I did not make many close friends during my five years at university. Friendly acquaintances, sure, but very few who I actively spent time with. It turns out, making friends is hard. I kept thinking things would fall into place and I’d find my group, but it never really happened. Why? Because making real friends takes hard work in areas I am terrible in.
I am an introvert living with anxiety. Individually, either of these can make making friends difficult. But combined, they make it a nightmare.
As an introvert I’m at a disadvantage from step one.
We’re awful at small talk, you see. No, that’s a lie. We can make small talk. We just hate doing it. Small talk is exhausting and such a waste of time. It sounds terrible, but I really don’t care what your plans are for the weekend. For people like me, small talk is what you do to avoid awkward silences with strangers when you make the mistake of going out into the world alone without headphones. It is shallow and pointless, but it fills the silence.
But when I’m trying to make friends I want to find out what you’re passionate about. I want to talk about your favorite books and why you related so strongly to a particular character. I want to know what your dreams are and what you are most afraid of. Basically, I prefer to skip the tedious polite acquaintance phase and jump right to the deep existential conversation phase. It’s an introvert thing, and it can be off putting for some and that’s fine. But the real problem is that when you pair this with an anxiety-ridden mind that constantly tells me I’m annoying everyone around me, I end up being too scared to start up any of the conversations I actually want to have. Which means I get bored. And I also come off as really boring.
On the odd chance I survive phase one, you might think things would get easier from there. If only.
I rarely make the effort to reach out to people, which probably makes a lot of people think I don’t care enough about our friendship to be bothered. Most of the time I badly want to talk to someone more, but I avoid reaching out because I worry I’m bothering them. Then (and here’s the real hypocritical kicker), when people don’t reach out to me, I assume I was right and they don’t actually care about me or like me. If they had any interest in me, they would have texted, right? Obviously.
On some level I of course realize this goes both ways. I cannot expect others to make an effort when I won’t, but the voice in my mind insists that no, they just don’t like me. They are just being polite when we’re together. I did them a favor by never trying to talk or hang out.
If I am too anxious to text someone, it maybe goes without saying I’m also terrible about making plans. I probably come off as either a boring introvert who never leaves her house or someone who can’t be bothered to try and therefore isn’t worth the time. The truth is I avoid making plans with people because I’m terrified that if I try, nobody will show up and I’ll look like an idiot. For someone without anxiety it might just be a bit disappointing, but for someone like me it is utterly humiliating. And it has happened before (file under: reasons I no longer do anything for my birthday). It might sound ridiculous, but trying to make plans with people has a high risk factor in my mind. Best not to bother, the voice insists.
People like me are terrible friends. When we’re first getting to know each other we will want you to reach out to us and make an effort to invite us places, while rarely doing the same for you. We will sometimes back out on plans because we’re having a bad anxiety day. We’re the worst for spontaneous nights out because we get overwhelmed when our plans suddenly change, and we’re probably already in bed with our sweats on anyway. We will need constant reassurance you actually like having us around, and it will take you months to convince us to stop apologizing for literally everything.
But if you are patient with us…
…we are also the best friends you could ever ask for. The more time we spend with you, the less high-maintenance we’ll become. We will realize you don’t secretly hate us, and we will start reaching out to you. We’ll send you pictures and videos we know will make you laugh and tag you in every adorable puppy picture we find on Instagram when you’re having a bad day.
Our introversion and our anxiety means we are always tuned into to our environments and the people around us, so we will always know when something is bothering you. We will let you vent for hours while we just sit and listen. We will trust you with our deepest secrets, and we will never share yours. We will never be angry with you when you wake us up in the middle of the night, because we know better than anyone how terrible it is to be hurting and alone.
We will never judge you for what you love. We’ll watch your favorite shows with you even if we think they’re silly, because we know how important they are. We will remember every single inside joke, partially because we are so embarrassingly excited to have inside jokes with someone. We will value you more than you could ever possibly know, because we know exactly how difficult we are to be friends with. And because we will never forget how much you made our day the first time you asked us if we wanted to hang out.
I am working hard to become a better friend.
I am trying to make a point to reach out to people, to try making plans, to let them know I would actually really like to have them in my life. But it’s a process. And even knowing how much I have to improve on, it is really discouraging to feel like no one cares enough to shoot me a text, and that gives my anxiety just that much more fuel when it is trying to convince me not to say hi to someone.
I know I am not the only one who feels like this. So, if you were kind enough to take the time to read this whole post, I encourage you to reach out to someone today. You never know; you might make their whole day with just one quick text. And if you know you have introverted friends with anxiety (or any friends with anxiety, really), be patient with them. Take the time to reassure them they are valued. Remember that it is highly unlikely they are ignoring you or blowing you off. In reality, they are probably terrified of annoying you, and are hoping you’ll decide to text them.
And when you do, it really will mean more than you could ever possibly know.
This story was published on The Mighty, a platform for people facing health challenges to share their stories and connect.