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I am a 21-year-old female about to enter my final year of college. I am generally happy with the person I am, not dissatisfied with looks, intelligence, talents, etc. However, I have always felt lacking in one area, which is my social life.

As long as I can remember, I have never had a large group of close friends. I would not describe myself as a loner, though two members of my immediate family do describe themselves that way, but neither have I been a terribly social person. My immediate family is extremely close, probably because my parents never had many friends outside the family--my dad says that he's just not comfortable being around other people that much and my mom I think has adjusted to that situation over the years (she does have one close friend with whom she talks a lot). I never felt the absence of close friends very strongly until high school, mostly because I did have close friends when I was younger. And I would even have described myself up through middle school maybe as an outgoing person, sometimes the center of my social group.

However, in high school, this changed. Though I still had lots of friends at school, I did not spend time with these friends outside of school, I think mainly because of the way my family is--maybe it wasn't expected that I would spend time with friends on weekends? I occasionally felt sad during my first two years of high school, but I interpreted this more as due to not having a boyfriend than to not having an extensive social life. In actuality, I did spend time with friends doing extracurricular activities, and the friends that I had through those groups either tended to have other friend groups or just not to be very interested in social activities outside of that. Probably my best friend in high school has always been an extremely independent person...I think she honestly does not need other people to be happy.

In my junior year of high school I began a relationship that lasted halfway through my first year of college. Though I'm not sure this boy and I had very much in common we really liked and eventually loved each other. He has suffered from depression and manic-depressive disorder, and I'm not sure to what extent I functioned as an anchor in his life. Either way, during our relationship, my social interactions consisted mostly of time spent with him or time spent with his friends. I was not unhappy about this; I actually was quite happy.

Once I got to college, however, this relationship began to feel like something of a burden. Initially, I had a great deal of trouble making friends at school. I would say I spent about a month being very unhappy. However, when I did finally begin to have a friend group, my boyfriend was very disinterested in spending time with them with me (when he came up on the weekends--we did not attend the same college). I think this, combined with the realization that in fact we did not have much in common or much to talk about, led to the breakup of our relationship.

Soon after, I began another relationship that has lasted to the present (2.5 years). I had been attracted to this boy during my previous relationship, but I had never acted on it. With him, I am truly happy, I believe. He and I have lots in common, and I have never felt such a strong connection to another person before...I am very much in love with him.

Here's the problem. He's looking at medical schools and I'm looking at graduate schools for after graduation...and it looks like our geographic locations will not intersect. This summer, I had planned to spend 6 weeks in Spain participating in a study abroad program, but I ended coming back early because I was so unhappy and had found out that my grandmother's health situation had gotten worse (my entire 60-person extended family was down with her in Florida at the time). The program was not at all what I had expected: much too easy, in a city I didn't like, I couldn't eat the food (I'm vegetarian), and though I had friends in the group I didn't feel like I really connected strongly with anyone.

However, this whole incident has made me wonder if there's something wrong with me that has made it so that I've never had many close friends. Part of the problem in the past was that I didn't drink alcohol, but that is no longer the case, so I wonder why I feel alienated from a lot of people my age, considering I like going out, dancing, and talking to people. My boyfriend feels the same way, and I think that's part of the reason we connect so well, but it doesn't bother him like it does me. Thinking about the possibility of being separated from him, my family, and my friends from college (who are very independent, jetting off to semesters and summers abroad all the time) makes me very worried. I'm afraid that my social issues may prevent me from doing all the things I want to do in life. I wonder if I'm too dependent on the people close to me, if that will keep me from becoming a functioning adult. I've talked to some people close to me about these feelings, but they all assure me that such feelings are entirely normal. I think that they say that because that's how they are...and I needed another opinion. I don't want to be like my parents, completely blocking out non-family people. I strongly feel the need for friends, I just for some reason have trouble making the kind of friends who call you to do stuff on the weekends. Though I do do stuff with friends on the weekends at school, they are all so independent from me, I feel like they'd be just as well without me. My closest friend is my boyfriend.

I'm sorry for having gone on for so long. I would very much appreciate any advice you have. I would prefer if you did not use my name or the specifics of my situation if you answer this question.

Thank you so much,

[name withheld]

Dear [name withheld]--

You do not have to live life in the way your parents have had to live it. Each of us gets only one body and one life. At some point, one must choose adulthood, which means ending psychological enmeshment with ones family of origin, and seeing oneself as a self-motivated entity, not merely as the offspring of a couple of other humans. Although this does sound lonely, and in a way is the very essence of loneliness, those who embrace it fully usually become more capable of real friendship and real relationships, which are based less on fear and more on choice. In other words, although the first move away from the security of the neurotic family group may feel lonely, the end result often is the possibility of finding the only real relief from loneliness: the relationship of two mature alonenesses. It sounds to me as if you are coming to that point, and I encourage you to soldier on.

One practical point is this: if you want to have the kind of friends who ring you up on the weekends, you need to be that kind of friend. I suggest that you begin by planning to phone anyone who appeals to you as a possible friend, and simply suggesting to her or to him that the two of you get together on a free day to enjoy some activity together. Don't be discouraged even if one or two people turn you down. Just keep going. Most of us need friendship, and enjoy having it offered to us. You be the one to offer--it will help you.

Be well.

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