Wednesday 17 July 2019

Dear Mary: I'm very introverted and keen to find friends

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Photo posed

Mary O’Conor

I am a quiet, self-conscious person who struggles in social situations. I am content but I don't find a lot to be really happy about in life and I don't get to laugh or have a lot of fun or banter.

My natural inclination is more introvert than extrovert, and I would like to learn how to get the most out of life and have some fun.

I am generally comfortable in work situations where I do get some fun and have a laugh. In social situations outside of work however I struggle. I am a member of a gym and a walking group, and people I know there would consider me quite polite and friendly, but that's because usually it is only a quick hello and a couple of minutes' conversation.

I have no real close/regular friends even though I know a lot of people. Weekends are a struggle.

When the opportunity to get closer to people arises I back off, mainly because I struggle with good conversation and banter over a sustained period and I don't want to be "unmasked" as that really quiet and uninteresting person.

Maybe I am being a bit harsh on myself saying I am uninteresting. Life is not much fun and I would like to do something to bring more fun into my life and have more friends to enjoy it with.

In terms of the opposite sex, when I was in my 20s and 30s, if I met a lady who I really fancied I used to freeze, especially if I got the sense she fancied me.

This is because it's not my nature to be the cool extrovert guy. Therefore I either avoided the girl altogether to avoid the "introvert me" being exposed, or else I froze through lack of self-confidence and could not put two words together.

This was the biggest frustration of my twenties and thirties. I am now in my early forties and single.

I keep really fit and eat really healthily which is great for my mental wellbeing.

I am relatively content being single but equally would be happy to welcome a relationship.

I do push myself - I joined "Meetup" and met two very good friends there but unfortunately both moved abroad - not because of me!

I am just back from a group holiday with 20 strangers from around the world of different age groups.

It was a struggle at times, especially in terms of me making good sustained conversation, and definitely in terms of banter. I find I am too self-conscious and just struggle for something funny to say in terms of small talk or constantly think that what I have to say is not overly interesting or witty.

This then can lead to low self-esteem, although I am strong enough now to manage the negative inner voice which used to be a torment.

Can you recommend someone who specialises in this area? I have read lots of self-help books but have never sought professional help.

Mary replies: Thank you for your very interesting and thought-provoking email. It sounds like you have done a lot of work on yourself already and because of this have a very good understanding as to why you are the way you are.

It is only natural to want to have a relationship - it is more fun when we share our life with somebody rather than being continually alone.

However, I think that perhaps you may have over-analysed yourself instead of adapting a more casual approach to making and keeping new friendships.

You keep coming back to the desire to be witty and interesting. Some people by nature are funny while others are naturally more reserved but there is nothing to say that one is better than the other.

We all have a backstory and as we get older the story gets more interesting because we have lived more of life. For instance, you have just shared a holiday with 20 people whom you never met before. Not many people can say that and I'm sure you have lots of stories about the different characters that you met.

Gay Byrne entertained us for many years, particularly on The Late Late Show. His particular skill was that he made the person he was speaking to feel that what they were saying was not alone interesting and witty but by far the best thing he had heard for a long time. And yet he rarely volunteered any personal information, it was all about the guest.

I think you could use Gay as an example, and rather than worry about being clever or funny, concentrate on listening intently to what somebody is saying to you and then comment on that. It really is all about being a good listener and then people will enjoy your company.

You found that girls found you attractive years ago but you froze. So now the older you knows that you are attractive to the opposite sex and that is very good. And the Meetup groups are a great source of new friendships - it worked for you previously so why not try again.

I think it is a really good idea to now seek some professional assistance in helping you to move forward and work on your self-esteem.

I never recommend individuals, but I suggest you contact the Psychological Society of Ireland (psychologicalsociety.ie) where under Find a Psychologist you will find somebody working in your area. Anybody who is accredited can be recommended.

You can contact Mary O’Conor anonymously by visiting www.dearmary.ie or email her at dearmary@independent.ie or write c/o 27-32 Talbot Street, Dublin 1. All correspondence will be treated in confidence. Mary O’Conor regrets that she is unable to answer any questions privately.

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