#906: “Anxious that my mom might try to connect me with an old schoolmate.”

Hi Captain,

I realize my problem isn’t as serious as other letters you’ve answered, but I figured I should try writing anyway since I don’t really have anyone to talk to about it.

I was friends with someone I’ll call “Oakley” from elementary school through high school. It was very rare for my parents to allow me to hang out with friends, so I really only got to spend time with Oakley if I was in one of their classes. The lack of contact outside of school didn’t exactly cultivate a deep friendship, and I didn’t keep in contact with them after graduating even though we only live a few miles apart.

This past weekend, my mother ran into Oakley’s mother at a movie theater, and they talked about getting together for lunch in the near future to catch up. I’m worried this catch-up-lunch is going to end with an obligation for me to hang out with Oakley.

I have nothing against Oakley personally, it’s just that: 1) School wasn’t a nightmare for me, but it wasn’t a great time either, and I imagine it being at least a little painful to have to reconnect with any part of it. 2) While I remember Oakley fondly, they’re essentially a stranger now, so what’s the point? And 3) I have no interest in socializing with *anyone.* (I made more “friends” in college and the following internships/jobs, but I avoided spending time with them outside of those contexts. I do wish I had real friends, but the idea of socializing makes me extremely anxious.)

I already asked my mother not to set up any “play dates” between me and Oakley (she was surprised and said it was a good thing I told her). I’m not sure what else to do or what she could say if Oakley’s mother brings it up. Any thoughts or advice?

(Note: I realize Oakley might not be interested in seeing me at all either. I’m just imagining a worst case scenario where Oakley’s mother tries to reconnect us.)

Hi!

You know your mom best, and the fact that she said “It’s a good thing you told me” tells me that the meeting of the moms would have resulted in some pressure to reconnect with Oakley when she hung out with his mom.

However, that’s a LOT of head miles to drive on something that hasn’t happened yet and may not happen. And something where, even if it happens, you still have the final say-so. For example, what if your mom did set something up?

Mom: “I talked to Oakley’s mom, and here’s their number so the two of you can reconnect!”

You: “No thanks, I’m not interested.”

Mom: “But what will I tell Oakley’s mom when I see her?”

You: “I don’t know? That you ran it by me and I’m not interested?”

Mom: “But what will she tell Oakley?”

You: “Same thing, probably? Who knows?”

Mom: “But what will she/Oakley think of me/you/us?” (This is the *real* question, the one with stakes for your mom).

You: “Who knows? I told you not to set anything up.”

You could also accept the number from your mom and never call Oakley, though that risks many follow-up questions that might be a bigger hassle than saying no in the first place.

You are allowed to choose your own friends.

You are allowed to pick your own friends without help or hindrance from your parents. 

You are allowed to be as social, or not social, as you like. 

Believe it.

Act like it’s true and it will be true.

You say in the beginning of your letter that this question isn’t very serious. You also say: “I do wish I had real friends, but the idea of socializing makes me extremely anxious.” That sounds pretty serious to me?

That statement + the fact that you got very worried about the prospect of seeing someone you ‘remember fondly’ again + hearing that you were prevented from spending time with friends as a child (really Not Okay on your parents’ part, in my opinion) + that you deliberately avoided deepening friendships from college or internships …Well, all that together makes me want to recommend that you explore those nervous feelings with a trained clinician like a therapist or social worker. We can’t internet-diagnose you and wouldn’t if we could, but I think it’s worth typing “anxious about socializing” “anxious about making friends,” etc. and seeing if checklists or online resources that come up apply to your situation.

You are the boss of whether you hang out with Oakley again in this life. You’re also the boss of whether you want to make friends with others and how you want to handle those friendships. Your parents aren’t the boss of your friendships anymore, but if anxiety about being around people is getting in the way of the things you want, I hope you’ll look into treatment so that those feelings are not the boss of you, either. You deserve to have the relationships that you want in this world!

Readers, as a reminder, saying “It sounds like you definitely have (condition)” is not cool. “I have felt like you, and I have (condition), this is how I manage it, if any of that information helps you here you go,” is in bounds.

Much love,

Captain Awkward

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

91 comments
  1. My dad hangs out with a lot of people who were mean or bullies to me in high school, as well as friends that have fallen by the wayside. He’s an awesome electrician, so he gets hired to work on their houses! There were several instances in which he would call me and say, “I ran into so-and-so today and she’s [life update here] and she told me to say hi!” I would be carefully blase and noncommittal, not ask anything about them or their lives, and sometimes remind him that so-and-so used to not be very nice to me and I would appreciate his not sharing much about me. He got the hint pretty quickly, and we don’t talk much about those people anymore.

    • craniest said:

      omg I wish my dad could take a lesson from your dad. After I got a divorce I was telling a story of something my ex did once that was pretty uncool and he just looked at me and went “well *I* never had a problem with your ex.” 25 years later it still floors me.

      Good luck LW, hope your friend’s parents are as cool as your mom, especially if they don’t particularly want to be set up on a “play date” either. You got this.

      • alexcansmile said:

        @Craniest – my jaw just hit the floor. Your dad! What!?

        • neverjaunty said:

          There are a lot of people who are unwilling to consider that others are allowed to have different feelings, opinions or preferences than they do.

          • Kat, Ph.D. said:

            Or that people they like could have done shitty, shitty things to other people.

          • Emma said:

            Aaah ha ha like the absolute TRAINWRECK that is Scottish rapper Loki’s recent media life.

            He made a music video about partner abuse, sort of raising awareness and generally criticising shitty usually-men.

            Then someone pointed out that the director for the video is a shitty MRA.

            And Loki doubled down with the “No no, he’s an upstanding guy!” “He wouldn’t do things like that!” “I’ve never had reason to be concerned!” stuff.

            The lack of self-awareness would be comical if it weren’t so tragically typical.

      • policychick said:

        Wait what? “Well *I* never had a problem with you ex.”? Because clearly Dad is the one who matters when it comes to your marriage.

        Oy.

  2. Madb said:

    Good luck, dear LW! A lot of what you’ve said resonates with me (isolated childhood, not able to really have friends) and it took me a very long time to finally figure out how to connect with people in a way that didn’t make me instantly panic. I did (and do) the therapy thing and found it very helpful.

    I also found it helpful to start by socialising over the internet; most of my super-close (emotionally and physically!) relationships have internet roots. For me, learning how to just talk to people without the pressure of hanging out was very freeing and led to me eventually being able to meet both the internet people *and* complete strangers.

    The other thing I had to do, and my therapist helped with this, was taking a very frank look at my childhood and saying; “This happened. It sucked. I won’t let it define me.” and while I still feel like I’m playing catch-up with the how-to-people thing I also have some of the best friends I could imagine. Or *more* than I could imagine.

    Again, much goodwill! I feel that the fact that you reached out to CA is a good start!

    • I actually had a ton of internet friends from a role play forum that I chatted/IM’ed with almost daily from middle school to undergrad. It was awesome! Aside from role playing, they had similar interests, so we had *a lot* to talk about, and I didn’t feel shy at all because I was able to edit out any stupidity/awkwardness before responding. Fell out of contact with them since they were all older and started careers and families, and I got busy with grad school, though.

      I started participating in a forum related to one of my hobbies recently, which has been nice, but I don’t really feel connected to anyone just posting on threads. I miss real-time chatting and frequent communication with specific people. (I enjoy talking about my hobbies with a group, but I missing being able to talk about personal problems and random exciting things with someone who will care.)

      Playing catch-up with the how-to-people thing sounds is exactly how I feel! I often think about how I’m 20 years behind everyone else on learning how to socialize.

      I can understand that a sucky past shouldn’t define me, but I’m terrified about being defined as friendless now. One of the things that makes me anxious about hanging out with people is actually that they’ll find out I’m friendless. It’s embarrassing to me, and I feel like other people will see it as an alarming, pitiable thing.

      • policychick said:

        “I can understand that a sucky past shouldn’t define me, but I’m terrified about being defined as friendless now.”

        LW, I am not the Captain, nor terribly insightful, so take all to follow with a grain of salt.

        I think the above sentence is the crux of your concern, and I’ll offer this: No one but you – no one but you! – defines you. That sentence suggests (to me) that you define YOURSELF as ‘friendless’ (and maybe in turn, not one capable of close friendship?) although to the contrary in your initial letter you state you have online friends and acquaintances and you are in grad school and you have a lot of interactions.

        Friendships are forged; they take effort and maintenance. They wax and wane. Some last for six weeks/years/decades.

        You are going to find your way. Trust yourself, make an effort when you choose to; it won’t always sort but sometimes it will. Friendships will come.

      • A. said:

        Oh god, LW, I don’t have much useful to say here but I just wanted to let you know you are not alone in trying to navigate this particular miserable limbo of friendlessness. (I was the same – roleplay/writing group that I internet-chatted with almost daily from middle school through undergrad, many of which became IRL friendships as well. Most drifted due to new career goals, new cities, and new relationships; one walked out on me in spectacularly unkind fashion; all stopped writing, and I very much had the sense that because the thing our relationships had been born from was no longer central to them, I had lost relevance, too. As an introvert with a massive dose of social anxiety, I always thought I’d lucked out – I didn’t need to socialize uncomfortably with a bunch of meatspace people I didn’t much like anyway; I’d found *my* people, and we communicated in ways that felt effortless to me, and all my needs were met! – until I got to a stage of life where that mode no longer seemed to work for other people, and now I also feel like I am at least a dozen years behind on How To Person Adequately.)

        I don’t think it means you should never ever try, but I think your fear of being defined as friendless is totally valid. A lot of people do find the prospect of being another person’s only pillar of social/emotional support alarming or unappealing; I had friends stop being friends with me because, when my mental health took a nosedive, they were afraid I had too few other friends and the burden would fall disproportionately on them. I deal with it now by being the Person Who Never Needs Anything from Anyone and Also Has Enormously Time-Consuming Career Aspirations, so that no one will ever look at me and see a giant friendless black hole of potential emotional need; it does keep the pity and perturbation at bay, but it also does not really allow for the possibility of new friends. (I am similarly in the boat of not wanting to let anyone get close enough to realize how devoid of other close relationships my life is.) I have just started grad school for the aforementioned Enormously Time-Consuming Career Aspirations, and I am terrified that in two years’ time I will leave it with the same social and professional network I came into it with – which is to say, none at all. (My school is very good at creating opportunities to Do The Thing, but seems to have no structure in place for connecting Specific People Who Do The Thing with each other; if you are not already part of the network, it is very hard to find a way in, because the in-network people already have each other and are not necessarily looking for more connections.)

        Awkwardeers, have any of you successfully navigated this hideous catch-22 of no friends –> potential friends not wanting to get involved with someone who has no other people to meet their emotional/social needs –> no friends ad infinitum? (And if so, please consider passing your witchcraft and/or wizardry on to us.)

        • OdsMey said:

          I don’t have any wizardry to share, but I have made friends successfully after feeling completely friendless. I’d start with looking for acquaintances rather than friends and treating them not as your new best friend, but as people you like and occasionally hang out with (kind of like the forum/group Letter Writer describes, but in meat space). Maybe you will feel connected to one of them and a friendship grows. But still, don’t pile everything you hope for in a friendship onto one person. If you happen to have more than one budding friendship: great! In any case, remember to be there for them (ask them how they are doing, and also think about what would you want to be asked if you would want to open up to someone and ask them those questions). It takes time learning to be a good friend, but also: What you see as a disadvantage (being friendless) also means you probably have enough time/spoons to be a good friend to one or two new people (since you don’t handle so many obligations such as birthdays/weddings/stuff with a large group of friends). I don’t like meeting new people that much and often think that people are too annoying to be more than acquaintances, but on the other hand: if you meet new people, chances are, you will click with one of them. Don’t just try to be “friends” with the next person you meet. Meet new people until you meet someone you want to be friends with. I go to a knitting group, where I met new people and took a pottery course. Think about things you like and do them in groups. Don’t do things solely to find friends. One of my knitting buddies might develop into a friend, other than that I enjoy chatting with the people I meet there (I don’t like meeting new people, but if I know them a bit, I am fine talking to them). One good friend I met at the bridal shower of someone else. We realized I’d be moving into the village she lived in, decided to meet up for a coffee and just clicked. That doesn’t happen often, but we are friends for 4 years now, even though she has moved several hours away two or three years ago.

          I also realized that I am fine with having a few friendships and try to keep them, while not pushing other people (who might potentially become friends) away. Some friendships come and go, and while I want to stay friends with my friends, most of them now don’t live nearby and I try to make new friends/acquaintances closeby.

        • Longtimereader said:

          Not exactly the same thing but I have moved around a lot in my young adult life and ended up in places where I didn’t know anybody and had no one to hang out with. Maybe this could be a good way to reframe the situation! People who move around a lot have 0 friends when they arrive and many make new meaningful friendships. It’s a great excuse to not have frends if you’re worried about what other people might think. If it comes up you could just say “Oh you know, I moved around a lot / my friends moved to other cities / grad school / been busy…”
          I am 26 now and realizing I have a lot less friends than I used to for all of those reasons combined and that is perfectly normal and happens to many people when they get older! I think most people understand that and they would not judge you as harshly as you think (of as harshly as some not so great people might have in the past).
          Good luck with everything!

        • Rorie_Lee said:

          I have solutions that may or may not work for you! Those solutions are as follows: hobbies. Have things to talk about. Just anything that interests you, go for it, and maybe consider doing something regular involving it. This way, you don’t get, “Well, that’s what’s up with me, what’s up with you?” “Uh . . . not that much, I guess.” Instead, you can launch into a story about your pottery class or martial arts competition or what-have-you. This gives you 1. regular topics of conversation, and 2. the aura that you live a fun and full life apart from your prospective friends (even if you don’t! Maybe you crouch in the corner of the pottery class shaping clay like a raccoon! This is okay!). Also, if you have two hobbies, you can potentially use this method to make friends at both of them. Just make your life sound full and cool, and prospective friends will (most likely) respond to that. I don’t think I’ve ever had any new friends actually inquire about my other friends, unless they knew each other beforehand, so you’re probably safe on that front.

        • Hmn and I do the samy by not even trying and burying myself into videogames, only source of joy in my life next to my SO.
          Will say:I feel you so fucking much.

        • May I gently suggest that your catch-22 is probably likely a product of your anxiety? That “potential friends not wanting to get involved with someone who has no other people to meet their emotional/social needs” is not actually something your potential friends are likely to be thinking?

          They are more likely to be thinking: “Oh, this person seems cool, we should hang out again.” or “This person is okay, I don’t mind them being around.” or even “Eh, I didn’t hit if off with X, I probably won’t go out f my way to hang again.” (Which is OKAY. Not all personalities click. Sometimes it takes a few tries to find your people.)

          If they even notice you don’t have other friends and are even thinking about it (which I don’t think would be super common!), they may be thinking, “I wonder what happened. Did they move or break up with someone or have a falling out in the other other friend group recently?” or “X doesn’t seem to have many friends, which is weird because they seem pretty cool. I’ll make sure to keep inviting them.”

          I actually haven’t been on the no-friends side really, other than reestablishing myself after moving to a new city which takes a few months. BUT I run a meetup group (because my anxiety about social stems from not being in control of the situation) and most of my friends are awkward trouble-making-friends socially awkward types attracted to someone who likes organises things and hosting at her house and who is good at drawing people into small talk and low-pressure emotional connections.

          Here’s a few of my tips from being on the other side of this:
          1. Never underestimate the power of just showing up. Not to get all inspiration poster-y but, so much of life is just showing up. Find a class or a project or a hobby or a club or a weekly event *and go consistently*. If people invite you to things, take them at their word and *go*. Even if you don’t stay the whole time. Even if you don’t say much the first couple times. Even if you don’t feel like you have anything to “offer”. The number one way you can show people you’re interested in being friends (and putting the work into that friendship) is just by showing up.
          –Brief story time, one of my now-closest friends didn’t talk to me–or really anyone–for about the first 3 months he started to coming to things at my meetup group. I am good at small talk, and it was like pulling teeth with him. But he was polite enough, and he seemed like he really needed friends and was content just to be around us, and *he kept showing up consistently*, which was a stronger signal to me that he was interested in friendship than his lack of conversation might have led me to believe. The longer he came to things, the more comfortable he got, and at about 3 months, he broke through the shell of anxiety and just blossomed. ❤
          2. If you have to say no or have to cancel last minute, and these are people you like and want to be friends with *tell them why*. Even if that's "Sorry, I'm feeling a little overwhelmed socially" or "it's a bad anxiety day" or "I have a chronic health thing: Ask them to keep invivting you to things. Vulnerability is the currency of friendship. Also people who are good friends for you will hear and understand; people who are jerks about it are not people you want to be friends with anyway. Filter that shit upfront.
          –I've been kind of seeing someone for the past year that I was social-but-not-close friends with for a few years beforehand. I always really liked them (both platonically but also a bit of a crush) and really wanted to be better friends with them, but they frequently turned down my invites and canceled last minute. I assumed they were some combination of busy/flaky/not interested in being closer friends with me and back off the invites. What they actually were was paralysed with social anxiety and really good (and really invested in) hiding it. With people who shared that with me earlier, friendships blossomed much easier, and I could tailor invites and expectations accordingly.
          3. It is okay to go to things and not say much (just keep showing up!). It is also okay to go and say only a few things. I recommend having a few ice breaker/small talk questions in mind *before* you get to an event to take the pressure off. It's *hard* to talk to a stranger or near-stranger you know hardly anything about. People think I'm a natural at working a room, but really, I put a lot of thought and planning into it, both for social things and professional things. A good formula is: 1-2 questions about the thing you're at (Did you catch the keynote? Are you having a swell conference? Have you been to one of these before? Have you seen the band perform before? Have you been a fan long? Have you done pottery before? How did you go last week at this same thing?) + 1-2 personal questions after the ice is broken (Are you from (current city)? What do you do for work? (I know some people dislike this questions, but I don't — the key for me is to be always affirming and positive if someone tells you they don't work or have a shit job or whatever.) Is your family in the area? Do you have (related hobby to this one)?) + Follow up questions related to the questions you pick. Then, its okay to end the conversation if it's not flowing, try again the next week, or move on to other folks! (Okay, I'm going to grab a seat/grab a drink/go to the loo. / It's was nice chatting, catch you next time! + walk away)

          But tl;dr, most people worth being friends with are unlikely to notice you don't have many friends until you're already quite into the friendship and even fewer are likely to care! But people are also looking to *you* to provide clues that you're interested in pursuing friendship, so figuring out a way to give those is important to growing friendships.

      • hbc said:

        “One of the things that makes me anxious about hanging out with people is actually that they’ll find out I’m friendless.” At the risk of sounding dismissive, I have good news: No one can prove a negative. I have plenty of people in my life who seem to have zillions of friends and a packed social calendar, and I have people who might just go into suspended animation the second they leave my sight for all I know of their social lives. For most of my acquaintances, I’m probably in the latter category–they have no evidence of outside friends, but they have no way of knowing one way or the other.

        By the time you get to the point where someone would be knowing who your top twenty friends are (and you’re like “Does the Starbucks cashier count?”), they already know you well enough that it won’t tip you from Potential Friend to Not Worth Talking To.

        • Blue Meeple said:

          I agree with this. Also! Importantly. Some of my best friends right now have/had few-to-no friends besides me. That makes it sound like I gather friendless people around me, which I don’t; I just made some friends who were in transitional stages in their lives that meant they’d left most of their other friends behind them.

          I do not judge them (or anyone) for this. I went through a good 6 year period when I had no close friends at all – 4 years living in one city, then 2 years after I moved, since meeting new people and making new friends takes time. It’s depressing and made making new friends all the more nerve-wracking, but it happened eventually.

      • Madb said:

        I feel that pain, too; of having your internet friends disappear. Old friends of mine have drifted away. I just find it’s easier to put it out into the world that you’re interested in talking/meeting people with that level of distance. Do you think someone in the hobby forum would want to chat real-time? Is there perhaps a local group who likes your hobby?

        I don’t really know what to do about feeling friendless. When I was feeling that way I pretty much doubled down into unhelpful behaviour. If you choose to try therapy tell the therapist that you would like help with socialising skills?

      • Kacienna said:

        I don’t know if this will help, but there are other reasons someone might be friendless in a given context. It’s not at all unusual when one moves alone to a new town. And unfortunately people sometimes find themselves without local friends if a breakup goes badly and the mutual friends all gravitate to the ex.

        In both of those cases, it seems to me that people’s reaction isn’t “why don’t you have friends?” but “Oh, you’re looking to meet new people? You seem cool, I know some great people, come meet them!” Granted, just because you get along with someone doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll get along with their friends, but it’s often a good start.

        If instead of dealing with a breakup or being new in town, the person’s story was that they were working on social anxiety and so just starting to meet people, the reaction might be adjusted to “How many people are you comfortable meeting at a time?” rather than “Come meet all the people!” but there are plenty of people who enjoy welcoming other people into their circle and who are part of a generally welcoming group. (It still takes time to find them, and I realize that can be even harder when dealing with anxiety; it’s fine to be gentle with yourself and only push yourself socially when you want to). I know this doesn’t make the anxiety go away, but I hope it might help a little to have another narrative than “People will judge me” to consider.

  3. Guava said:

    Once, when I was in high school, my mom ran into the mother of my elementary school bully at the grocery store. Bully’s family still lived close by, and Bully’s mom went on this whole sad roll about how Bully had no friends, had to sit by herself every day during lunch because nobody liked her, and how Bully longed for the days when we used to hang out together. (I came home from school crying at least weekly for several years because of my “friendship” with Bully.)

    My mom can be a big-time meddler, but this time she was an actual champ. She told Bully’s mom, “Oh, that’s too bad, but Guava is just so busy with school, and all the stuff she’s doing, I couldn’t commit her time like that.”

    That script worked pretty well for my mom, maybe suggest it to your mom if she’s nervous about what to say to Oakley’s mom?

    • VG said:

      Whew, I’m so glad your mom did the right thing!

      Tangentially related, I also had a bully/frenemy from about age 10-13. I was surprised a few years ago to find out that Frenemy has no memory of the years of torment and remembers me as a beloved childhood friend. We’re connected on Facebook,and I’ve noticed that she has a pattern of leaving blatantly self-aggrandizing (to the point of being kind of desperate and sad) comments not only on my posts, but on the posts of former popular girls who also went to our school, as if she’s still sucking up to them for approval 25 years later. I don’t know if it makes me feel better to realize that she did all the things she did because she was and is insecure, and it didn’t really have anything to do with me, or if it makes me feel worse to know that my life was miserable during those years for no reason other than her personal issues. Maybe a bit of both.

      • Guava said:

        That is a very kind and compassionate insight into your former bully’s motivations. It sounds like she’s still stuck in those tweenage years for some reason or another. I’ve heard that theme many times – where people run into former bullies as adults, and the bullies either don’t remember their targets at all, or they have fond memories of a friendship with no recollection of the pain they inflicted.

      • resili0 said:

        I was once admitted to hospital due to depression when I lived in my old home town. The assigned nurse turned out to be my school bully. She took me aside and told me that she had stepped away from being my nurse and a colleague would take over but that she deeply regretted the bullying and was very sorry. At the time I was too depressed and numb to react and I had so much going on that I didn’t get time to really process that encounter.

        Looking back, hearing set me free of some heartache and I respect her for owning her actions.

  4. Amber Rose said:

    Meeting new people and socializing makes me very anxious as well LW. I used to go to every event 15-20 minutes early so I could have time to cry and maybe be sick before going in.

    My experience was not fun, and honestly working on it with my doctor hasn’t been exactly what i’d call fun either, but some of the results have been. Some really positive experiences have resulted from me addressing these issues. If you want to be able to socialize and create deep connections with people, you can ask for and receive help with those anxious feelings.

    And you can still nope out of associating with anyone you don’t want to talk to. “Sorry, I can’t” has a lot of power.

  5. MK said:

    LW, I would only like to address your second “reason not to reconnect with Oakley”: the point of spending time with someone who is essentially a stranger, or even an actual stranger, is to get to know them to see if you want to be real friends. If Oakley has bad associations for you, of course stay away from them. If socialising makes you anxious and you don’t think it’s worth it, of course don’t force yourself into it. But it’s not a pointless activity, you know?

    • Yes, this! The simultaneous feelings of “what’s the point of seeing someone I liked?” and “I want more friends.” is probably something you should explore in therapy, as the latter is generally the answer to the former.
      Totally okay not to, of course, but for what it’s worth, OP, I know a few shy, nice people who didn’t think people liked them in college – but people actually really liked them and just thought that Shy Person didn’t want to hang out, because of shy behaviors, and so didn’t push. Happy ending: Shy people did figure out how to find more comfortable places/ways to be social and made friends. 🙂

    • Skeetpea said:

      One of the attractions of high-school reunions, for me, has been that though most of the attendees are essentially strangers, the ice is already broken. We know each other’s name and have some shared memories. I’ve had some great discussions with people I never really knew before.

      (Not that it doesn’t take some deep breaths and preparation to get past my own social anxieties and walk into the room.)

    • I remember liking Oakley when I was in school with them, and I have a few specific memories of playing with them at recess/gym/lunch, but I honestly don’t remember anything about them aside from their favorite type of music, preferred book genre, and career aspirations (all things I happen to not enjoy). I think if I remembered having a lot in common with them, I might feel at least a little differently about meeting up with them, but not having anything in common with them aside from being friends when we were younger doesn’t really fill me with an urge to see them again if that makes sense.

      • MK said:

        It makes sense, but I am getting the impression you are setting a pretty high bar for “not-stranger”; someone about whom you know all these things and have positive memories of is not “essentially a stranger”. I think you are buying into a media-constructed image of what friendship looks likes, as in all those episodes in sit-coms, where an old friend shows up and the lead has memories of them bonding over late-night talks about the nature of the universe or the sudden trip they took to Guatemala. And in general, consider that ” things in common” is not a prerequisite for being friendly with someone, as long as you are both open-minded and take an interest in each other’s intersts. You don’t need shared passions to start a friendship;much less is it necessary to know that you have shared passions before you even meet someo e for coffee.

        • Amy said:

          Yes, this – plus, in all honesty, most people are not still into the things they were still into as children (do you still like the same music you did then?), so you may be over-extrapolating somewhat from “liked music as a child that I didn’t like”. I think you would definitely benefit from talking through some of your issues with a professional who can help you unpack them, and as part of that it may be worth exploring whether your conception of “friend” is overly narrow and/or idealistic.

        • Ganymede said:

          It can be great to hang out with someone who has different interests – I do this quite a lot – the main criteria is that that they are friendly and empathic and allow you to be you. I’m a lot older than you and I do understand that being with someone very different can make you feel pressurised to be more like them, or feel that if you are not like them then something is wrong. Common interests are great but embracing connections with different people doesn’t mean they won’t “get” you. A passionate fan of sports can understand a passionate fan of music because they understand passion, not because they understand music.

          My MiL is a really kind and loving person but she has no feeling at all for certain parts of my life. So I have a very pleasant relationship with her based only on the things we have in common, mostly gardening and her son. But it’s not a coincidence that we don’t meet often!

      • thetigerhasspoken said:

        I’m curious, this hit a note in me that I wonder if it’s coming from a similar place with you. I am not sure this is about *Oakley* so much as it is about connecting with *anyone.* What sticks out to me are all the reasons you provide. I can always find Reasons, very logical and rational Reasons to not do something. Those reasons are usually my way of trying to convince myself that it’s not my fear/anxiety thats preventing me from doing something, oh no of course not, it’s these very sound, well thought out REASONS why I am not doing this thing.

        [Example: I do a martial art several times a week. I have terrible anxiety literally every single time I go. When I am there I love it. When I leave I am usually smiling ear to ear. I am generally happier and healthier mentally and physically. But getting to that gym is very hard and I will often convince myself of Very Good Reasons I should not go today. And then feel ashamed and sad afterwards].

        For me it’s become important to distinguish Reasons (I sprained my ankle and it needs to heal/I have 4 hours of work I need to do tonight/I am super drained and need a couch potato night) from, what I call, my anxiety excuses. After LOTS of therapy and self reflection and learning techniques to cope with my anxiety and fear, I now do the things that scare me and take my anxiety right along with me. My mantra is “Yes, you are scared/anxious. But go anyway. If you are waiting until you don’t feel anxious before you do X, you will spend the rest of your life in bed waiting for your anxiety/fear to magically disappear.” And then I actively stop ruminating (this is still hard for me) and go do the thing and I take my anxiety with me. Or I recognize that I am drained and I need to recuperate spiritually and emotionally and go into self care mode so that I can go do the thing next time.

        My point is, I think it will beneficial to you to examine how many “reasons” you give yourself and others to not do something when the actual reason may be “because I’m scared.” Which is a super valid feeling! But it sounds like you would like some things in your life to be different and reaching out to someone (a professional) who can help you work through what is preventing you from a more enriching life – including meaningful friendships, which is an incredibly valid need! – can be very helpful. I could be totally off base here and call me out if I am, I just saw something familiar and wanted to offer my experience to see if it resonates.

  6. VG said:

    This has happened to me a few times, OP, and it’s almost always gone in one of these ways:

    1. A mutual acquaintance says “I saw so-and-so the other day! You guys should totally get in touch. Here’s their email/phone number/Facebook info/whatever.” I say “Thanks!” and then never contact the person. No one says anything.

    2. One of us sends a message saying “Hey, hope you’re doing well, we should get together for coffee sometime,” the other one says “Yeah, that would be great!” and then we never do. No one says anything.

    3. We actually do meet for coffee, spend a mildly entertaining/awkward hour catching up on the last several years, leave with an unspoken agreement that we have nothing in common anymore except a shared past, and never contact each other again. No one says anything.

    All this is to say that as alarming as this situation feels, it’s likely not to go anywhere in real life. In the worst-case scenario that Oakley’s mom presses your mom about why you haven’t called/texted/whatever, your mom says vaguely “Hmm, I don’t know, [OP] has been really busy lately. I’m sure they’ll get together sooner or later!” and that should be that. (I guess the ultimate worst-case scenario would be that Oakley’s mom tries to get your mom to bring you to lunch with her and Oakley, in which case you either suddenly have a pressing appointment to attend that day, or default to scenario no. 3 above.)

    • mehting said:

      In my experience (as a fairly socially anxious person but nowhere near what LW is describing), it’s not so much the events, it’s the dread that makes it terrible. Even if what happens is relatively mild, there’s days of tension and worry about it and how to handle it rightly and is that ok, then days afterwards squirming inwardly over it that are genuinely miserable. And in my experience the third option really is yucky as anything and will leave me feeling tense.

      • This! The few times I’ve had to socialize in unusual circumstances (even in school/work contexts), I dread it beforehand and then I analyze every little thing I did wrong afterwards. Even if the socializing is only for an hour or so, there could be many hours of bad feelings.

  7. Lukas said:

    The “anxious about socializing” comment struck me, too. As the Captain says, trying to diagnose strangers over the internet is a bad idea, but I will say this: It sounds exactly like the kind of thing I would say.

    I have social anxiety that, at one point, threatened to sabotage my life. I got some excellent therapy, which resulted in the problem becoming just a minor nuisance. It went a lot faster than I had ever expected, too. I’m honestly quite astonished at how small the problem turned out to be, once I learned how to handle it right.

    If you feel like this sort of thing might be the case for you, I would definitely encourage you to seek some professional assistance. It can really make a hell of a difference.

  8. Biancasnoozes said:

    This question really resonates with me. First of all, because my own mom is totally the “I can’t understand why you don’t want to reconnect with this neutral person from your past!” person. In fact, I’m 100% sure those words have come out of her mouth. There is someone from my elementary school days who is constantly trying to get me to contact her, and even though my memories of her are extremely negative, my mom has decided it is her job to put on the pressure for me to contact her. As mentioned here, it is likely my mom feels this way because she is embarrassed that I don’t participate fully in this mysterious-to-me social convention of being delighted to reconnect with the (sometimes painful) past, and she occasionally runs into this person and “doesn’t know what to say.”

    So this is what I’ve told my mom to say in case she runs into ANYONE who wants to contact me or wants me to contact them or any other thing that puts my mom in the middle of it:

    “I’ll pass along the message,”

    That way it is clear that the person doing the non-contacting IS ME and my mom doesn’t have to bear any of the burden of being seen as the anti social one. As an extreme extrovert with no concept of nor respect for introversion, she had to have these magic words given to her by me, since my not wanting to socialize or contact people from the past completely mystifies her. At the same time, she is not promising a follow-up of any sort, so expectations on the other end are managed.

    • Big Pink Box said:

      Do we share a mother? Mine’s more extroverted than a litter of Labrador pups, it baffles me.

      I had a best friend for 14 years (let’s call her Xenomorph) who, out of the blue, did something mindbogglingly horrible to me*. I left our shared home and never went back, never spoke with her again, and never answered the dozens of her disgustingly manipulative letters and emails.

      After less than a year, my mother was still trying to get me into meeting the Xenomorph, or accepting her fauxpologies. She’ll also tell me “Oh I bumped into [bullied me for ten years] today! She was asking where you live now, and what you’re up to”. Reacting negatively gets a response of “Grow up, that’s in the past” or “It was nice of [tried to break my legs] to ask after you!”.

      It’s one benefit to being housebound TBH, no social anxiety, no bumping into bad people, and no listening to my mother’s hometown gossip. Makes that part of life a lot easier!

      • Big Pink Box said:

        Oh dear, the * was to note that it wasn’t a sexual or physical assault of any kind, but an otherwise deeply traumatising event/series of events.

    • I like “I’ll pass along the message.” I’ll see how my mom feels about it. Thank you! (The situation seems awkward and guilt-inducing for me, and I imagine I might be making it awkward and guilt-inducing for my mom too, so putting the burden on me is a good idea.)

      • Biancasnoozes said:

        No need to feel guilty at all! Your mom passes along the message. You hear the message. You decide not to act on it. No big deal–no promises were made or broken, no lies were told.

    • policychick said:

      Came to say essentially the same thing. In my case, my mom has offered my number and email to others mainly out of ‘Polite Texas Lady Syndrome’. You want to reconnect with Policy Chick? Well of course, here is her number/email/SSN!

      After it happened a couple of times, I told my mom, Hey just pass on they want to get in touch – let me decide on my end. If I remember correctly, the final straw was when she said, “Oh I ran into Ex and he was so interested in seeing you so you may hear from him!” (having given him my phone number). I replied, “Mom, that guy was only interested in sex when we were in high school. I have no interest in him now.”

      Never happened again.

      • Rorie_Lee said:

        My mom’s usually a champ, but sometimes she falls into the trap of thinking I’m still sort of a child. Recently I was playing pick-up soccer and was gathering up my stuff afterward while talking to a guy who seemed Too Interested in me (he’d been following me around the field talking instead of playing, etc.). I was being polite, but also disengaging when my mother appeared (I was catching a ride with her) and immediately started up a conversation with the guy about me, my interests, and also where I lived, to a degree that, if he wanted to, he could turn up on my doorstep. She was just being friendly and I’m sure had no idea that maybe I’d want to decide just how much about me got shared with this dude —- she was just chatting about her kid. (Happily, I talked to her afterward and I don’t think she’ll do it again).

        But yeah, this seems to be something of a common Mom Thing. Especially given that, if you have a kid, talking about them usually becomes a pretty sizeable part of your life. So having the ‘hey mom, I know why you’re doing the thing, but maybe stop’ conversation is, in my experience, often something that needs to happen.

  9. Ria Hawk said:

    I’m mostly addressing the part about wanting more real friends.

    I grew up pretty isolated myself; while my parents didn’t exactly keep me from hanging out with friends, I lived in an incredibly rural area where none of our neighbors really had kids, and I wasn’t able to get my driver’s license until I was out of high school. That, coupled with being a socially anxious introvert, meant that it was a long time before I had a real group of friends. Someone’s already suggested the internet, and I know that helped me. Find a forum or a website dedicated to something you enjoy doing (in my case it was video games and pen and paper role playing games). For me, there was a layer of safety in having the computer screens between me and whoever I was interacting with. I also joined a club in college that catered to my interests; the primary purpose is indulging in Thing You Like, but it’s also easier to become friendly with someone who is also into Thing You Like.

    My circle of friends still isn’t very big, and is mostly maintained on the internet these days. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with internet-based friendships if that’s what you’re comfortable with. But my basic advice, at least in terms of what worked for me, is that it was easier to make friends via some sort of group that was already doing something I enjoyed. Even if you don’t click with anyone, you can still do whatever hobby brought you to the group, so it’s not a loss.

    Also, it’s totally okay to only have a handful of people you consider real friends! You can be *friendly* with someone and still not consider them as a ‘friend’. If there’s only a handful of people you consider your friends, there’s nothing wrong with that or with you. There is no minimum limit of ‘you must have this many friends to ride’.

    • I do consider the several-year-long friendships I had with online role players when I was younger to be “real” friendships since we had stuff in common, I talked to them about personal things, and we were in contact very frequently. :] The only person I ever considered a real best friend was also someone I solely knew from online communication (after a really great couple of years, they did something horrible to me, and I had to immediately friend-dump them though). I joined a forum related to a hobby recently, but I can’t really imagine becoming friends with the members there (it’s a HUGE forum, so the only way to start a personal connection would be to send a someone a private message and try to get some back and forth going, which would be nerve-wracking). The only “friends” I have right now are “work friends,” so no “real” friends at the moment. :/

      I actually did look at MeetUp groups in my area (none related to my interests) and karate/kickboxing places (thought it would be fun and I need exercise anyway, but then realized I don’t want to play fight people) to maybe make friends. Unfortunately, my hobbies are all solo things (I’m an introvert too).

      • Trig said:

        WRT roleplaying, you’ve probably already thought of this, but is there any chance you have a local game store somewhat nearby? They often have drop-in sessions or organized campaigns/meetups. At the very least they should have ads for tabletop groups looking for players. Joining a new group may result in some real friendships, or it may just be a fun way to socialize occasionally. Could be worth a try!

  10. K V said:

    Captain! It seems the LW avoided pronouns for Oakley and used “they” when they didn’t, but you use he for Oakley (“his mom) once in the post. Just a note.

    I’ve appreciated recent LWs using pronoun notes and everyone sticking to them! It’s a nice part of the site, how careful many people are with pronouns. 🙂

    • To Captain Awkward’s Post:

      The idea that I’m probably the type of person that should be seeing a therapist has definitely occurred to me before, but it’s something that I don’t want to do because then I have to talk to a stranger about myself, which makes my social anxiety go OMG NO, and it’s something I would be embarrassed about my family or anyone else knowing. (I realize it’s something I *shouldn’t* be embarrassed about because a lot of people see therapists, but logic doesn’t really make me feel better about it at this point.)

      I think the free/cheap online treatments would be worth a try though. I’m a lot more comfortable doing stuff online than in person, and then I could do it when it was convenient for me instead of rearranging my life around appointments (I definitely couldn’t go to appointments during my 9-5 work hours). Thank you for the suggestion! Maybe I can get social anxiety books too? Or find a social anxiety forum? Does anyone know any forums where shy/socially anxious people hang out?

      And thank you for pointing out that if my mom set up a play date, or agreed to pass Oakley’s phone number on to me, that it’s okay for me to be uninterested in perusing it. I was panicking because I have no control over what will happen between our moms, and it felt like if they wanted us to reconnect that there wouldn’t really be a way to get out of it since me and Oakley used to be friends (old friends deserve niceness, but how much niceness are you obligated to).

      • Whoops! Sorry! I thought I was doing a new post, not a reply.

        I tried to stay gender-neutral in order to help remain anonymous. I don’t mind Oakley being referred to as female or male though. :] (Is Oakley a gender-neutral name? Frankly, I used it because I like trees.)

        • Biancasnoozes said:

          I actually know two Oakleys–one is male, one is female. So yes, it is gender-neutral!

        • BarlowGirl said:

          A friend’s sister called me Oakleys as a kid because I always wore sunglasses, which I was not fond of because then strangers I did not know called me Oakleys as a kid. Like screaming it across the street.

          Teenagers. Don’t do this to 8 year olds.

          So I assumed it was a nickname personally.

      • Jen Erik said:

        My daughter had social anxiety and saw a therapist about it. She found it difficult – every therapy day was awful, because she lived through all these difficult feelings: the therapist disliked her, the therapy wasn’t working, she wasn’t really anxious, just shy, and was making it up because of the horrible person she was.
        The therapist really understood all this – how hard this can be for people who are anxious. So I understand why anyone would want to avoid that.

        But, on the bright side, the therapist told us when we started that it would take 12 one-hour sessions of CBT. (the sessions were in the evening, the price was reasonable, and at points where my daughter was finding it difficult to attend she gave us the option of making the sessions shorter, or less frequent. She was a gem, and I don’t know how typical that flexibilty is.) At no point in the process did it seem true that twelve hours would be enough, but it actually was. My daughter wasn’t ‘cured’ at the end of that, but she had a toolbox for thinking about her thinking, and over the next couple of years her life fell more and more into place.

        For my daughter, who may not be typical, we couldn’t do it from books, even though we read about CBT beforehand, and thought we understood the principles. It’s just something about using your thinking to challenge the way you are thinking – an expert to hand makes it much easier.

        But all that is just her experience, and hopefully you’ll find resources that help. (My point was really that therapy can be a short process – from now to Christmas, say – where I’d always had a picture of a Woody Allen scenario where it took years.)

        (Funny – I hope – story about looking online for socially anxious people. I was being over-concerned mum, and I looked for groups of socially anxious people she could meet with IRL.(Shouldn’t have been doing that.) Anyway, there was someone reasonably local trying to organise a get together. And, reading over the thread, they tried and failed, tried and failed, then tried and failed again. Then they posted an irritated: ‘When I suggest a get together, everyone is really keen, and messages me that they’ll come, and then at the last minute everyone flakes. What is happening?’ And then there was a pause of several days, and finally someone replied: ‘We’re socially anxious, man: this is what we do.’)

        • human said:

          That’s so interesting, and cool, that the therapist proposed a set number of sessions — it makes sense, I think, given the difficulties. Has anyone else ever had an experience like that with therapy? When I’ve gone it’s been open ended (and quite useful) and I stopped going when the therapist and I agreed that I didn’t need it anymore.

        • Lathyrus said:

          I found it funny!

          I don’t have anything constructive to add, I just wanted you to know that your joke had resonated with at least one person.

          I’m very glad that your daughter has had some success with her therapist, I hope she continues to make progress; and the very best of luck to the Letter Writer – I have my fingers crossed for you

      • ashleyvb said:

        I began seriously addressing my general anxiety at the beginning of this year, and a book that was instrumental for me was, “When Panic Attacks”, by David Burns. (I believe he also has a podcast, called “Feeling Good”, or something similar.) He basically walks you through CBT concepts as they relate to anxiety, and I found it enormously helpful. It might be worth a look for you.
        Best of luck!

        • BigDogLittleCat said:

          Two snaps up for Burns’ first book, “Feeling Good.”

          At one of my lowest points, when I was hanging on by my fingernails, that book gave me the tools to claw my way back up onto the cliff. I seriously doubt I’d still be around if it weren’t for that book. CBT didn’t “cure” anything, but it’s been a great tool for getting the lying bitch in my head out of my way while I work on fixing things.

      • Martin said:

        One line of thinking that I have always found helpful when facing my personal phobias is to think about what it will be like after it’s over. After I have climbed this high ropes course, I will know that I don’t have to be controlled by my fear and anxiety. That I can control it instead. That my life doesn’t have to be limited in that way. Without this kind of thinking, I would never have been able to go skydiving.

        When you consider going to a therapist, think about how good having won over your anxiety will feel. Think about how nice it will be to have techniques for dealing with your worry. Think about how freeing it will be to know that, eventually, you will be past this this problem. Think about how much you want that. (If it overwhelms you, remember that there is always tomorrow, and you can always try again. I don’t know how many times I refused to go on that ropes course before I actually managed it. There will always be another chance.)

        One other idea that might be helpful: there are programs that will randomly remind you of things. If you want to learn something like this, it can be helpful to have your phone occasionally remind you that you have it in you to do hard things.

        https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=jamesmorrisstudios.com.randremind

      • Martin said:

        One other thought: if you set your mind to it, I have absolutely no doubt that eventually you *will* find yourself in that “after you have gone to the therapist” state. You *will* be back at home knowing that you can beat it. You *will* have more tools for managing it. You *will* have all those benefits. I am completely confident that you *will* eventually get over this.

      • Martin said:

        One line of thinking that I have always found helpful when facing my personal phobias is to think about what it will be like after it’s over. After I have climbed this high ropes course, I will know that I don’t have to be controlled by my fear and anxiety. That I can control it instead. That my life doesn’t have to be limited in that way. Without this kind of thinking, I would never have been able to go skydiving.

        When you consider going to a therapist, think about how good having won over your anxiety will feel. Think about how nice it will be to have techniques for dealing with your worry. Think about how freeing it will be to know that, eventually, you will be past this this problem. Think about how much you want that. (If it overwhelms you, remember that there is always tomorrow, and you can always try again. I don’t know how many times I refused to go on that ropes course before I actually managed it. There will always be another chance.)

        One other idea that might be helpful: there are programs that will randomly remind you of things. If you want to learn something like this, it can be helpful to have your phone occasionally remind you that you have it in you to do hard things.

        https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=jamesmorrisstudios.com.randremind

      • vaurora said:

        Yay for you, LW, reading books and looking for online resources about social anxiety! Being comfortable with that idea is an enormous advantage for you.

        You may at some point think, “Hey, these books are good, but I feel like I’m not progressing as fast as I want to.” If that happens, here’s my perspective on being nervous about talking to therapists: that’s GREAT! It means that there’s a reasonable chance therapy will be much easier for you than average.

        I know, that seems a little counterintuitive, but here’s the thing: you don’t have to seek out situations that provoke your anxiety, you don’t have to write down your feelings so you remember them later, you don’t need to go and ask other people how they feel. That’s because you are having those feelings in the moment as you talk to the therapist, and the therapist can tell you what they are thinking and feeling right then when it is appropriate. I had an anxiety problem provoked by meeting with my therapist (social anxiety stemming from childhood abuse) and that was one of the easiest things to work on: all I had to do was tell her what I was feeling right then. “I feel like I want to be a good patient.” “I feel like I want to make you happy.” “I feel afraid that you disapprove of me.” Then she would ask me why and what it reminded me of and tell me that actually, she enjoyed our time together, etc.

        By comparison, working out my issues with romantic partners was way harder, and I didn’t get anywhere on that till I went to couples counseling with my partner and did all those things I talked about: writing down my feelings, seeking out uncomfortable situations, asking my partner how they felt. It was soooooo much harder than the anxiety problems that I felt when meeting my therapist alone.

  11. yan said:

    LW, it seems like your mom is totally on your side. Which is awesome. Use that knowledge to soothe yourself a bit, as it doesn’t sound like she’s pushing you in a direction you don’t want to go.

    My mom is SUPER extroverted and social, and she’s friends with everyone forever. She really likes the whole “catch up and have coffee” thing — genuinely. So she’s still friends with people like my high school ex’s neighbor, my early 20s ex’s mom, and such. She’s not generally great with boundaries, but because these are ex partners, she seems to get that it could be awkward. I have been very clear with her that I support her friendships with these people — she’s an adult, and she should be friends with anyone she likes. But that also, I am not comfortable with her sharing lots of info on me with them. She’s been really respectful of this boundary, and I don’t have to worry about my exes getting a load of details about my current life. To be clear, none of these people were abusive or horrible, but we didn’t stay friends after splitting.

    Really sounds like your mom is on team you. I hope you can find other people for Team You that you can talk to about social situations and friendships.

  12. RSVP said:

    My older brother just can’t understand why I don’t want to go to high school reunions or reconnect with former classmates. I was the kid that everybody (including him) bullied and picked on, but somehow that has been washed right out of his mind and he has these rosy memories of a happy time in school.
    I simply don’t see the point of spending a weekend with people who wouldn’t give me the time of day back then. If we really had anything in common, we’d have been friends (or at least on Christmas card exchanging terms) all along. What is really going to be different now?
    I think sometimes people remember things differently and have to actually be told “This is what it was like for me. You didn’t have that experience, but I did.”

    • To be fair, people do change. That said, I have no interest in any of my high school reunions myself, so even if they did change, they’re clearly not into the stuff I am or I would have run into them already.

      I have too much to do to spend time reminiscing about “good old days” that weren’t that good.

    • Mel Reams said:

      I simply don’t see the point of spending a weekend with people who wouldn’t give me the time of day back then

      This! Sure, maybe people change or whatever, but the best predictor of future behaviour is past behaviour. Also, even if people do change, why would I hang out with a known asshole in hopes they’ve changed when I could hang out with any one of about the 80,000 people in my city who *aren’t* known assholes? Like, sure, I could go back to a restaurant where I got food poisoning and hope they’ve gotten it together since then, or, you know, I could go *literally anywhere else.*

    • Seriously. High school reunions are my personal version of hell. I wasn’t bullied but I was deeply unhappy and existed in a tiny town surrounded by people who were very aggressively NOT from my tribe. When they have reunions I get invited via FB but I have zero interest in being reminded of how lonely and unhappy I felt for the first 18 years of my life while making painful small talk with people I barely know and reminiscing about not very fun times for me. Hmmmm . . . no thanks!

      Meanwhile one of my siblings still lives in that tiny hellhole of a town and basically hosts a reunion at their house every year. *shudder* They do not understand why I and our other sibling are always “busy” that weekend.

  13. I didn’t have a great time at school, and over the years I’ve had a lot of people trying to reconnect with me, but I don’t have any real interest.
    Its OK not to want to hang out with people from your past – after all, most of what you do as a kid is get thrown together and if you are the same age its assumed you’ll want to hang out together.

    How it worked for me as an unsociable adult is that I kinda assumed that people didn’t want to hang out with me, due to issues in my past. Its really only through therapy I was able to work through that, hang out more with people I liked, and downgrade social connections that I would rather avoid.

  14. Jackalope said:

    I don’t know if this will help you or not, but if you are interested in low-stakes ways to get to know people, here are a couple of possible suggestions. Use or not as you find helpful.

    First of all, you might make a list of various things that you’ve EVER at some point in your life thought would be fun to try. Then look at those things and pick one or two that you might try out for a bit. (Alternatively, find a list [perhaps accumulated from the internet] of things available in your area and pick from that.) I’ve found it helpful to make a goal for myself when doing something like this to say that I’ll go at least three times to the specific place/type of event, since my initial reaction tends to be, “It’s new and different, therefore I don’t like it!” Then make yourself a goal. I’ve got no problem with friends, but dating is something that’s been much trickier, so for awhile I made a goal of going out at least once a week to a place I don’t normally visit for an activity lasting at least one hour and talking to at least one member of the opposite sex; this was a nice, clear-cut goal that I could be sure I had met, and I didn’t have rules for how much I said (“Hi!” was enough if it was a bad week and then retreating to a friendly same-sex person). I never went on any dates from those activities but it gave me a chance to practice talking to someone that was low-stakes and I ended up with a few friendly opposite-sex acquaintances so I feel that it was worth it. Also, I got to do fun stuff. One thing that might be useful if you try this is to pick activities based on the level of interaction you feel you’re ready for (I found it was helpful to push myself a bit in that area, but you can totally decide if that’s too stressful or not); maybe pick activities that are lectures on topics you enjoy with a few minutes of optional socializing over snacks at the end and then challenge yourself to nod and smile at one person on your way out, say hi to one person, give one person a sincere compliment, ask one person about the book they’re reading, etc. Whatever seems feasible for you.

    Volunteering is another way that you might be able to practice getting to know people. The nice thing about volunteering is that you’re usually busy WORKING on something, so you can chat or not and it’s okay. I volunteered at a local aquarium for many years and my fellow volunteers/paid staff and I could chat companionably about fish or chop (feeding) fish companionably in silence, but since we were DOING something the silence wasn’t so awkward. If you volunteer at the same place regularly for awhile (I was there every other week) then a relationship can grow organically, and maybe move at some point in time beyond chopping fish. Or not, as you both prefer. If there’s something you care about enough to give your time to it regularly then this can work well.

    Also, you asked about reading books on social anxiety, and my experience leads me to support that idea enthusiastically. I’ve found that books are helpful for a number of issues/concerns I’ve dealt with in the past. My only suggestions on that would be: a) finding some way to feel them out before you let some author inside your head (read random excerpts and see if it rings true or makes you stressed, check an internet site dealing with that sort of issue that you resonate with and see if they recommend it or not and WHY, etc.), and b) approach each book trying to get just one or two things out of it, at least at first. If you find The Book For You it can be awesome and amazing, and I’ve had my life changed by books in that way, but still try to start with just one or two things because if you Try All the Things it often doesn’t work.

    • coffeespoons said:

      Seconding the idea of volunteering, if you feel up to trying to meet some new people. LW, when you wrote in the comments here that you dread socializing during the lead-up to the event and then put yourself through an exacting post-game analysis of all the things you feel you did wrong, that rang very true for me as well. I, too, am filled with heart-pounding dread when it comes to forcing myself to socialize with strangers. I’ve had really good luck forming relationships (at differing levels of closeness) through volunteer work. Most of what you talk about with people will be focused on the work you are doing, and, as Jackalope wrote, awkward silence is often much less awkward if you have the convenient cover of working on something that’s taking your attention. YMMV, but for me, once I’ve had enough repeat exposures to a someone who volunteers with me, even if we’ve almost never talked about anything very personal, I mentally move them out of the category of “Stranger! Will probably cause emotional harm!” and into “Known Quantity! Relatively safe! Relax defensive shields slightly!” When that happens, the idea of asking them what they did on their weekend feels much less emotionally fraught.

      A few tips, if you decide to volunteer (some of which can carry over into other kinds of interactions):

      1.) Choose an organization whose mission you genuinely value and want to support. Check in with their volunteer coordinator before committing to anything, and find out what kinds of tasks volunteers are responsible for, so that you can make sure that the types of work that will be expected of you won’t be things that will exacerbate your anxiety to the point where you’ll be miserable. For example, if customer service-type interactions make you incredibly nervous, running the register at your local charity shop probably wouldn’t be the best fit for you, but you might be the perfect person to help sort donations and portion out foods in the kitchen of a food pantry. Gauge your own comfort levels, and give yourself permission to decide that while you have all the respect in the world for a particular organization and its mission, the specific responsibilities of their volunteers are not things you are comfortable taking on at this particular time.

      2.) As Jackalope suggests above, give yourself very small, achievable social goals–this translates just as well to a volunteer setting as it does to purely social functions. Don’t go into the volunteer experience with the goal of “I will make everyone like me!” Don’t even go in with the goal of “I will make one friend!” As far as socializing goes, I recommend that you set very small, one-day-at-a-time manageable goals for your interactions. “I will pay one sincere compliment to someone today” or “I will ask Chesterford one low-stakes conversation-starter question, like ‘Do you have any favorite restaurants in town?'” or “This afternoon I will ask Hepzibah to teach me how to use that one power saw.” You can also practice very low-stakes communicating by just asking people questions related to their work with the organization, whether that’s asking how to sort the mail or asking an experienced volunteer if they have any interesting stories they’d be able to share with you about their time there.

      3.) Be gentle with yourself. There will probably be days when the prospect of asking Hepzibah or Chesterford anything more personal than “please pass the stapler” will feel like an impossible assignment, and when that happens, give yourself permission to just quietly go about the work. Give yourself the gift of days when you don’t have a socializing-with-people assignment and focus on whatever tasks you’re doing instead. Also–and I know this is really, really hard–try as much as possible not to put yourself through the exacting scrutiny of the post-socializing postmortem. Sometimes, when I’ve had a stressful social event of some kind and need to decompress afterwards, I’ll set a timer for 10 minutes and then sit down with my journal. I have 10 minutes to get out all the negative stuff. When the timer goes off, I have to take another 10 minutes and come up with only positive things about the interaction or event, like “I had the courage to introduce myself to one new person” or “I asked the bartender to make the drink just the way I wanted, and didn’t worry about being judged.” Sometimes there aren’t a lot of positive things, and that list is mostly filled with things like “I saw a person with a really cool hat” or “There was air conditioning, so it was better than standing out in the 98 degree heat.” Even when positive entries are kind of silly things like that, that are just barely positive, it makes me laugh, and helps keep me from getting mired in a bad mood spiral where I do nothing but criticize my own performance.

      Finally, whatever you do, LW, try not to get too caught up in the idea of what other people think is “standard” for friendships or socializing with others. Remember that you do not have to collect a minimum standard number of friends in order to be worthy, and that friendships can take many different forms to reflect the needs of the people in those relationships. Good luck, whatever path you take going forward!

      • I really love this comment and all of your suggestions!

  15. Meg said:

    Hi, LW! My extremely clingy and overprotective mother prevented me from hanging out with other kids outside of school for a significant chunk of my childhood. By the time I finally said “screw this” and started openly defying her from sheer claustrophobia, I had no idea how to interact with other kids. I struggled for a really long time to feel comfortable around other people, and it took me a long time to figure out how to make friends. It really sucked, and I wish that I had gone to a therapist (or several) to talk about what I was feeling and get some help figuring out how to move forward and get where I wanted to be. I hope you’ll learn from my mistake and find a therapist, or maybe more than one. Connecting with other people is one of the most rewarding things I know, if not the most rewarding, and I’m so so glad that I’ve gotten to a place now where it feels more natural for me. I know you can get there, too. Best of luck!

    • Temperance said:

      I really relate to this comment. What worked for me was watching how social people interacted and copying them. I didn’t figure this out until college.

  16. Margo Win said:

    So I am 43 years old and it took me until this year to figure out I had an anxiety disorder. I’ve been treated for depression before and sought therapy for my sometimes overly emotional responses to things, but nothing ever seemed to have long term success. It never occurred to me that I had an anxiety disorder because I didn’t understand what that was – I thought you had to be having panic attacks and such, without considering that maybe that’s what my emotional freakouts WERE. It wasn’t until my cousin posted one of those checklists online that it clicked. I talked to my doctor about it and nine months later here I am.

    Anyway, I say all that because my life since this diagnosis has been a revaluation. Not just in the therapy and medication that is helping me, but in the general understanding of myself. When I understand some of the why behind my responses it makes it easier to cope with the stress, and while I still have a lot of social anxiety it has been much easier to manage and work with. A lot of my anxiety was rooted in not understanding why I responded to the world this way.

    The Captain’s advice to seek therapy is an excellent one, as is talking to your doctor about your concerns. Not because there must be something here that needs diagnosing, but because knowledge is power. And knowledge of yourself is the most powerful of all. I firmly believe that anything which helps you better understand yourself will help you figure out how to get those things you want.

  17. resili0 said:

    It’s possible that Oakley feels the same awkwardness and desire to dodge a reunion as you; it is a rare person who loves being matchmade into a friendship by their mother. You are assuming Oakley will need an explanation as to you not wanting to hang out, maybe knowing that you don’t know how Oakley feels takes the pressure off?

    I deal with PTSD related anxiety but I am an extraverted person who loves meeting new people. From the other side of this; my anxious friends are dear to me even if they are introverted and need to be treated a bit gentler. Everyone has different needs from friendship and so some of my friends talk online eith me and we meet once a month/when their anxiety is less intense and do something low key where they can escape if need be. Some of my friends hate talking on the phone or socialising on new loud places or with mutual friends they don’t know. I have a friend who finds conversation panicky so we get together to sketch and draw over coffee instead of talking much. I love my shy friends, I treasure them.

    It is ok to be who you are. You’d be surprised how many people around you have had that experience of being shy and having a shy friend who they wouldn’t change. Maybe you could benefit from writing down your beliefs about friendships and looking at where you learned them; how much of the pressure you feel is self inflicted and how you can safely test out those assumptions.

  18. Geranium said:

    LW, I can relate to your hours/days of anxiety before&after social things. I have only recently begun to realize that I’ve had extreme social anxiety for most of my life; that’s after years of therapy (which helped me manage it, which therefore helped decrease it) and after going onto a low dosage of a commonly prescribed anti-anxiety med for a totally unrelated reason (which has helped decrease it to the point that I can imagine “oh, this must be how people who actually like parties feel”).

    It was my GP who prescribed the med for me, actually, so you might consider asking yours about it if that seems easier than therapy.

    Here are a few strategies I have learned to manage it:

    – I stopped expecting to have a good time at social gatherings. I used to feel like I should have fun, and if I didn’t then I was a failure and what was wrong with me, cue horrible feelings. Instead, I make a plan to a) go even if I feel like I really don’t want to, b) plan to stay for at least half an hour, c) give my self permission to leave at any time if it becomes too awful. This lowered the pressure on me and gave me some structure. Eventually I started finding myself staying longer than the minimum half hour, and have learned that “having 100% fun 100% of the time” is an unrealistic expectation anyway. Now I routinely expect that I will have a reasonably pleasant time once I get there, even if I’m still having the pre-socializing dreads. (Oh and I set my phone alarm to go off at my designated time, so if need be I can “answer” it and make my apologies that I have to go take care of something. I have never actually had to do this, but yay safety nets.)

    – I slowly learned that I am not as interesting to other people as I feared. My therapist taught me the 30 years test to apply after a social interaction that I feel horrible about: imagine that 30 years from now, so that would be in 2046, the people you are with are at a party together or something. Can you imagine they would be saying, “Oh, wow, remember that thing LetterWriter said when we went out to lunch that time?” “Yeah, man, who could forget that!” Even if you feel like that could happen, your brain probably knows that realistically it’s silly to think that in 2046 whatever it was you said or did during a social event would still be memorable to people. I find that a very helpful perspective check.

    – I have accepted that I do not like unstructured socializing. But if there is structure (like a book discussion group or a game night), then I’m more comfortable.

    – I learned I had unrealistically classed people into “friends”=”people I am totally comfortable with and can share emotional/personal stuff with” and “not friends”=”everyone else”. My therapist taught me that what I called “friends” were on the “close friends” end of the spectrum, and that it was possible to have friends that I’m comfortable with and enjoy talking to even tho we don’t share personal stuff, friends that are fun to do one particular activity with, friends that I don’t have much in common with but can call up and say “hey want to go to a movie” with, etc. And also, that it takes time to move from acquaintance to casual friend to close friend, even for ppl who do become close friends.

    Now that I know all these things, what I might do if I didn’t feel like having drama with my mother over the playdate thing, is to accept the contact information and make plans to go get coffee sometime. I would go with my plan, ie no expectation that I would enjoy it and permission to leave after 30 min. If I did hit it off with Oakley, bonus; if not, at least I avoided drama, plus got some more practice in doing the social thing, which like everything else does get easier with practice, at least it did for me.

    I really wish I had been aware that I had such social anxiety when I was just out of college, and had gotten effective treatment for it then.

    Good luck with the Oakley thing and in general, and have some Cats at Parties.

    • Ganymede said:

      This seems like a great post to me. I hope LW finds it encouraging.

    • coffeespoons said:

      Ugh, that “I am failing at fun! Must have visible FUN, dammit, or they will all know I’m not fun!” feeling. I know that all too well.

      I really like your suggestion of thinking about perceived social failures through the lens of the 30-year test. I’m going to start using this!

      • Geranium said:

        “Must have visible FUN…”, yeah! Another thing my therapist taught me was to watch other people at parties, and see how they sometimes will slightly disengage or zone out for a few minutes. I didn’t believe her but it was true! She said these are common ways to regulate your participation by what you can comfortably take in, and that most people who do it don’t know that they do it because they learned it so young. Once I saw that she was right, that gave me permission to zone out for a few minutes by staring off into space or at the hem of my shirt (don’t ask, I don’t even know why) when I started to feel overwhelmed.

        I’m still amazed that people do this, actually. I think that, because my family didn’t socialize much, I got my mental model of “how to be social” from TV, and of course they don’t show that part on TV!

        • coffeespoons said:

          This is kind of a revelation for me, actually. I’m going to have to try this next time I’m faced with a big group event or party.. This makes complete sense to my logical brain, but the irrational part that’s overrun by social anxiety brainweasels is unconvinced that people do this casually, and don’t think anything of it. “But….aren’t those people worried that everyone else will see them and think that they aren’t HAVING fun, so therefore they are NOT fun human beings? And then terrible consequences will ensue from this UnFun judgment passed by random strangers?!” argue the brainweasels.

          Of course, my logical brain gets that no–a lot of those people probably aren’t worried about that at all. Some of them probably almost never consciously think about whether they need to perform “fun,” and, by the same token, probably are not scrutinizing every other person in the room and policing their appearances to make sure they display only nonstop fun-having.

          Thanks for sharing the helpful advice! I’m glad to have something else to add to my Coping With Social toolkit!

    • BigDogLittleCat said:

      “Cats at Parties” is my new anthem. Thank you for this!

  19. I once ran into a friend of my ex’s, who had also fallen out of touch with him. The friend made “it’s unfortunate” noises when I mentioned not talking any more, and I replied, “Well, you know, his PhD kind of ate him.” It sounded better than, “Don’t be sad, [ex] is a butt.”
    You too do not need to say “I don’t want to see them” (whether they were a butt or no). “Thanks for the offer, but I’m busy and I’m afraid I’d let you down” has also worked for me.

  20. zilp said:

    I’d like to echo the suggestion above to consider maybe talking to the person. If you thought of it as a practice interaction, would it help? Since you say you want more friends, it might be a fairly low-stakes way to dip your toe into the pool of socializing, since you don’t actually care about reconnecting with the person. If it goes badly, you never have to talk to them again! You didn’t care about connecting with them anway! It may feel horrible and awkward, but you would have Done A Social.

    I’ve spent some time being really socially isolated, and working my way out of that involved forcing myself to do any kind of interaction. Even just going to the grocery store would be nerve wracking because people would SEE me and I’d have to interact with the cashier, etc. Doesn’t sound like you’re at that point (yay!), but starting with low stakes interactions with people I didn’t care about was helpful in working my way back up. It reminded me that I could talk to people without disaster, and even if things got awkward I could just leave afterwards.

    Also, if you are interested in practice-interacting with this person, why not do it online? I also feel more comfortable with that a lot of the time, and it’s just as valid as meeting someone for coffee.

    wrt talking to people in large forums – there are usually sub forums or groups or something where you’re often working with a smaller pool of people? People can get so, so specific about the particular angle they enjoy a thing from (see https://xkcd.com/1095/ ), so you may be able to find people into your specific angle in a particular subforum, or maybe somewhere else entirely on the internet. If it’s big enough to have a large forums, it’s probably big enough to exist in several places!

    Finally, if you prefer to talk online, and you want to talk to a fairly small group of people, I can’t recommend setting up a Slack group enough. (Or joining one!) My friends are spread out across multiple cities, but I talk to many of them daily, and it’s allowed us to remain close friends even though many of them I only see a few times a year. It’s designed for work chat, but it works beautifuly for social stuff as well, and it has made a huge difference to my life. If you’re able to get in touch with the friends you made on forums earlier, it could help you stay in touch. (I don’t work for them, I just have a lot of feelings :P)

    Hope some of that was helpful!

  21. emmych said:

    I also feel the whole isolated childhood thing, and here’s what I have to say about it: if you’re not ready to socialize with others, LW, try socializing with yourself and nurturing some self love! I perceived a lot of minimizing of your own feelings/worries in your letter (opening with “this isn’t as serious as other letters” for starters), and like, hey: if something is a big deal to you, that makes it a big deal and it’s okay to have feelings about it. Evidently this has you pretty stressed out, and that matters! Take some time to reflect on why it matters to you, and tell yourself that it’s okay to feel the way you feel.

    You sound fairly young still to me (maybe my age or a little younger? I’m 24, for the record) and like you’re about to embark on the process of reparenting yourself, and I think “what are my social needs and boundaries without interference from my parents” is a great place to start that process. You’re an adult now!! You can form your own adult relationships. You don’t need your parent’s permission to hang or not hang anymore.

    Best of luck to you! You got this, bud. ❤ Things will work out in time~

  22. Lark said:

    Hi LW, I just wanted to say that it took me a long, long time to make good friends after an isolated childhood, and I too struggled with not wanting to hang out with people because of feeling friendless and weird.

    I will recount a tale in case it’s ever useful: So, when I was 21, I met these people in an activity at college, and I thought they were the _coolest people ever_. It was different from the casual friends I’d made before – I really, really, really wanted to hang out with these people. It was the friendship equivalent of true love. And that inspired me to make the enormous, enormous leap of going from chatting pleasantly at events to suggesting that we all do [a thing related to the activity but outside of it] together. And it worked fine, even though I was at the time a very awkward person with one or two of the personality flaws you read about in that “Geek Social Fallacies” list. We all clicked and stayed close friends for quite a while, although life has mostly taken us in different directions now.

    That was a transformative situation for me and made it much easier to make other friends later, although I still went through some nearly-friendless years after college in a new town.

    I’m totally not suggesting that you should jump into friendships that you don’t really want right now – you’re not feeling it, you seem to like your casual acquaintances well enough but are not super driven to hang out with them, etc. But down the road, if you really, really want to socialize with some people and you think they’re really fantastic, sometimes taking that leap can be worthwhile.

  23. Pear said:

    LW, I would like to talk about the different varieties of friendlessness.

    Firstly, have you read this article about internet friendship by Mallory Ortberg? It is tender and funny, and also I feel it’s important that she recounts her experiences as an adult making friends on the internet. Because of, uhh, the nature of time itself, a lot of focus tends to be on teens meeting each other on- and then offline (true for me!), and even though plenty of adults use the internet for socialising, there still appears to be a trace of embarrassment about it sometimes. Like, there is a sense of being from the Internet, you know?

    I do not have many offline friends. It was, for a variety of factors, difficult for me to arrange any socialising outside of school up until I left home at 22. In my mid-teens I felt very lonely and got into a lot of trouble trying to assuage that loneliness with offline friends, so I built online friendships.

    But as time passed and I was completely free to organise my days and come home whenever I wanted, I felt differently. At 26, I don’t see offline friends very often at all, and do not feel the need to go out and meet people. Most of my friends are on the internet. Most of the people I interact with day-to-day are internet people. I live with my partner–who I met on the internet (Tumblr). My best offline friendships were facilitated by the internet, even though one of them is actually a school friend (MSN messenger), and another now lives in the same city as me (Livejournal). I’m still Facebook friends with people I know from a forum over a decade ago.

    I have some social anxiety, am very shy, and because of my relative isolation growing up, it takes an incredible amount of work to be fully engaged in a room full of other people. These reasons overlap, but they are not completely the explanation for my lack of friends. I just… don’t want more friendships! I am neither proud nor ashamed of my lack of friends: it simply is. I do my best with the few I do have and make sure I’m politely present for everyone else I come into contact with, and everyone seems fine with that. I’m certainly content!

    LW, I do recommend you carve out a space in your week to work on social anxiety. I often write in my journal, still. Even though I had moderate anxiety and low mood, the book recommended to me was not specifically about either, but Overcoming Low Self-Esteem by Melanie Fennell, which covers both through the lens of self-esteem. There are other books in that series, too, which you might look at on (they’re on Amazon), you might look specifically for workbooks which you can write in, to set things out, make it yours and more concrete. For forums, there is the lovely Friends of Captain Awkward (http://friendsofcaptainawkward.com/forum/).

    It can be helpful to maybe think about how your social anxiety affects your desire to connect to other people, and also how you view yourself as a potential friend to others, if that makes sense? There’s a whole lot that could be going on there. For example, on top of the social struggles, I had this idea of myself as unlovable, harmful, yet also very boring, and I also had unreasonable expectations of friendships and a poor sense of boundaries. Most people do have behaviour/expectations they really do need to adjust, and many people do have somewhat unfounded fears that they’re bad friends in x or y manner, etc. It’s a different combination for everyone. We all need a combination of ‘These are xyz lovely things about you, and these are other things you do which you should consider changing,’ pretty much. 🙂

    Now, the other types of friendlessness–and I say this is as someone with very few friends who is naming specific behaviours–watch carefully for those who seem actively proud of the fact that few people can handle them because they often do and say unkind things, or who consistently bring up their friendlessness specifically when they’ve done something to upset you and/or you are setting/reinforcing a boundary.

    The where/when of disclosure matters, I guess, if it comes up at all. My lack of friends hasn’t really come up when I’m talking to people. On the occasions it has, I guess people do find it a little sad, but not in a way that they attach it as a failure to me, become suspicious/wary, or otherwise make a big deal about it (e.g. turning our friendship into a charity project). It’s probably to do with the way information is revealed–if it’s made into a fact about you, like the colour of your hair or your age, then I think people follow this cue.

    To be honest, at the moment I can’t think of many situations where friendlessness would be disclosed, and you might be surprised at how many people can relate to a friendless childhood and adolescence enforced by parents, which is one of those bittersweet things.

    I wish you a lot of gentleness and fortitude, LW!

  24. Temperance said:

    LW, I can relate to having few IRL friends as a kid; my mother’s mental health issues, combined with our fairly ruralish lifestyle meant that there were no non-family kids nearby, and she couldn’t get it together to help me see friends after school. So, I get it.

    I struggled with socializing for years after school, TBH. I’m pretty introverted, but decided that I was also lonely. You may not be, and that’s okay. So I made myself go to meetups for one of my interests (beer), and made an effort to spend time with my law school friends. It was slow going at first.

  25. LW, I actually preferred being at school than at home because my home life was somewhat fraught and stressful, but that doesn’t mean school was a perfect bed of roses. Even though I have some specific incidents of harassment or unpleasantness to dwell on (there are more than a few), my overall opinion about school pre-college is mostly as “meh.”

    That said, I do not have any desire to attend reunions, socialize with old school chums (I tried and we had become so very different!), etc. I speak with exactly two old school friends, neither of which were what you might call my A-list friends at the time, though I always liked them well enough. My BFFs then? Lost track of them years ago. I sometimes feel bad about that, as I, too, am introverted despite appearing to be socially adept and outgoing (when I have the spoons and feel well enough) and once had a large and colorful group of friends and acquaintances to do stuff with and now only have a very small (but tight) friend group. I feel bad because I am terrible about talking on the phone and writing snail mail letters, so much of the estrangement is probably on me and not them.

    BUT!

    Sometimes you just don’t wanna do something. You don’t have to have a reason. If you just don’t wanna, that is reason enough.

    You don’t wanna hang with Oakley, even though you are aggressively neutral with regard to Oakley as a person. You don’t have to come up with an excuse or reason why you don’t wanna. You’re allowed to just not wanna.

  26. Sunflower said:

    LW! Come to the Friends of Captain Awkward forums! There are support group threads for anxiety specifically AND blanket mental or physical health conditions; they’re still small enough that you can get to know individuals, and if you live in or near a city on the larger side, there might even be an active meetup group near you. The moderators and other members are awesome, and I think you will be warmly welcomed.

    Your story reminds me a little of my own: my parents didn’t actively try to keep me from socializing, but they are very introverted and insular and I was homeschooled, so I basically didn’t have friends at all til I was 12 and joined sort of a homeschool co-op type organization and didn’t really feel like I could be vulnerable with or open up to anyone for far longer. I still have a very hard time asking for help, even when it’s something as basic as “can you write down this thing for me on the family whiteboard”, but it’s getting better. I moved out of my hometown, and now live with my spouse of three years and our two other partners; I have a few close friends and several pleasant casual friendships, and I host craft circles every month. Sometimes I still go “oh my god I can’t talk to that cashier right now I will LITERALLY DIE”, but that went from an all-the-time feeling to a sometimes feeling and I’m so proud of myself for all the progress I’ve made. It took a long time, some therapy, trying different meds, and letting people believe in me; and it still often feels like it’s been two steps forward, one step back. Sometimes more steps back. But I’m still moving. I think this can happen for you, too, LW, and I won’t lie and say it’s not a lot of work and sometimes you might just want to give up because it feels like you’re putting in your all and nothing’s changing. I think it will be worth it, though, and I hope you’ll let us cheer you on.

  27. Kate H said:

    OP, I want you to know that you’re not alone in this. I can count on one hand the number of times I spent at a friend’s house my entire twelve years of schooling. My mom made me feel guilty anytime I asked her to drive me, like it was the biggest inconvenience. So I just never went anywhere. I didn’t have friends outside of school. These days, the majority of my friends are online.

    If you wish you had real friends, work on it. It’s going to be hard. You’re going to get anxious, but things can get easier with practice. If you can, seek professional help. It’s good to have options and support when you’re working on yourself. It took me four years to convince myself to actually start therapy and I was so glad when I finally did. I’m never going to be one of those people with lots of friends and a whole pool of acquaintances. But that’s okay. I’m happy with my few close friends, even if we don’t get to see each other much anymore (we met in college and have since graduated and returned to our respective hometowns).

  28. Allya said:

    Re: Oakley, I would probably go for a modified version of accepting the number and never calling. I would accept the number but add something like “I’ll think about it” or “I’m pretty busy at the moment but maybe in a while”. It’s kind of a soft no, and if your mother asks you later you can say “I decided not to” “I’m still really busy…” Whatever works for you.

  29. Halpful said:

    “Readers, as a reminder, saying “It sounds like you definitely have (condition)” is not cool. “I have felt like you, and I have (condition), this is how I manage it, if any of that information helps you here you go,” is in bounds.”

    Thank you for saying that. I’ve been in a loop of worrying that my comments like #2 there are bad, but not wanting to bother people with “stupid” questions about the rules, but not wanting to stay silent when I might be able to help. Asking is a thing I’m still learning (and very scared of) 🙂

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