DEAR ABBY: My problem is that I am boring. During my 33 years of living, I have had only one or two friends at a time and none of them has been close. I am terrible at starting conversations with strangers, and just as bad at holding up my end of a conversation if I do get engaged in one. In addition, I have a monotone voice and not much energy due to sleeping problems (I am working with a neurologist on this).
I've had many opportunities to make friends, but I can't seem to do it. I never know what to say, and I can tell when I'm talking to people that they are bored. Some turn to other people; most excuse themselves after a few minutes. I have two friends now (one sort of close, one an acquaintance), and although I try to keep in contact, sometimes I don't even want to call because I don't know what to say.
On top of that, I am a very serious woman and find it hard to joke with people and to catch on to their jokes. I even have trouble talking to family members. I am not a "fun" person, but I'd like to be. What can I do to help myself? -- LOOKING FOR FRIENDS
DEAR LOOKING: Just as you are seeing a neurologist to help with your sleeplessness, take some voice lessons to learn how to sound more expressive. The increased energy and improved voice will increase your confidence.
Being a good conversationalist is an art that can be cultivated. As I point out in my booklet, "How to Be Popular," being a good listener will do more for you than being a good talker. People enjoy talking about themselves when given a chance, and they'll end up thinking YOU are a fascinating conversationalist.
Being INTERESTED is more important than being INTERESTING. Look at the world around you. Surely there are some things that capture your attention -- art, animals, cooking, children, sports, medicine -- it doesn't matter what it is, as long as you find it interesting. Your interest, enthusiasm and knowledge about even one topic will make talking about it fun, and others will enjoy listening to you.
There are many books of amusing quotations that might appeal to you more than jokes. Buy several, and you'll find yourself smiling before you are finished. Trust me.