Friday, 18 March 2016

Making Friends When Socially Anxious

Joey-No-MatesIf I was to count the number of friends I have, and treat it seriously, I would not get past one. Of course, I have work colleagues I get one with, people from the YA community who I love chatting to, and friends of the family who I think of warmly. But when it comes to real friends - the kind that are there for you no matter what; who you can talk to all the time about absolutely anything; who know you inside out and back to front, all your flaws, and love you anyway; who you can confide in and be silly with and go to for assurance when you're having a wobble - of those kind of friends, I have one. My best friend. And he lives in Belfast, while I live in London.

This hasn't been a problem for me. I've not felt lonely or like something is lacking from my life. I have a very close family, and we spend a lot of time together, and they've come to be friends, too. But at the end of last year, I came to realise that I don't really have a great social life. With a lack of more friends, perhaps I'm missing out on...something. Fun, sure - nights out, lunch dates, catching up over coffee - but also something more. People help you grow, right? They challenge you and educate you and give you a different perspect. My best mate does a fantastic job at this, but maybe I could do with a few more people in my life? And experience more things because of those people?

I decided that I was going to make an effort to try and make more friends this year. For those of you who don't know, #DrinkYA is one of many social events for those in that YA communinity - readers, bloggers, authors, publishing people - to get together and just hang out, chat, and have a drink, organised by the brilliant Jim. I went to my first #DrinkYA event in January, hoping to meet new people, have fun talking about books, and hopefully make some friends in the process.

I have always been quite shy. As a child, I was painfully shy; I remember once hiding in the bathroom when family were visiting my Nan, because I didn't know them well, and I got very nervous and didn't want to talk to them. It's got better as I've got older, university and work have helped, but I still find talking to people I don't know difficult. It's not something that comes easy to me, and I have to work at it. "Don't use small talk. Say something interesting, Stop feeling so nervous. Compliment them, maybe. Look them in the eye. Listen to what they're actually saying." To some I might seem stand-offish and rude, but I'm not, I'm just shy.

But I didn't realise just how socially anxious I was until #DrinkYA. (I'm not talking about Social Anxiety Disorder here, but social anxiety. The latter can lead into the former, but it's not a mental illness.) I went to the event feeling a little nervous, but generally pretty excited. Until I got there and realised in a group of around 30 people, there were only two I knew. It was overwhelming, and I became so uncomfortable. From my intro post, you might think I was a strong person who is happy in her skin and with who she is, and doesn't really care what other people think. And for the most part, I am. But at #DrinkYA, I crumbled.

Jim did introduce me to a number of people, and everyone was lovely. But I struggled with finding things to say. I let them lead the conversation and followed them, asking questions, trying to say interesting things, but I was like a rabbit in the headlights. I felt like I was being humoured, like they were taking pity on me, but weren't really interested. It's hard to describe how I felt. There were all these people, and they were going to judge me and find me lacking, and I just wanted to escape. So I wouldn't have to talk, so I wouldn't have to be judged. It was also hard because everyone else seemed to know each other from other social or bookish events, which I can't always attend because of work, and I was there on the sidelines. So not only was I struggling to talk to people I didn't know, I also felt like an outsider. I even went to the toilet at one point, just to get away from everyone. For a little bit of peace, a little bit of quiet. With my head in my hands, feeling like an idiot. Eventually, I pasted on a smile and went back up, but it was just as bad. As I said, everyone was lovely - I wasn't being judged, I wasn't being pitied, these people were there to hang out and chat just like me. But that's how my social anxiety made me feel, and it was unbearable. I lasted two hours before leaving, making my way home on the bus, feeling like a failure. How was I supposed to make friends, when I can't even handle meeting new people?

A few days after, I had a talk with myself. I wasn't a failure. So big groups are obviously not for me, I can't handle being around so many people I don't know. But smaller groups? I can do that. I organised a get-together with a few people over coffee, and although that was a little awkward at times, I was fine. An old friend from way back got in touch asking to meet up this year, and we had a drink together one night, getting to know each other again and reliving old times. It was a great night! And I went to a gallery with a blogger from the US who is studying here for a few months. Fewer people, but a step in the right direction.

I still have just the one friend, but we're only in the third month of the year. There's time. And I'm hoping that seeing more people at events and organising get-togethers will help me get there. There are several people I know that I would so love to be friends with. People who are so smart, who are just so cool and inspiring, who just seem like so much fun. But it's not really the done thing to go up to people and say, "Hey, I think you're awesome. Please be my friend?" Needy and creepy, much? But I'm sure I'll get there.

And if you see me at an event in the future, and I'm kind of quiet or on my own or not saying very much, please don't feel badly of me. I'm not being rude, I don't think I'm better than you, nor am I not interested. I'm just shy, and I'm probably feeling nervous about talking to you, and maybe struggling for something to say. If you know me online, and want to, please do come over and say hi. You've no idea how much that would mean to me when I'm struggling, how much it would help.

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  1. What an amazing post! You have just described me to a tee so you are not alone. I go to bookish events by myself, sit by myself and don't talk to anyone because they all seem to know each other and it feels very cliquey and I would be intruding. As I type this I'm heading off to yet another event, by myself again, and I expect the only people I talk to will be at the ticket office. Maybe it's a red hair thing? Fellow redhead :)

  2. I agree, I feel like this a lot too. I'll go to social events because I want to meet people, but I hate starting conversations with people I don't know. Once someone starts a conversation with me, or I start talking to them, I'm fine and I can talk very happily but it's that 'before' time. I hate it. I've done the 'go to the bathroom to hide for a while' thing many times. I just feel so uncomfortable going to an event where everyone is already talking and seems to know everyone else really well - I feel like it would be intruding on their conversation & reunion to jump in and introduce myself.

    I felt quite lost at the first Drink YA event I went to in January, but the February one was a much smaller group and we fit around one table most of the time, which I think really helped with introducing ourselves - there were a lot of new people there, all pretty nervous.

    If we're ever at another bookish event together, Jo, I will absolutely come and say hello again, and maybe we can feel lost & intimidated together?


No judgment, no hate, because it is already tough enough being a girl.