• Making Friends

Making Friends: Having trouble getting close

Published: September 6, 2012 | Last Updated: October 28, 2012 By | 1 Reply Continue Reading
Whether you are shy or outgoing, closeness and intimacy is never instant and takes time to achieve.


Hi Irene,

I am a 27-year-old woman and find myself lacking the close friendships I long for. I’m well aware of the reasons why. Explaining would take all day but in a nutshell: I was a shy child who warmed up slowly but eventually made close friends I loved. In high school, I developed severe social anxiety and panic disorder, which continued in college. I still managed to make some friends, but only on a superficial level. In grad school, I finally made good friends again but they live on the other side of the country.

I’ve had therapy to deal with social anxiety and other issues, and it helped immensely. I know how to make friends and other people often seek me out to be their friend. The problem is that in the past I only reached a certain level of emotional intimacy with friends due to my anxious, shy adolescence. I’m lonely now, and I long for a circle of lifelong, very close girlfriends.

When I get to a certain level of closeness with new friends, I don’t have the skills to carry on. I worry that my friends won’t want to be friends with someone who is as inexperienced in close friendships as I am. Additionally, it seems that many people I meet are rather aggressive and argumentative. I can’t keep up with this type of relationship nor do I want to. I want to have sweet friends, but they are hard to find.

Do you have any strategies for how to make my current friendships closer and how to make new, intimate friends? I feel like I missed out on the types of friendships most women have in their teens and early 20s. It seems harder to foster this type of friendship at 27, especially for someone who lacks previous friendships of this type. What can I do to make up for lost time?

Many thanks, Stacey


Hi Stacey,

A few thoughts come to mind: While it’s reasonable to want to make intimate friendships, you can’t go back and make up for lost time. You can only begin pursuing your “lifelong” friendship goals now. Having insight into some of the personality factors that made it  hard to connect in the past can serve you well in the future.

It sounds like some of the prospects you have identified as potential friends, probably aren’t very good prospects at all. If your new friends are aggressive and argumentative, that can be pretty off-putting (and intimidating)—especially for someone who tends to be shy and reserved. Being anxious, I suspect that you may be very self-critical and hard on yourself as well.

It might help to approach your friendships in a more relaxed way. Continue to be open to meeting new people. Perhaps, take a course or participate in an activity in your neighborhood (based on your own interests), where you can “sniff” people out and decide which of them might be someone with whom you would like to be friends.

Build on the positive experiences you had in graduate school in your new setting. Smile and engage in small talk (I know you can do it if you try). Show interest in the other individual. Find things you share in common. And when you find someone with whom you feel comfortable, be open to spending more time together (without being smothering or needy, of course).

As you begin to know each other, slowly peel back and share parts of yourself (your history, aspirations, etc.) with the other person. (This may make you feel like you are taking a leap of trust—and you are, in a sense, but it’s the only way to get close.) If you find  yourself still feeling uncomfortable, listen to your gut and take a step back to figure out why.

Thus, your immediate and more realistic goal should be to find a friend or two with whom you feel comfortable as opposed to hoping for a circle of besties. Closeness and intimacy is never instant, for anyone, and takes time to build. Don’t worry about not having a “track record” of lifelong friends. You are still quite young and have many decades to find friendships that are satisfying and fulfilling.

Hope this helps.

Best, Irene

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Category: Shyness and introversion

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  1. Anonymous says:

    Hi Stacey,
    I just wanted to let you know that your letter rang so true for me; I have had a very similar experience. I was shy and anxious as a child, as well, and never experienced the close friendships I longed for. Throughout school, and even through college, no one ever sought me out, though I would often make the first move and try to become friends with others. For whatever reason, they never returned the favor. I was very lonely. Now, at age 35, I finally have a best friend, though we met online and have yet to meet in person. While our ‘connection’ was instant, it did, in fact, take a number of months to build the intimacy that I (like you, from what you’ve described in your letter) long for. I wanted instant closeness, because I had never had it before, and longed for it more than anything. But the thing is, you can’t force that into being. It has to happen organically and over time. For me, the waiting was the hardest part of this. I didn’t want to invest so much into a friendship only to find out we weren’t meant to be in the ‘BFF’ territory. Yet, often, it’s just that sort of risk you need to take: In order for a friendship to blossom to true intimacy, you need to invest in it wholeheartedly, even as the risk of it not possessing the depth you wish. All that said, when the stars to align in this way, it’s incredibly fulfilling. I do like Irene’s advice here, as well. Focus on a small number of friends first and nurture those relationships and see what happens. Instead of focusing on what you’ve missed for all of those years (I did this, too, for a long time) work on the here and now, and aim toward a more fulfilling future. You have insight now that you didn’t have then, I would think: Use that to your advantage as you move forward. Remember, too, that you have a lot to offer; the outgoing, boisterous types might get more favorable press, but we reserved, quiet, introverted types also possess some wonderful qualities: We tend to be insightful, good listeners, loyal and steadfast. All great friendship qualities imo. So, my best to you. Reading your story has helped me tonight, too, in realizing that I am not alone in this struggle. I hope you will soon find yourself with the friendships you have always longed for and deserve.

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