I’M LISTENING, STOP LOOKING AT ME: The Grumpy Introvert’s Advice on Making Friends

Dear Grumpy Introvert:

I’m a lifelong introvert who moved to my current city the year before I met my wife. Feeling overwhelmed, I didn’t get out much during that first year. Lots of work, not much play. I have two dear friends from high school who also live nearby, but they have their own busy lives. My few other friends live far away. Simply put? I’m lonely. I keep weird hours with my current job, so joining an activity or group that meets every Thursday (for example) won’t work—my schedule is different every single week. So, how does a shy busy professional make some dang friends? Going friendless doesn’t seem a good option either.

Sincerely,

Overly Overwhelmed.

Dear Overly Overwhelmed,

Who says going friendless is a bad option? I’ll tell you who started that nonsense: the first solo extroverts, who originated emojis in their stinky, dank caves by drawing jacked-up wildebeests and googly-eyed woolly mammoths because they couldn’t make it through the night without talking to SOMETHING other than the scattered leg bones of their ancestors. Extroverts, man. Amirite?

Friendless, my friend-ish one, is underrated. Friendless is just another word for Super In Touch With Self. Friendless means drama-free! Friendless means never having to say you’re sorry! Friendless is…

[Editor’s note: Grumpy Introvert is new to this advice thing.]

Ahem. Fine. Allow me to start over. First off, like my grumpy introvert father used to say, “Don’t panic. I’ll tell you when to panic.” I will. You’ll just have to trust me. It’s not time to panic. YET.

Secondly, let’s do some math, shall we? Overly Overwhelmed, you say you have a wife. Bing! One warm-blooded companion. You say you have two dear friends from high school IN THE AREA. Bing, bing! By my tally, that gets us to three human beings who presumably know and care that you exist. You say you even have a few more friend creatures existing elsewhere on our shared pale blue dot. Bing, bing, bing! Now you’re just overindulging. By my very scientific count, you may well need more than one hand to count Human Beings You Really Like who are part of your life. In my book, that makes you a raging party machine, wild child.

I’m telling you now, kid: your logic is flawed. You’re not friendless; in fact, you’ve already got all the people you need. More people wouldn’t help. They’d just collect dust in the dark Farmville troughs of your Facebook page, and you’d still be wondering why you feel friendless.

Here’s what I’m not going to do: I’m not going to tell you that first you need to be a better friend to yourself. (Although you probably do because most of us could stand to be a little kinder and a little less judgmental about ourselves.)

Here’s what I am going to do: I’m going to encourage you to figure out why your posse of a half-dozen dear souls seems…well…not enough. What’s that about?

Let’s start with Wifey. Introverts in particular often languish from a terrible malaise called Quantity, Not Quality in their relationships, and then they wonder why they feel so discontented. I suspect, Overwhelmed, that you may be at risk. You probably see your dear wife more than any other human on the planet, but is there a possibility you’ve stopped seeing her? Is your bond, as the youngsters say, on fleek? You don’t say how long you’ve been married, but it’s worth considering that you might both be in the early stages of taking for granted the exquisite convenience of a warm bod, Netflix, and TV dinners on the couch. Hey, I’m never gonna sneeze at Orange Is the New Black, but is there something gone astray in your marriage that might be contributing to your feeling lonely and friendless? Maybe nothing…but maybe, just maybe, a little something.

As for your busy, superprofesh lifestyle, yes, you have weird hours, so that regular Thursday Kundalini sunrise session that Lady Gaga frequents might not work for you. But mull on this: you had enough downtime to peck out your piteous plea to the Grumpy Introvert. This tells me that you DO have enough free time to come up with a game plan to get your social on with your nearby friends if you want. DO you want more of a social life? Or do you just think you should want more of a social life? (Another terrible, terrible introvert dilemma—the struggle is real.)

If you go deep within and decide you truly want to see more of your friends—and as a grumpy and antisocial variety of introvert, it pains me to suggest such a thing—take charge. Once more into the breach, my totally friendful friend! Tell your local pals what you’ve told me. Drum up an old-fashioned gang. Host a dinner party even if you have to plan it six months in advance. Or invite your friends to join you to do something utterly ridiculous that omg you would totes never do (karaoke? bowling? karaoke while bowling?). I would bet good grumpy money that if you tossed out a few concrete dates and places with a soulfully worded, heartfelt expression of your desire to see more of your pals, you could create at least one outing (or inning) that everyone could pencil on their calendars.

I know an extrovert who is fond of posting motivational Instagrams like the text “ACTION BEGETS ACTION” imposed upon the heavily filtered image of a waterfall (one that I sincerely doubt this extrovert has witnessed in person). Now, I loathe bossyboots motivational sayings as much as I despise going to a new place and having to figure out which door to enter or where to park, but I’ll be damned if “ACTION BEGETS ACTION” isn’t the truth.

Action begets action, and friends beget friends. You’ve just got to put the work in. Recommit to the people you already know and love. Fake it till you make it, and there’s a Sharpie-circled date on the calendar. Or three. Like bedbugs, friends have a way of multiplying…

[Editor’s note: NO BEDBUG REFERENCES. Like, NEVER EVER.]

Like adorable bunnies lacking access to birth control, friends have a way of multiplying.

As for those far-flung pals? Those are the best kind. The farther away, the bett-

[Editor’s note: Grumpy, many introverts ENJOY HAVING FRIENDS WHO LIVE NEARBY. Roll with it, please. There are other advice columnists we could use, you know…]

Um. Right. On it. Let me ask you about your long-distance comrades, Overwhelmed. How far away are we talking? Driving distance? Sweet! Who doesn’t love a good road trip? If they’re close enough for a day trip, there’s a very cool app called Meetways.com that will suggest meetup places, you guessed it, roughly halfway between you and your remote mates. Boom. You’re welcome.

Personally, I prefer the teleporting app called Skype that can be used for red wine dates with old friends. Bonus: you can stay in your pajamas. Seriously. Al Gore and I totally invented it.

The Grumpy Introvert (otherwise known as Jennifer Mattern) is smarter than your average border collie, stronger than your morning coffee, and impervious to Comic Sans and all other forms of forced cheer. She has been an annoying know-it-all since the tender age of 8, when she first began correcting her teachers’ misspellings and offering copious amounts of unsolicited advice to her parents.

Have a question for the Grumpy Introvert? Write to her at [email protected]!