Consult with Krystal – I have no friends anymore
I am reaching out because I have no friends anymore. I know this may be a different type of relationship question than you’re used to getting but I’m at a loss. After college, I left my hometown for an internship to a city where I don’t know anyone. At first, this didn’t really bother me. I was ready for a change as I had gone to college where I grew up. I am used to seeing people I know on campus, at restaurants, even at the grocery store. I thought it would be fun to be anonymous.
However, it’s been a couple years since I moved away. I started working for the company where I interned but during the pandemic I started working from home. I’m still not in the office. Truthfully, that’s fine with me but how am I supposed to meet people? I’m trying to stay connected to my old friends but everyone seems too busy to catch up. My old friends have busy jobs or are in serious relationships. I never have had a best friend and don’t really want to date right now. (That’s a whole other issue!) So I’m always alone.
Honestly, I feel really embarrassed by this. Whenever I scroll on Instagram (or watch TV), it seems like everyone else has lots of friends. I’m starting to feel like there’s something wrong with me. I have tried to talk to people at the dog park or at the coffee shop but I don’t know what to say. It feels super awkward. Help. Is there something wrong with me? How can I make friends?
You’re not alone
Firstly, friendless, I want to honor how painful it is to feel lonely. I also completely understand why you feel embarrassed. American culture often makes it seem like having an abundance of friends is the norm for most people. This is seen on TV, in movies, advertisements and then, many people perpetuate this myth with social media. Although, the reality is that half (49%) of all American adults have three or fewer close friends.
Additionally, during the pandemic women in the U.S. aged 18 to 29, lost contact with friends in higher numbers than any other population. In this group, 43% of women lost touch with friends while 16% lost all contact with their friends. This means while painful, ironically, you have a lot of company in your loneliness.
Loneliness is not your fault
It’s easy to think that if you’re lonely then there must be something wrong with you. This is especially true if you buy into the fantasy of life sold by the media and perpetuated on social media. As a therapist, I have the privilege of knowing the reality of people’s lives. This means, I know that many people are not as connected as they’d like to be to other people. And this has nothing to do with how interesting or valuable they are.
It is proven to be more difficult to make friends in adulthood. This is because as adults we don’t make friends organically like we did when we were young. Growing up, you made friends because you saw each other at school all the time for example. As adults, we must put in conscious effort into making, and keeping, friends. And it’s a lot of work too. Research shows to make a casual friend we must invest about 50 hours while to develop a close friendship we must invest 200 hours.
Friendships change over time
With all the demands of adulting including keeping a job, feeding ourselves nourishing food, and getting enough sleep, it can be hard to fit in time for friends. This does not mean you are not worth the effort but of course, time is a limited resource. It’s important to remember you are not alone and the fact you have lost touch with your old friends is not personal.
When you start to take the change in your friendships personally, please try to remember this is not about your worth. In fact, in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, personalizing is a cognitive distortion or thinking mistake. Such errors in our thinking always lead to worse feelings such as depression, insecurity, and anxiety. In my book, The Codependency Workbook, I explain more thinking mistakes and how to overcome them. One way to pull yourself out of this is to remind yourself that friends evolve and change over time and distance. This is just a fact we all face during our lives.
Don’t take it personally
It’s easy to think that if you’re lonely then there must be something wrong with you. This is especially true if you buy into the fantasy of life sold by the media and perpetuated on social media. However, the idea that most people are deeply socially connected just isn’t true. Unfortunately, while easy to buy into this lie, it can create insecurity while leads to social anxiety.
This has been an especially painful topic for me over the years. In my codependency, I became deeply attached and loyal to people. The fact that friendships can end or evolve hurt me intensely because this seemed to be only happening to me. Of course, we all go through friendship loss and change but my inner critic told me something was wrong with me. I made up that because friendships had ended, or changed, over the years that I was not good enough. Of course, this made me scared to open up and try to connect with other people. This social anxiety and insecurity perpetuated loneliness fed my inner critic for years.
It takes practice to make friends
Knowing you went to college in your hometown, it leads me to believe you may just be out of practice with making friends. You may have had the same group of friends for a long time and have forgotten that making friends is a skill. A common trap is to think that some people are good at making friends and others just are not.
We can all cultivate social skills that enable us to meet and connect with more people. In The Charisma Myth, Olivia Fox Cabane uses research to highlight that charisma or the quality of being likable to others can be developed without compromising our authenticity. One way to be more charismatic she explains is to simply be more present with other people. After all, we all like the feeling of truly being listened to by someone else.
We need other people
I am really proud of you for acknowledging your desire for more friendships. This is vulnerable but powerful to share. It’s great you are not buying into the American myth of “rugged individualism.” The idea that we don’t need other people and should only rely on ourselves is toxic, inhumane, and scientifically inaccurate.
While of course, it’s not healthy to be overly dependent on others as this is codependency, it’s also unhealthy to deny our need for connection. Being overly independent is just the flip side of codependency. Ideally, we are interdependent. This means that we are responsible for many individual tasks like supporting ourselves financially and self-soothing while at the same time needing relationships for the experience of support and intimacy.
The literal need for connection
As human beings, we literally need to connect with other human beings. Holt-Lundstad (2021) found that being socially disconnected from others is as harmful as smoking 15 cigarettes a day. Furthermore, Einsenberger and Cole (2012) found that social disconnection triggers the brain’s “alarm system.” This system processes threats to our safety and includes the amygdala which triggers the fight or flight response.
This response helps us survive danger by compelling us to run or attack the threat. Thereby, if a person is rejected socially this truly feels like a threat to our survival and can trigger a sense of panic or anger. Eisenberger (2012) also discovered our brain processes physical pain and social disconnection in the same region. This means that we literally hurt and are scared when we are disconnected from others.
Small steps towards friendships
While it takes time to build a friendship (50 or more hours), you can begin to connect with other people right away. I appreciate it may feel awkward talking to strangers, but it’s such a wonderful way to build more connection. In The Power of Strangers: The Benefits of Connecting in a Suspicious World, Joe Keohane explains that even passing interactions with other people makes us happier and less lonely! (Honestly since learning about this, I work on this skill myself.)
Next, I also want you to consider your authentic passions. There is no better way, I’ve found, to connect with people than around things that you both genuinely love. For example, during social isolation in 2020, I realized how lonely I was, so I joined a book club through Meetup as reading is one of my favorite things. It’s been amazing to connect with other women who love books as much as I do! You may join a Meetup as I did or potentially volunteer. Bonus points for volunteering: It’s proven to ease loneliness.
Finally, please remember friendless (for now), that there is nothing wrong with you. Please try to not personalize your loneliness. It’s already painful enough to feel lonely. In the meantime, try to be compassionate with yourself. Being kind to yourself is essential because as author and shame researcher, Brené Brown explains, “true belonging only happens when we present our authentic, imperfect selves to the world, our sense of belonging can never be greater than our level of self-acceptance.”
About The Author, Krystal
Krystal Mazzola Wood, LMFT is a practicing relationship therapist with over a decade of experience. She has focused her entire career to empowering people to heal from unhealthy relationship processes. She teaches the skills and tools necessary to have a life filled with healthy and loving relationships.
This passion led her to write her best-selling books and create courses. Her books, The Codependency Recovery Plan: A 5-Step Guide to Understand, Accept, and Break Free from the Codependent Cycle and The Codependency Workbook: Simple Practices for Developing and Maintaining Your Independence have helped many people heal.
Her course, Confidently Authentic: Stop People Pleasing and Start Being True to Yourself, provides the skills necessary to have a healthy relationship. This course features over a year of relationship skills you would learn in therapy. Students share this course has been “life changing.”
Each week, she answers your relationship questions from a place of expertise and compassion. To submit your relationship questions, please DM us @confidentlyauthentic.com