Throughout the college and university phase, I couldn't make a lot of friends. I can be quite funny and have things I can talk a lot about, but I just don't know what kind of things people like to talk about. My public aura was quiet, soft, and friendly, so I can't say that other girls hated me, but also I realized these traits don't have a lot of place in the world.
Now as a grown woman, I still struggle with making friends or even asserting my place socially/connecting with people. I worry that I'm too naive and unattractive for other women my age to want to be my friends. My old friends are still in my life. But growing up, we change a lot, and I crave new friendships too. Sometimes I see someone I have things in common with. I like her aura and traits etc, but I get discouraged when I feel an unwillingness and disinterest on their part.
My worst struggle is not being able to start and maintain an interesting conversation. I'm a good listener, but when someone connects with me only because I listen to them I notice that that friendship becomes one sided pretty quick, I start feeling unheard. I'm sick of social rejection. Is it only for beautiful and clever people? I'm feeling isolated.
Salam alaikom dear sister,
Thank you for writing to us with your concern.
As I understand, you are struggling with the feelings of inability to connect with others and with formulating new, fulfilling friendships.
You state that you still have some of your old friends in your life, but you crave new friendships as well.
And that your worst struggle is not being able to start and maintain an interesting conversation.
Dear Sister, I can totally understand your feelings. I think that the essence of your struggle can be divided into two main points.
The first is about learning to cope with the feelings of being distinct from the crowd around you by accepting yourself for who you are.
And the second is regarding your thought patterns and the expectations you want to / should seek to fulfill in order to have peace of mind.
Being “The Other”
Being an introvert in a world of extroverts could make you feel uncomfortable. The same is true if you believe you are more “quiet, soft, and naive” than those around you. As you said, “I realized these traits don’t have a lot of places in the world.”
This makes me remember the words of Hasan Al-Basri (may Allah have mercy on him):
“O followers of the Sunnah! Be gentle with others and may Allah have mercy on you, for you are surely in the minority of people.” Sharḥ Uṣūl Iʻtiqād Ahl al-Sunnah 15
And another quote from Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) about Islam:
“Islam initiated as something strange, and it would revert to its (old position) of being strange. so good tidings for the stranger.” (Sahih Muslim 145)
What if your attitude is different from that of the mainstream? Is being “the other ” necessarily wrong? And furthermore, that it is the only attitude to follow regarding social life and befriending?
Probably, in some cultures, certain traits and attitudes are more praised, like being extrovert, courageous, outspoken, or open. This is especially true if you are living in the West.
You are expected somehow to have a lot of friends, and there is a standard notion that if you are young and a student, you have to be very social, popular, and “have fun” as much as you can.
But, my sister, quantity does not equal quality. And sometimes less is more. You can still feel lonely despite having many contacts and people around you. You may still lack meaningful conversations and real connections.
And I can reassure you that you are not alone. According to this report by the American Perspectives Survey, 37% of Americans have only between 1 and 3 close friends. And 12% of Americans in 2021 reported having “none”.
So, you may perceive that the standard is having a lot of friends, but actually this is not the case in general. How can you change your perspective and make peace with yourself?
Embrace Your Qualities
I think it is good to start with accepting yourself for who you are. Acknowledge and embrace your traits and qualities. Try to see the good in them.
You can list these qualities and point out the benefits of each quality.
Like, for example, being “introvert”: you may reserve your thoughts for yourself and for those who really care. You can have fewer but more meaningful relationships with those who are on the same track.
“Soft” (as you stated above): you are less provocative in your social interactions; therefore, you can expect more acceptance and fewer conflicts.
Continue the list and you will see that your traits are lovable and valuable.
Change the Perspective
I also understand that possible past memories and experiences from your infancy, when you were bullied, somehow still discourage you, causing fears of rejection.
These fears rooted in the past might get activated in a similar situation (during social interactions), but actually they belong to a past event! So, what you can do is change your perspective on that event.
You said “most kids” but not “all kids”. This means that there were kids who were OK with you, and you even made close friendships that still last, alhamdulillah! That is a good thing.
And most of all, just because something happened in the past does not mean that it has to be repeated again in the same fashion.
Just because you were rejected at some point in a particular situation does not mean that you as a person is to be rejected in general. Or that you are not interesting or worthy enough to be a friend.
When you are in a similar situation again, try to focus on the present moment both intellectually and emotionally. Do not let the rise of negative emotions overwhelm you in the present.
You said, “I just don’t know what kinds of things people like to talk about.” I recommend shifting your attention towards yourself during the conversation.
What would YOU like to talk about? Instead of focusing on meeting the expectations of others, just be yourself and talk about what you genuinely find interesting.
If you start a conversation, you can speak about something you like or are curious about, for example, a book, a lecture, whatever you were inspired by recently, some recent event in the news, your plans for the summer, etc. The key to authenticity is your sincere, genuine attitude in an interaction.
You can also start by asking questions and letting the other person talk. This is an opportunity to find common ground.
You can share something that you can also relate to in your reply, like, “I have heard about it as well, and it made me think/ feel…” or “I have seen that movie, and this and that is my opinion about it”; etc. This way you create connections. Here are some very good tips about asking questions.
If you do not feel comfortable sharing your feelings and thoughts with everybody, there is no need to disclose yourself.
Not Seeking Validation
Actually, it is a very beneficial skill to be a good listener (as you said), as you are able to fully focus on the other person. Also, being able to catch and interpret the non-verbal signals of others.
But this does not mean seeking validation during communication, or letting yourself be discouraged when you notice a possible disinterest. You can ask the other to find out if it really is the case.
If someone is not interested in the topic you raised, it does not mean that you are not “unattractive to other women of your age”. It can mean other things as well.
I encourage you, sister, to read about cognitive distortions. These are reoccurring thought patterns that are irrational or exaggerated, and therefore do not reflect reality.
These patterns can lead to negative feelings, anxiety or depressive mood. Here is a short video about the most common cognitive distortions.
Try to analyze your thoughts regarding befriending. Collect them and challenge them in the light of the video above: try to remember events where these thoughts were not true. Try to practice this for some weeks and, in sha Allah, you will notice improvement.
Accept yourself and your qualities. Learn to trust and love yourself. Accept that you do not have to fulfill the expectations of others but Allah (SWT), and you do not need others’ validation to feel like a worthy and valuable human being.
In communication, pay attention to yourself and to the things that genuinely interest you. Learn about cognitive distortions and try to modify them with related exercises.
I am sure that there are other women who would love to be your friend and who find your ideas interesting and inspiring.
If you do not find anyone around, you can try online groups and circles based on your interests.
I wish you success and ease!
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