel, particularly when you write about holes in your personal history left by bouts of mental illness. I’m nowhere near figuring that all out for myself, so the comments and advice here are helpful.

    In Real Life, I’ve just been leaving the holes there for now, since my brand of illness tends to be frightening as well as potentially off-putting. But the Internet… Oh, the internet! The people here are real, too! At least, many of them are. But you can swim along and tesseract and otherwise cut corners until you find the people who get you, all while wearing a cloak of invisibility you can remove or not as you please. I’ve met many wonderful people here on the Interwebs. They make me laugh. They make me feel strong.

    And there are so many people, of so many different stripes, here from all over the world. I bet you could find a tribe quicker than you’d imagine.

    Of course, that’s different from having a corporeal friend to take to the movies or cook with. But the previous commenters have far better advice than I could offer on that front. I’m a new parent, so I’ve been meeting people that way, which is nice. And I’m looking for a choir to sing with– choirs are often geek magnets, and everyone has a task to do to smooth over the weirdness of meeting new people.

    But I will say something, that may sound self-serving, but is true in my experience– most of the people I’ve known who are worth getting to know have struggled with dark moods. People who are sensitive and smart see what’s wrong in the world. They think about it and hurt for it. And that struggle leaves a something that I think fellow travelers recognize in each other without words.

    Go ahead and keep those black holes to yourself. You’ll find people anyway. And those people you find will probably understand.

  15. Dorothy said:

    I am curious about the remark you made, that your parents raised you and your brother to be self-reliant, and so it shouldn’t surprise us that you are not a close-knit family. I’m wondering if that means that, in part, you might not have been given a firm footing while growing up, that the roots your parents provided were only tentative at best and didn’t keep you fully grounded and supported? Did they leave you to solve your problems by yourself many times rather than give you a helping hand? Because I think that if they had provided the full love and support you and your brother needed, you would still remain close even though there is physical distance between you.

    The reason I’m wondering all of this is because I grew up in a “do it yourself” family, meaning that after a certain young age, I was pretty much left on my own in terms of solving problems and dealing with the struggles in my life. I had no firm foundation whatsoever. A recurring picture in my mind during my growing up years was of myself on the edge of a cliff, someone in anger nudges me, and I fall into the abyss. I saw myself as a leaf blowing in the wind and, as I grew older, I became terribly depressed, withdrawn, and angry, getting myself into trouble, going from therapist to therapist, dropping one friend after another.

    Hopefully your life has not been as drastic as mine was in the past, but I do wonder if there are some similarities.

    I feel that when the deep roots of unconditional love, trust, compassion, and helpfulness are not provided very strongly by parents to their offspring, there tends to be more difficulty in establishing close ties with others, since it can seem like foreign territory, having never experienced it while growing up. That might also help explain the ease in dealing with people you don’t know well, since growing up in a self-reliant household may have meant that you and your family remained strangers somewhat, and that is more familiar to you than being close to people. However, you have established a wonderful, intimate relationship with your fiance, and that’s very gratifying to hear!!!

    My next question is did you have difficulty establishing a close relationship with your mother when growing up? Did she appear somewhat distant, standoffish, and not easy to confide in? Was it difficult to trust that she would be there for you when the chips were down? If so, that would certainly help explain a fear of establishing close ties with women as friends. An inherent lack of trust in the main source of sustenance in your life, your mother, would have many repercussions down the road. That’s been my situation to deal with, and I was wondering if it has also had any bearing on your life. If so, you are now free to choose the type of women you want to be around, and you don’t have to remain with anyone you feel uncomfortable with and don’t trust.

    If your mother has been loving and warm, I sincerely apologize!!! I’m looking at your situation in somewhat close terms to my own, as being friends with women has been very difficult for me, and I did not have a close relationship with my mother. My father, however, was very loving though difficult to talk to.

    I think, growing up in a household where a do-it-yourself atmosphere pervades, instead of creating strength and easy conversation back and forth, with the solid knowledge that parents will love us no matter what and that we have firm footing and not quicksand beneath our feet, there is the sense that we must suffer in silence and try to figure out dilemmas on our own. My mother used to tell us, “I don’t know how you could ever feel that way,” and so, rather than tell her anything else, I suffered in silence from then on, sure that I was the only one to have the feelings I had and that I would be laughed at if I mentioned what I was thinking.

    As children and teenagers, we need a very solid base of support in our home lives. You mention finally having a floor beneath your feet. That’s really wonderful because you don’t have to go around anymore thinking that a trap door might open at any minute and you’ll feel off balance and fall into a depression.

    You sound like a very loving, warm, sensitive, and loyal person, and you certainly deserve to have women friends who treat you as you wish to be treated and who are as sensitive and loving as you are, and I wish you all the best!!! Those women are out there, and “the readiness is all.” You’ll find that you don’t have to struggle or work hard to find them because once you’re ready, they will gladly come to you.

    I’ve written a novella here, so I need to go. But again, good luck to you, and may you find very loving relationships with women that are lasting, trustworthy, and very supportive!!!

    • Letter writer said:

      I think your situation was/is much worse than mine, I am sorry you had to go through that! I keenly remembering suffering in silence the way you describe.

      My family in general is not maniacal about self-reliance, and will be quick to mobilize practical support if needed. But need is usually defined as something arising from events out of your control, or events you prepared for but couldn’t fully anticipate. If there was something you could have done to prevent a bad thing, then expect to be derailed and implicitly blamed.

      Thanks for your comment, good luck to you too!

      • Dorothy said:

        It sounds as if your family is there for you if every i and t has been crossed but withdraws support if there is something, anything you could have done to prevent a mistake from being made. That is a rigid standard that NO ONE can follow, and it only serves to suck energy and joy from life. Compassion and true acceptance of all facets of your being seem to be lacking in your family background, unfortunately, replaced with hefty doses of criticism for not accomplishing tasks perfectly.

        Mistakes are actually allies to help us grow. If a family does not accept the idea of making many mistakes, there can be the shadows of depression, anxiety, and despair hovering over us. We’re afraid to let our real selves show because we’re flawed, so to speak, and we’re not allowed to appear flawed, according to our family “rules.” I used to look at everyone else as being so poised, so self-assured. Meanwhile, I’d have mustard on my blouse or something and feel like a fool. But you know what? I had to finally cut the crap and say, “This is me, and this is part of my quirky character, and that’s all there is to it,” because there’s no way I can appear sophisticated and self-assured. As soon as I start thinking that, I trip on the sidewalk. I finally accept that about myself. But this has come after many years of floundering and fear of making mistakes in front of people and hiding from them.

        You’re on your own now, which means you can follow YOUR OWN heart and mind. It’s tough to admit that your family is wrong, but with those too-high standards, THEY ARE WRONG. Those standards have become roadblocks to your development, and you’ll just have to just bulldoze them down, because they’re not serving your higher purpose in life.

        My wish for you is that you always see the silver lining beyond the mistake. Because what we think are mistakes can actually turn out to be positives in some way. “Oh, I didn’t get that job” could actually mean “there’s a much better one for you around the corner, so don’t get down on yourself.” It’s darkest before the dawn, and if you keep walking down the road in the direction you’re headed, you’ll find that silver lining. Have faith that it is always there for you.

        • letter writer said:

          Putting geographic distance between me and my family gave me so much perspective, and helped me realize how destructive it is to be so critical in this way. But I didn’t totally kick the habit, when I first moved in with my fiancee I found myself being critical and short with him about problems he could have prevented. He stood up to me, and that actually showed me how to stand up against myself.

          I like to think I am a lot better, but I think I need to go study that “how not to derail” post a little closer myself sometimes (thank you Cpt Awkward).

          I am not very good at looking on the bright side or for silver linings (thanks depression) but I can work to accept that history is history, and all I can do is by best going forward.

          • Dorothy said:

            It’s perfectly understandable that you would be critical to your fiance, someone very close to you, because we tend to live what we learn. And you learned to be critical from your family, as that’s the way they treated you. Don’t put yourself down for criticizing him. You recognize where the criticism originated from, you’re doing the best you can, and you’re learning along the way, and that’s all anyone can ask of you – that’s more than enough! You will automatically get to a higher level in life because of following through on the learning curve. You will not be like your family. You understand that their behavior is negative and that it doesn’t serve you. You’re taking the high road.

            Depression is very rough. I have sometimes written in a gratitude journal, which helps me to focus on the things I’m thankful for rather than what I’m not thankful for. But of course there are triggers that flatten us and throw us right back into dwelling on negative events of the past, our so-called failures, times that we supposedly let our parents down, etc. But if you look at it from another perspective, your parents let YOU down. Living across country from them is giving you a lot of perspective regarding how they treated you, and that’s certainly positive.

            One thing you could do is set aside a bit of time each day, maybe just 2 minutes, (set a timer if you have to), to say nice things about yourself out loud, whatever comes up that you felt good about during the day, something that you particularly appreciate about yourself, something that gave you positive feelings, that you’re proud of having done, etc. Then leave those thoughts to grow in your mind. You need to build yourself up, and start right now, instead of continuing to put yourself down. There will be that nagging voice that says, “Not true,” but ignore it. It’s only there to try and uphold the status quo, what went on in the past, as there is still a part of you that’s more comfortable and familiar with the way you were raised rather than venturing into uncomfortable, foreign, yet more positive, territory. Tell that voice to get the hell out if you have to because you are the one taking the reins now, and you know you’re going the right way.

            If your parents focused on your mistakes more than your triumphs (and when we’re younger, we want to please our parents so much that we become super sensitive to what they say), it’s also understandable that you would focus on your own mistakes much more than your triumphs. Something like that carries on down the line unless you break the chain.

            So, although you were belittled at home and held to a standard NO ONE could live up to, you don’t need to carry on the family legacy by continuing to belittle yourself out of the nest. You’re not under anyone’s thumb anymore, and you can set your own rules, which will be much more positive and help you to heal faster because they’re on your terms.

            Again, good luck to you in all you do!!!

          • Dorothy said:

            Here’s another take on making mistakes: If someone is belittling you for making a mistake, they are not seeing the beauty of its teachings. Those people have tunnel vision and, frankly, I feel sorry for them. They’re not seeing the forest for the trees. They tend to be perfectionists themselves, or they could be bullies, maybe trying to make up for some deficiency they feel they have. They tend to be harsh on themselves and harsh on others, which can result in a distorted view of life, a driven view, and others around them can be miserable. And somewhere in their own past, there might have been a perfectionist or bully cracking a whip on them. So it can travel down the line unless that negative behavior is stopped in its tracks.

            We all know well-meaning teachers who, in art class, berate students for not following an “ideal vision” (according to the teacher’s standards) of what a drawing should look like. This is an example of people NOT GETTING IT, NOT UNDERSTANDING. To them, the kids are making mistakes and are not drawing within acceptable guidelines. To the kids, they were just having fun and seeing a different vision. The kids had no idea they were making “mistakes.” Since they’re berated out loud by the teacher, everyone else hears it and joins in a chorus of “yeah, that looks awful,” which can result in a feeling that the berated has no talent and must live within certain short-sighted perimeters. It’s a relief to know that artists have gone ahead and applied their vision, anyway, because where would we be otherwise? So that’s another thing: What one person sees as a mistake may actually not be one at all. It’s our own perceptions that change the dynamics of what a mistake is in some instances.

            Just understand that mistakes are crucial to our lives, they have incredible value, and they must be respected for what they represent. The word “mistake” connotes something negative in our society. But we really cannot live without them. They represent teaching moments. It is our responsibility to shift our way of thinking about what we did, judge whether it was a mistake or not, and if it is indeed a mistake, to recognize what message it’s giving us, that is, to veer to another, more enlightening path, and to move on in our lives. And THAT’S ALL. To learn, to move on. No putting ourselves down a million times. But it is a taskmaster and will keep hammering its teachings in if we refuse to change.

            LW, accept your mistakes wholeheartedly and don’t put yourself down time after time for making them. If something, to you, doesn’t go well, it may just be because it’s not meant to happen, but something much better is around the corner.

            I could go on and on about this, as I’ve berated myself very harshly for making mistakes in the past, and then I go over and over the scenario in my mind, wishing I’d done something different, feeling that I’ve looked like a fool in front of others, mostly. I make mistakes every day of my life, and I mostly become upset because essentially I’ve been a people-pleaser, afraid to upset anyone or look foolish, afraid that I’ll be abandoned. And the older I get, the more I’ve come to appreciate the lessons from making mistakes. And maybe one of the main lessons I’ve needed to learn is relaxation, acceptance, going with the flow, and moving on instead of obstructing the flow by wishing the outcome had been different and then getting down on myself because I realize that people will know the real me, and I’m flawed. But that’s okay with me now. I’m in good company with the billions of others who are flawed as well.

            I hope that you can realize that you can make mistake after mistake and still live a joyful life. You can accept your full self and say, “It’s okay that I made a mistake. What’s most important, and what stands out in my mind, is that I TRIED.” (With getting to know new friends, for instance.) And the fact that you tried gives you more courage to try again. And of course there are the triumphs, too, always, that will help buoy your spirits.

            Here’s something to read that will put mistakes and so-called failures into perspective: http://creatingminds.org/quotes/failure.htm

            Best wishes to you in your travels through life!!!

      • JenniferP said:

        Are we related? That is such a good description of that dynamic.

        • Dorothy said:

          If we have traveled the same road, yes, we are related! And thank you!

          • Dorothy said:

            And I have also, finally, accepted that there is a silver lining to every mistake and every peril in life, although it may take awhile for the silver lining to appear. That makes difficulties easier, somehow, to bear.

  16. Letter writer said:

    Thanks to everyone for the encouragement and help!

    I think it really helps that everyone has reinforced the idea that I should expect to have friends I can really open up to. Sometimes my jerkbrain convinced me that was too much to ask for.

    • Rosie said:

      Jerkbrains are jerks. I’ve had mine tell me I shouldn’t expect/don’t deserve friends, too. Heck, I’ve had mine tell me I don’t deserve antidepressants, and that’s a cycle of suck that belongs in the special hell.

      I wish you friends. I wish you good friends.

      • Letter writer said:

        Oh lord, special hell indeed! I am so scared my jerkbrain will decide one day to stop taking my antidepressants.

        Thanks for all your kind comments :)

        • Rosie said:

          There’s a way to defeat that, just in case. Have your fiance say, “It hurts me when you don’t take care of yourself,” and then jerkbrain will take the damn meds lest you *gasp* be a bother.

          It’s a little messed up, but it works.

  17. Lesley said:

    Letter writer and a lot of other replyer’s have commented that they have been diagnosed with clinical depression. Clinical depression SUCKS. But its worth remembering that “clinical depression” is a phrase used to describe a set of symptoms, its NOT a description that defines your personality, your life, your capacity to cope with difficult things or even your ability to make friends. It is not a label you need carry for the rest of your life either; it’ll come and visit for a while, probably through times in your life when other difficult things are happening, and then it will leave again. When it does go, feel free to think of yourself as NOT depressed. :-) Also, your depression probably won’t be as scary to other people as it is to you and there lots of people out there who don’t find it scary to talk about at all. :-) (having friends who work in the mental health industry are great, because they DON’T try to provide free therapy – that you don’t want – and big, tricky emotions don’t freak them out. Trust me, I know this!!)

    Making friends as an adult is really hard, even for those of us who have worked out a bit more about how their jerkbrains try and trick them into thinking that they suck. So when you go out there to try and meet new people, remember that the other person you’re talking probably feels the same as you do!! One trick I’ve found is to try and connect with people you already know, just in a different context or more regularly. So think back to the last friend who you feel drifted away, why not look them up on facebook and see if they want to get a drink/lunch/ movie/shopping trip etc? Volunteering is also a great way to meet people who have similar interests to you and it makes you feel great about yourself at the same time! If you think about it, its kind of exciting (yes, and scary) to think that there are people out there to meet who could become great friends!

    • Rosie said:

      I don’t feel like I “need” to carry the label, “clinically depressed,” nor do I feel like it defines me, but I do feel that clinical depression has marked my life and having been severely depressed has changed certain aspects of me. I keep a weather-eye out for signs of depression in myself and people I care about; I wouldn’t feel the need to do that if I’d never been clinically depressed. I think I’m more tolerant of other people’s mental quirks and more accepting of the idea of mental illness as a thing you take care of rather than a thing to be ashamed of because I was depressed. I’m also a little more grateful and a little more cautious when I have good feelings. I feel like it’s an important thing for people who are close to me to know about me. I feel like it’s never totally absent from my life.

      And there are a lot of wonderful people who have taught me that there is no shame in feeling bad, or in asking for help when I do. More and more, they are becoming the majority. There are also some people, well-meaning or not, who have given aid and comfort to my enemy, depression, by insisting that if I feel bad, it’s because I’m not good enough, or not doing enough, and if I have to take medication to feel better then I have taken the easy way out and am somehow living a lie, or else if I have to take medication then I really am “crazy” and that means I’m dangerous. They’re wrong, but they’re out there.

      In other words, you’re technically right, Lesley, but the feeling that depression makes us different from those who have never dealt with it is a valid one, and the caution this inspires in us is understandable.

      • Letter writer said:

        fist-bump

    • Letter writer said:

      Thanks for your comment, I appreciate your help.

      It may be your experience that depression is a set of symptoms that you don’t have to carry or inhabit when not down, but that isn’t how it works for me.

      I think what you describe is what so called “normal” people experience. For example, you mention that depression will come for a while probably when other things are difficult. That seems perfectly normal (and sucky) to be down about something going wrong in your life.

      But I can honestly say that most times I am down for absolutely no reason. In fact, I will get down despite everything going right. I will get down and not enjoy anything at all. Being down is most likely my brain deciding its about that time to take off the life-vest.

      Both ways of ending up at the bottom of a well are just as real and awful.

      Its sort of like how there was an awful time when I had anxiety because I lost my job, but thats not what happens to my uncle who frequently has anxiety for no discernable reason.

      Even though I am not always down, depression has for better or worse, shaped who I am. When I am honest with myself I know this to be true. In fact, it helps to know that I will always have to deal with depression. It means I don’t feel like a failure every time it comes back. It means I don’t put pressure on myself to argue my way out of it.

  18. Ha, I loved your sign off, “Always a bride, never a bridesmaid.” I really relate to that and a lot of what you said (worrying I am boring, negative, etc.). To bad we don’t know each other in person and can’t meet up to commiserate over coffee or something. I also didn’t have a soul to ask to be a bridesmaid when I married. In fact the circumstances of my acquiring a bridesmaid show just how poor my social skills were. I was set up with a bridesmaid by my husband’s aunt who was giving us the wedding (the aunt graciously volunteered herself to be matron of honor). It was like the rent-a-lawyer you get when you can’t afford the real thing. But the thing is that this girl should have been my friend. She was incredibly sweet and friendly and we saw each other every day. I just never 1) thought she was my type (too perfect/ I am not good at anything and she was good at everything 2) a little too young 3) too religious, 4) She doesn’t like me.5) If we become friends I had to make conversation ad I have no idea how to do that because I am not either a 60 year old woman who starts conversations with every stranger or one of those bubbly cheerleader types. It just goes on, every excuse. The other crazy part was that my own sister came to my wedding and I did not have the confidence to ask her to be my bridesmaid. I hadn’t seen her in too long. I’d look like a loser if she saw I didn’t have anyone but her to ask. So sad. Anyway this sounds rude but I really like how CO points out that anyone, even annoying/negative/whiny people can have friends. That actually helped me out a lot when I was going through my own crisis of identity here. Observe how many people who have glaring imperfections have all kinds of friends. It’s because they talk to people and are nice to them. They listen and follow up (How was your fiance’s concert you told me about last week? How was your interview? I loved your pictures of your trip on fb). That’s it. Suspending judgement and just taking people as they come.

  19. Edit: CO = CA (Captain Awkward)

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