The life of an anxious introvert is tough. Over-analyzing often works to sabotage relationships before they even begin. We are sensitive, highly perceptive people who respond better to close friendships in controlled situations, than, say, a party or a large gathering. Classes are for education, not socialization. And did you just say you want me to do something outside of my pre-scheduled socializing hours? No way. Not ever.
But there’s a catch here. Introverts need human interaction just the same as any other person, but in different doses and for different reasons. And because anxious introverts like myself don’t always have the energy (or in my case, the peace of mind) to reach out and say hi to a complete stranger, isolation seems to be the only alternative. So how can an anxious introvert still reap the benefits of meaningful friendships without harming their mental health?
Glad you asked. Here are a few ideas.
1. You Don’t Have To Go To Parties To Make Friends
I think one of the things which surprised me about the college scene was how relationships played out in real life, versus what I’d seen through movies and TV (big shocker, right?). I thought that everyone went to parties, got drunk all the time and had massive groups of people they flocked around campus with whenever they weren’t in class.
This turned out to be less normal that I originally thought. Yes, people liked to party. But while I used to stress that I would be an outcast because of my very much non-partyer lifestyle, I found that there were plenty of other people out there who where just like me. It turns out, parties are only one facet of a very complex amalgamation of lifestyles thrown together in a college environment.
In reality, you don’t have to go to parties to meet people. All of my friends I met through class, which was great, because it meant that I was more likely to find people who had the same interests I did. Even better, we were in a safe, quiet environment, where I was trying to get grades instead of impress a bunch of people I didn’t know.
2. You Don’t Have To Be Best Friends With Everyone
Another source of my relationship stress was that I used to think that the only way for someone to really be a “friend” was if they were someone I would trust with my innermost thoughts. This was problematic in a sense that I would share my most heartfelt feelings with people who either didn’t care – not through any fault of their own – and in brushing me off, I would feel unwanted and disliked. In my efforts to befriend everyone I met in this way, I got a lot of crushed feelings.
But then I realized that you can have a large “friend” circle without every single one of them knowing everything about you. Not that you should lie about anything – that’s not what I’m saying – but you don’t have to have such heavy criteria for friendships.
Instead of trying to make everyone into my best buddy, I began to focus on friendships at an individual level. I found myself gravitating towards one person, and then another, and within a few short months, I had a few friends who I felt I could really trust. When I took my eyes on trying to fit myself into a massive organization, I realized that I could get just as much joy, if not more, from individual relationships rather than a group of people as a whole.
That being said, if you like to “know” a lot of people, good for you! But you can still “know” these people and realize that the majority of them aren’t going to be people you call when you’ve had a tough day or when you have so really, really great news you just have share. I felt a huge sense of relief when I realized that I don’t have to be best friends with everyone. In fact, having only a few people who I really, really liked to spend time with brought me more happiness than having everyone know and like me.
3. Focus On the Relationships Which Bring You Joy
In my childhood, friendships just sorta happened. I can’t really recall ever trying deliberately trying to be friends with someone – people just showed up in my life. That being said, I didn’t really have a filter towards what kind of person I let influence my life, and sometimes it caused me grief if I had to separate myself from them due to a negative presence they were bringing into my life.
College is completely different. You can’t throw out all of your old relationships, certainly, but you can distance yourself from ones that no longer bring good things into your life, and you have the facility now to deliberately choose who you spend your time with.
The few friends I have at school are ones I decided to keep in touch with because we have common interests and goals, and when we are around each other, we challenge each other to be better people. We don’t pressure each other into doing things which are detrimental to our physical, emotional, mental or spiritual health. We encourage each other and we are honest with each other. And because of this, I have come to a place in my life where I am able to say if I need space, or if I need company. My friends know that they can do the same to me.
That kind of relationship brings joy into a person’s life. We are there for each other. We keep each other in our thoughts and prayers. We keep each other accountable to our goals and commitments. And, unlike other relationships I’ve had in the past, I don’t find myself quite as worn out after spending time with these people, because I am rarely stressed when I am around them.
4. Be Brave
This is maybe the least stellar part about this whole “making friends” idea – and the part I like the least.
Yes, it’s easy to burrow down deep into ourselves and not speak to another person all day, and it’s even easier to wallow in loneliness without doing anything about it. The anxious introverts in the world have every excuse (and some valid reasons, don’t get me wrong) not to reach out to other human beings. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t, and it doesn’t mean we can’t.
Speaking from experience, stepping outside of one’s comfort zone is important. Yes, it’s awkward; yes, it’s a little scary. But several things come out of stretching ourselves in this way. For one, you get better at it. Over time, you will get used to the weird feeling of being uncomfortable. But also, you may find that you like it.
Yes, you read that correctly. It turns out, when we push ourselves into new experiences, when we flex our courage muscles, we gain a sense of pride which we don’t otherwise have. When I encounter experiences which require me to put on my brave face, so to speak, afterwards I usually feel a giddy rush of “oh my gosh, I actually did that!” which is invigorating as well as encouraging.
So when it comes to making friends in the real world, I’m asking you to do one thing: be brave. Talking to new people can be scary, as we all know. But real friendships, just like any other type of meaningful relationship, doesn’t happen on its own.
True story here: one of the friends I love spending time with only became my friend because I gutted it up enough to say, “hey, I see that book you’re reading, I really love it. Do you like it?” and we got to talking about books. Soon, we were talking about other things, and finding out that we had a lot in common. Several months later, and we have a good relationship which may not had happened if one of us hadn’t been brave enough to say something.
The most important thing here to remember is that if you friend circle is around two or three people, you’re not doing something wrong. Some people, like me, can only handle so many people at a time. Sure, there are people who you will count as acquaintances, and you’re Friday-night-friends, and maybe even people you only talk to in class, with whom you are on good terms. But you’re not failing your life if you’re not actively sharing your deepest thoughts and concerns with everyone you know.
Although some people feel comfortable with things like this, you don’t have to. There’s nothing wrong with finding more comfort in only a few, really close friends; and there’s nothing wrong with it being the other way around. The only situation which would be “wrong” is one where you are trying to force yourself to be something you’re not, and as long as you remember that, you should be okay.
So good luck my friend! Hopefully these tips will help you find more meaningful relationships, and maybe even strengthen the ones you already have.
What things help you make friends? I’d love to find out!