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I'm in my early 30s in the US and have been suffering loneliness for a long time and try to attend more social events, but I found myself having difficulty carrying conversations with strangers especially when there are two of us meeting each other for the first or recurring times in social events (e.g. church). I know that I shouldn't use close-ended questions that result in 'yes' or 'no' answers, so I resort to open-ended questions starting with 'What, when, where, how, and why', yet the conversation feels more of a "ask a question, answer a question" format, which appears awkward like I'm interviewing someone.

By the way, I consider myself a secretive person and have a humiliating past who does not prefer to talk much or share personal life details (because they are humiliating) but prefer to focus on matters surround the social event if I talk to others (e.g., what's your name, how do you like this social event, how long have you been attending this social event, what else do you do besides attending this social event...etc). However, the conversation quickly runs dry and I feel like I have to find another question to ask to keep the conversation going and the other person just answers my question after question.

Eventually, I feel this approach is awkward and sense that the other person also feels my approach is awkward through their body language (stare away when I looked at them, puts personal objects between us, quickly leaves when they see their other friends) when I meet and try to talk to them again in the same social event (e.g. church).

As a side note, I'm an introverted person who prefers to spend time alone learning things rather then spending time doing group work because I feel my time alone is more worthy than spending time meeting others because I can all focus on my personal growth (I highly value personal growth). But spending time alone has also exacerbated my loneliness who is difficult to bear and I've tried to attend more social events to alleviate this loneliness, yet I have difficult time carrying a conversation with others and since it's difficult, I have resorted back to spending time alone and this has exacerbated my loneliness and the vicious cycles continues. Any help or suggestions?

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    What is your end goal from these interactions? Just to get through the event/conversation? Make some acquaintances you might run into a few more times? Or actually making friends you could, in time, call and invite to go do something together or even invite over to your house?
    – AsheraH
    Feb 26, 2023 at 18:52
  • For church, my main goal is to get to know some people around my age and maybe become lifelong friends to alleviate loneliness. However, people from church come and go like ebb and flow, so I'm also hesitant of putting too much time and energy into making acquaintances or friends. Feb 26, 2023 at 20:17
  • So, you cannot lead the conversation, or you cannot even follow when someone else leads?
    – virolino
    Feb 27, 2023 at 5:46
  • I don't think I can lead the conversation. Feb 27, 2023 at 6:21

2 Answers 2

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You sound like someone sensitive to negative emotion, i.e. Neurotic. People like this struggle socially. This is just natural considering most people tend to want to avoid negative things/people.

Learning how to deal with situations while maintaining positivity will solve a lot of the issues you are having. You can't be worrying or have self-defeating thoughts while talking to someone, it's a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Of course, nobody wants to be anxious or negative. The issue is finding actionable ways to counteract this disposition. The truth is, there is no shortcut and I do not think there is a one size fits all answer.

Mindset


There are some things that have worked for me though, but are definitely not a cure:

  1. Avoiding "coping" mechanisms/thoughts. Don't think in your head, "oh nobody even noticed that" or "most people are not even paying attention to others". These work in getting through situations, but they do not build anything. I started making real progress when I stopped trying to outthink the anxiety and the negative and got out of my head. When I socialize with others I try not to think at all, kinda like I am meditating. I just let myself feel the emotions without judgment, without thought.

  2. Aerobic Exercise. This has been very helpful for me short term and long term. Short term, really pushing yourself physically is going to make you be in the moment and make you forget about the other negative shit. Long term, I no longer associate a high heart rate and sweating with negative social situations, I associate it with a nice run. Instead of thinking of my adrenaline as being anxiety, I now think of it as excitement. It doesn't matter what this activity is as long as it raises your heart rate close to its max and is something you are comfortable doing regularly.

  3. Laughing. Life is funny, and you shouldn't take it seriously all the time. I watch a t.v. show like the office and laugh. Why can't I do the same for my own silly mistakes and weirdness? Just try and find the humor in things. This also helps when you do something dumb or awkward, you can just laugh it off. This can turn a negative situation into something that will make you more relatable and human. Generally, people love to laugh and the easiest way to make others laugh is to laughing oneself.

Stuff to talk about


Once you have the mindset down, then to actually have a conversation with somebody you can literally talk about anything. I mean just talk about whatever interests you at all. And if the conversation doesn't interest, be able to say "oh well" and move on.

  1. Don't feel the need to force the conversation.

  2. Don't feel the need to have continuity. If the conversation is getting stale you will make the other person very happy by just changing the subject.

  3. Literally just talk about a hobby you enjoy. I like collecting coins and have had great success in making small talk about coins with people. If you are passionate about something and enthusiatic when you talk, it will make whoever you are talking to as well. They don't have to know neccesarily that much of what you are talking about, but because people have empathy they will see you happy and talking and will become so themselves.

  4. Get someone talking about something they are passionate about. You will know its something they are passionate about, because you won't have to prompt them. Simarily to the previous example, I have had great success asking about people's hobbies. But some people don't have hobbies, so tv/movies are another great option.

How to talk


  1. You don't have to ask questions, and you don't have to follow up on anything. Don't feign interest if you aren't interested. The questions you should ask should be something that will get the person to talk about a subject they find interesting and you find interesting. If it is not something you are interested in then don't ask about it. If you are genuinely curious about something people can sense that and will enjoy your curiosity.

  2. Disagreements can create some good conversation. Its interesting and fun to a lot of people to be able to argue a bit. Obviously don't go out of your way to disagree with someone, and don't pick something political/religious, but if a disagreement arrises don't pull back. Lean in a bit. This especially works with sports.

  3. Conversation doesn't have to be tennis. As in you don't have to go back and forth, which is what a lot of people do (I speak then you speak). Let them speak and hold your own as well, but the rigidity of a tennis conversation creates interview like conversations.

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  • What a beautiful answer!
    – aarbee
    Mar 13, 2023 at 19:52
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Conversing with strangers can seem strange, but you don't have to make it so. First thing you should keep in mind: DO NOT, under any circumstances, lead any "new" conversations off into anything that is related to your past. Why? Because you then conveniently provided them a very quick way to form an opinion about you that's based upon your previous details.

Sometimes, it's hard to read people. I know I can't read people easily, so I've learned to compensate for it in other ways. Maintaining good mannerisms are definitely key (you don't want to put people off if you're using too much foul language, or by complaining too much about the weather, or making snide comments about how a person is dressed — it might give off the wrong impression about you to the person you're trying to converse with. Granted, the more you get to know someone and the more times you get to interact with them, you'll eventually be able to gauge just how far you can take these particular things.)

Now that I've mentioned what not to do... I'll try to now address the last part of your question (or that side note):

I totally understand where you're coming from, since I'm introverted as well. Regardless of being introverted or extroverted, it doesn't change the fact that humans still require some amount of interaction with other humans; therefore, you could see it as though introverted individuals tend to require a lot less of it, compared to extroverts. Put it another way, it could also mean that extroverts may need more attention that their introverted counterparts.

In my experience, I had to work on my overall sociability and extroversion (when I was a teacher I had to force myself into having an "approachable" demeanor every day), and it gets tiring after awhile. It pretty much got to the point to where I wound up enjoying spending my (unpaid) time grading assignments and setting up lesson plans after everyone leaves class for the day.

I've learned to make peace with some of the loneliness that follows, but I still make an effort to try to put myself out there. (As of this posting, I'm actually living off of unemployment checks — that's a different story for a different day. That said; regardless of whatever public venue you're currently at, there's always someone you can attempt to approach — even if it's the cashier at the gas station late at night and no one else is around.)

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    Thank you for your sharing! May 1, 2023 at 18:49
  • @HelloDarkWorld I'm adding a comment here (instead of the space directly below your post) due to logistics (and the fact that I'm lacking in reputation points, it seems). Don't worry about your ability to lead the actual conversation; unless it's a pressing matter, you might not really have to worry about it. Depending on the venue you're in, the current conversation can be influenced by outside factors. Take advantage of it if you can. May 3, 2023 at 5:34

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