I’m 21 years old and have difficulty connecting with others for meaningful relationships. Being introverted and sensitive and someone who highly values meaningful relationships, my disappointment in relationships has been painful. The problem I have is with connection. I do meet people and have activities but nobody seems to really connect with me. What’s wrong?

Even when we meet someone who might be a great match as a friend or romantic partner, building a relationship requires investment and pro-relationship behaviours on the part of both people. The process of building a good relationship entails increasing intimacy, which itself requires trust. Fortunately, you can facilitate both by being the one to initiate self-disclosure. Of course there needs to be balance; self-disclosure should be appropriate to the circumstances and the level of the relationship (not too much or too soon). Such appropriate-but-intimate sharing facilitates trust and similar self-disclosure by the other person. It’s as though, by sharing your vulnerability, the other person feels more comfortable and trusting in doing the same, and bonds are gently nurtured.

Many people think I’m cold, distant, serious and seem “too perfect and independent.” I admit that I am an introvert. And yes, I realise that I have a perfectionist tendency, and can be very stubborn and short-tempered at times. I want to change but I question how far I should I go. How much can I change and still be myself?

Rather than try to change the “real you,” it’s probably more realistic to think about being more conscious of the impressions you might leave on others. Although it will take some conscious effort, especially at first, we’re suggesting actions that will probably feel like “extra niceness” to you. This impression management strategy starts with being sure to smile more, maintain eye contact, and ask people about themselves. Of course these are the outward behaviours we associate with people who are friendly, warm, and caring. Because those who know you have already formed impressions of you, it will take multiple interactions to begin changing those old perceptions. For example, at first your newfound friendliness may prompt people to think, “Oh, she must be in a good mood,” or “I wonder what she wants by being so friendly.” Stick with it, however, and it will get both easier and more natural (effective). Plus, when you meet new people, their first impressions will be that you’re warm, friendly, and caring, making future interactions with them that much easier.