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Raised by Wolves: Is Having No Friends Her Mother's Fault?

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QUESTION

Irene,

I wonder if you would ever post anything about the effect that socially withdrawn mothers have on their daughters' later friendship lives. My mother didn't have any close friends at all (just a cousin she hung around with and still does) and, in fact, disdains friendship even though she is into her 60s.

I never had any close friends either. I can't seem to connect with anyone, preferring to spend time alone, but I would like to be better balanced and, of course, have some decent relationships.

I can't help feeling like my mother set a poor example and that I was "raised by wolves" because my father also only has a couple close friends (he's down to one close friend, at this point).

Life without friends is hard and yet I have spent so much time alone pursuing my own thing, by necessity. I feel like I have little in common with most women I meet; I spent my whole life reading books and doing creative things. The more time I spend alone, enriching myself, the harder it is to relate to others in a way that fosters friendship.

I also feel like no women would want to be friends with me because I don't have a circle of friends that they can network with. I sense that it's all about this big square dance of friendship networks and that if I don't "bring anything to the table" socially, other women won't want to have much to do with me when they find out who I really am - a solitary woman who doesn't want to be a full-time loner.

I don't want to live my mother's life yet I don't have any female role models who are into friendship (even my only aunt, my mother's sister, is a spinster loner, and my only sibling, a sister, also prefers to keep to herself). How does one break out of a family pattern of isolation?

Signed,
Lucia

ANSWER

Dear Lucia,

People differ along a variety of dimensions, including their interest in and ability to make friends. For some, connecting with others feels absolutely natural and comes easily; others find it difficult, if not painful. Some people are content to be left alone; others crave constant contact. Most people would agree that these differences among people, sometimes even between twins, are due to some combination of nature (genetic traits) and nurture (upbringing).

It sounds like you are shy and introverted, yet you are interested in making some friends. Your biggest roadblock may be your lack of self-confidence. The fact that you "spent your whole life" reading books and doing creative things doesn't diminish your desirability as a friend; rather, it should enhance it making you a more interesting person.

Maybe you could find a book, arts, or crafts group in your community that you could use as a training ground to practice your social skills. Participating in a small group, as opposed to one-on-one, will give you the opportunity to meet people in a safe setting to see if you "click" with anyone in the group.

In my book, Best Friends Forever: Surviving a Breakup with Your Best Friend, I describe some of the basic techniques for making new friends. As hokey as it sounds, a smile and sincere expression of interest in another person are the first small steps towards making a new friend.

Meetup groups are good places to find other people who are interested in the same things as you and who want to affiliate with other people. You could also try signing up for an adult continuing education class at your local high school of community college.

You may feel like you were "raised by wolves" but it doesn't matter now. You're an intelligent adult who is responsible for your own happiness. You need to step up to the plate and begin making friends regardless of your family history.

I hope this is helpful.

My best,
Irene

Have a question about female friendships? Send it to The Friendship Doctor.

Irene S. Levine, PhD is a freelance journalist and author. She holds an appointment as a professor of psychiatry at the New York University School of Medicine. Her new book about female friendships, "Best Friends Forever: Surviving a Breakup with Your Best Friend", was recently published by Overlook Press. She also blogs about female friendships at The Friendship Blog and at PsychologyToday.com.

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