I felt like I needed to protect myself from what other people might think about me.
I tried to read people’s minds, as if I could know what they were thinking. What did they think of me? Was I interesting? Did they like talking with me? I knew, intellectually, this was impossible. By that time, the pattern was etched in my mind.
I asked myself a lot of questions. What if people were looking at me? What if I said the wrong thing?
There’s so much in this essay that I relate to! I’ve been lonely a lot of my life, and tried for many years to compensate with self-sufficiency. I refused to let having no one to go with stop me; I went to concerts alone, I hiked alone. But concerts aren’t that fun on your own, and hiking alone has its risks.
About ten years ago, I’d finally had enough of not having friends nearby and was determined to make them. I built a group of friends around writing, which ultimately broke apart a couple years ago. In the time since, I’ve discussed what went wrong with the friends I kept individually, and grown much closer to them as a result of honest conversation.
I now see how shallow some of these connections were. Recently I’ve recognized that I was so desperate for companionship, and had such doubts about my desirability as a friend, that I put up with things I’d like to think I wouldn’t today. I can recall so many times when the conversation centered on gaming for a whole evening, a topic I’m not interested in. Or nights when I didn’t participate because I couldn’t find an entry point to the conversation (I struggle with judging whether it’s my turn to speak). Being present with others helps with loneliness, but it’s not the same as being included.
Ironically, my friends I’ve discussed this with struggled with the same challenges! If we’d been able to have these conversations years ago, we could have had such deeper connections to lean on through so many hard times for all of us. Or maybe things wouldn’t have felt quite so hard? But I didn’t trust enough in myself to risk rejection. Now I have trust in these friendships and I feel safer to act myself and speak up for myself if needed, trusting that my friends will tell me if I’ve done something that harmed them or they didn’t like.
I’ve read a lot about friendship in the past few years, learning both how to be a better friend and how to grow stronger friendships. Vulnerability and reciprocity are vital to become closer — both friends must be vulnerable to the same extent. It’s hard to hear how close I came to losing some of these friends in the past because I wasn’t willing to be vulnerable and be the first to put myself out there or tell my friends I valued them. Fortunately I’ve grown a lot emotionally in the intervening years, thanks to therapy and a lot of hard work 🦾 I’ve still got more work to do, but having friends I can talk to about it will help.
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Tracy Durnell mentioned this like on tracydurnell.com.