THE BLOG
02/17/2009 05:12 am ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

Sophisticated Lady's Friendship Conundrum

QUESTION:

Dear Irene,

I can't figure out what I'm doing wrong. I've come to the conclusion that perhaps I have a higher need for interaction than most people. I'm turning 40 and when my husband mentioned throwing me a birthday party I realized I have no dear friends to invite. I have never known anyone that I would call a "best friend" and was painfully shy and awkward growing up.

I know many women very superficially. Over the past 20 years, three people have told me that I come across as polished/sophisticated and that it is threatening to others. That has never been my intention and I am not trying to cultivate that image, in fact, to combat it I work at being self-deprecating and watch what I wear to casual events with women I would like know better.

I would like to have friends to go out to a dinner/movie/coffee with 2-3 times per month. Is that unreasonable? I'm at the point of thinking maybe it is. We moved five years ago to a new state and have one child. I've tried to organize coffee meet-ups with other school moms, most of whom do not work outside the home, and my invitations have either been entirely ignored, I am asked who else is attending, or I get a "not sure if I can make it, if I can I'll meet you there." There are two school mom cliques and I can't seem to get into either, and it's been four years. While they are polite, neither my child nor I am asked to participate in their group activities, e.g. a week at summer camp or weekend visits to vacation homes.

I tried to organize a dinner group with neighborhood women and it never materialized. I went a handful of times to a neighborhood gardening club and one woman there clearly had a problem with me as I was on the receiving end many times of her verbal jabs and putdowns. I finally had enough and didn't return.

Two other women have actively pursued being my friend. One came on very strong and frankly felt like a stalker; the other brags constantly, which I have no interest in listening to. During this same four years, I've developed very superficial friendships with six women. Only two of them have ever issued an invitation to me for anything, I've always asked and they've always agreed. I changed jobs two years ago and invited a few women at work out for coffee/lunch. Two people took me up in those two years and they've never invited me again even though we work together peripherally.

For added measure, my husband and I have no couple friends that are our age -- and never really have. All couples that we've gotten to know and gone out with have been from his work and are generally at least 10 years older than us. I am very thankful for these relationships, but it strikes us as odd and we can't figure out why we don't have any couple friends our age. Sounds like I'm having a pity party here, but maybe I should just start to be happy with what I have.

Thank you,
April

ANSWER

Dear April,

It sounds like you've done all the right things to nurture friendships with other women. Like you, I'm having a hard time understanding why you aren't connecting. Yes, you've moved and changed jobs over the past five years, but it sounds like your friendship problems started before that.

A few thoughts/questions come to my mind: What are the people like in your community and at your workplace? Are they very discrepant from you in terms of their educational, cultural, ethnic or religious backgrounds? Are these people of your ilk? Perhaps, the differences between you and them are challenging to overcome--and perhaps you or they aren't accepting or tolerant of differences.

You shouldn't have to be self-deprecating and to dress-down to garner friends. Best friendships come easily when women feel comfortable being themselves--warts and all. Perhaps it's your uneasiness in being yourself that other women find off-putting.

Forming couple friends is always a dicey prospect. Instead of two people having to get along with each other, the complexities are multiplied when spouses are involved. Just because two female friends are close doesn't mean that their spouses will feel the same way about one another. So it's great that you've made couple friends through your husband's work.

I sense that you feel like you've tried very hard to make close friends and feel like you have failed. Would you be comfortable asking your husband what he thinks? He knows you and your situation over time; he is also the person who is most familiar with the cast of characters, and may be able to offer you new insights. Two other alternatives would be to confide in one of the women you feel closest to and to ask her advice, or to seek help from a counselor or therapist. With your motivation and sophistication, I'm certain your problem can be resolved with the help and objectivity of a trusted third person.

Best wishes,
Irene

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 and is working on a book about female friendships that will be published by Overlook Press in 2009 and recently co-authored Schizophrenia for Dummies (Wiley, 2008). She also blogs about female friendships at The Friendship Blog.

Have a question about female friendships? Email me at: irene@fracturedfriendships.com