My fingers, usually clickity-click fast on my iPhone, hovered above the screen. I knew I was making this harder than it needed to be. Yes, I had chosen to text, because the thought of having this conversation in real time was just too scary. This way, if she said no, I wouldn’t have to quickly come up with an easy breezy comeback that belied my disappointment. If she said yes, well, I hadn’t exactly thought through the next step because I could hardly make myself begin the first. I typed…and then deleted what I typed because it sounded ridiculous. Sigh. How hard can this possibly be?
The above is a play-by-play of something I did just this last week. Was I asking my boss for a gigantic raise or delivering bad news to some unsuspecting soul? Nope. I was inviting some new acquaintances over to our house for a cookout.
Many of you will not understand why I got worked up over such a simple transaction. You don’t understand because friendships are easy for you. From that day in elementary school when you locked eyes with a girl wearing the same “My Little Ponies” t-shirt to the adult days of hosting neighborhood parties and going out for “girls’ nights”, you’ve never really thought about friendships as difficult or complicated. I am not you. I envy you. I do many things well, but making friends and maintaining friendships has never felt particularly effortless or natural. I am an accomplished woman – in fact, I’ve been called “Super Woman” twice this week – but friendship is a chink in my armor.
Growing up, I usually had one friend at a time as groups were intimidating. I often felt ill-equipped to navigate the dynamics of friend groups and far preferred to focus my attention in a single direction. I attended lots of group activities (dances, ballgames, etc.), but put far too much energy into making sure I had a plan for exactly what was going to happen once I arrived, who I was going to sit with, and what we were going to talk about. I was insecure about the friendships I had and often felt like I was constantly auditioning for my role, and only made new friends if they made the first move. And, I was quite passive if and when friendships shifted off course. A few very special people floated out of my life because I didn’t know what to do in response to a rift, so I did nothing at all. While this sounds incredibly depressing, I have somehow managed to enjoy some great friendships throughout my life, and for this I’m incredibly grateful. Thank goodness for people who make the first move!
Age has provided some perspective, but I’ll admit I still struggle with insecurity. About 5 years ago, I learned I am an introvert. I’ve spent my whole life performing, speaking in public, and leading in various capacities, none of which aligned with my perceptions of an introvert. Previously, I defined an introvert as someone who is anti-social or doesn’t like to talk. Well, I get along with people really well and I talk all the time (sometimes I talk so much I have to kick MYSELF under the table). In reality, I’m a fairly typical introvert. I do most everything with some degree of anxiety and fear and require ample down time to recover from my social activities. Further, when stressed, I withdraw as opposed to engage. This insight definitely helped the world make sense, particularly where my friendship history is concerned. Knowing how my personality impacts my actions definitely helps me strike the right balance and compensate for some of my natural tendencies that are counterproductive to maintaining relationships.
Understanding why I do what I do is important to me because I place a high value on relationships and I want to get better at them. I think having people who know you inside and out is one of life’s great joys. If I was given a word association test and my flash card read “friendship,” my quick response would be “The Golden Girls. I have vivid memories of Saturday nights watching the antics of Dorothy, Blanche, Rose, and Sophia. I want that same camaraderie and I’m daily learning how to both seek and receive opportunities that take me closer to that goal.
On my journey, I have to continuously remind myself that I can’t expect everyone else to do the hard work for me. I have to push myself out of my comfort zone if I want to have deeper connections with people. I have to accept that I’m not going to wake up one day and find that my insecurity is miraculously gone, so I have to make a lot of choices throughout my days about whether I’m going to give in to the fear or push past it. I have to remove the intense pressure I put on myself to be the ideal friend and embrace the fact that friendship isn’t an “all or nothing” deal. It’s ever-changing, it’s resilient, and it’s not perfect. Just like me.
At the risk of sounding like a contestant on any one of the popular dating shows (that means you, The Bachelor), I have been working on “putting myself out there” more frequently. Last week, I eventually pushed the send button on the scary text. Our new friends came over and we had a fun afternoon/evening sharing food and easy conversation. Regardless of whether this family remains in our lives into the future or not, I feel good because I didn’t just think about how great it’d be if it happened, I actually made it happen. And for that, I give myself an A+. We’ll see how I do on the next test – wish me luck!
Does friendship have to be difficult and complicated? If you are friendship-challenged like me, how have you pushed yourself to make positive changes?