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Two Intelligent Adults Who Feel They Don't Have Friends

Question:

My husband and I (age 55) have been happily married for 34 years; share world views, great sense of ridicuous. Both identified as gifted children, participated in gifted programmes; adequate career achievement. Both always struggle to feel part of a social group or network ; want to be included but find general conversation a bit trite and don’t see the point of many of the activities. People do seem to like us (e.g. many visitors when ill) but somehow we just don’t "fit in". I constantly criticise myself (and my husband, sometimes!) trying to analyse what it is about us that isolates us. What is wrong with us? And how to improve?

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Answer:

I can assure you that you and your husband are not alone with this problem. Even though you are happily married for 34 years it sounds very much as though you experience a sense of loneliness along with social isolation. Many of the social institutions that bound people together for their entire lives no longer exist in this country. For instance, people no longer remain in the neighborhoods in which they grew up but move away to distant communities. In fact, many people do not grow up in a single neighborhood because of the need to move. The automobile and the modern economy have conspired to destroy local neighborhood life as it was know 60 and more years ago.

Other social changes are the fact that religion and attendance at religious institutions no longer has the appeal it once did for many people. Extended families have become a thing of the past for most Americans so that people either live as couples are live alone in their homes or apartments.

The purpose here is not to go on describing the reasons for this problem but to more clearly identify it in the case of you and your husband and figure out what you can do about it.

For most of us general conversation is trite but is also necessary. Friendships often begin with trite conversation, with neighbors for example, and can then mature into full blown friendships when people begin to invite one another over to their homes or go out and have dinner together, etc.

Many people develop friendships in this way but remain feeling isolated and feeling as though they do not fit in. I believe the reason is that even with individual friendships or friendships with other couples, there is nothing to bind these people together. In other words, there is no sense of participation in a group.

Most psychologists and social psychologists and sociologists will tell you that mankind was meant to be social in nature through participation in group activities. It is the group that provides a sense of "fitting in," and belonging.

What either you or your husband need to do is to get involved in groups that of interest to one or both of you. If your husband will not cooperate then I suggest that there is no harm in your doing so yourself. The type of group you wish to participate in depends upon what is of interest to you. There are plenty of social, political, local and community causes and activities that need people to participate. The point is that this participation becomes a means of socializing and, even more, becoming part of a distinct and real cohesive group.

However, there is another issue, more psychological in nature that you and your husband need to address. This psychological issue has to do with why the two of you feel that you are not liked and that general conversation is trite. This issue has nothing to do with your intelligence but with your social anxiety. It has been my experience that most people who share your feelings do so because they are not comfortable in social environments. This discomfort expresses itself in a form of criticism of others but really hides deeper feelings of self consciousness whenever it is necessary to be out and socially interactive.

The best way to fight against these uncomfortable social feelings is to expose your selves to as many social events as possible until you begin to feel more comfortable interacting with large numbers of other people.

I do not believe that you and your husband are not liked or found acceptable by other people. If that was true, people would not come and visit when either of you is ill. Rather, I believe the problem is that the two of you avoid social interaction because you feel anxiety in those situations.

Clearly, you already have social skills and there are people in your lives so that you know you can do this. Now, get out there, choose interesting activities and do them. By gradually forcing your selves to socialize more you will come to feel more comfortable and, ultimately, less alone.

Best of Luck

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