How can I make connections to make new friends? I do things like go to meetup group hikes, but I don’t know how to translate that into ongoing acquaintances, much less deepen it into friendships. I feel like people would be annoyed if I tried to insert myself into things. The only time I could figure out how to make friends was in school and college, and I’m in my 40s now with no real friends. I have local “friends” on Facebook, but again I don’t know how to turn those into active friendships without being an annoying person. –Kaitlin

Greetings Kaitlin, 

First, I want you to know that you’re not alone. Many clients who solicit coaching, no matter what their presenting problems or goals, are also presenting a lack of interpersonal relationships. 

In direct response to their loneliness, many feel cynical and depressed; they lack confidence and feel rejected, alienated and inadequate when it comes to building meaningful relationships.

Some time ago, I began asking myself, “Why are so many of my clients so profoundly disconnected from others?” I have identified several reasons, and also a number of strategies for overcoming isolation and building important relationships.

I refer to the process as “refilling the inner circle,” and we have specific criteria a relationship must meet to be considered part of one’s inner circle.

Let’s begin by looking at why persons today are so isolated.

Sometimes, a person will remain in solitude because they have been alone for so long, they begin to think that others will not understand them, or worse, reject them (basically, exactly what you described in your question). They may sadly believe that they’re unable to build and maintain close relationships that would make them happy.

First, I communicate to my clients that they have nothing to lose and the world to gain when it comes to trying to build relationships. I also remind them that—like themselves–other people might feel worried and hesitant about building relationships as well. I counter the idea that “no one will understand them” by telling them the truth: I talk to people all day that are feeling and saying the same exact things they are!

If they say they are not a person who can just go up to someone and talk to them, I remind them that practice/experience is the only way to become the confident person they want to be. If it helps, here’s an article about how to get better at small talk:

Here are the three things that every inner circle relationship must meet:

A. You must interact with the person outside of the venue in which you met them. For example, if you meet someone at the gym, coffee shop or a friend’s house, the person cannot be considered part of your inner circle until you arrange to meet the person somewhere else.

B. You must have spent time with the person for the sole purpose of spending time together. Having friends who you play basketball with does not count as having “inner circle” friends. In this case, the focus is on having a good game of basketball, not on building relationships.

I ask my clients, “Have you gotten together with the person to just hang out? Have you gone to get coffee or a meal with this person? Have you gotten together just to catch up?”

C. You must meet with this person one-on-one and be willing to share both the joys and hardships of life with them. Does the person go to you with his/her triumphs and problems? Do you go to him/her with yours? Do you trust the person to keep something secret? Does he/she trust you to keep a secret?

Building relationships is doable, but you need to put in effort, and you need to overcome the fear of rejection that’s keeping you from following up with someone after a meetup event. A healthy motto might be: I put more effort into interpersonal connections than anything else in my life.

One last thing that might help (and forgive me if this feels out of order). You wrote above that you are worried that others might experience you to be “annoyed if you tried to insert yourself.” However, you didn’t provide any evidence that that’s going on. You might be experiencing two common mental distortions known as “mind reading” and “fortune telling.” 

Mind Reading: You conclude that someone is reacting negatively to you, even though you don’t know what they’re actually thinking.

Fortune Telling: You anticipate that things will turn out badly, and you’re convinced that your prediction is fact.

Kaitlin, good luck. You can do this!