Friendship for the Socially Anxious

Today I’m participating in Cara Strickland’s synchroblog on friendship. I thought about reblogging my Friendship in 7 Movements post from last year, but it is long and specific and also, I wanted to do something new.

I’ve never been good at surface friendships. I guess I don’t have a lot of interest in talking about things that don’t matter. I don’t like conversations where you’ve spent an hour talking to someone and walk away feeling like you don’t know one another at all. I want to skip the getting-to-know-you part of the relationships. I want sweatpants and you snorting when you laugh and me accidentally breaking into song without noticing from Day One. But as it turns out, most people don’t want to talk about family histories and their biggest dreams and how afraid they are of being a mother (and, equally, of not being a mother) fifteen minutes after meeting someone.

I’m a classic introvert – I greatly prefer one-on-one interactions to groups of people.  Parties both terrify and exhaust me. Most people would never guess that 9 times out of 10 I have to push myself out the door to keep a social engagement. The night of my junior prom I got all dressed up, hair and makeup done, and promptly burst into tears because I didn’t want to go. I suppose you’d call this social anxiety.

But unlike some introverts I know who fade away into the background at a gathering, I’ve always tried to combat my social anxiety by acting self-assured. Ironically, it is in social settings where I am least comfortable that I am loudest. I try to be the funniest, the friendliest, the most interesting. It’s like watching a train wreck from above where I can’t seem to stop myself from blurting out the first thing that pops into my mind.

Believe me, the irony of trying to make deep connections with people while putting on this party persona is not lost on me. I know that it makes no sense and is even counter-productive. But sometimes I feel like something comes over me and I can’t stop myself even as a part of me watches in horror. I am desperately uncomfortable, but something in my subconscious screams that if I give in and stand quietly against the wall no one will like me and I’ll never have friends. And what could be worse than having no friends?

***

As a child I fell in and out of best-friend-ship on a yearly if not monthly basis.

My problem with friends wasn’t the cattiness or pettiness that ruined so many other playground friendships. It was the intensity I brought to friendship that seemed to overwhelm my peers.

I loved too fiercely. I chose someone and I clung to them with a loyalty that sometimes frightened us both. I wasn’t possessive – wanting to be their only friend—but when I chose someone I longed to show all of myself to them and to have them choose me back. And often, who I was was just too much.

It wasn’t that these friends didn’t like me – they just weren’t prepared to or maybe even capable of putting as much into the friendship as I did. I cared about all of their details. I wanted to show that I loved them by learning as much as I could about them. And inevitably, the day would come when I would realize that I knew all their favorite songs, their middle name, and what kind of sandwich they brought for lunch, but they didn’t even know my favorite color even though I’d told them three times. My feelings would be hurt and they would be freaked out that I had a notebook where I recorded all of their preferences (just kidding!) and we would move on to different friends.

***

Eventually, I learned to be self-protective in my friendships. I learned to expect that others would not love me with the fierceness and loyalty I felt towards them. I learned to guard myself from sharing too much too quickly and from expecting that everyone I chose would choose me too.

And then, in college, I made a new kind of friend – the kind I’d longed for growing up and nearly given up on. I found my people, the ones who will forgive you when you’ve hurt them and will join in when you make up a song about your toothbrush. And I learned something crucial about friendship – you can’t make it happen the way I try to at parties.

True friendships are divine. Yes, they require attention. They require effort. But mostly, they are gifts. Like love letters from God himself.

A friend isn’t a possession. You don’t collect friends like souvenirs from places you’ve been. You can’t make friendship happen. But when one comes your way, you say thank you. You treat that friend like a spectacular sunset or a stunning concerto – you thank God for its beauty and for letting you experience it, even though it’s something you can never wrap your grubby hands around.

I have a friend I’ve known since high school. She’s a few years older than me and we didn’t do a great job of keeping up once she went to college. We have seen each other only a handful of times over the past decade. We don’t talk on the phone. We only occasionally chat online. I try to see her when I’m in town visiting my parents. But she is precious to me beyond words. She is a friend of the heart –someone I trust completely and admire deeply. She is one of the first people I think of when I need support and one of the people whose encouragement means the most to me. I cried when I saw the first pictures of her daughters and on my wedding day she gave me a handkerchief she’d used at her own wedding to use as my “something borrowed.”

This friendship is not the work of my hands. It’s not a credit to my engaging personality or a testament to what a good friend I am (because, as I said, I am rubbish at keeping up with this particular friend). It is pure grace. And all I can say in response to that kind of grace is, “Thank you.”

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59 comments

    1. It depends on the friendship, I guess. I think most friendships need a fair amount of care to really thrive, but occasionally you get those people that you just click with so deeply that the moment you see them it’s like no time passed. Rare and wonderful. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  1. I can so relate to a lot of the things you said. I did think that that was because I was probably an introvert then. I say “then” because just last year, I found out my personality type and was surprised to learn that I am an extrovert. Oh, well, they do say that personality may change through time because that will depend on one’s experiences. Sometimes, I do feel that I still maybe an introvert.

    As for friendships, while it’s nice to have friends that have been there for life, it really is more realistic to find friends in later years mainly because we now know and understand ourselves more and are then able to recognize others who may share the same interests and beliefs, or others who may be different from us but are willing to embrace us just the same. I have found a lot of my dearest friends in my adult life. A number of my friendships go way back from high school but I think that is because we have grown to be people we still like despite the occasional loss of communication, which gave us room to grow with others as well.

    Did I even make sense? LOL!!! 🙂

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    1. Haha, that’s interesting about finding out you were an extrovert. I think people think of introversion and extroversion as “shy” vs. “outgoing” when really it’s about whether you are more energized by time alone or by time with people. Are you more productive working alone or in a group. Do you prefer one-on-one interaction or a group dynamic, etc. You can be extroverted and be shy and you can be introverted and be outgoing (which I can be, partly because I’ve worked at being outgoing).

      I get what you’re saying about better friendships coming with adulthood and I agree. I think it’s a combination of being more fully-formed as adults like you said and also being more mature about relationships and being willing to forgive others and love them through their faults.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. True about extrovert vs. introvert. Basically, it’s really about where you get your energy. I’m really the extrovert who can be shy although I try to hide it. But if I really don’t feel like participating, I don’t, and just stay somewhere not so conspicuous.

        Regarding friendships, I think you explained it better than I did, he he…

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Introvert to an introvert – I agree with you about friendships and have had similar situations in regards to in and out of friendships. I never had college friends unfortunately. It wasn’t until I turned 30 that I started to step out socially. I think we all go through seasons of mild to moderate introvertism. I know not a word haha, but I find I love the quiet and rejuvenate from it. It’s the keeping up with friends and not forgetting to check in with them. And have a girls night out every once in a while.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I also love the quiet and need time alone to rejuvenate. It can be hard because I really crave that, but I also really want deep friendships and those require investing in those people God drops into your life. It’s a real trick for us introverts to find the balance between nourishing our souls with peace and quiet and investing in our friendships by pursuing the people we care about. Thanks for sharing!

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      1. “It’s a real trick for us introverts”…You had me thinking.

        I think it’s a real trick for extroverts as well. At least, introverts get to, for lack of a better term, filter friendships until they find their real BFFs. It takes time but it’s worth it. Extroverts should probably learn to filter the same way and be able to recognize who are there only when times are fun and who will be there after the fun times have gone. I’m thinking extroverts get distracted with all the energy they get from outside themselves.

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    2. I know of one who is probably an extreme introvert. Basically, if not for school, she would have stayed all her life just at home. After graduation, she began home-based work and she still does home-based work. For a while, she tried to get out of her shell but retreated for reasons only she knows really why.

      I hope that when she hits 30, or even before ’cause that would be better, she’ll learn to step out socially as well, like you did. She practically has no life outside home. Her own boyfriend gave up on her because that is no way to live. How she even found a boyfriend is another story but it is irrelevant to the topic.

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      1. That sounds to me like more than an extremely introverted personality. I’m no expert, but that sounds more like agoraphobia and some sort of anxiety disorder. I hope she is able to get help for that – she definitely doesn’t need to be really social or have tons of friends to be happy, but it sounds like it’s really robbing her of a full life.

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      2. It does, although the ex-boyfriend says her family isn’t exactly like that. The family likes the ex, but I think that’s probably because he was able to put up with it. The guy is actually an angel, but then he has his own life to live.

        I am not sure if it’s because she is quite an artist. Sometimes, I find it stereotypical to assume how weird and eccentric artists are, but sometimes, people like her kind of proves the point. I honestly want to help her, and I was able to break her shell for a while before, but she retreated again. Now that their relationship’s over, she’s made it even more difficult to even connect with her.

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  3. Thanks for an absolutely beautiful post. As a fellow outgoing/ friendly introvert, your description of being socially anxious, but simultaneously bubbly at parties, made me understand my social personality properly for the first time. My husband is often befuddled by how I’ll look forward to an important event – a conference, a big party, graduation party etc. – and then almost chicken out of it at the last moment, but when I’m there I’m super bubbly, friendly etc, and also have the temptation to go a little hyper and super charming party-person… until I get exhausted and then don’t want to see anyone for days! I’m trying to be more present in those moments.

    And yes to wanting deeper friendships too – I also went through school and college protecting my heart a from indifference and being over-sensitive about those who didn’t get me, but in the last few years I’ve learnt to be more grateful for my special friends, and not to worry too much about those with whom I don’t connect deeply. Your description of your friendship as a gift of grace was so profound!

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    1. Thanks, Andrea! The way you are describing yourself sounds just like me! Most of the time when I get home from parties or events I have a headache and I’ve nervous-sweated through my clothes. Like you said, I do have a good time while I’m there, but I wear myself out trying to be fun. I love what you said about learning to be grateful for your close friends and not to worry about those you don’t connect with. Part of what makes those special friendships so special is the fact that they are unique from your other relationships. Thanks so much for reading and for sharing your thoughts. I’m really glad you could relate to this!

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  4. I love your post. I feel the same way in so many things.
    I can be all excited to go to a party or meet up with some friends and right before I always have this moment where I think I would rather just stay inside and I get really nervous about going. Usually I do end up having a lot of fun, but I really have to push myself in doing such things.
    Also I see friendship as a thing that can stay good for a long time, if there is that connection and you trust each other it will stay good no matter what. It doesn´t matter if I don´t see or talk to them for a while, they understand and will be still there for me when I need them or vice versa.

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    1. Yes, exactly. I’m the same way. I KNOW I’ll have fun if I just go but sometimes it is so hard to get myself out the door. And living overseas has made me value those friends you’re describing so much – the ones who will still be there even after spending years on opposite sides of the globe. 🙂 Thanks so much for sharing!

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  5. I relate to this so much! I started to tear up reading it because I felt every emotion you did. I always tell people that I am an “all in” person because I give all my love. Thanks for sharing.

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    1. Aww, yes, “all in” – I love that. I think it partially stems from the fact that I really value friends who make me feel special and important to them and I want to do that for other people. That’s why (for the most part) my closest friends aren’t the kinds of people who have a million friends. It’s hard for me to feel close to someone when I don’t feel like my friendship is especially valuable to them. Not like I don’t want them to have other friends, just like I don’t want to feel like I’m just a warm body sitting in the friend chair. I want to feel like my friends really want to know me and spend time with me. So that’s how I try to treat my friends too.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I really connected with this post! I Feel the same way about friends growing up- i loved too intensely and too deeply. I guess that’s what made me confused in college too and lead me to the lifestyle we’ve discussed. Friendships such as the one you described truly are grace. They truly are gifts. Eucharisteo… Friendship. Friendships with open hands that are gifts of grace.

    I love it.

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    1. I love what yo said about friendship with open hands. Perhaps it’s the open hands part that’s come from maturity and has led to more successful friendships as an adult. I also think people who care deeply for their friends have to be more guarded sometimes in not just flinging their heart out there for everyone – not everyone is going to value what you have to offer unfortunately and I think another part of maturity is being able to tell who will and who won’t.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Lovely thoughts. If I meet friends of friends, I often end up taking the position of the ‘quirky’ friend, because then if I make a bit of a fool of myself, then that’s ok, it’s cos I’m quirky! I’m not actually that quirky. As you say, defence mechanism and self preservation!

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    1. Yes, I know exactly what you mean! For me, it’s not as though I totally put on an act and am completely different from the real me, but I become a much louder, amped-up version of the real me who is incredibly quirky, but pretty mellow. So glad to know you can relate!

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Hi – coming to you via Cara’s synchroblog. This made me smile – because I am exactly the type of person to ask you your family background, biggest dreams, and fear about being a mother or not in the first ten minutes of knowing someone! I also scare people. I am an extrovert, but I also prefer intense and meaningful conversations…
    I found this immensely comforting.

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    1. Haha, well then you and I would probably get along great! I’m so glad you found this comforting. 🙂 Thanks for visiting. And sorry the comment didn’t show up initially – I have to personally approve comments from new commenters because my spam blockers don’t always catch spam comments so I like to check new ones before they go up. But if you comment in the future it should show up automatically now. 🙂

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  9. Right on sister! Don’t let people make you feel bad for being introverted and sensitive when they tell you to toughen up. We are lucky to be so in touch with people.

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    1. Haha, thank you! It’s true that when you really think about it, you can see the value in the bleeding hearts of the world. We need matter-of-fact, bold, and outgoing people who can take charge and get things done. But we also need sensitive people who can make genuine connections. Thanks for the encouragement!

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    1. Well, that’s an interesting question for me. When I take Myers-Briggs tests I am usually INFJ, but sometimes it comes up ISFP- in fact, I just took two different tests before writing this and got these two different answers. I am strongly Introverted and Feeling but my other two are very middle of the road. I think a more accurate personality test for me is the Enneagram where I am a Type 4 with a 5 wing – called “The Bohemian”. This description of my personality type is pretty accurate, though I don’t dress in black and “populate the arts” haha. I would say it’s spot on about being prone to melancholy, my core desire being authenticity, core fear being commonness. and a vice being envy.

      Ego Fixation: Melancholy
      Basic Fear: Commonness
      Basic Desire: Uniqueness, Authenticity
      Temptation: Self-castigation, Withdrawal
      Vice/Passion: Envy
      Virtue: Equanimity

      “Type four is the bohemian of the enneagram world. They are artistic, creative and internally focused. They value understanding and being understood. They love romanticism and frequently lead dramatic lives. Their preferred style of dress is dramatic costume, frequently in black. Fours populate the arts. They can access their inner life in a remarkable way and convert that emotional turmoil into creativity. Fours are searching for their own authenticity and truth. They do so by sifting through the myriad emotional experiences they have each day. Our world would be less interesting, less artistic and less colorful without fours.

      Taking into account the “wing” aspect of the chart, my personality is 4w5 (my wing is 5):
      Enneagram Type 4 with the 5 Wing, you desire to be avant-garde. You see yourself as original, sincere, mysterious, subtle, artistic and independent. 4w5’s have intellectual as well as emotional insights and can often synthesize experiences into something intensely personal yet timeless. Under stress, they can become alienated.

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      1. “When I take Myers-Briggs tests I am usually INFJ, but sometimes it comes up ISFP- in fact, I just took two different tests before writing this and got these two different answers.”

        LOL!!! That kind of sounds like me. We kind of have split personalities, he he…Just kidding. I talked about getting two results as well and taking it twice, although, ENFJ was the common result and reading it made me recognize myself.

        I remember taking the Enneagram online years before but I don’t remember the result and I don’t think that version gave the complete results. Maybe I should take it again. Did you take it online?

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      2. Yes, I did. You should be able to find a few free options if you google it. I think the enneagram is a little more nuanced and explains some things that seem to be contradictions in my personality.

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      3. i’ll try it, thanks!!! i did try a link the other day but not sure if the results were accurate, considering that none were that uncanny, as compared to that of Myers-Briggs.

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  10. “I wanted to show that I loved them by learning as much as I could about them. And inevitably, the day would come when I would realize that I knew all their favorite songs, their middle name, and what kind of sandwich they brought for lunch, but they didn’t even know my favorite color even though I’d told them three times.”

    YES! I’ve had this happen so many times! I always (and this is still true) know more about my friends than they know about me. I realized a while back that part of the problem for me was that I was so curious about my friend, wanting to get to know them more, and such a socially anxious person that it was a lot easier for me to focus on talking about them and asking them questions than actually sharing anything. Not only did I know WAY more about them then they ever knew about me but sometimes it turned into more of a free therapy session sort of thing. Even with making more of an effort to talk and share myself though, I still always know more about my friend … even when I’ve told them my favorite color three times.

    I completely get what you mean about wanting to skip over the shallow stuff and get right down to it. And about caring so intensely and about all the details — I even like knowing the names of my friends’ friends’ names and stuff about them so that I have a fuller picture of their life. In someways I feel like I want to do friendship differently; almost like I want to adopt people into my family but other people want something much different.

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    1. For me, it’s also that I remember details about people really well. Sometimes I’ve only met someone once, but in the conversation they mentioned they were from Wisconsin and they have an older brother whose wife is about to have a baby. And then I’ll see them again a few months later and say, “Hey, how’s your brother’s baby? Did you get to go up to Wisconsin to meet him?” And they get totally freaked out because they don’t remember even having that conversation with me. In my case it’s more a matter of me remembering details because I think they’re important than it is that I don’t share about myself.

      I supposed I don’t really get the point of casual friendships. I don’t need people around me who don’t care about me and who I don’t care about just so I won’t feel alone. That actually makes me feel more lonely. I don’t need a lot of friends, but I want the friends I have to really care about me like I care about them. And thankfully, I do have some of those. 🙂

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      1. Yes! I’m like that too! Sometimes I’ll purposefully not share everything I remember about something because I’m afraid it’ll freak them out. It happens all the time; I’ll remember details about a conversation and the other person won’t even remember that we had it! Does that ever make you feel lonely? Sometimes it makes me feel like other people aren’t fully there or something when I’m talking to them. And it means I’m much better at buying most people personalized gifts than they are at buying them for me, haha.

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      2. YES! EXACTLY! I’ll think, “I don’t think they remember meeting me so I won’t bring up what they told me before.” And yes, it makes me feel very lonely sometimes. And I’m the same way about gifts – maybe not always good at it, but it’s REALLY important to me not to get something generic and to find something that shows that I know the other person and care about what they’re interested in. Sometimes I get really stressed out about finding the right gift because I want it to communicate all of that and my husband will be like, “Just get them a gift card,” and I’m like “NO! I want it to be something that makes them feel special!”

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      3. YES! And then I’ll give them the gift and sometimes they’ll be like, “How did you know I liked this?” or “How did you remember I wanted this?”

        It’s not like I don’t get nice presents from friends, but they’re more generic sometimes I guess. The people who have known me for a LONG time are great but it takes a while before they start actually remembering enough of the conversations for it to stink in. =P

        Sometimes I end up finding out more about people then they intend because of this, too. They’ll tell me the same story more than once (even if I say, “Oh, yeah, you told me about that” they won’t remember what they said so they’ll still retell at least part of it), and if it’s something they’re trying to be careful about how they word because it’s kind of personal and they don’t remember how they explained it last time I can put the two versions together. Does that ever happen to you? Sometimes because I remember more than them I find out more than they’d planned on telling me, which is always a little awkward.

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      4. Haha. Right. One of my favorite gifts ever was from my husband (then boyfriend) in college. One day he went to the grocery store and came back with a Tide pen for me. I had been spilling stuff on myself all week and my sleeves all seemed to have spots of stuff on them. We hadn’t talked about me needing to buy one or anything, he was just at the grocery store and thought of me and my spilling problem and got it for me. On the surface, that’s the weirdest gift ever, but it was SO meaningful to me because it meant he noticed something about me and thought of me while he was running his errands.

        I also learn more about people than they share in a few ways – first, I’m fairly intuitive and pick up on a lot of non-verbals and second, my primary “spiritual gift” is empathy – when someone tells me a story I respond with, “You must have felt so …” or “I can imagine that would make you feel so helpless…” And after I say the words it’s like they feel so relieved that I get what they’re saying that a lot more comes out if that makes sense. Not like I’m trying to pry, that’s just my natural response.

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      5. I totally get that about the gift. Just before my husband and I started dating be bought me a small purple box with a travel tooth brush and tooth paste that fit inside of it. Sort of an odd gift but it’s one of the best ones I’ve ever gotten because it showed how much he’d noticed and remembered. My favorite color is purple and I have sort of an obsession with oral hygiene so I tend to brush my teeth a lot. It was little, thoughtful, kind of weird but perfect. 🙂

        I took a class a while back at a conference about listening and the teacher referred to that as “reflective listening.” It really does help people open up more! And not in a prying way but in a Oh-my-gosh-you-actually-get-what-I’m-saying way. That’s a very good skill to have. 🙂

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  11. I’m much younger than you, in highschool (Year 11, England style) but this really resonates with me. I have one REALLY close friend and others who are nice, but don’t really know me. I loved this post, mostly because I’m afraid we’ll lose touch when we move on to uni or whatever. If you can do it, why can’t I? Thanks ^.^ (Also, I really hate parties, so it’s nice to know that it’s not just me 😉 )

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    1. You can definitely do it! And it might just be one of those friendships that just stays the same no matter where you go and what you do. I also hope that you find “your people” in college or afterwards. Not that you need tons and tons of friends, but I think a handful of people you really care about and who care about you make life so much richer! I’ve been encouraged by some of the comments from others on this post too who have said similar things – “I’m this way too and I did eventually make some good friends.” And for the record I don’t think there’s anything wrong with hating parties. It’s just a different personality type, not a problem or something you need to change. 🙂 Thanks for sharing! It’s great to hear from you!

      Liked by 1 person

  12. Wow some of this sounds a lot like me and I too have a close friend from school I don’t actually speak with much but always meet up with when I go back home and it’s a friendship I really value. Then I’ve recently found a new good friend, kind of by accident i guess, as an adult. When i was younger I worried I’d never have that kind of close friendship or be ‘popular’, but now I know it’s better to have fewer close friends you can rely on and it is possible to make great new friendships when you’re an adult. So I no longer worry about needing to make new friends and just value the friendships I already have. I much prefer it this way 🙂

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    1. I don’t worry as much about needing to make new friends except when I’m living somewhere where none of my good friends are nearby. When we moved to Korea I felt a lot of pressure to make friends because even though my best friends would still be the people back in the US, I didn’t want to spend two years with no one to hang out with in Korea, haha. But I definitely don’t feel the same pressure I used to feel to “popular” or well-liked by a lot of people. I’m much more content to have a few friends who really care about me than a ton of acquaintances who don’t. 🙂

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