What I learned about making friends

After dedicating the past several months to trying to make friends, I feel like I’ve pretty much reached the end. I tried a lot of new things, went on a lot of friend-dates, and met some interesting people. But I didn’t become friends with any of them.

I’m not saying I’m done trying now, but I’ve exhausted every resource I could think of, and I’m exhausted. I pushed myself way beyond my comfort zone of social commitments, sometimes going to more than one social engagement every day for a week. It was unsuccessful, and now that we are well into 2017, the New Year effect is dwindling and there are a lot fewer people who are also looking for new friends.

So I didn’t make any friends, and I didn’t really learn how to make friends either, but I did come to a few realizations about why making friends is so hard:

1.  Making friends outside of an academic environment is much harder than I realized.

I’ve been in academic environments my whole life, up until a few years ago. From going to an academically rigorous high school, to college, to working in a scientific field, to grad school, I was always surrounded by people with intellectual interests and a deep knowledge base. Even if they didn’t always have an abiding personal interest in those topics, it still provided an intellectual basis for conversation and a common experience on which to build friendship.

The academic environment is where I feel most comfortable, so being in those places was a big advantage for me socially. Now that I’m completely out of that world, I have a huge social handicap. I realized that I have no idea how to actually talk to people in the real world, or how to relate to people who are not interested in academic topics.

I never had a lot of friends when I was in school, but I had some great ones, and I was so careless with them. I lost touch with almost all of them years ago, and I took for granted that I would be able to make new friends. I never knew how hard it would be to make friends outside of school.

2.  A friendship has to be based on having some kind of commonality as well as having compatible personality types.

When I was younger I used to think that the most important factor in forming a friendship was having common interests. After I learned about personality types, I realized that having compatible personality types mattered much more to me than having the same interests, background, or beliefs, or being in the same stage of life. I like learning from people whose experiences are different from mine, and the way a person’s mind works is much more interesting to me than what they think about.

I met a few potential friends recently who I had nothing in common with. One was a single woman who owns a successful tech business and is a business school student. She’s very dedicated to her career and very passionate about the business world, which is completely foreign to me. Her other interests and hobbies were all things I know nothing about, and she knew nothing about any of my interests. We really had nothing in common, but we had some great conversations and I learned a lot from her. I think we got along so well despite our lack of commonality because of our compatible personality types— she’s an INFJ. We were both interested in learning new things and hearing from each other’s perspectives. I really wanted to be friends with her.

But our relationship fizzled out after a few get-togethers, because we just didn’t have any common thread to sustain our connection. All of our conversations consisted of telling or teaching each other things; there was no topic we could discuss as equals. I believe that if we had started with some common ground on which to gain familiarity with each other, we could have gotten over that hump to become good friends.

I now believe that a friendship has to start with some kind of shared experience or interest, whether it’s having a shared hobby, being fans of the same genre of books, going to the same school or workplace, or even just living in the same area and being aware of the same community events and happenings. You need to have something you can both talk about. Sadly, there were a few people I met who I feel I could have had great friendships with if only we had something in common.

3.  A friendship has to be based on spending time together in person, face-to-face.

When I posted a platonic personals ad on Craigslist, I got a lot of responses from people who were reluctant to meet in person and only interested in being texting or email buddies. Emailing, texting, and online friendships don’t do anything for me. I know a lot of people can form close friendships with people online without having met them in person, but I can’t. It’s hard if not impossible to really get to know a person without spending time together, and it’s hard for me to have an accurate gauge of whether I even like them. Someone’s online persona can be very different from their actual personality, and I’ve met people in the past who I thought I liked online, but really didn’t want to be friends with in person.

More than that, I just crave face-to-face interactions. I’ve never been very interested in web forums or message boards, because although I crave intellectual conversations, I want to have them with a real person while also getting to know the rest of that person’s life. To me, online interaction is theoretical and not much different from reading a book, and usually I would rather just read a book.

I agreed to exchange emails with a few people I met online, but they all quickly dropped off and stopped responding. Because an online friend is much more theoretical than one you see in real life, it’s easy to forget about them. You don’t feel their absence as much because you’re not as invested in the relationship.

4.  Having my husband as my only friend for the past year has set a high bar for what I expect to find in a friend.

My husband KJ and I have great conversations. It’s so easy to talk to him, he’s intelligent and knowledgeable about a wide range of topics, and he has (what I consider) a great sense of humor. And we’re both pretty quirky— or weird— whatever you want to call it. KJ is as weird as I am but in slightly different ways, so being with him has made me even weirder. Because we embrace each other’s weirdness and we can be ourselves with each other, our conversations start at the level where most of my conversations with other people end.

The downside to becoming even weirder is that it makes me less able and less willing to act like a normal person. I used to be a lot more skilled at assimilating. After having KJ as my sole adult conversation partner, I’m not only out of practice, but I also have realized just how much I like having conversations within the cocoon of our mutual weirdness, and how much I dislike trying to hide my awkwardness and quirks. Going out and meeting new people who don’t affirm my quirks is pretty uncomfortable. But I can’t rely on KJ to fulfill all of my social needs. I still want to have friends with different perspectives, interests, and opinions. It’s just so hard to find them.

This might be why I have no friends…

Last weekend I met a woman at a Meetup who I really liked. She seemed to meet all the criteria for someone I would want to be friends with, and I could tell immediately that she was either an INFP or ENFP. We had a really interesting conversation about different theories of personal development and she told me about one theory I’d never heard of. (The specifics are not important to this story.) After she explained it to me, I said, “That’s really interesting; I’ve never thought of that before. But I don’t think that’s true.” I explained why I thought it was wrong and proceeded to tell her about a theory of mine that contradicted hers.

I realized much later that I was kind of being a dick.

While I was listening to her talk about her theory, my train of thought went something like this: “Hmm, that sounds really interesting. No, wait. That’s a logical fallacy. When she stops talking, I’m going to point that out to her and give her this piece of evidence that refutes her theory. She’s trying to be logical but her logic is flawed. This study she just mentioned probably didn’t even have a control group.” And then I responded by telling her these things, but not quite as bluntly.

Why do I do that? Why couldn’t I just be supportive while she was telling me about an idea she was excited about instead of shooting it down? It’s not like it really mattered to me whether her theory was correct or not. Why couldn’t I have been thinking, “Hmm, that sounds really interesting. It’s fun to talk about abstract ideas like this. This theory seems to be important to her, so I should ask her some questions to find out why. If she’s interested in this topic, I think she’ll also be interested in learning about X.”

There are two tracks of thought that follow from conversation. My brain drives the train of logic and reason, and I can’t jump off and find my way to the train of friendship and empathy. Even if I could, I wouldn’t know what to say. Especially when I’m with more than one other person, it’s so hard for me to speak up that pointing out when someone else is being illogical is often the only time I feel really confident jumping into a conversation. I wish I could think—and more importantly, converse—in friend mode instead of fallacy-finding mode all the time.

On the other hand, I hate the idea that I need to change my personality in order to be liked. I’m a Thinker, not a Feeler. That’s my personality type and there’s nothing wrong with it. And while I think I do need to learn to be a better Feeler, I also think Feelers should strive to be more logical thinkers. Otherwise it further reinforces the notion that some personality types are objectively “better” than others, which is not true. I’m completely normal for an INTP, and I shouldn’t have to bend my personality to others anymore than they bend their personality to me.

But on the other hand, it’s also completely normal for an INTP to have no friends.

Is there a way to be more likable while still being true to my personality? Are there better ways to harness INTP-ness for friendship that I’m not seeing?

What doesn’t kill you makes you weaker

2016 was the worst year of my adult life. It started with moving to a new state while I was still recovering from the birth of my second child. Two days after we arrived in Arizona, my newborn baby got very sick and spent a week in the hospital. Then I suffered through several difficult illnesses of my own, the last of which included a two-month wait to have a tumor biopsied. The bad things kept coming and the year kept going.

“What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” is one of the things people say to try to make sense of hardship when they really don’t know how to respond. I’m not sure what it’s actually supposed to mean. Maybe it means that hard times make you realize that you’re stronger than you thought, or that after going through hard times, you develop the skills to survive more hard times in the future. Neither has been true for me.

I’ve gone through plenty of hard times throughout my life, and I feel that each difficult thing I go through makes me weaker, not stronger. It makes me realize that I am not as strong as I thought I was, and it makes me even less tolerant of going through more hard times in the future. 

Many people say they are actually glad to have experienced difficulties because it made them stronger. But that is usually only said in hindsight, after a trial is over and only if they’ve gained something more valuable than what they lost. They may have lost security but gained insight, lost health but gained love and support from others, or lost temporary happiness but gained new knowledge and skills. In my experience though, there may be things gained through suffering, but not nearly enough to make what was lost worth it.

I hoped that once I made it through this crappy year and some of the crappy things that happened, I would have gained some perspective or derived some meaning from it, but I don’t think there is any to be found. I’m sure it would be easier if I believed that everything happens for a reason, but I don’t, and I don’t believe that there is always something to be learned. Sometimes life just sucks.

Practical thoughts

I often wish I could outsource all the mundane tasks and decisions of daily living. I wish I could have someone tell me exactly what to wear, what to eat, what to feed my daughter, what items need to be restocked in my diaper bag, when to do laundry… I hate even talking about these mundane things because they are not worth talking about.

But this is what my life as a SAHM consists of. At any single moment during the day, these are the thoughts going through my mind: Should AJ wear long sleeves or short sleeves today? How long has it been since she pooped, and how should I time her meals and snacks so she won’t poop during a nap and wake up prematurely? How much sodium is in these crackers, and what should I give her for her next snack in order to not exceed 400 mg of sodium per day? Did I remember to give her vitamins yesterday? Will we be out of the house when she needs to nurse? Does my outfit allow discreet public breastfeeding, or do I need to change my shirt?

It’s not the tasks themselves that bother me so much as the mental energy that must be devoted to thinking about them. I don’t mind the doing—the feeding, diaper changing, cleaning up—nearly as much as the thinking. When practical thoughts fill my brain, they take up all its space and energy and crowd out the thoughts that really matter to me.

An INTP is defined not by what she does, but by what she thinks. What really feeds my soul is thinking about ideas that have no practical value. Philosophy, science, art, and the even more abstract offspring of these subjects that have no names. When I think about only the practical, my soul shrivels and feels dead.

I envy my husband, who spends his day thinking about complex engineering problems. I envy anyone who gets to spend time thinking abstract thoughts that have no direct application in their daily life. Even if I weren’t a SAHM, I would still have to think about these things. I would still have to plan AJ’s meals and snacks, schedule her naps, plan her outfits according to her activities, prepare spare clothes and diapers, coordinate grocery shopping and laundry schedules. (My husband travels out of town for work every week, so he’s not able to help with the everyday thinking.)

The necessity of practical thoughts has been amplified recently as we just moved to a new house. The process of packing, moving, unpacking, toddler-proofing the house, dealing with appliances that don’t work, and trying to stay one step ahead of an active toddler the entire time has totally swamped my brain. I haven’t thought about anything un-practical in many weeks. I think I’ve forgotten how to think. I don’t know where to start.

An atheist mom

Apparently, a lot of people who don’t know better think my husband and I are Mormon. I can see where they might get that impression: we got married and had a child quickly, and at a relatively young age compared to our college-educated peers. I’m a stay-at-home-mom. My husband wears glasses and unstylish button-down shirts. I don’t drink caffeinated beverages.

If you’re one of the readers who clicked over to INTP Mom from my old blogs, Leaving Eden and Peaceful Atheist, you might know me as a former evangelical Christian who became an atheist while attending a renowned Christian college. A lot of people ask me if I’m still an atheist. I am, but atheism takes up surprisingly little residence in my mind now. I rarely read or talk about atheism or religion anymore. I would happily discuss it if asked but I don’t feel the need to initiate conversations about it.

My husband KJ is an agnostic and skeptic who never dabbled in religion. For him there was never a God, never the promise of eternal life, never a divine plan for his life. All of these things were once central aspects of my life, and when I became an atheist, I had to deal with the absence of them. KJ and I have very similar philosophies about life, morality, and values. For him, skepticism has simply always been the obvious, common sense way to live. That’s why, even though our beliefs about God and the supernatural are the same, he calls himself agnostic while I call myself an atheist.

Atheism is simultaneously very important and very unimportant in my life. I don’t think about it, but it affects every area of my life. Here’s a little bit of what being an atheist looks like for me:

Because there is no divine plan, I know that I am responsible for what happens in my life. I don’t expect things to be accomplished in my life unless I accomplish them. I don’t make decisions lightly because I know there is no such thing as fate. I know that there are direct consequences for all of my decisions and actions (and all of my indecisions and inactions), from my career choices to the amount of polyunsaturated fat in my diet.

Because there is no God to sin against, I know that the only forgiveness I need for my transgressions is from the people affected by them. I spend my time and energy on trying to do better instead of lingering over my unworthiness.

Because there is no afterlife, I know that the time I have with my family is limited. I savor every moment with them and I never miss an opportunity to give my husband or daughter a kiss.

Because there is no God, my husband and I know we are our child’s best supporters, advocates, and protectors. We do everything we can to keep her healthy and safe. We make sure she gets all her vaccinations on time, save and plan for her future, and keep up with the latest developments in pediatrics and child safety. We make every parenting decision consciously because we know that the molding of her character depends on our guidance, not divine guidance.

Eventually I would like to blog more about atheism, especially as it pertains to parenting. So far it hasn’t been a subject of focus because my daughter is so young and other concerns have taken precedence. If there are any specific topics you would like me to blog about, let me know.

Is this book about anything?

In the past several years it seems like nonfiction books have been steadily rising in numbers and popularity while dropping in the amount of actual information they contain.  Every time I go to the library or bookstore, there are cutesy new nonfiction books that favor breadth over depth, and contain little more than a smattering of facts and anecdotes arranged around a loose theme. I don’t know if there’s a name for this genre, but I call it “pop nonfiction”. Mary Roach, Bill Bryson, and Malcolm Gladwell are some of the authors that come to mind. Continue reading “Is this book about anything?”

Why I blog

In a nutshell, here’s why I started this blog: INTPs are very rare (1-3% of the population). INTP women are even more rare. INTP women who are married or have found their life partner are even more rare. (I suspect that, due to our unique characteristics, INTPs have the lowest rates of coupling among all the Myers-Briggs types.) And INTP women who have or want to have children are even more rare.

When I became a mom, I quickly realized that in the vast world of mom blogs, there was not one that spoke to me. I was tired of reading about boring mom crap like crafts and diaper bags and accepting your post-baby body. On the other hand, there also weren’t any parenting voices in the INTP world. All of the INTP blogs I’d read were written from a solitary place, and those that wrote about relationships were usually not about living in a fulfilling marriage and raising a family.

Being a stay-at-home mom and an INTP seems like an oxymoron because the worlds are so far apart that they don’t really have anything in common. So I’m here to write about mom stuff that INTPs care about, and INTP stuff through the lens of being a mom (and wife).

Going forward, my goal is to publish at least one post a week. I plan to blog about all of my various interests (science, art, hiking, books, Myers-Briggs, general philosophizing) as well as marriage and motherhood– anything that catches my mind as an INTP mom that I think someone else might be interested in.

I’ll write about things in my personal life as long as they might be interesting to other people or allow me to address universal topics. But you will never see gratuitous baby updates because I know that nobody outside of our family cares how many teeth AJ has, how she eats sandwiches, or what her favorite bath toy is. (If you do happen to care about that stuff, we have a separate blog for baby updates. Email me for the link if you’re interested.) Here are some other things you will never read about on my blog: crafting, anything DIY, fashion, baby gear and clothing, recipes, etc.

Thanks for reading! Let me know what you think, and if there’s anything else you’d like to see me blog about.