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Dear Cap,

I am an insecure introvert with a big ol mouth and the occasional attitude problem. I’ve worked a lot on being more careful with what I say and keeping work relationships more professional than personal. Then I switched to teaching.

Teaching, as I have found, builds a kind of in-the-trenches bond with your fellow teachers. My school is a ton of twenty-somethings, so there’s lots of engagements and weddings and baby showers. In fact, I was on bedrest with my first pregnancy and they got together an insanely generous amount of money to help me out without even having a shower. I really feel close to a lot of these people. But I still don’t get invited to any of the outside-of-work social events. There was a teacher who got married today and I saw a post on Instagram of a group photo of a bunch of my coworkers together all dressed up and having a blast. I really felt hurt.

On the one hand, I take a lot of during-the-day work time to be by myself and recharge from the stress of the job, plus I never go out after work (even before the pregnancy) because I’m just a homebody and I like to be at home with my husband. So it isn’t unreasonable to think that maybe people assume I don’t really do work friends at any level higher than Facebook. On the other hand, it’s her freakin wedding! I absolutely don’t want to cost someone money, or be a pity invite, because of my insecure feelings about being left out. Same for the several other events this has happened with.

Mostly, I just hate this feeling of “Oh so they don’t like me and I’m awful” combined with a new fear that staying home/my family being a large part of my social life is going to leave me without meaningful relationships outside my family. Now that’s kind of stupid because my best friends have been with me since elementary school, but three out of four have moved away and the one left in town… we are both total homebodies and are really horrible about getting off our butts and planning to do things together!

So my big question is, how do I manage these left-out feelings without letting them negatively affect my work relationships? My corollary question is, is it normal to suddenly be this worried about maintaining relationships and worrying that I’m a selfish person because I’m not very social?

Thanks for giving me some of your time,
Everyone Is Hanging Out Without Me

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Dear Captain Awkward,

I reached a major professional milestone that I have been working towards for seven years in college and while working. (Not an unusual amount of time.) My colleagues and I received our results simultaneously. Less than half of us were successful (also not unusual). We’re around the same age, but I am not close to them. I sat quietly within view of them congregating near my desk to discuss, but felt it was not my place to interject much disappointment with my good news. I am sure they did not want to put me on the spot (often we wait to be told rather than ask unless you’re close).

I emailed a few colleagues and texted my family/friends. My family wanted to know what I was doing to celebrate, and I had nothing to report. My three local friends were not available. My colleagues were also unavailable to grab a drink or fancy dessert. My boss encouraged me to leave early, which I was reluctant to do, so I took a break to have dessert at a café. By myself.

As the news spread this week, folks urged me to make extravagant purchases, plan trips, and eat and drink copiously to celebrate. No one offered to join me. Usually there is a happy hour to mark the results, but if there was one I wasn’t informed/didn’t overhear.

I made plans with a friend for today, but she canceled shortly beforehand due to an unavoidable problem with her apartment. All local friends are now unavailable for two weeks. My family lives out of state.

Tangentially, when I first saw my results, I didn’t really feel anything. When I completed the previous step, my success was a huge surprise, and I clearly recall my astonishment and delight. This time, I felt more confident when finished, but I didn’t feel the relief that I remember from before. After the long wait for results, I was expecting/hoping for relief and joy, but neither manifested.

I told colleagues who asked that I felt excited but a little anxious because “I’m already behind with studying!”

There is another optional step that will take at least two more years, possibly much more. Due to company policy, short of a medical exception, I am not allowed to take a break (though I may stop permanently) and must continue these assessments twice a year. This accounts for 400-600 hours of commitment annually outside of work. Most colleagues have made or are making this commitment, and it’s standard for my industry. I am told the previous step was the most challenging. I had a rough couple of months preparing, being very focused but also easily upset.

This process requires lots of my non-work energy. I find group studying to be less productive. I am also a lifelong introvert. (I would even say I’m aggressively introverted.) I engage socially with colleagues/friends once-ish per week outside work in “off” study times, less when I am studying. I often initiate. I try not to turn down invitations because I receive few, and I usually have a good time. I also have lunch with a few people and socialize at work. The folks I started with aren’t in my office anymore, and the group I tested with all started together later. My closest friends live in different states, so I see them rarely. I would rather have a pelvic exam than have to meet/befriend strangers.

tl;dr I didn’t react appropriately to amazing news. Instead I felt sad, empty, and isolated. I am not sure if the root of this is the milestone itself—what have I really achieved? My daily role has not changed, and I am not truly finished, so I must again begin the grueling cycle of preparing for the next assessment. Or were my feelings influenced because I didn’t have an outlet to celebrate and that was disappointing?

So my questions are: 1) How can I better nurture my friendships when I have these responsibilities and this introverted temperament? I feel like my emails go largely unanswered and engagements cancelled as often as not. What can I do differently? I have been told I am a good, supportive friend, and people ask for email updates (without reciprocating), but I feel like Team Me is largely second string, and it’s not my right to demand anything of anybody, while gentle requests for support are not taken seriously. And 2) How can I be more excited and positive about this accomplishment? I am afraid I am focusing too much on the friend-related disappointment or the difficult steps ahead. I want to savor this, but I seem not to know how.

She/her is fine.

Sincerely,
Finally a Professional

Dear Finally A Professional:

Congratulations on achieving (whatever it is). It makes total sense that the achievement would feel anticlimactic since so much work on this particular goal remains ahead of you. You’re in the middle, and it still feels like the middle.

You sound to me like a person who needs a break, a short trip to visit someone close to you, and an ongoing local pleasant, low-pressure outlet for companionship.

Could you get a massage? It sounds like you can afford a nice treat, and the catharsis of being rubbed and kneaded until some of the tension leaves your body might help right now. It sounds like your shoulders are up around your ears. See if someone can help you (physically, at least) drop them down a peg.

Could you spend a little time thinking about your career & life goals? Maybe jump on a journaling habit? Are you happy and excited about where all this testing and studying is leading you? Can you think of some people in your field who you admire, who do the most interesting and relevant and useful aspects of your profession? Is there a way to add something that really interests you to your current job duties? Does your company have an opportunity for you to job-swap with another department,  cross-train in another role, or transfer to an office (maybe one that is closer to your favorite people)?

Could you take a day off from work to take a long weekend to visit one of your far-flung friends or family? Why not throw some clothes and a book you’ve been meaning to read in a bag and hop a train to see a friendly face? You need a change of scene and to be in a room with someone who loves you. Combine the “celebration of milestone” with “short break” and “refilling your friendship well.” And don’t gently hint at it – ask/tell. “Old Friend, I would love to see your face this weekend. If I make it into town for a day or two can we meet up for brunch or dinner?” “Friend, I want someone to celebrate this big work deal with. If I hop the train this Friday, can we meet up for a drink?” It’s okay to flash the “Hey, I need you!” symbol in the sky. If travel doesn’t work, institute a Skype date or a long gossipy phone call. Email isn’t working, social media isn’t working, gently holding back isn’t working, and you’ve been trying so hard not to impose on anyone that you’ve started to disappear. It’s okay to say, “Friend, I’m a little lonely right now and I need you.” Vulnerability connects us as much if not more than celebrating achievements. You’re allowed to want that and ask for it.

These are three pieces about nurturing friendships among adults that I really like:

My Mother Showed Me How To Hit The Jackpot, by Kate Harding. (You might cry when you read this). I have a group of far-flung friends who make the effort to get together in one place at least once a year, and it is the best. If you can’t visit a friend now, can you try to plan a trip with a few people?

Friday Night Meatballs (about hosting a regular get together, which seems like a weird thing for an introvert to do, until you realize that you control every aspect of it and then kick people out of your house at a set time). To implement: Pick a day, gather your three local friends together at your place, and feed them. “I’m celebrating finishing [MILESTONE], please come join me.“If you enjoy it, try doing it once a month. Every now and then invite someone new and get to know them better.

How Do I Make Friends In My Late 20s, Ask Polly. An excerpt:

“This is the downside of living in a gigantic country like the U.S.: You move away for college, you move away for work, you move away because you meet a great guy or girl, and one day you wake up and you’re 2,000 miles away from anyone who knows you really well. For someone who’s faintly allergic to small talk, who can never quite hit that lowest common denominator of casual chattiness, who can never quite manage to burble happily about the weather and the news and those cute shoes and the new restaurant down the block, making brand-new friends sounds about as appealing as a trip to the podiatrist.”

Sound like you? ❤ She’s got some wisdom in there about connecting with people different from you and looking for things to like about people. I know, you said the thought of befriending strangers is literally The Worst. But your distant-yet-beloved network isn’t really doing it for you right now, nor are your work colleagues, nor is the thought of pouring yourself into hundreds more hours of studying. What could you do that is fun (maybe a physical activity of some sort, something that gets you into your body or your hands or your senses in some way) AND gets you out of your office AND out of your house AND into proximity with other people once a week? Join a choir. Try something new, something you don’t have to be good at, or reconnect with an old hobby. Meet a couple of new folks where you live. You don’t have to befriend them, you just have to show up and give it a chance. You need an outlet and a change of pace. I know you hate this advice, but making friends at multiple stages in life is a skill and sometimes there is no substitute for pleasant proximity to other people (even people who don’t necessarily have anything in common with you on the surface) when you’re trying to find your way back to having community.

  • Treat yourself.
  • Take a small break.
  • See or at least call a friend (be vulnerable).
  • Do something new that connects you to others, even if it’s just the shared work of petting puppies in the animal shelter.
  • Give it time and be nice to yourself.

You’re not weird for feeling this way, and you’re not alone. I hope your friends come through and that you find a place that reminds you that you belong.

Much love,

Captain Awkward

 

 

 

 

 

Yoda

“Close you do not need to live for hugs in Jedi Way to be offered.”

Hi Captain,

You’ve provided some great advice for meeting new people. However, I’m wondering if the Awkward Army has any experience or advice for meeting people in a rural setting.

I live in a rural state, and in a pretty isolated area (population around 20,000…hour and a half away from from the Big City That Is Not Actually Very Big).  I moved here for a job a year ago with a boyfriend in tow, and we have now just broken up. I’m realizing that I really haven’t made very many friends and my Team Me is all long-distance, except for my therapist.

People don’t really do the bar thing here, I don’t have kids so can’t meet other parents at kid events, and I’ve already scoped out meetup.com. Add to that a culture of exclusiveness among people From Here, and I’m starting to feel isolated in more ways than geographically.

 S.O.S., Awkwardeers!

Sincerely,
Moose Tipping Is My Last Resort

Dear Moose-Tipping:

I’m really sorry about your breakup and sorry that it feels extra-hard due to your location.

I’ve spent my entire adult life in cities, so I don’t know how to do this. And I’m applying to film professor jobs all over the country, so I may eventually need this advice very much myself.

Thanks, readers. Help us out.

Dear Captain Awkward,

 Last Friday, I went on a first date with a guy who hated me. 
 
I got dressed up, took a cab to this nice bar and dissected whether it was a date or not with the cabbie, had the waiter enthuse over how adorable I was … and the guy flat-out hated me. I was okay as long as I was agreeing with him, but everything that came from me he dismissed with mild to severe disgust. He hated the college I’d gone to. He hated that I was a nerd. He hated that I made less money than he did. Everything I did or said was a cliche to him. 
 
He ordered me another drink after I said I was “at or past my limit,” insisting that I’d like it. He asked me to ~go watch a movie~ at his place after 10 pm, on the first date, and told me when I declined that I was being silly and that he didn’t take advantage of drunk girls. I wish I could say it’s a surprise, but at this point, I’m fairly familiar with the one-two punch of negging and sexual pressure.
 
Since last spring, I’ve lost around half a dozen “great guy friends” because it turns out they didn’t really like me that much. In their varying ways, they wanted to flatter, manipulate or con me into sleeping with them, and when that wasn’t gonna happen, or wasn’t going to happen on their terms, they got mad. In one case, a boy I considered a close friend and who had stayed in my home told me repeatedly that I was a giant snake in human form– a literal monster– but that he “loved me despite my flaws,” which were copious and included narcissism, fakeness, and a lack of compassion.
 
I guess I should be grateful that I sniffed out Mr. First Date Hater for a rat right away, rather than wasting two to four years listening to his problems and revealing my own emotional weaknesses so he could use them to try and bend me to his will. But really, I’m just scared.

Hiya Captain,

I need some help putting myself back together again.

Maybe they’ll be charming in 100 years? Right now they’re jerky and awful.

Basically, my partner and I moved into his parents’ house for about a year and a half after the birth of our second child owing to some financial complications we hadn’t anticipated. This was very kind and generous of them, and I want to acknowledge that. However, living with them was painful and destructive in ways I had thought I could handle, and it turns out I was wrong. They’re pretty right-wing, Fox News-watching types, and are unconsciously racist and homophobic to boot. That year and a half of living with them was filled with micro- and macro-aggressions enough to have thoroughly sunk my spirit – I spent so much time holding my tongue and gnashing my teeth around them that I’m finding it really, really difficult to recover the me that I was before I lived with them. It’s like I sat so hard on all the parts of myself around which I was the most vulnerable that I may have actually permanently squished them, and now I’m a person that I don’t really recognize.

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Uma Thurman from Kill Bill, holding a sword

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

Captain Awkward,

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

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

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

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Dear Captain Awkward:

So I am a recentish transplant to San Francisco at 28.

I have many acquaintances here from various parts of my life, as SF is one of those cities people just end up in. These people are not connected to each other in any way.

As I attempt to build a friendship circle out here I have to deal with lots of people being flaky – not responding to emails, or breaking plans etc. I know from my own life I engage in this behavior under a few circumstances: 1) when I’m just not prioritizing the other person for one reason or another or 2) I’m depressed and avoiding social commitments like it’s my job.

I know for a fact a few of these potential-friends are sort of lonely and isolated, and some have very vibrant social lives. For the people I know are lonely / isolated I pretty much keep on going back to them with invites of one kind or another. For people with actual lives I’ll leave it at two or so before moving along.

What’s your take on how best to handle flaky people you are attempting to friend?

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