I have a hard time making friends…and that is a massive understatement.
I don’t know how other people do it so easily. My sister (and my husband) can walk up to a complete stranger, chat them up, and walk away knowing how many kids they have, what they’re having for dinner, and what their bad habits are. Me…I have a hard time even conversing with the person ringing up my groceries. My shopping expeditions usually go something like this:
Me: “Good morning!”
Cashier: “Good morning, how are you?”
Me: “I’m okay. How are you?”
Cashier: “I’m doing okay.”
Silence. Thundering, embarrassing, overwhelming silence.
Cashier: “Thank you, have a nice day.”
Me: “You, too….”
What I cannot convey to these passing strangers is the aching loneliness that fills me when I walk away from such an exchange. How much it hurts to realize that even if that person recognizes me later, they usually won’t go out of their way to greet me because I didn’t give them enough of myself to find a connection with me.
It extends beyond such exchanges, of course. The world of social media has actually made it worse. It is terribly depressing to log into Facebook and see 250 acquaintances, and realize that there is only one person on that list (outside my family) who could show up at my door with no warning without sending me into an immediate and world-shattering panic! Everyone else…I know of them. They know of me. I know some of them follow what I do and truly care, but I am terrified to break the ice and speak to them beyond the random exchanges that happen about cat memes and political videos.
E thinks the solution to my loneliness is to “go out and meet people” and he gets very frustrated (even angry) when I try to explain that that isn’t going to solve the problem. It never has, it never will. I think seeing me struggle to interact with the other parents in our birthing class has shown him that it really isn’t that simple for me, but still we get into angry spats about it. Trust me, my love: I WANT to go out and meet people. However, I am scared…so scared that sometimes I literally curl up in a corner and cry just thinking about it. When faced with a social situation I usually feel like a four or five year old again, sitting in the corner with my thumb in my mouth, ashamed of the marker all over my face. It’s hard to approach adults on equal footing when you feel like a child. There have been so many times when a person I would like as a friend has asked if we could hang out, and even though I have desperately wanted to say “yes”, I have made up an excuse –no matter how flimsy- and stayed home. Why? Because I’m afraid….of rejection, of inevitable gossip, of making a fool of myself … the list goes on.
It took me a very long time to acknowledge that what I am experiencing is not a temporary issue. I always thought I was just shy, or that I was trying to be friends with the wrong people. “When I’m older and can go out by myself, it will get better,” was one of my favorite mantras when I was a teenager. I blamed it on the fact that I was homeschooled for a while- but my brother and both of my younger sisters were also homeschooled, and they have no issues with social settings (quite the opposite, actually). Then I tried to find contentment in the idea of being an introvert. “I like my alone time,” I told my mother one time, and she nodded understanding. The truth I have never admitted before is: I don’t. I actually really enjoy having company, but I’m scared of seeking it out. Most of my hobbies and skills are solitary, it’s true…but I like to have company while I do them. When I am alone the silence roars around me like a howling wind, and I know if it sucks me into the void no one will even notice I am gone.
I’m going to be 28 in a little less than 3 months. I am having some life problems that I can’t write about here that would be so much easier to field if I had some girlfriends…but I am terrified of talking to anyone but my mother about it. I am also expecting a baby in six weeks- that baby is going to grow into a child, and that child will want friends that I don’t know how to find for him. I want to home school him, but is it fair to do something that will inevitably stymie his social growth, given my won personal issues?
The anxiety I feel is debilitating. The loneliness is crippling. The empty hours of silence when other people would have someone to laugh with are horrifying. I am humiliated by my inability to fill a pause in a conversation without seeming too loud, or awkward, or downright rude. Why do some people seem to always know exactly what to say? Why can’t I be one of them? What is wrong with me?
My loneliness has gotten so bad that I have decided to seek professional assistance in overcoming it…but I can’t afford that right now so I have to weather a little longer without it. If I’ve made it this long, surely I can wait a few months, right? I just have to cling tight and find joy in the small things as I always have.
Having difficulty finding cheer today, but it has to be there somewhere…