I started working from home about two months ago. During those two months I had three trips for conference talks and I spent about three weeks being too sick to do much of anything. I didn’t really think about how to deal with human social interactions until recently.
I have noticed that generally speaking, I like being alone in my house cleaning and cooking and doing other solitary activities. But usually around Wednesday I start to feel like the walls are closing in around me and I feel the need to leave my house and have human social interactions.
Since my divorce I have not had a lot of human social interaction. My ex-husband had a friend we used to do regular games nights with who would force us to actually leave the house and do fun activities. Three years ago he went to prison and our social circle contracted by a lot.
Over the last three years while I was learning programming I lost touch socially with the people I worked with at my last job where I actually made friends. I learned programming at a local technical college that was never particularly good at fostering social ties amongst its students. It had no dorm or any emphasis on extracurricular activities, so usually the only time you see your classmates is in class.
At my last job I worked with only three other people. One became a really good friend, who unfortunately is perpetually busy and doesn’t have a lot of time to hang out with me. Neither of my other coworkers would speak to me when they saw me every day, so they’re not going to come hang out with me now.
I am finding myself in the uncomfortable situation of trying to make friends as an adult.
This is the incident that prompted this post.
I have been trying to join a maker space in town for the last year or so. When I didn’t work from home I had no time to go hang out there. I was really excited about joining now that I am working from home, but I am kind of shy. I know a lot of people who know me don’t think that, but that’s because they see me in a situation where I know people and I know what to do.
When I started going to conferences and I didn’t know anyone, I could go and talk to the speakers because I at least knew who they were and had something I could start a conversation with them about. Now that I am a speaker I know other speakers and I feel more comfortable about being around a lot of people I don’t know.
I went to this space on Friday because I was invited by someone I knew tangentially. He showed me around and was very nice and I had a nice time. So I figured since people had met me and that when I came back today people would be friendly.
I came in and people looked at me awkwardly. I tried to join conversations with people and I got the “why are you talking to us?” look. I wound up sitting in a corner by myself when I realized I could do that at home. It reminded me of college when I had to work at the campus radio station my senior year and the students running the radio station were very insular and did not want to make you feel welcome.
Why is it so hard to make friends as an adult?
Knowing When to Approach
There are a lot of blog posts, primarily targeted at men, telling them how not to be creepy. A large part of that is telling them when not to approach women.
I get that if you’re at the maker space because you have a really important project to work on, you don’t want to make meaningless smalltalk with an insecure and obnoxious girl who is just there to hang out. I would not want someone trying to talk to me while I am running at the gym. If you are at a place to do something, you don’t want someone distracting you from what you are there for.
I just feel like no matter where I go or what I do, there is never a point where you approach someone. There are obvious things, like if you’re at the grocery store you don’t want to be harassed, but where is it appropriate to know you are going somewhere to meet other people who are interested in the things you are interested in?
The only gatherings I have found that exist where it’s okay to approach people and it’s even encouraged is dating mixers. I don’t want to find a boyfriend, I just would like a casual circle of people I can hang out with doing something so I don’t become a hermit and it feels nearly impossible to find one of those outside of an office job.
I feel like the people who are attracted to the same kinds of activities that I like tend to be introverts. They don’t go to a meet up with the idea that they are looking to make friends. They have enough other people they are forced to deal with in their day to day lives that they aren’t actively looking for anyone else.
Whenever I have tried to join a group that is dedicated to something I enjoy, like anime, people seem annoyed if you try to talk to them. They are there to watch anime, not make friends with other people who like it. It makes it rather difficult to find people who want friends who like the same things you do. Which leads to:
Activities with Pre-Existing Friends
When I was complaining about not having friends, people suggested a meet up. I went to a board game meet up and no one wanted to talk to me. They seemed actively annoyed that they were required to be in the same room with other people in order to play games. They didn’t want to be my friend, they wanted to beat me as quickly as possible so they could move on to someone who might actually challenge them.
I realized that I liked board games because they were an activity you do with people who are preexisting friends. It isn’t a way to meet other people who like what you like, it’s a way to bond with other people you already know and like.
Which brings me to my last issue:
Lots of people have been complaining about sexism with the gaming community over the last year. This is my take on things.
My first major in college was engineering. I was the only girl in all of my classes. No one would sit next to me or talk to me. If I tried talking to them, they would cry and run away.
I think that socially awkward men live in fear of behaving in ways that are creepy. I think there are a few careers or hobbies that they have retreated to where there are no women and they can let it all hang out without worrying that someone will think they are creepy.
My dad keeps telling me to go and spend time with these guys because he thinks they will be all over me because they are happy to see an actual woman. It isn’t like that. They feel like their space is being invaded. It’s like when my brother shows up at my house when I am trying to relax. I can’t just feel comfortable in my home until he leaves. Even though he’s there to mow my lawn and do things I don’t want to deal with, it makes me uncomfortable and sometimes angry that he is there and I can’t do whatever I want. He will show up while I am still in bed and I have to fumble around half asleep looking for pants so that I can answer the door. I can’t take a bath or a shower. I can’t focus on work because he’s there. It’s very upsetting, especially because he just shows up and never calls to let me know he’s coming.
I think that guys feel that way when I show up at their maker spaces or their chess clubs. They want to have one place where they feel comfortable and for better or worse, when I am there I am taking that away from them. They just want me to go away from the one place where they don’t have to worry about someone finding them creepy.
It really sucks. I get where they are coming from. I am looking for the same thing and I have yet to find it and it makes me really demoralized.
So What Do I Do?
Part of this is a problem of my own making.
I have been very tired and depressed for the last few years. I have had people invite me out who are also lonely and I have turned them down because it has been simply too much for me to deal with.
I swear that the only time people invite me to go out and do something is when I am in my bathrobe getting ready to take a bath. When people try to invite me for things like Halloween, I am usually tired and know I will be tired then and I don’t want to say yes then bail on people at the last minute because I can’t deal with leaving the house.
I need to reach out to these people and find a way of making time to do things with them.
There are people out there that I know. I don’t necessarily need to meet new people, I just need to figure out how to stabilize the social circle I already have that I have let atrophy because I have been too depressed to maintain it. There is no point in reinventing the wheel.
I am hoping to get my house in order to the point that I can invite people out here to do game nights. I got custody of most of the board games in the divorce, but I have no one to play with. I need to try to organize things better so that I can maintain ties with people I already know.
I didn’t realize how lonely and isolating it would be to work remotely. I am connected to people all over the world 24/7 through my phone but I don’t have anyone I can call to play a board game with. I don’t necessarily want people that I see constantly every day, but it would be nice to have someone to see every once and a while.