I’m Lonely But I Avoid Getting Into Conversations

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Reader’s Question

I’m 20 years old. I worry a lot about my friendships and I constantly have the feeling of being alone. I look for new friendships and I’m always looking to get into a relationship (although I haven’t had one yet) because I think it’s the only way to overcome this feeling of loneliness. However, I’m not very good at making friends; I’m rather shy and I’m not confident. I think I have a weak or a nonexistent identity.

At times I’m afraid to go to a place where I don’t know anybody and I don’t at all like being alone or going somewhere alone. However, when I do meet someone I know, I try not to get involved in a conversation, which is in contradiction to my fear of being alone. Also, I fear that even if I get involved in a serious relationship the feeling of loneliness will not pass. I prefer to talk with people in my imagination rather than speak to them face to face. I would rather think about it than actually do something.

I worry a lot about these feelings and I don’t know if this is a phase I’m going through (linked to my repeated bad experiences I had trying to build up a relationship). Is it a common thing to think like this? What can I do to stop these feelings?

Psychologist’s Reply

For people who are shy or suffer from social anxiety, these are very common thoughts. Meeting new people and making friends are difficult things to do but they are not impossible. The good news is that there are several things you can do to stop these feelings. The bad news is that it will take a lot of hard effort and will involve being outside your comfort zone.

The first thing to deal with is your feeling of loneliness. It sounds like you are so scared of being alone that your search for relationships is somewhat desperate. This needs to change because relationships built on insecurity are doomed to fail. The task of becoming more comfortable with yourself can start with reasonable goals like finding new activities to occupy your time — taking up martial arts, training for a race, learning a new language, joining an advocacy campaign or taking piano or dance lessons, for example. As you become more proficient in your activity, you will feel more confidence in your abilities. You will also have something interesting to discuss when you interact with people. The activity could even serve as a springboard for meeting people, as you will have new groups to join or events to attend. Having things to do to fill your time can help decrease your feelings of loneliness.

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The second thing is changing your perspective on meeting new people. Instead of focusing on how uncomfortable you feel, meeting new people can be an opportunity to find out more about someone else. You might ask them about their life or their opinions on some topic, and find out what’s interesting about them. Relationships are all about fit and your interest matters too. If you find them fascinating, odds are that they will want to talk more with you. As you have more things to contribute to the conversation (because of your life and activities), they may find you just as intriguing as you find them.

Even if you don’t hit it off, the encounter can be an opportunity to figure out what went right and what went wrong. You may need to work on strategies to lower your anxiety in social situations. Above all else, keep interacting with people. The more practice you get, the easier it will be for you to meet and talk with new people. If all goes well, you will have the best of both worlds: gaining new relationships and still feeling comfortable being alone.

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