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Fresh off of a one-year stint studying engineering and a few months into my internship at a radio station, my sister told me I was not as social as I used to be.


I immediately began to feel defensive. It wasn’t my fault, of course. We had just been in a pandemic; everyone’s social skills had gotten messed up. I’d gone through the wringer with my year of engineering; my self-esteem was terrible now. I had had stressful relationships over the course of that year; it had become difficult for me to open up to people. I’d just started an internship at a top radio station; I was surrounded by very smart, very important people, and I didn’t want to embarrass myself or speak out of turn.


Whatever it was, she wasn’t wrong, and it didn’t do me any good to pretend I was the same person I’d been back in school. However, it was difficult not to – the older me would shamelessly strike up conversations with someone in a cute outfit and wouldn’t think twice about it. The current me has to formulate an entire script in her head before asking someone to save her place in line.


This was especially true since I started studying abroad in France. In the year since I’ve lived in Poitiers, I’ve only made two and a half friends. And with two of them moving away in the new term, I only have one-half of a friend left. 


Why was it so difficult for me to make friends? This was a question I often asked myself. Sometimes, this was punctuated by my father’s gruff tone as he wondered aloud every few months why I still had nobody to hang out with after class. 


Why was it so difficult? It wasn’t as if I’d become completely incapable of social interaction. People weren’t repulsed after speaking to me, but it wasn’t like anybody was clamoring to be my friend either. It wasn’t until I went to London to catch a screening of My Policeman last October and ended up chatting with a couple of bartenders at the cinema until closing time that I found a semblance of an answer.


Subconsciously, I began to feel inferior to some people. Whether it be that they were of a higher rank professionally, they spoke a language I was only sometimes comfortable with, or they were just deeply intimidating, it would mess with me. While the younger me lived by a “fuck it we ball” mentality, the current me was a bit more wary, ruled by anxiety and the need to overthink every little interaction. It paralysed me, sometimes, how utterly incapable I was of simply talking to people. And it was especially frustrating when I would constantly have a little voice in my head telling me all the things I could’ve done differently had I been a little more fearless or known the words to fully express myself.


The only thing that overrode this, though, was a common interest. It’s how I’ve managed to actually sustain a conversation lasting longer than three sentences with people these days, and how I’ve ultimately made most of my friends since studying in France.


The easiest form of connection was, obviously, the Malaysian one. I found it much easier and, for the first time in a while, quite natural to socialise with other Malaysians. I felt hints of myself peeking through the cracks and reveled at the proof that I wasn’t actually doomed to never be able to mingle with other people ever again. It had been a while since I’d spoken to other Malaysians, too – I was lacking options in my tiny medieval town, so there wasn’t ever any opportunity to outside of phone calls with my family and my best friend.


Another quite obvious connection was through my obsessions. Namely: concerts. I went to a staggering number of concerts this year and a majority of them by myself. While I know more than anyone how daunting it can be to talk to other people at concerts, especially if they’re already in their own groups, if you do manage it, you have the possibility of getting incredible friendships out of it.

At the second concert I went to by myself – which was the Harry Styles concert in Paris – I met three incredibly sweet girls from Finland who not only adopted me into their friend group for the night and danced and jumped with me until the very end, but were also the reason I wasn’t left sleeping on the street a day later after I missed my train back home. We walked around Paris for hours and they’d let me crash at their hotel room for free, and since then we still talk regularly on Instagram. I’m not exaggerating in the slightest when I say that meeting and befriending them was quite literally the best thing I ever did.


I’ve since made so many friends through concerts – including a girl from Twitter who split a hotel room with me for the 1975 concert and a girl from the Hozier queue who gave me a friendship bracelet and then invited me over to her friend group when we stumbled upon each other at the Louis Tomlinson show a few months later – and more recently, even concert-adjacent events. A girl I sat next to at the screening for the Taylor Swift Eras Tour movie offered to let me stay with her whenever I found myself in Paris, and I took her up on it just a week later – she helped me rent a mattress and offered me waffles and extra pillows after my Inhaler concert, and was so genuinely kind and thoughtful it felt like something entirely fictitious.


As a matter of fact, everyone I’ve met has left me in complete and utter disbelief. It seemed too good to be true that everyone was truly this kind and generous with their time and company – surely they didn’t actually exist in real life? But they did.


So, yes. Friendship for me is tough but ultimately not impossible.


Maintaining friendships is a different thing altogether, though.


I find comfort in the familiar. I’ve become too accustomed to the friends I grew up with fully understanding the way I function. I’m terrible at responding to messages on time, and I’m almost always never trusted to initiate conversation with anyone beyond the people I grew up with. When it comes to my friendships, though I cherish them deeply, I’m never one to start messages at random. 


All of my conversations have to have intent, and the people I grew up with know that. Even if it’s through sending each other memes or TikToks, these messages need to have a reason. I detest “Hey”s and “Good morning”s with no follow-up; it feels like an obligation on my part to think about something to add, even if the other person doesn’t expect me to. 


This was a hard pill to swallow for some people in my life who thrived on constant, almost daily texts and communication. It was understandable, then, when we grew distant. After all, I would barely message them. For all they knew, I was the one unwilling to stay friends.


But it wasn’t that at all; I just had – have – difficulty with small talk. 


It isn’t only limited to people I’m not very close to – I constantly get berated by my mother for being too quiet and not contributing to the family group chat. We haven’t heard from you in a while, my mother would type when I went days without an update. Please let us know that you’re alive. I don’t talk to my best friend until I have something to tell her – sometimes a story or a question, but most other times things of little consequence. do you know vlogbrothers, I ask her one Tuesday. She knows how I function and I know how she does; it takes her three days to respond, and even then she says, never heard of them, why?? 


She’s even taken to cold-calling me at random; she knows that while I’m always down for a chat, I’ll never actually be the one to give her a call. It’s funny – though we were inseparable in high school and saw each other every day for just about five years, we’re closer now than we ever were, even with an hour’s time difference and a seventeen-hour bus ride away.


I don’t remember being this terrible with responding to people when I was younger, so I’m inclined to believe it’s a side effect of being an ex-extrovert.


One perk of being by yourself is that you spend a lot of time thinking about who you are – well, I say perk, though it’s more so that I’ve always enjoyed my own company; I feel as though if anyone else were in my shoes they’d go insane with how solitary my life has really become. But being alone demands reflection. There isn’t anyone else readily available to bounce opinions on. Suddenly, the thoughts and insecurities from the deepest recesses of your mind come to the surface, and there’s nothing else for you to do but confront them.


While I’ve been able to psychoanalyse myself to oblivion on my inability to make good friends in my city, I’m unfortunately still coming up empty with what to actually do about it. As an ex-extrovert, I know the mechanics of it – I was an expert once, after all – but to actually engage in it is easier said than done. But at the same time, I’d like to think that actually having been one before means that there’s a possibility of my becoming extroverted again sometime in the future. Or, at the very least, if I don’t end up quite as personable as I once was, I become far more outgoing than I am right now, which would certainly be a welcome change.


I’d like to get some semblance of my old life if I could, but I’d be just as happy with flashes of it in my current one.