Where better to start my friendship exploration journey, than right back at the beginning? The first memories I have of friendship are probably around 4 or 5 years old. Even then I was drawn to other girls as friends, and I remember all too well the pain that came with being told “You’re not my best-friend anymore” and being excluded from the the imaginary castle with the others colouring in and wearing plastic heels and tiara’s!
The thing is, it was easier then. Easier to make friends. To be friends without necessarily defining that you were friends, and even easier to just bluntly define that you considered someone a friend without any consideration of the possibility that they didn’t feel the same way about you! It was easier to get over it if you weren’t friends anymore and go find someone else to play with. It seemed natural to forgive and forget the next day when you were once again allowed back into the fun and games in the imaginary castle. Fights had a tendency to be short lived, as did memories of hurt feelings about being cast aside. And guilt about being mean to your friend was pretty much non-existent too. Although I don’t remember it this way, I am almost certain that I dished out as many social exclusions as I received.
I think girls clue in at an early age that exclusion has power and as youngsters, we aren’t afraid to use it. That does change as we get older, and we learn to understand the power, but we continue to use it, just with more subtlety and finesse. (Although not always, by any means!) It is a tool, a weapon if you will, that we spend a great deal of time simultaneously perfecting and deflecting. Exclusion and silence go hand in hand.
As children, we just accept people as they are. We don’t make too much fuss of apologies and are always looking forwards. We don’t want to get caught up in yesterday’s fight when there are new adventures to be had today. And I wonder if that is such a bad thing? Maybe we should try and be more like this as adults?
My oldest friend (who I have known for nearly 30 years) and I were discussing this the other day. If we met now, there is not much chance a friendship would spark between us. We are such different people, on different paths with different hobbies, interests and beliefs. We never judge one another though, because we never did as children. We are friends because we were friends; and we were friends just because! When she moved to this country at 6 years old, and fate put her into the house that shared a back fence with mine; I practically won the Jackpot of kids lotto! I went over to her house, and confidently knocked on her door. I introduced myself as her new friend and invited myself in to play. We have never looked back. Almost all my significant memories of childhood, and adulthood for that matter, have her in them.
There have been times when we were super close and times when we actually barely spoke. (There has never been a time that I can recall though where we were “not speaking.”) In high school for example, she was climbing the social ladders, while I was less popular and forging more intimate connections with a few close friends (also unpopular! Haha) Still, if we had a class together - we sat together. It was a given. We were friends after all. It didn’t need more defining than that. If we passed in the hallways we said hello and if we needed anything we knew we only needed to ask. After high school we both went on to further study and I moved out of home. We weren’t in contact much at the time and I never let her know. I could have, I mean - I had her number, it just didn’t seem relevant at the time. (At risk of showing my age, in my defence this was before facebook... this was even before mobile phones and texting! How did we live?!! haha) Her and I travelled in different circles by then, so I just didn’t think to tell her. A year or 2 later she contacted my parents and they told her how to reach me. She did, and we just caught up. She never asked why I didn’t tell her and I never made a big deal of her not being social with me outside of school. We were just us, because we always had been. We started hanging out again regularly, and never really lost touch again. That said; our contact goes from very frequent and regular to more sporadic. Even so; we never question our friendship. At least I never do. I hope she doesn't. I think there is something to be said for this. I haven’t managed that with many other friends…. Any at all maybe…. Why would that be? Because I have gained something as an adult that I didn’t really have when I was a kid. Insecurities!!! Which are largely based on FEAR?!
Fear of what? Fear of saying “I like you lets be friends?” Fear of rejection? Fear or looking like a lonely loser? Fear of liking someone more than they like you? Fear of it eventually breaking down? Fear of the silence that can happen when a friendship starts to fizzle or fade? You know; the silence that creeps in as one person makes choices that takes her away from the other? We can sit and listen to that silence for such a long time. It can be the loudest sound there is. Deafening silence that nobody else can hear…It is easy to spiral into thoughts of how this reflects on you, things you may have said or done to push that person away or upset them and desperately flailing around in the dark trying to win them back. Whatever it is that you are afraid of, insecurities are triggered by fear. Instinctively we are trying to protect ourselves from being let down, abandoned and emotionally hurt, but at what cost? Insecurities thrive on us not feeling “enough” in some aspect of self and having this perceived failing “proven” in the eyes of another. I never experience this with my childhood bestie. I never feel insecure with her, because our friendship was never based on either of us being interesting enough, or good enough, or smart enough, or pretty enough, or thin enough, or funny enough (thank goodness!) or anything else. We never tried to be anything other than ourselves, never expected each other to be anything in particular. We never expected things wouldn’t change – in fact we spent much time dreaming about how things would change as our lives unfolded! We weren’t afraid to explore new people during the gaps in our friendship. We didn’t expect those gaps, but we didn’t dwell on them either, both eager to see what else was on offer. I never viewed her choices as a reflection of me, my worthiness or lack thereof. (I really hope she never did either!) We are friends… basically because I say so… and it really is that simple. Even during times when we weren’t really acting like friends, neither of us chose the perspective that we were not friends. Because we are. Always have been. I hope we always will be.
I can almost hear some of you screaming at me from behind your screens that childhood friendships do not carry the weight of significance that comes with adult ones. They are not burdened with responsibilities and we do not need them for emotional and sometimes physical or practical support. You’re right of course. My point, and yes, I think I have one, lol, is that the difference is in the silence. As we mature, we hear the silence more than we did as children. As children it seems we were perpetually surrounded by peers and friends, our options limitless. Just like when we were children, as adults, people do change. Unfortunately sometimes, our friends just can’t give us the time or energy to be the friend that they used to be. Often this means you will be faced with the silence. Sometimes it is literally silent, other times it may be a feeling; a distance or a fading out of sorts. When you experience it, you’ll know. If we are deafened by the silence when distance starts to grow, it’s likely we tuned into this friend like we were wearing earphones - listening to a catchy song on repeat. It made us feel happy. It made us feel good enough. It didn’t trigger fear or insecurity about self…. But when the music stops playing, all we can hear is the silence. It takes a while to notice that while we were wearing these metaphorical earphones, we tuned out the other stations. The other people. The potential friends that still surround us. We stopped exploring our options because we found a good one. We didn’t need more options. That’s ok, until the music stops. It usually does. We don’t assume when the radio station stops playing a song we love that it was in some way to spite us. I don’t anyway – I hope you don’t! We understand new music comes out all the time and we need to make room for it. We know there is always at least one good song we hadn’t heard before. We know it is not about us personally. It can be hard to remember this when it comes to your friends. Still it remains true that the silence is about them exploring and experiencing and making room for new “music” - being people and things outside of you. It has no bearing on you being or not being anything “enough.” So with that in mind, please don’t sit for too long waiting for the music to come back on, listening to the silence when you could simply tune back into life and enjoy some new music. (Friends, I mean new friends, in case that wasn’t clear!) You don’t know what you’ve been missing! You will be dancing in no time, I promise. And when you hear that old tune (friend) again one day in the future, you will be happy, not sad or resentful or angry. You will probably still like it… The choice is yours… Are you still friends or not? Which choice makes you happy? It can be easy to forget that perspective is a choice. It is though. Think about it. Fights as adults, unlike as children, are not always as short lived or temporary in nature. That is largely because our nature is not so easily and naturally forgiving. Things get more complicated in adulthood, I agree, but when you acknowledge that whatever is happening, isn't about you, and tune in to the new music, forgiveness and deciding the silence doesn't have to be permanent or "an ending" seems a whole lot easier. Try and think of it as "for now" and not "forever" - which applies to both the friendship as it flourishes and when it fizzles, fades or fractures.
Okay, okay….. I hear you! Making new friends as adults though, it’s hard and it’s complicated, right? We might have a thousand “friends” on social media, yet nobody to see that new blockbuster with on Saturday night. Nothing wrong with going alone. You should try it at least once, but there’s also nothing wrong with wanting someone to go with either…. So ask someone! You don’t go for a job interview all the while pretending you don’t want the position. Friendships are the same. Approach them in the same manner. Have confidence in your ability to fill the role and don’t be shy about going after it! (If only the position was advertised hey? Well you have an opening, so advertise it!!! Let someone else apply to be your friend!) If you get rejected it probably is because they have plans this Saturday, not because they think you were weird for asking. Ask someone else, and if you are too shy to ask, then just mention it in general conversation and see if you get any offers. The reason you feel strange, talking about wanting friends, is because it is unspoken. Keeping it that way exacerbates the issue so we need to start talking about it. You'd be surprised how many people are facing the same issue! When we were kids, we just told someone they were our friend, invited them to do stuff and basically didn’t wait for their acceptance or approval. Why be different now? It worked! If you like someone they will probably like you back just for seeing how awesome they are. Who doesn’t love that? (I’ll post about making friends soon. Stay tuned.)
These days, when it comes to making new friends we say “it was easier as kids, we were surrounded by peers at school, all making the same choices at the same times.” If we look around our adult lives, like really look, there are people all around us. Potential friends at work, at the school gate, at uni, even at the supermarket?! Perhaps we need to let our inner child out to play with theirs. Let go of inhibitions, stop worrying if they like you or if you will seem desperate and lonely, and just invite them out to play! And if they say no, let your inner child let go of that hurt for you and try again somewhere else, maybe even with the kid who kicked you out of the castle yesterday. They might be over it by now, and it helps if you are too…
If anyone needs me I’ll be in the castle colouring in and totally rocking my plastic tiara! (The plastic heels don't come in my size anymore or I'd rock those too! Lol) The more the merrier!