“My father says that almost the whole world is asleep. Everybody you know. Everybody you see. Everybody you talk to. He says that only a few people are awake and they live in a state of constant total amazement.” Joe Versus the Volcano 1990
Since you’re already here, you might as well pull up a chair. This will definitely take awhile. I’ll pour a shot of Jack and light a cigarette (even though I shouldn’t) and though so few will actually read this, I will probably feel like I’ve made a dent in understanding myself a bit better. The quote at the beginning will make more sense as you read on. Are you still with me? Good. Let’s go.
Do you remember the first friend you ever made? Do you remember the excitement you felt that someone else shared a similar interest as you? You probably ran home from school, bursting with excitement. You probably called them your best friend or at least expected you to become that way.
For me, friendship is like a massive puzzle. So many pieces are frayed from trying to cram them into places they don’t fit. It seems like a mathematical equation that I keep getting wrong. I remember learning “PEMDAS” in school and somehow I would still somehow get the wrong answer. I would feel so incredibly frustrated. I remember when my sixth grade teacher sat me down and told me I was failing 6th grade math because I simply couldn’t understand how to multiply double digit numbers. I burst into tears as usual. Then the next class, she gave us a project to do. She asked us to make one poster based on one form of type of Math (I.E.- Addition, Subtraction).
The day came to bring in our posters. She told me in private that if I had worked really hard she would pass me. Well, I was smiling from ear to ear as I handed her five posters. She looked at me confused and my smile faded. I had thought if I did more than one I couldn’t possibly have failed at all of them.
This senario fits in perfectly with my first failed theory about friendship. Giving 200% to make a friend doesn’t work. It actually usually pushes them away. I’ve run into this issue numerous times. I would think to myself, “but I went SO far out of my way to be the “perfect” friend” so why did all my work seem to not only seem unappreciated, but also unwanted? I have learned over the years that people like to feel needed. If I am doing all of the work, what is left for them to offer?
Another thing that I have learned is that inviting yourself to events or joining conversations just because you are knowledgable about a subject or just because you share an interest, does not mean that they will welcome you into their group or conversation. In fact, it has aggravated situations and the whole time I am sitting there completely unaware of their growing aggitation. Talk about backfire.
I’ve tried writing notes in school asking people to be my friends. No name dropping in this post necessary obviously, but some of the responses were not only heartbreaking, my eyes are overflowing at just the memory alone. The girls sharing the note with other girls, and the group turning to me and laughing. Or worse, a hateful note in response.
Somewhere down the road, I seemed to gain a label I had always wanted but never understood and now that I think I am fully understanding it, I no longer want it. I don’t want to be the “go to person” when someone needs help. I know that my biggest dream is to make a difference and a part of that is giving my time with no expectations of reciprocation but somehow…and I am not sure how this has happened…but over the last decade it seems people see me as the person to vent to about their friendship troubles and the person to call when there is absolutely no one else left to call. And I answer excitedly, feeling needed, until the person they initially called calls back and we hang up the phone.
I used to tell my grandmother I wanted a best friend. I told her many times over how badly I wanted to make friends. I didn’t tell her until many years later about the rocks being thrown at me on my way home from school, the name calling, the food being flung at me in the lunch hall, the staples being flung at my face, chairs being pulled out from under me, being followed home and taunted endlessly, my email getting hacked by peers at school to make me look like a complete idiot.
No, I kept that quiet. I went to so many schools that I figured that the next school would be different. SOMEONE was bound to understand me and relate to me. I made a few aquaintances along the way, but never knew what to say to them. I called them my “friends” and often came home crying after finding out they not only were not my friends, they were being sarcastic and didn’t want have anything to do with me.
Sarcasm is a tricky thing. If I can see them smiling or they laugh afterwards, I can now often catch on to the humor or at least understand that they were not being serious. Dry humor? Forget it. I was always the last to figure it out.
I think part of the problem is that I’ve always desperately wanted a ‘best friend’. Recently, I have figured out exactly what that means to me which is quite a triumph. To me a best friend is someone who can’t wait to tell you about their day, someone who seeks ME out to ask how I’m doing without me having to ask first every time. A best friend to me is someone who accepts me for who I am. I am anxious person. Absolutely. I talk a lot. Absolutely. But a lot of that is because I simply don’t understand when to speak and when not to and what to say and what not to and so if there is so much as a pause in the conversation, I am afraid they will walk away.
I didn’t intend to cry while writing this but I should have seen this coming. I am so utterly frustrated. I feel like I have tried so many different ways to make friends and lots of people have ‘advice’ on how to make friends, but often times I get my feelings hurt, because that very same person giving me their honest opinion on how they think I should make a friend, doesn’t seem to have any interest in being my friend. Why is this?
It makes me think of how often non-smokers have the “best” advice on quitting. It just simply makes no sense to me. And so I sit here thinking back over the years and wondering, how many friends can I actually say I have. True friends. Not aquaitances…and while quality preceeds quantity by far…I am left with maybe one or two (excluding my partner of course) but no one ever seems alll that interested in actually being friends with me. They want to talk about their friendships.
I remember, many days in school, sitting there thinking “I wonder if I don’t say a word all day, if any one will come up to me and talk to me”. Hours and hours passed before I ended blurting something stupid out to someone I hardly knew and of course they usual response was “Well…that was awkward.”
I try so hard not to interrupt others. I try to stick with their topic. I try to listen, key word is try, to see if I can offer to the conversation and if not just stay quiet, which is an improvement over me simply changing the topic to something I could offer information on. But it often fails and I get so freaking frustrated I often have to just close my eyes and breathe slowly.
People have told me “Well, it’s because you’re trying TOO hard Gretchen”. They don’t seem to understand that if I don’t try at all, nothing happens. If I don’t make the effort, I usually end up sitting alone? They don’t seem to quite understand that I’m so afraid that my facial expressions have already freaked them out? My facial expressions are something someone recently mentioned to me that I had never considered. I get this terrified look in my eyes, why? Because I am afraid of saying the wrong thing, or that I’ve already said the wrong thing.
It’s those moments that my eyes look this way, that I remember running from the kids screaming and chasing me with dirt and rocks, the moment that one person decided to write in my yearbook, and wrote the most insulting thing, it’s those moments that my brain is trying to compute so many facts and memories.
Casual conversation? Small Talk? I’ll be honest, this rarely happens unless I am completely wasted. I start to feel okay with pauses, and I stop overanalyzing everything quite so much. But since alcohol is definitely NOT the answer by any stretch of the imagination, I tend to push people away when they offer friendship. (Which is rare) Why? Because I am so afraid that I will fail yet again.
I don’t know what people think when they see me but they sure seem surprised to find out that I smoke (even though I would love to not smoke anymore) or that I have three tattoos. Or that I am a lesbian. I give off this obnoxiously good girl exterior appearance I guess? Then they see me drunk and they see a different side which either freaks them out even more or they start to see through my cement blockades that I have created around me. To keep out the rocks and staples naturally. (My attempt at sarcasm at the moment)
When I was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome at age 23, I realized that I had a lot of letting to do. Now, I realize I don’t know how to let go of the fear even after I’ve forgiven the children who have since forgotten their actions that made my childhood a complete nightmare. I’m not angry anymore, just scared. Can you honestly blame me?
I have tried reaching out to people since graduation. New people. Some of them have stuck around. Friends on Facebook, that sort of thing. But more than that? Not really. What does being on Facebook mean anyways? Nothing. I haven’t seen about 99.99% of the people in over a decade.
The question in my head that remains is this, if they wanted to hang out now, when most of them didn’t really show interest a decade ago, wouldn’t they ask to see me? As I am typing this it sounds selfish but honestly, I don’t know how else to put it.
On the flip side of the situation, there is one friend that I have known for over twelve years, that has blown me away. Her level of compassion and willingness to listen or try to communicate when I can’t, has been a blessing for so long. And in the end, I can honestly say that one true friend, is worth more than a million Twitter followers, hundreds of Facebook friends. She knows who she is.
My family, which is subjective by definition, consists of the people who accept me and love me not matter how ‘awkward’ I might act at times. They get it. They know I’m just trying to understand them or I’ve just so excited about one of my interests that I’ve forgotten that not every one in the world is obsessed with Seinfeld.
I am filled every day with an incredible sense of gratitude (here come those tears again) for those who have never given up on me. My wife is one of those amazing people. Plenty of people can pity someone for their disability but few can see far beyond the disability and embrace the person themselves no questions asked.
End of Story.