Confession: I am not good at friending. It isn’t that I am a total curmudgeon. I enjoy peopling. I like people. I see value in pretty much everyone I meet. People are cool. Fascinating. Amazing. It isn’t some self-doubt issue that holds me back either. If I could alter certain core traits I would be a much better person in the eyes of Society, but I don’t want to change. I like myself as I am, flaws, quirks, and all. Or to be more precise, I like myself more than I want to try to change.
The real problem is twofold:
- One: I am an intense, intelligent, opinionated person whose baseline personality is as subtle as Limburger cheese, which makes polite interaction damned difficult work for me. I’m happy being me, but when I relax, I quickly wear out my welcome.
- Two: I don’t have a good grasp on the practical concept of nice, which means I have limited capacity to make the gestures that keep friendships strong.
The dance of human bonding is too complex to distill down to the behavioral formulas I use to govern casual and/or professional exchanges. (I have those down pretty well. A few decades of practice and all that. It isn’t easy, but I manage.) Take away structure, and I flounder. And panic, I’ve learned, follows fast on floundering.
Is calling intrusion or inclusion? What about emailing? When are gifts right? How much gifting is too much? Too little? Sharing versus oversharing –what is too much? Too little? Unwelcome? Repetitious? Oh, geez, have I told this story? What one person enjoys makes another uncomfortable, but not always…and all that assumes that other people are nakedly honest about their feelings at all times. Big assumption. Big. HUGE.
Friendships have SO MANY variables — not only who the friend is, but the circumstances, the occasion, their state of being, their state of mind. First there’s recognizing which of a zillion situations is in play, and then trying to remember which situational variants call for what reaction…
When in doubt about a proper relating behavior, I default to no behavior.
Be invisible is my conditioned response to overload, and that is lousy friending. (even I know that much)
A friend steps up in times of need. I’ll be the one off standing in a field, totally oblivious or wholly paralyzed. I do wish it wasn’t true. I do try. Often the best I can do is be honest and say, “I can’t.” Or else, “To help you, I need you to tell me what you need. Specifically. Concretely.”
But see, that isn’t good friending either, because sometimes what people need is the freedom to not have to explain what they need on top of whatever concrete need they have. The best gift is often the one that arrives unasked. I know this. I just…suck at it.
Without direction, I will guess wrong and hurt feelings often deeply. That isn’t insecurity talking, it’s experience. It is also not a case of “I could get better at it if I tried harder.” I can point to dozens of burned bridges to illustrate the consistency of my failure. Trying the same thing over and over expecting different results…what do they call that, again? Ah, right. That’s the facetious definition of insanity.
I’ll take sanity with a small side order of guilt over driving myself crazy. Call me selfish. You won’t be the first. It’s a bit awkward being me.
I’m good at disappearing, though. I got tons of practice growing up because invisibility was a survival skill. I was one of those perfect bully magnets. Physical awkwardness, emotional difficulties, and academic achievement all flagged me as a target. That’s when I learned how not to be seen. I was so invisible in middle school even the teachers didn’t see me.
True story. Funny one.
Sure, each teacher knew I was in their class, but none of them saw me. I liked it that way. Thus in the fullness of time my mother found out I was not nominated to the Junior National Honor Society by any of my teachers. (Some of whom were Mom’s friends and knew my whole family well.)
Cue major parental outrage. Mind you, I did qualify for NHS membership. I was carrying a near-perfect GPA on an overloaded course schedule and involved in a ton of extra-curricular activities too. My records were identical to other children with multiple teacher sponsors.
But it never occurred to any one teacher that I might be acing ALL my classes. I “didn’t stand out.” Or so my mother was informed. KA-BLOOIE ensued. Apologies were made. I was inducted into JNHS. Life went on. Scholarship money eventually resulted.
And that’s how I learned being visible had an upside. I also learned (slowly) how to mimic basic social behaviors until they became habitual practice. It took a lot longer to learn how to tell fake friends from from real. But that’s a tale for another time.
As often happens, I’ve reached the end of a post with no particular point made. What’s a good wrap-up? Hmm. Oh. Buy my books, they’re awesome? Yeah, that’ll do.
Or you can hit the Shiny Baubles menu up top and check out the free reading selections and links. It’s all good either way.