Learning to “Friend”
For many years of my life, I felt like a complete outsider. Struggling with mental health issues from an early age meant that I isolated myself – wrapped up in anxiety and terrified of saying the wrong thing. I ended up far behind my peers in terms of social skills. I was very awkward, and it wasn’t until I started university that I realised you had to actually ask other people questions in order to keep a conversation going…
I like to think that over ten years later, I’ve reached a point where socialising doesn’t feel so hard. I’ve got a few friends who I feel comfortable relying on, and I’m confident in my ability to meet new people when I need to. Here’s a few ideas that have helped me get to this point:
Unfortunately, when it comes to socialising, a lot of what helps is putting in the hours. In the beginning it felt like torture to force myself out of my comfort zone, but this was the only way I could get over my fear. I started saying yes to any invitation I got, to a party or an art exhibit or lecture. I started looking on Meetup.com and attended events where I didn’t know anyone! I figured that if I somehow made a complete fool of myself, I didn’t ever have to see these people again. Luckily, it never went that badly!
Using Awkwardness to My Advantage
Early on in my experimentation, I learned a little trick that turned out to help a lot. I found that if I addressed my sense of awkwardness in a joking way, people would often relate, and it eased my internal pressure to act “perfectly” at all times. It also helped me to see that other people don’t feel 100% confident at all times either! We are all just humans doing our best to connect, and if other people expect me to be extroverted at every moment, they’re probably not the people for me.
Even after I managed to make friends, I still felt I couldn’t send them a message or ask them to hang out until they instigated it. Yes, I was afraid of rejection, but my biggest fear was annoying people. With time, I realised this was a huge flaw in the way I approached relationships, because I was denying my friends the same sense of security that I wanted from them. Other people don’t want to be in one-sided relationships where they have to reach out every time, so I made an effort to become a more active participant!
At a certain point in my friendships, there seemed to be an invisible barrier that I couldn’t get beyond. My friends didn’t seem comfortable opening up to me about deeper emotional things. I happened across the idea that vulnerability is the key to connection, and that most people are desiring these deeper conversations while still being afraid to start them. Deciding to test the waters, I started opening up about some of my own struggles. With time, this lead to breaking new ground with friends I’d had for years, creating a more secure bond and a sense that we could share our whole selves with one another.
When I write this here it all sounds like a neat, linear process, but rest assured that I took many steps forward, backward and sideways along the path. I’ll never be the queen bee with a million friends and acquaintances, and honestly that sounds far too tiring for my lifestyle! However, I’ve become confident that my social skills will keep me connected to other people and prevent the sense of isolation that I felt for so long.