Why We Have No Friends§

writer: russell j.t. dyer; posted: November 4, 2015; revised: August 30, 2017; readers in past month: 1229

Many people have no friends — for some this is a temporary problem, for others it’s a long standing situation. For some people they have no friends of a certain category or for certain aspects of their lives. I’ve thought about these feelings and states many times over the years since I’ve experienced them myself and observed them in others. There seems to be several reasons for such manifestations and reasons. I explored some of these in my new novel, I Have No Friends.

As I wrote this novel and discussed it with several people, I found that many identified with the theme of the story. There were aspects that resonated with people I would not have expected, people who had many friends and were very sociable. In a way we all feel lonely at times, if not always. In a sense, we are all alone. It’s the nature of the mind, not being directly accessible for anyone else, that we are alone. It only by communicating and risking our emotions that we can have the feeling that we are not alone.

Barriers Some of us may have no friends for the simple reason that we create barriers that prevent others from being our friends. When others try to be part of our lives, for some reason or other, we push them away. It may be that we don’t trust the intentions of others. It may be that we think that we are undeserving, so we thwart the attempts of others to be our friends. It may be that we have constructed scenarios in our minds in which we are sad and without friends. Someone coming along trying to interfere with that pleasure of feeling sorry for ourselves can be irritating. I’m not criticizing people who act like this or any of the other ways I cite here. In fact, I engage in these methods at various times. There’s something satisfying about lying on my sofa and saying to myself, “I have no friends. Nobody cares.” I don’t know why, but it is. I have to shake myself free of it, otherwise it will be self fulfilling, as mantras can be.

In my new novel, I Have No Friends, I start with a quote from Thomas Merton’s book Seven Storey Mountain:

And in a sense, this terrible situation is the pattern and prototype of all sin: the deliberate and formal will to reject disinterested love for us for the purely arbitrary reason that we simply do not want it. We will to separate ourselves from that love. We reject it entirely and absolutely, and will not acknowledge it, simply because it does not please us to be loved. Perhaps the inner motive is that the fact of being loved disinterestedly reminds us that we all need love from others, and depend upon the charity of others to carry on our own lives.

As Merton says, “it does not please us to be loved.”” That seems strange and perverse and wrong. But I would suggest you consider it over a long period of time, over years as I have done. Even if you agree with it immediately, I still recommend you think about it over a long time. You’ll understand and appreciate it better if you do.

Critical Sometimes people don’t have friends because they are too critical of others. I’ve observed this in people close to me, and I’ve had times when I have acted this way. We expect too much from a friend. When a friend doesn’t do everything we want, when a friend isn’t there for us when we want, we decide that person isn’t a true friend. We then terminate the friendship.

From my observations, this seems to come from an insecurity. Perhaps we were abandoned as a child, or rejected by someone we loved very much when we were older. We trusted that parent or that lover who abandoned us and they hurt us. So we decide that no one can be trusted. We’re expecting this to happen again, to be abandoned by everyone. They have to prove their love, to earn our trust — but we just keep raising the standards, testing more and more and never letting anyone pass. So that we don’t get our feelings hurt, we try to terminate relationships with others before they can reject us. It’s an emotional survival instinct. I have to watch that I don’t do this. I catch myself sometimes and stop it. But it’s not always easy to catch it in time before the other person leaves us: most people won’t submit to our tests and criteria.

Compartmentalization As part of a psychological coping mechanism, we tend to compartmentalize aspects of our lives. For instance, we may have a certain morality and way of conducting ourselves at work compared to how we act in a social setting or at home. We have different clothes, different habits, and different ethics (i.e., the expression, “this is business “). In the same way, we have friends at work that may not be friends outside of work. We may be friends with people at school, at a favorite coffeeshop, in our neighborhood. We can see this compartmentalization in Google Plus’ method of having different Circles of Friends.

Even though such people may be said to be our friends, there’s a part of us that doesn’t consider them to be our friends — not true friends. In fact, some of us have no one that we feel really understands us or cares about us. When this is the case, despite not being a shy person and having many friends of sorts, we feel we have no friends. At these times and in these situations, people will say to their friends the ironic and contradictory statement, “I have no friends.”

It may be that we have friends, but not the kind we want and need: friends close to use, who understand us, who are always there for us. Again, it may be that there are people that are willing to be such friends, but we keep them out. Instead of locking them out of our inner life, though, we put them in boxes: a box for co-workers and customers, a box for people we know from school, a box for the people at the coffeeshop. When one of these people tries to leave their box, though, to enter into our personal space, it’s seen as rude and we push them away.

For instance, someone at work who invites us to their house for dinner, or tries to come visit us at our home may be seen as an intruder. The survival of the Jewish people for thousands of years was based in part on compartmentalization: there are people with which they work or trade; there are those who are part of their religious community; and there are those that they invite into their homes. Applying this table fellowship, you did not invite a gentile business contact to dinner in your home if you’re a strict Jew. At least that’s how it was in the past. This compartmentalization was effective in preserving the Jewish people, but applying it in our own lives can lead to loneliness if we’re not careful.

Summary There are many reasons why a person doesn’t have any friends. I’ve covered only a few. Often times it’s our own fault, but sometimes it’s just where we are, what kind of people are around us. Whatever the reason, it is resolvable — even if we swear it’s not. I explore some of this, what it’s like to have no friends, in my new novel. I hope you will read it, enjoy it, and find it useful in making your life happier.