Ask Erin: How Can I Make Real Friends Without Being Fake?

Artwork: Tess Emily Rodriguez

Artwork: Tess Emily Rodriguez

She’s made all the mistakes, so you don’t have to… Ask Erin is a weekly advice column, in which Erin answers your burning questions about anything at all.


Q.

Dear Erin,

I feel lonely. 

The friends I have usually have been friends for a long time, and I sometimes make new ones. But I don't seem to have enough friends (those I have are often too busy to do things, and I might do something with each of them once every year or two). I definitely have no close friends at this point.

I have kind of a tough personality, so I don't get along with everyone. 

That's okay. Years ago, I tried that Dale Carnegie stuff, and I found it just made things worse since all it did was teach me how to bend over backward to maintain fake friendships with people who didn't really like me and with whom I never had much if any fun. (In one case even I befriended someone who made it a condition of the friendship that I couldn't talk to her anymore.) 

As soon as I would slip up and be real, I would not just lose a friend but usually gain an enemy. Worse, the submissiveness and genuine care for others' feelings it taught me to adopt as second nature have turned me into a reclusive little wimp because it makes me hyperaware of how others dislike me. (Being sarcastic and disagreeable really works a lot better when you can be bold and confident about it.)

Other ideas such as volunteering haven't been happy experiences for me or for the people I have worked with/for, and again I am more likely to gain enemies than friends with these activities. 

Putting on a fake smile and pretending to be interested in and positive about stuff I don't like just seems to breed resentment in people once I am "found out.” It has proven time and again over 15+ years to fail.

What else can I do?

 

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A.

I didn’t know who Dale Carnegie was, so I looked him up. (For those who don’t know he wrote How to Win Friends and Influence People, which I have never read.) Anyhow, it sounds like you didn’t get much out of the courses. 

I am sorry you’ve been struggling to make and maintain friendships. Understandably, you feel frustrated and lonely. I think it’s important to acknowledge that you are aware that you’re difficult to get along with. This is a significant factor here.

It is possible to become more flexible with your personality without feeling like you’re “bending over backward.” 

I was struck by what you mentioned about a friend whose condition of continuing friendship with you required not to speak. That’s extreme and not the foundation of a friendship at all. What all of these friends and ex-friends have in common is you. 

You are likely comfortable being sarcastic and disagreeable. A little of this goes a long way. It can be exhausting for other people to spend time and energy with someone who appears not to care. I have had friendships like this in the past, and they were difficult to maintain because, at a certain point, I would think this person doesn’t even like me; what am I doing here

I’m curious if you’ve addressed this with a therapist. I know you mentioned the courses, but clearly, that wasn’t the answer. You said that after the courses, you felt more aware of how others disliked you. 

I’d bet that most of those people don’t, in fact, dislike you, but rather you are reading them based on your feelings about yourself. 

Which is why I’m going to circle back to therapy. It sounds like some things need to be worked out. It may seem like a cliché, but the quality of our relationships with others is dependent on the quality of the relationship we have with ourselves. 

I also think you need to get clear with yourself about what you desire in friendship, what qualities in another person would make you want to be friends with them. Be conscious of treating others the way you want to be treated. 

As you define friendship for yourself, you will be able to discern the types of people you want to let into your life.

As for where and how to find like-minded people, look for people who have the same interests as you. While volunteering is lovely, that may not be the most effective way to find your people. Don’t discount online groups as a means of finding friends. As a writer, I have formed some of my deepest friendships with people I met online in writing groups. Many of those friendships transferred to IRL friendships. Seek out groups that align with your interests, whatever they may be.

Now, another thing I want to say is that all of that sarcasm and disagreeableness is your defense against getting too close, against getting hurt. 

I think if you dig deep on this, you will find that it’s easier to have people in our life when we know sometime down the line we may sabotage things with our behavior. Sarcasm and disagreeableness make it easy to keep people at arm’s length. I don’t believe that’s the real you. That’s the armored you. 

Take a chance on being vulnerable, and you will likely find that you form the connections you’ve wanted all along. 

The information within Ask Erin should in no way be interpreted as medical advice because I’m not a medical professional. But I am here to help — to share with you the wisdom I’ve gained after years of making mistakes. If you have a question for me about relationships, addiction, dating, friendships, depression, parenting, sex, consent, what I’m watchingwhat I’m readingSodalite, or anything at all, use the contact form below or email me: askerin@ravishly.com. As always, your anonymity is golden. Lastly, I’m so excited to share with you my Ask Erin Self-Care Guide, free when you sign up for my newsletter, which contains a behind-the-scenes look at STRUNG OUT and the publishing process, exclusive extras and book giveaways only for newsletter subscribers, recommendations to get you through the week, extra Ask Erin content, and more… XOXO

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