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.

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Five years (part 2)

I’ve always thought it was hokey to celebrate dating anniversaries, but our first date is the only anniversary that my husband and I celebrate. We can never remember when we got married, and I prefer not to think about it because it was one of the most stressful days of my life. As an INTP who hates all kinds of parties and being the center of attention, I should have known better than to have a wedding at all. So I like to pretend it never happened.

At the time I thought that the day we became husband and wife would be a special occasion. It was really important for us to write our own vows and say them in front of our friends and family. Words are important to me, and I thought our wedding vows would be the most important words of our life, sealing our lifetime commitment to each other. But they turned out to be pretty insignificant, just as our wedding day turned out to be pretty insignificant.

The more time goes on, the more I realize that some words we said to each other X months after falling in love and deciding to spend our life together don’t define what our marriage means now or what it will mean in the future. The words that matter to me are the ones of consequence– the conversations we had at the beginning of our relationship that showed each other who we were, the first time he told me that he wanted to grow old with me, the words of support and reassurance spoken over the years in moments of crisis, the words of love we share daily over the din of toddler shouting. Those words are the touchstones of our commitment, and all of them hold more meaning and weight than our wedding vows. All the days we’ve spent together in the past five years are more important than our wedding day.

It’s too bad that we only recently moved to a state with common-law marriage, because that’s how I view our marriage. It didn’t start with a ceremony or a certificate on any particular day. When someone asks how long we’ve been married, I answer “five years,” as I think of the entire time we’ve been together as being part of our marriage. (And also, because I can’t remember the actual year our wedding took place.) Our love and commitment to each other grew continuously from the first moment we saw each other. If there was one day when everything changed, it was that day five years ago when we met with a handshake.

INTP vs. INTJ: Expressing emotions

This is the second post in an ongoing series on the differences between INTJs and INTPs, as observed in my husband and myself. If you’re not familiar with them, you should first read this primer on Myers-Briggs and cognitive functions.

Both INTJs and INTPs are often perceived to be cold, unfeeling, and emotionally distant. We are not as skilled as other types at displaying and communicating emotion, but we do experience emotions very deeply and have a strong need for emotional intimacy—albeit with very few people.

This has to do with our cognitive functions. Because the Feeling function is low on the hierarchy for both types, it is less developed and our emotional ability is less mature than our other functions. For INTPs the Feeling function is extraverted (denoted as Fe) and is the inferior function (fourth in the dominance hierarchy), whereas for INTJs the Feeling function is introverted (denoted as Fi) and is the tertiary function.

As an INTP I express emotions outwardly, and I have a hard time controlling them. My expressions tend to be exaggerated, whether I’m angry or happy, causing my emotions to appear outwardly more extreme than I actually feel. My mood can change suddenly without warning. If I’m having a serious conversation with someone but remember something funny that happened to me last month, I will start laughing uncontrollably without being able to moderate my response.

My husband KJ’s feelings are directed inward because of his Fi, and he has a hard time expressing them outwardly. Continue reading “INTP vs. INTJ: Expressing emotions”

INTP vs. INTJ: living in the moment

This is the beginning of an ongoing series on the differences between INTJs and INTPs, as I observe them in my husband and myself. I used to think these two types were very similar, but being married to an INTJ has quelled that misconception. Of course there are many obvious differences between P’s and J’s—P’s like spontaneity, J’s are planful; J’s are organized, P’s are scattered; P’s are indecisive, J’s like to reach a quick conclusion. But as I continue to learn more about myself and my husband, there are many interesting differences between us that are unexpectedly influenced by our Myers-Briggs types.

My husband and I often talk about what our lives were like before we met and how they have changed since. I think that I was happier as a single person than he was, but since we’ve been together, he is happier than I am when we’re apart. (Our relationship was long-distance from the beginning, and our marriage is still quasi-long-distance thanks to his job.) This has to do with our ability to live in the moment, and whether our minds are naturally oriented to the present or the future.

As a P, I am able to live in the present really well because I’m constantly taking in information about present experiences and processing them. While I was single in the years between college and meeting my husband, I filled my life with activities and experiences that I enjoyed doing alone. My future was open, and even though I wanted to fall in love and have a family, I knew there was a possibility that might never happen, and I was okay with it because I was happy.

My husband’s mind-space is always in the future because as a J, he loves to make plans. It was always his goal to have a family, and many of his other plans and decisions in life depended on it. Without that piece of the puzzle, he wasn’t able to proceed with other plans, and he wasn’t able to enjoy the present when the future was unknown.

When we’re apart during the week, he doesn’t feel very lonely because the big picture is still present to him. Having our family motivates him and gives him the sense of purpose that he needs, whereas I am more prone to forgetting things that are not present. I enjoy the “now” of being with my family more than our future plans.

The future is much more tangible to my husband than it is to me. As long as the future looks bright, he is able to be happy even if the present is dull. If the future is bad or unknown, he can’t enjoy the present even if it’s good. I am the opposite; I can live in the moment and enjoy the present no matter what the future looks like, but if the present moment is crappy, it affects me a lot even if the big picture looks bright.

Do your thoughts live mostly in the present or the future (or the past)? What’s your Myers-Briggs type?

Quitting grad school: a family decision

I recently quit a graduate degree program in the sciences to become a stay-at-home mom. This is the story of how and why I reached that decision.

I gave birth to my daughter during winter break in my second year of grad school, and I went back to school and work when she was seven weeks old. Before she was born, I thought this timing was perfect because I didn’t have to take any time off from school. I only had one semester of classes and teaching left, and then all I had to do was write my thesis. I had visions of a newborn who would sleep all the time and wouldn’t require any maintenance other than nursing and diaper changes. By the time she became aware and awake enough to know where mommy was, I would be done with classes and home with her while writing my thesis during her naps.

That’s how I imagined it, but that’s not how it happened. Our wonderful daughter was not the sleepy angel I’d expected, but a colicky screaming mess who cried nonstop unless she was being held and bounced a specific way. I was exhausted from being on my own with her for most of the week because my husband’s job only allows him to be home on weekends. He told me to take the semester off. I wanted to do that more than anything, but I knew that if I took a leave of absence, I would never go back. I wasn’t sure that I even wanted to finish my degree, but I knew that I didn’t have enough mental capacity in that current state to make an informed decision.

So I went back to school even though it was the last thing I wanted to do. I took my baby to daycare where she cried all day and never slept because she could only sleep while being held. I went to classes and taught and pumped breastmilk in my office and in the lab and in my car. I held baby girl for hours while she cried every night, and stayed up until 4 am doing homework.  My brain was so slow from tiredness that I couldn’t add 5+7 without a calculator.

This was the only way she would sleep.

Continue reading “Quitting grad school: a family decision”