I Have No Friends & I Don’t Know Why

Illustrated by: Michaela Early.
Dear Kelsey, I recently started medical school and I've noticed that I'm not my usual bubbly self anymore. All through high school and college, I was always the fun, chill gal on the block, felt at ease talking to pretty much everyone and made friends fairly quickly. During premed, I obviously didn’t have a whole bunch of time to spend on social media, so I never had to deal with that Facebook FOMO as such. Now, around 10 weeks into med school, I'm spending more and more time on Facebook and have noticed many people have formed “squads.” It made me suddenly realize that I don't really have a group of friends I can rely on — just a whole bunch of friendly acquaintances. I realized that sometime between premed and med school (i.e., the four-month summer break during which I did nothing but Netflix), I lost my enthusiasm and kindness. It was easy to start making new friends, but I find it hard to keep up with them and to deepen the friendship. On top of that, my peers in med school seem quite intimidating: popular, smart, and confident, while I'm not these things (smart, maybe, but not the other qualities). In other words, I'm not a natural-born leader like they seem to be. I don't talk as much as I used to and sometimes, I feel like a spectator. I don't know what to do! I don't know what happened! I think I'm beginning to feel a bit of social anxiety as a result, which may just make it all worse. Please help me, Kelsey! From,
Dear Gal, Last month, I found myself sitting on the couch at 11 a.m. on a Tuesday, crying. I was writing an essay I’d pitched for work — a retrospective on the movie Walking and Talking. It’s a story about old friends drifting apart and the struggle to connect with others as we get older. I thought I was just writing a fun little nostalgia piece, perhaps poking fun at the '90s indie-movie tropes. But no. Instead, I was crying and panicked, realizing all of a sudden that I had no friends anymore and probably never would again. I spent the following weeks desperately texting and trying to set up plans, crushed when people replied that they were busy that night (Surely, with other friends who are better than me, I thought). I googled self-help books galore and saved every article that had the word “friendship” in the headline. I even moaned to my boyfriend using the same word you do: “I just feel like I’ve lost my mojo.” Seriously, I’ve said “mojo” so much in the last month that I’ve begun to sound like a mopey Austin Powers. All this is to say that I get it. Oh, do I get it. And if I get it and you get it, then at least we know one thing: We’re not alone in this. So that’s something. Now, we’re in very different circumstances. You’re in medical school to become a doctor and I write essays about 20-year-old movies for a living. Furthermore, I don’t know your personal history with mental health, so I won’t make any presumptions about that as a possible factor here. But we certainly do have one thing in common (aside from attachment to the word “mojo”): We’re both going through transitions. And transitions are, frankly, the fucking worst. I have a handful of big-picture changes on my plate right now (career stuff, personal-life stuff, getting older stuff — wait, sorry, this isn’t about me). But one change is that I recently started primarily working from home, rather than an office. It’s great for getting work done, but it’s even better for making one feel isolated and antisocial. Of course, all my friends and acquaintances are equally engaged in their own big-picture stuff. Sometimes, it takes months just to set up a damn brunch. But when I look at Facebook, it’s nothing but brunches in my feed. You’ve just transitioned into a phase of life that not only makes you prone to isolation and anti-social behavior, but actually requires it. From what I hear, medical school is hard. You probably have more work and pressure coming down on you than ever before. So do your peers. It’s definitely possible than some are more social than others and that these “squads” are indeed being formed, but I’m willing to bet that a high percentage of those classmates who look so chummy and confident is also plagued with self-doubt. That’s just the nature of the beast: When you feel like an insecure mess, everyone else looks like a rockstar in comparison.
Illustrated by: Michaela Early.
Everyone is subject to periods of self-doubt and criticism, but the truth is, some of us are more vulnerable than others. This sentence is the bright-red flag that let me know you are one of my tribe: “I realized that sometime between premed and med school (i.e., the four-month summer break during which I did nothing but Netflix), I lost my enthusiasm and kindness.” Girl, you took a break! You’d been in school for a hundred years and you had a mere four months to rest before going back for yet more intensive education! Of course you collapsed on the couch. Sure, some folks might have used that time to go on exotic vacations or go out and party every night, but their R-&-R choices aren’t better or worse than yours. The travelers probably came back broke and sunburnt. The partiers woke up with hangovers. Your hangover is the kind you get from spending a long time alone. You didn’t lose your enthusiasm and kindness; those things aren’t like objects you can misplace and never recover. You just got out of practice. The only real issue is that now you’re in a place where it’s hard to get back into practice. But it’s not impossible. You say you’ve made some new friends, but it’s been hard to deepen the friendship. So think of a few of those new, not-yet-close pals and reach out to them one-on-one. Think of an event you might enjoy (a movie, a concert, even a Netflix binge-watch) and see if they might want to join. If that seems like too much too soon, try an interaction during or after class. Doesn’t have to be some grand gesture, I’m talking a simple hello with the potential to become a chat. I realize this all sounds like pre-K social skills. But the thing with isolation and self-doubt is that the longer you hang out with them, the larger they grow. Soon enough, you’ll find they’re your only companions. Then, every less-than-perfect social interaction you have, every Facebook group pic that you’re not in, those things start to become evidence they use against you. No one likes you, they hiss. You’ve lost your enthusiasm and kindness. Listen to that long enough and you can’t help but believe them. That’s why I’m over here practicing my pre-K social skills, too. I take any opportunity for conversation, whether it’s with an old friend or the chatty cashier at my corner deli. If I see a dog video my coworker would like, I email it to her. If I get invited to something — even if I’d rather just watch Netflix — I try to go. It’s not always easy and it often feels awkward. But truthfully, I think that may just be the case with all our social lives as we get older and busier. Life gets complicated and friendship takes more effort. It’s sad, no question. But it’s also universal. Mojo comes and goes, but who you are at the core is constant. Don’t forget that. Once you were bubbly. Right now you’re insecure — but neither of those things define your true self. They just make it easier or harder to show that true self to others. I promise, it’s there. It’s what drew your old friends to you and it’s what will bring new friends into your life. So no matter how hard this new phase of life is, please don’t worry that you’ve lost anything. I’ve never even met you, and I see you clear as day. xo,

Welcome to Unprofessional Advice: a column to help you handle problems of all kinds. With zero professional experience and a complete lack of credentials, I will take on your issues with compassion and humor (and I'll keep it anonymous, obvs). Got a question? Email me at unprofessionaladvice@refinery29.com.

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