Reader dilemma: I don't know how to make friends

"The art of making friends is simply a social skill, not something that comes naturally to anyone unless they’ve been brought up in a social environment"

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Dear Virginia,

I was the only and much-loved daughter of committed Christian parents and our only social life centred on the Evangelical church. Having missed a normal teenage life, I never fitted in to university life. Now retired and widowed, I know people through various interests and clubs. But I’m always envious of those who talk of doing something with “my friend”. Over the years, if anyone had invited me to an event, I’ve always declined. But I don’t understand what it is to have a friend. Is it possible to learn?

Yours sincerely, Patricia

Virginia says

I can see why you feel you have problems. As an only child myself, I’ve always been rather baffled by the idea of having “a friend” – though I have lots of people I know very well. And it’s true – I’ve noticed that anyone who has been brought up in a roistering family full of siblings appears to have a far clearer understanding of what constitutes a friend and how to behave towards them.

There is a lot of fantasy about the idea of “friends” anyway. We read about them in books, and see them on television, all going out in laughing groups, phoning each other, falling out, getting back together, and often, we only children can feel that we’re missing out. As for people talking about “my friend”, that’s a very excluding phrase isn’t it? It may be that the people who have a friend do have a special relationship with a single person, but more often than not, it’s someone they can just hang out with. They may not be soulmates, but they do things together.

On the whole, I’ve always dealt with it best – being an only child and knowing how to get on with people one-to-one – by seeing my friends one at a time. More than two and I get confused.

But you’ve got a head start on most people who don’t feel they have friends. You know a lot of people. You’re invited to events by people. So you’ve got to learn how to make friends. And learn you can. The art of making friends is simply a social skill, not something that comes naturally to anyone unless they’ve been brought up in a social environment.

You must start, obviously, by accepting any invitation you get. And remember that friendship is, corny as it may sound, about giving and taking. So don’t just accept invitations, offer them as well. Try to realise that a lot of people are just like you. They are waiting to be made a friend of. So don’t just accept the friendship of others. Find someone you like and get on with and then suggest that you do something together yourself. It is very difficult to do this if you find friendship hard, because you always imagine that the last thing anyone would want to do is hang out with you, but the moment you start issuing invitations yourself – to go for a walk together, see a film and so on – and find that people start accepting your invitations, you’ll realise that there is a whole bunch of people out there who are just longing to make friends.

You say you don’t “have a friend”. People don’t “get” friends. They “make” friends. And that means being proactive, putting your head above the parapet and sometimes being brave, risking rejection, and becoming the one to initiate a friendship rather than the one simply to accept it.

Readers say...

There’s still time to find friendship

It is never to late to make friends. I am sad to hear that you are now widowed, but, at the same time, it is great that you know people through clubs. It seems to me that you are not scared of interacting with people, but rather unsure how to “make a friend”. Although you say you are not lonely, it is always nice to have someone at the other end of the phone for you, just for a simple chat about the day’s events, or perhaps anything you feel you need to share with someone who understands. I would suggest you accept an event invite and take it from there. Whoever is meant to be your friend will get close to you without your even realising it.

Doina Powell

by email

Work out what you want

Think about your husband. Think of how you felt when you made him happy, when you helped him, when you laughed with him, when you enjoyed just being with him, doing nothing much in particular. Remember how you felt when he did thoughtful things for you. This is friendship. If this sounds like your marriage, then you have already had a great friendship so you know what to do and what you should expect.

However, I believe the matter-of-fact tone of your letter may be masking feelings and anxieties that are just beginning to surface or that you are only just now acknowledging. 

If you suspect that you are suffering from loneliness, then please know that many of us have felt the pain of loneliness and the shame and doubt it inflicts upon us.

You sound like a practical woman. Before you examine the issue any further, line up some potential reputable counsellors with whom you can work out exactly what you are feeling and what you want from life. Then try accepting or initiating an invitation to a small social event, such as meeting for a coffee. If you cannot face doing the latter, or your attempts to make connections end in disappointment, then it is perhaps time to get help.

Whether you really want friendship or a validation of the desire to go it alone, I wish you much happiness and contentment.

Clare Kemper

by email

Don’t let your faith be a barrier

You may fear that, by making friends outside of God’s chosen people, you would yourself become unchosen. I see no reason for this, since you may even be able to show a new friend the strength of your faith. Making friends should be unthreatening. They should accept you as you are and vice versa. You should not feel you have to conceal your views, but neither should you thrust them on other people. Accept some of the invitations you are given and ask other people about themselves, and leave it to them to ask questions about you. You will be less likely to feel you are socially inept. 

Vaughan Clarke

by email

What would you advise Anthony to do? To answer this dilemma, or to share your own problem, write to dilemmas@independent.co.uk

Next week's dilemma

My partner is deaf, but won’t admit it. Life at home has been really badly affected. The TV is on so loud that the neighbours complain, and no one can hear what she’s saying and she accuses them of being deaf. Doorbells are accused of battery fault, and she says the phones don’t ring long enough to be heard. We don’t initiate conversation because everything has to be repeated. Friends find it odd when they don’t get a response from her. The children have raised the matter tactfully, and even offered to pay for an aid, but she’s dismissed it outright. Any suggestions? 

Yours sincerely, Anthony

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