This week, an email popped up in Mamamia’s submission inbox…
Sent on 13th November, 12:29 pm.
Subject line: I have no friends. Not one.
I am no longer on Facebook. Despite Facebook alerting people to their friends birthdays, not one person would post on my page a simple Happy Birthday.
I called my wedding and 30th birthday “intimate gatherings” when in reality I didn’t have anyone to invite. I danced alone at my birthday and sat alone at my wedding. I did have friends at school but never many and I had troubles keeping them. I remember worrying I wouldn’t have anyone to sit with at the formal.
I feel very anxious about all of this.
What few acquaintances I had, completely disappeared during my divorce. My ex-husband was incredibly social with a large circle of friends. He always just assumed I was difficult or “antisocial”.
I’m 32, and work with some wonderful women, and try and be as friendly as possible… but that never seems to get me an invite to weekend drinks.
I’ve tried joining yoga classes to meet new people but females always tend to take a “buddy” to things so it’s hard to start a conversation when everyone already seems to have someone with them.
Part of me feels silly for writing these things, part of me is relieved to get it off my chest. Any advice on this would be great, it’s really started to impact on me now that I live alone.
So, to help L - and any other readers out there who are feeling alone right now - we reached out to The Friendly Psychologist Jacqui Manning for advice.
"My first suggestion for L will not be a practical one - but she's identified that she's anxious," Jacqui told Mamamia over the phone from her Sydney office.
"It sounds like she's worried. First of all, I'd recommend for her to go see a GP and talk about her anxiety. Anxiety is so common and people don't realise that, but it can negatively affect how your body reacts, and how your energy is. She's definitely not alone in feeling anxious. If L could try and find some ways to manage that, it would be a fantastic first step."
Feeling extremely anxious in social situations - or feeling an intense pressure to make new friends - can affect how we communicate, Jacqui said, which could be contributing to L's struggles.
Jacqui has worked as a psychologist for nearly 20 years, and said everything from breathing exercises, yoga, mindfulness, exercise and tapping therapy can alleviate symptoms of anxiety.
"It's obvious that L has had a lot of social situations that have gone wrong, and when she experienced a difficult situation, the next time she tried to go out, she would have taken that fear with her," Jacqui said. "If she's not ready to seek help straight off, I would recommend keeping a journal to let go of those negative thoughts."
While purging negative self-talk in a journal or diary may seem juvenile - a practice relegated to teenage years - Jacqui said it can be very therapeutic for adults.
Above all? Jacqui said L needs to be kind to herself.
"It sounds like she's had a huge upheaval and change with her divorce," Jacqui said. "I'd tell her, 'Don't be hard on yourself, this is a big shift in your life. Grieve for your loss. Cry and let it out, it will lighten your load'.
"Then, I would recommend for her to even write a list of qualities - things about her that are good, or quirky - to really think about where she likes spending her time, and to find like-minded people."
Listen: What do you do when a friend betrays you? (Post continues...)
Once L has grieved the loss of her marriage, Jacqui said she can truly set about surrounding herself with a tribe.
"Rejection and criticism actually lights up pain centres in the brain," Jacqui said. "It can be very distressing to be separated from the tribe, or to feel loneliness. There's a very basic biological reason as to why it's important to join and feel part of a group."
While Facebook may have exacerbated L's feelings of loneliness, Jacqui said there are some great tools online to make friends. You just need to know where to look.
Jacqui's recommendations? "Community noticeboards" like MeetUp, where someone can instigate an event, say at the local theatre, a bush walk, or even a coffee date at the local cafe, and people with similar interests can come along.
There are also some terrific apps Jacqui suggests women like L sign up for, like BumbleBFF, which is brilliant because "everyone is on there for the exact same reason you are".
"Some people think they need to have lots of friends, but you really don't, it's too much pressure. I would encourage L to think small - start small, talk to one person. Often these things are easier one-on-one or in a small group.
"We need to put our heart on the line a little bit. It might hurt, but being lonely also hurts."
And then there are the lovely women at work.
"I'd recommend L emails the work girls about Friday drinks, in light of the festive season," Jacqui said.
"She should take a deep breath before sending the email. Because this is a big deal, you will need to add some lightness to it, so you can lighten your load before you put it out there. Make it a simple thing - a casual drink instead of dinner.
"If people do say no, remember that doesn't mean they never want to go out with you, sometimes people just have other things on."
To quieten her nerves before any social occasion, Jacqui suggested L should ask herself a very simple question as she walks into the room: "What if?"
"Prepare yourself a little bit emotionally. Take deep breaths and ask yourself the question, 'What if tonight could be interesting?', or 'What if I can feel calm and relaxed when I'm at the coffee shop?'
"Just pose that question to yourself - it doesn't have to be completely perfect, or terrible - but what if it will be okay?"
Have you found yourself in a similar position to L? Tell us your story in the comments below, or shoot us your own question for a psychologist to answer at [email protected]