‘I feel so lonely – I have no idea how to make new friends’

·5 min read
Try not to let the fact that you might not always have company stop you from doing things (Getty Images)
Try not to let the fact that you might not always have company stop you from doing things (Getty Images)

Dear Vix,

I have a good job, a lovely flat and a cat I adore. I know – I already sound like a cliché, and that’s the problem – I am one! I hate to admit this because it makes me feel like such a loser, but other than a chat in the street with some of my neighbours, I don’t feel like I have any friends at all – and I have absolutely no idea how to make new ones! How do you make friends when you’re an adult? You can’t just strike up conversation in the local park and ask someone for their number without seeming like a total weirdo, can you?

Part of the problem is of course, the pandemic – my office has moved completely to remote-working, and while I wasn’t particularly close to my colleagues, I really miss the casual, everyday ‘banter’ and the chats in the canteen. It’s not the same working from home in front of my laptop – it can literally go whole days without me talking to anyone at all.

I did have a partner who I loved – and lived with – but we broke up six months before the pandemic started. We had quite a few friends who we used to see as ‘couples’, but after we split I went into a sort of hibernation period, and didn’t keep in touch with any of them, so they drifted away. I don’t know that they’d have even wanted to still see me anyway – I’m quite shy and would describe myself as an introvert. My partner was the more gregarious one, so they always felt more like ‘his’ friends to begin with.

My issue is that while I have a couple of close friends, they live so far away from me – one is in Australia and we only speak on the phone every couple of months. The other lives in Wales and with all the restrictions that have been in place, we haven’t managed to plan anything. Plus, she has kids and is really busy. I don’t want to bother her – she has enough to deal with.

In so many ways I am ‘lucky’, I know that; but I feel so alone. I spend every night in on the sofa by myself watching TV or reading, and it gets me down. Sometimes I feel like the silence is making me insane. I’m not the sort of person who infiltrates established groups of friends easily, either – the thought of doing that makes me shiver. Please help?

Lost, Cumbria

Dear Lost,

Oh, I empathise, I really do. Not only has the pandemic left so many of us feeling the kind of loneliness we’ve never experienced before – nor imagined we’d ever experience – but you embarked on lockdown on the tail-end of a significant break-up. That must have been extremely tough, and I’m not surprised that you “went into hibernation”, as you call it. The problem is that when you came out of it, you weren’t able to go anywhere to remind yourself of all the promise that the world holds for you. But it does hold hope and excitement; joy and laughter. It really does.

The irony is that while you feel desperately lonely, you’re not alone in feeling this way – at all. I wouldn’t describe myself as an introvert, as you do, but I do catch myself feeling quite lonely, much of the time. It is particularly tough when so many people are still cautious about going out and mixing. I really do understand how you feel – I have the same fundamental urge to cozy up on the sofa and be silly and watch a movie with someone, or to listen to music and share a bottle of wine, rather than it being just me and the cat in the evenings. It’s hard.

Craving human contact and companionship is completely normal, and does not make you a “loser”, but here’s the next challenge: how to go about finding it? You might not be ready to ‘date’ again yet, and I notice that’s not what you refer to here – but that is one option, if you want to try it out. You can introduce yourself to dating apps gently, from the sanctity of your sofa. You never know when connection might strike.

If it’s strictly friendship you’re looking for, then some apps have that option as well – I haven’t tried them, so can’t vouch for their success, but I do know that Bumble offers a ‘BFF’ option you could use to meet people in your local area. Similarly, the Frolo app (for single parents) has a ‘community’ option that might be worth checking out, and the HER app for women has a ‘friends’ option, too.

Because you are completely right when you say that it’s hard to make new friends as an adult – it can feel near on impossible, at times; though I will admit that I have done lots of terribly awkward things in my time in the giddy pursuit of friendship, such as spotting a pregnant woman with tattoos walking across my local park when I was pregnant with my daughter, and bounding up to her when she was halfway across a zebra crossing, and asking her enthusiastically if she’d like to go for coffee. Yes, I am that weirdo.

Similarly, I’m all for not letting the fact I might not always have company stopping me from doing things: I love poetry and live music and gigs, so often buy myself tickets to events I know I’ll enjoy – even if it means I have to go alone. Plus, I tend to find that I’m genuinely never alone for long. The last time I went to one of these, I was hovering at the back for just a minute before two men on a date asked me if I wanted to join them at their table. We got along so well we even formed our own WhatsApp group.

Look out for events you know you will enjoy, and go to them. At the very least, striking up a conversation in the queue for tickets or the toilet will mean you’re less tongue-tied the next time. Being friendly can be easy, but it takes practice. Remind yourself that while you might feel awkward, most people love a chat – plus I would hazard a guess that if you offer a smile and a “hello” in almost anyone’s direction right now, they’ll only be too glad to return the favour. Because we’re all feeling lonely. That’s the terrible beauty (and pain) of it.

You could also do the tried-and-tested regime of finding a class or activity to do – try yoga or life-drawing or even some kind of military boot camp in the local park. Getting your heart beating and your endorphins rushing can stimulate positive energy and might have a noticeable effect on your confidence, as well as introducing you to new people.

I know you have a cat, but have you ever considered getting a dog? I’m serious! Research has revealed how pets are therapeutic for lonely, overworked people and for those with little interaction outside of social media – and there are always plenty of dog-walkers about.

Lastly, I understand that it can feel like you’re imposing when people you care about have kids and busy lives – but I bet your pal in Wales would love the excuse to leave her children at home with a relative and come and visit your cozy flat for the weekend. Or, if you don’t want to host, why don’t you plan a weekend away, halfway between the two of you? Book a hotel, visit a spa; treat yourselves. You deserve it – it’s been a hell of a two years. And you never know who you might meet in the jacuzzi.

Victoria Richards is The Independent’s advice columnist. She has a degree in psychology and a postgraduate diploma in counselling and psychotherapy. Having problems with work, love, family or friends? Contact DearVix@independent.co.uk