It’s been a while since we’ve had a more personal piece on Sugarcookie, but today I was inspired by someone who reached out on Twitter. The question that was asked has been addressed on here previously. How to make friends. How to get out the house. General advice for someone, who for whatever reason, isn’t good at connecting with people. This time, I wanted to share my own journey on how I found connection as a socially awkward person.
Making friends and finding connections to other people isn’t easy. It always feels like it should be because it’s something people do automatically. However, it’s not. At least, not for everyone. Growing up, I moved around a lot. For this reason I often felt out of place, displaced and overall weird. The lack of stability in regards to my living situation made it extra hard for me to make friends and form long lasting friendships easily.
I was around 4 years old when we first moved to England, and we lived in the first house for about a year. I had already been attending a pre-school where I made friends with a girl called Ashley. She was important to me, because she was my first friend in a foreign country. A year after we moved away, we came back to visit and I remember seeing Ashley in a park and she had completely forgotten who I was. It made me cautious, from such a young age, to get too attached to people I met and it made me cautious to make friends.
The incident with Ashley repeated a few times, as I moved a lot as a kid. As I grew older, my friends I made didn’t forget me, but it was almost impossible to stay close. For this reason, I had a somewhat lonely childhood. I was lonely and as I became more and more wary of connecting with new people for fear of being hurt by them, I also became more socially awkward. To this day, I still feel incredibly uncomfortable in large gatherings if I don’t know many people well.
Feeling lonely even in a group
Things changed when I became a teenager. By the time I was 15 I stopped moving. Now I had the ability to connect with people without thinking I would leave them within the year. Unfortunately, by that point, talking to people was terrifying and I had no idea how to even go about making friends even if I could say something first.
At school I had a small handful of friends. These few friends were important to me, they made my time in school bearable and I loved them in their own way. Yet even in that group, I felt weird. I didn’t feel like I truly connected. I was still very much lonely.
It’s hard to admit that you feel lonely when you’re surrounded by people. At the time I didn’t really understand why I was feeling this way. It felt like a defect in myself and overall it made me feel even more awkward.
What I realise now as an adult is that although those friends were important to me, we didn’t really have the right chemistry. I’ve since found myself group of friends that I’ve never felt mismatched with. At school, you’re limited by the people that also attend so there’s not much you can do. But in real life, there’s definitely more options.
A big game changer for me was discovering the internet. As I was interested in pretty niche interests at the time, like anime, I went to forums to find like minded people. Although it’s mainstream now, before the internet was one of the few places I felt I could find people to connect to.
Weirdly enough I also managed to make friends through a game site called Neopets. The awkwardness and fear I felt with approaching people in real life wasn’t present online, so it was much easier for me to strike up conversation with the anonymity of usernames. I could also rephrase things I wanted to say, and felt more confident before hitting the send button to a reply. Something I still sometimes wish I could do in person.
Through forums and chatrooms I exchanged my msn messenger details and eventually I had a good list of friends on the messaging app. These friends I would talk to every evening. The modern day equivalent I suppose now would be Discord, only with much less voice talking.
Sometimes my friends weren’t online and I wanted to talk to someone in real time, not just through forums. I used omegle and chat roulette. Both those sites were full of guys beating their meat, but with enough refreshing you could come across normal people that also just wanted to talk.
The internet provided me a way to talk to people when I was lonely, at the pace and distance I was comfortable with.
Finding people with the same interests IRL
My online friends helped me a lot with feeling less lonely. They also helped me feel more comfortable with talking to people in general. However, they were still only online. In real life, I was missing the feeling of being physically around people I connected with.
I was encouraged at some point to join a media club. It was a club run by my town council to try and get more people into technology. The very first meeting was about how to set up your own blog. There was one meeting that just explain what social media like twitter and facebook was. As you can imagine, the club was attended by a lot of people much older than myself.
But I enjoyed it a lot. As someone who had found a haven in the online community, it felt good to be in a club that was basically about the internet. Plus, I wasn’t the only youngish person there. Although I was only 15 at the time, there were others in their early twenties and I sat with them and talked with them.
As the club progressed, the older members left, having learnt what they wanted to. The younger ones stayed and we formed a much more technical focused media club. We did radio, TV, blogs, vlogs and pretty much anything we felt like. I really grew interested in media and it’s from this club that I learnt a lot of skills I’ve applied in building up my brand these past years.
Going at your own pace
One of the reasons I was able to make friends with these guys at the media club is because there was a time restriction. At the start, I would only see them for 2 hours a week when the club was on. This was really helpful to me. Getting out there is hard, and meeting new people is hard. But knowing that it’ll only be for 2 hours made it seem much more accomplishable. For someone who felt awkward around others, knowing I didn’t have to make an excuse to leave early, or wonder if I’m leaving too early, having set amount of time for the activity got me out the house to begin with.
I also didn’t have to come up with conversations with them by myself. At the start I would talk to them about whatever it was we were learning. Or we would make small talk. It was slow going but it was what I was comfortable with. Over a period of months I got to know individual people a lot better, and get closer to them. I built up the courage and confidence needed to make friends and since I was in a club environment there was no pressure to be social all the time if I couldn’t manage it.
Sometimes you make friends randomly
The club activities and my budding confidence through the people I met there made me a lot better in real life. I now had online friends I connected with, and friends at my club I met once a week in person. But it wasn’t like I spent all my time either on the computer, at school, or at my club.
The majority of my free time was spent in a comic book store. It was a fairly small store and I was very lucky that they let me sit in a corner for hours in the evening, and pretty much all day at the weekends. I would consider the three employees there were my friends although at the time I didn’t realise it. After all, they were always working and we would only talk occasionally. They also let me read all the books and comics in there without buying as long as I was careful. Plus I bought what I could when I had money.
I commuted to school every day by bus. It would take between 20-30 minutes. I noticed one guy who also did the same commute as me on the bus, and I saw that he read manga. With my new gained confidence, and also knowing how niche manga was, one day I sat next to him and struck up conversation.
It helped that I knew we had something in common, but also that we had seen each other a lot at the comic book store. He knew me as the girl that sat in the comic book shop. Our commutes became fun as we exchanged books to read and talked about them in the mornings. This was another time controlled interaction for me.
Being patient helps make friends
I can not stress enough how long it took me to build strong bonds with everyone I’ve mentioned in this post. My online friends were the easiest to make, but there was the physical distance in those friendships. There was also the fact we weren’t always online at the same time.
My friends in the media club I mostly met at the club. It was over a period of months that I even got to the point where I could casually talk with them on non club related matters. Even longer before we hung out, outside of club activities. It took just as long to hang out with my friend who I made on the bus, and even then it was doing something I was familiar and comfortable with ie the comic book shop.
Finding these friends wasn’t easy. Becoming friends with them took time and effort. But the bonds and connections I made with them will last me a lifetime. My bus friend still invites me to his birthday party every year, even though I haven’t gone back to my hometown in years. My friends at the media club and I send video messages to each other.
The thing that definitely made it possible was finding people that had common interests with myself. Everything else was time, effort and only doing as much as I was comfortable with.
Don’t go out and feel you’re a failure if you don’t meet people straight away. Or if you do but you don’t connect with them straight away. It’s ok to still feel nervous even if you do meet the right people. Or if you feel awkward around them at first. Building up your own self-confidence and courage is hard. But it’s possible and it’s worth it because it’s amazing once you make friends you feel comfortable around.