Another article on this site covers some general worries anyone can have when they're trying to make friends. Among people who want to build a social life, a sub-group with some unique fears are those who have no friends at all. The worries they have can be quite limiting and help keep them stuck in their plight.
Below I'll pick apart friendless people's most common worries. Before I get to that I'll mention two that are made up of many of the individual ideas farther down:
- "You need friends to make friends. It's a Catch-22. If you don't have a life you've got too many things stacked against you to fix things. But if you already have some friends, then you can easily make more than you'll ever need."
- "You need to hide the fact that you don't have friends."
"Having no friends must mean I'm totally defective"
As with any type of social problem, having no friends may be an unpleasant, discouraging state to be in, and could be a sign you have some weak spots you need to work on, but it doesn't mean you're fundamentally broken. Lots of people have had periods in their lives where they had no one to hang out with. Your worth isn't solely determined by your number of friends. Plenty of scummy jerks have large social circles. Lots of good people have been lonely.
When someone doesn't have friends it's almost never because their core personality is unlikable. It's usually due to a mix of interfering factors such as:
- They're not knowledgeable about the skills for making friends.
- They're too shy, socially anxious, insecure, or unconfident to pursue friendships.
- They don't mind being alone, and so don't have as much motivation to go out and meet people as someone who constantly craves company.
- Their current situation has left them without friends (e.g., they just moved to a new city, their old friends moved away).
- Their life circumstances are really stacked against them (e.g., they work long hours, have a lengthy commute, and live in the middle of nowhere; They go to a small, rural high school where they have little in common with the other students).
- They've been lonely for long enough that they've developed behavior patterns that are keeping them in a rut.
"People will have a negative reaction when they find out I don't have any friends"
No, not necessarily. Some might, but others won't care. This worry assumes everyone is really harsh, judgemental, and choosy about what they look for in a friend or colleague. Some people are kind and understanding. They get that someone might be shy or never learned how to make friends. They may have struggled with those issues themselves. They realize someone might have a thriving social life one year, then lose it the next when their friends all move away. Yes, at times people are judged negatively for being friendless, but you can't let the possibility of that paralyze you.
How people respond to tends to be based on someone's reason for having no friends:
Reasons for being friendless most people will understand
- You've just moved to town
- Your old friends all moved away
- Your old friends got super busy with other parts of their lives, like work and kids, and dropped off the map
- You peacefully drifted apart from your old friends, due to changing values or interests
- You went through a serious physical illness that kept you from doing much for years. You're just now recovered enough to get back into the world
Reasons for being friendless some people will be understanding of, but others won't
- You were in a long-term relationship and spent all your social time with your partner - Some people might wonder why you didn't have at least a friend or two, but many understand that if you really get along with your partner it's easy to make them your only social outlet. That's especially true if you have kids too, which can keep you cooped up inside.
- You shared a social circle with your ex, and they all went with them after the break up - Someone may ask why they all took your partner's side. Did you do something wrong? Others may assume the group were just your ex's friends first, and followed them out of loyalty.
- You lost touch with your friends because you got super busy - They may question why you couldn't at least keep up some contact with them. But they could realize even if you try to stay in touch, if you're ultra busy your friendships can slip away anyway.
- You're not that naturally social. You prefer to only have a handful of friends, and sometimes that slips into having none at all - Some people know that being less-social is an acceptable, common personality trait, but others have all kinds of false ideas about it.
- You had a falling out with your old friends - People may wonder if you're high-drama or difficult to get along with. Others realize sometimes there's a justifiable reason to cut contact with a whole toxic group in one fell swoop.
- You're too shy or unconfident to make friends - Some people are sympathetic to shyness. Plenty have felt it firsthand and know how hard it can be. Others don't get it.
- You've had a longer-term mental health issue, like severe social anxiety that's kept you stuck at home - More people than you think are understanding of mental health struggles, but others have a prejudiced view of them.
Another factor is how long you haven't had friends. Has it only been a few months, or over a year? If it's been longer some people will still understand, but that situation isn't as common, so more will be curious about why it's been so long.
As a rule, the older people get the more understanding they are. You're more likely to get a petty, immature response in high school. The more life experience someone has they more they realize that people can go through lonely spells, often through no fault of their own.
Even if people aren't understanding, they probably aren't going to cruelly mock you. They may not be sure how to take the news yet, but if you explain yourself and otherwise seem like a solid person, they may decide they're okay with your circumstances. If they do reject you, odds are they'll quietly withdraw contact, not laugh in your face.
For the most part a lot of what people think of you is determined by how you interact with them in the moment, not the "on paper" information they have about your life. If you generally come across as at least somewhat together and likable, people won't care that much if they find out you don't have friends. How you are as a person carries more weight than any abstract ideas they have about "friendless people". They already like you, so they'll put a charitable spin on this new thing they've learned.
It works in reverse if someone hasn't gotten the best impression of you. If they find out you have no friends they may react negatively, but it's more because they already had a so-so opinion of you. It's not really about your friendlessness itself. If they clicked with you they'd have had a different response.
As a slight aside, if only one or two people aren't fans of you, that may be down to an incompatibility. You can't hit it off with everyone. If you find you get a cold reception from most people, that's tough, but there are tons of ways you can work on yourself and eventually get warmer responses.
This article goes into more detail about the practicalities of telling people you don't a social life at the moment:
Telling People Or Hiding That You Have No Friends
"People are always asking each other about their social lives"
This one plays into worries of being found out and judged. Some friendless people are so scared of their supposedly shameful secret getting out that they avoid socializing, because the topic of their friends might come up. They may even have exaggerated fears about someone painstakingly grilling them about their friendships until they're forced to confess how alone they are.
It varies from person to person, but I find people don't ask each other about their social lives that often. There are lots of other things to talk about, and everyone generally assumes other people have friends, and so don't feel a need to ask about it. Naturally, they essentially never do in-depth interrogations. That's a distorted worst case scenario.
Sometimes the subject does come up. Like someone might ask what your friends are up to this weekend, or who in your small school or town you hang out with. Again, this article goes into how to tell people. Overall, if you've been dodging social situations because you're worried everyone will suss out your friendless status within minutes of meeting you, realize that's not likely to happen.
"Even if other people don't care, not having friends will make me act off-putting"
If you don't have any friends it may make you unappealing in a self-fulfilling-prophecy way, by causing you to act too desperate, nervous, and overeager. However, those are all behaviors you can put a lid on. For one, you can look at your situation differently, in a way that can reduce your desperation (hopefully the article you're reading right now will help). You can also consciously try not to act in ways that read as needy (e.g., sending someone a bunch of "what's wrong, are you mad at me?" texts when they don't reply after half an hour).
"If people find out I have no friends they'll worry I'll be a burden, some lonely sad sack who will glom on to them, whom they'll feel responsible for"
The fear is potential friends will consider hanging out with you and then ask themselves, "Am I going to be their only friend? Will they want to see me and text me constantly because I'm all they have? Will they put too much pressure on me to be their everything? If I don't feel like things are working out will I feel super guilty about ending it, and casting them back into their wretched, isolated existence? Do I want to shoulder all that?"
I think it's reasonable to say most people won't think this way, unless you give off really clingy, smothering vibes. If you seem relaxed, like you can manage on your own, and like you won't suffocate them with your attention, their mind won't go there.
Article continues below...
"If you don't have friends, it makes you boring and have nothing to talk about"
There are two iffy assumptions behind this belief:
Assumption #1: When people have conversations they spend a lot of time talking about their other friends and things they've done with them. If you don't have any friends or recent hang out experiences to share, you won't have anything to contribute and everyone will think you're dull
For a lot of social circles that's not the case, and they mostly talk about things besides each other or the antics they got up to last week. Also, there are a ton of other ways to have interesting or entertaining stuff to add to a discussion. You can talk about a TV show you've been watching or a place you recently visited, or share your insights on a world event, or joke around, just to name a few options.
Assumption #2: If you don't have friends you can't do anything to be interesting or have things to talk about
Some people with no friends spend most of their time at home, doing things they believe make them "lame" and "boring", like watching movies or playing video games. Why do they stay in so much?
- They may feel ashamed of their loneliness and are trying to hide from everyone.
- They may be feeling down and discouraged, and not be in the mood to go out.
- They may unconsciously assume that since they don't have social plans to take them out of the house, they have no other option but to stay home.
- They may be younger, have some homebody tendencies, and just not be aware of all the things they could be doing outside their house or apartment.
You don't need a social life to go out and do fun, interesting things. There's a lot you can still do on your own, which will give you things to talk about (aside from other benefits, like just having a good time or maybe being able to meet people). Again, to give a few options, you could go on a hike, visit an art exhibit, or see some live music.
Also, while there are lots of upsides to getting out of the house, staying in and reading and playing games doesn't automatically make you boring. I get that if that's all you do you might want more variety in your life. But around the right people you could easily have a long, engaging conversation only about what books, movies, or games you've been into lately.
"You have little to offer potential friends if you don't have your own social circle"
The idea here is that people won't want to befriend you once they realize you don't have a group for them to possibly meet and hang out with. This belief is also made up of several assumptions that don't hold up to closer scrutiny:
Assumption #1: Everyone gives a lot of consideration to a potential friend's social contacts and who they might meet through them
Some people really value possible new social contacts, but many don't. When they meet someone new they focus on that person and what they think of them, not what hypothetical connections they could make. All else being equal, having a social circle to offer doesn't hurt, but there are dozens of other personal qualities people care about more. When you meet someone do you immediately start wondering how big their social circle is and what you could get out of it? If you don't, wouldn't it be reasonable to say some other people think along the same lines?
Assumption #2: The only worthwhile thing you can offer people is a network of friends for them to connect with
Of course there are tons of ways you could be valuable as a friend. If someone finds you fun, interesting, hilarious, and supportive, are they really going to turn you away because they know they can't meet ten more people through you?
Assumption #3: Everyone is really focused on having a giant social network
Again, some people value that, but just as many don't. A good chunk of the world is happy to have a small number of close friends. Some even think a large social circle is a draining hassle.
Assumption #4: Everyone is focused on big group activities like parties
They supposedly want to meet people with their own sprawling networks so they can get invited to more big bustling get togethers. They also allegedly see hanging out one-on-one as a distant second. Once more, everyone is different. Some people prioritize large gatherings. Others prefer spending time with their friends one at a time. They'd see it as a negative if a new friend had two dozen buddies they partied with every weekend.
Assumption #5: Someone who hangs out with people, but doesn't have any social contacts of their own to offer, is "mooching"
If you're spending time with someone, and they genuinely enjoy your personality and company, how is that mooching? Friendships aren't a simplistic exchange of social contacts, where if that doesn't happen it means one person is "taking" something from the other.
Assumption #6: Almost all friends are made through existing friends
It's certainly a big way people make friends, but far from the only one. People often form social groups from scratch through methods like joining teams or clubs, taking up new hobbies, or volunteering. If someone can't meet new friends through you they have plenty of other options.
"It's way easier to make friends if you currently have some"
Obviously it does take less effort to make more friends when you already have a social life. It would be naive to say otherwise. Below is a list of some advantages it gives you. However, while they're nice benefits, it doesn't mean you're beyond hope if you don't have friends. They're just bonuses, not essential keys to having a social life. The good news is that once you make your first few friends, you can cash in on these perks too.
- You may act more confident around potential new friends. It'd be nice to have more mates, but you don't need them. If someone turns you down, you know there are several people who already like you.
- You come across slightly better because you've got a stamp of approval from some people. You've got unspoken proof that you're not completely impossible to get along with.
- You can meet people through your friends. Even better, you're not meeting total strangers. You've got a pal in common. You likely have some similar interests. Your friend is introducing you, which is an implicit recommendation.
- You can hold get togethers with your friends, and then have a fun event to invite even more people to (e.g., asking a co-worker to come to a party you're throwing).
- When you're out with your friends you may be the big, fun group that other people naturally gravitate toward.
- If you want to check out an event in town, where you might meet new people, you have company. You don't have to be the self-conscious person who shows up alone.
- And yeah, some people may be more open to being friends with you because they realize they can get to know your buddies as well.
What gets brought up less often is that an existing social group can also be a liability:
- Knowing you have friends can make you lazy and complacent about meeting new people, even if you'd like to have a larger or more varied circle.
- You may not be motivated to talk to unfamiliar people at places like parties, because you already have fun friends to chat to.
- You may not feel you have time to talk to any new people at get togethers, because you have to catch up with your current friends.
- Your friends may actively keep you from talking to new people, like they may complain about being ignored or left alone.
- New people may be hesitant to approach you, because you're in the middle of a giant, intimidating clique, or since they assume you wouldn't want to meet anyone else.
- Your current circle may unintentionally drive some people away. Not every social group is a high-end club other people want to be a member of. For example, people may think your friends are obnoxious and not want to hang out with you if it means having to put up with them too.
- Your friends may deliberately drive people away. You might want new friends, but they may be happy with the status quo and resistant to outsiders. If you invite someone to your weekly board game night your friends may be rude to them.
I won't insult your intelligence and claim having no friends is an advantage, but there are two small ways it can help:
- It gives you motivation and drive to meet people.
- It leaves you unencumbered. When you go to an event you can spend all your time trying to meet new people. You don't have to spend most of the night with your buddies.
"If you have no friends after a certain age or point in your life, you have no hope of ever making any"
Someone may worry that after college, or after the age 30, if they haven't made any friends then the opportunities dry up and they'll be lonely forever. The fact is it's never too late to work on your issues and have a happy social life. It is harder to meet people after high school and university, but hardly to the point of it being impossible. There are plenty of cases of older, socially inexperienced people making a group of friends.