I'm the Girl Who Sucks at Making - and Keeping - Friends, and I'm Fine with That
I'm perfectly fine with having friendships that actually align more with society’s definition of an acquaintanceship.
In high school, it’s pretty common to have a very “friend-centric” life. After all, seeing your friends every day is the one thing that actually makes school worth going to. You can’t imagine spending a Friday night without them, or making any major decision, like whether or not to ask out that cute boy in your chemistry class, or dye your hair purple, without consulting them first. They’re such a huge part of your life that if you were to lose any of them, it would feel as if everything was falling apart.
I definitely used to feel this way, and when high school ended, I did end up losing touch or even having falling-outs with people I’d once considered my closest friends. When I started college in a new town where I was the only person from my state, let alone my high school, a stunning realization hit me like a train: I have no idea how to make friends.
It didn’t help, of course, that I saw everyone around me settling into close-knit little groups, people who were with their packs so often that it was odd to see them walking alone—people I could only assume were forming the kinds of deep connections I longed to find with someone. It wasn’t like I didn’t try, and I did finish my first year with a few people I could call good friends, but I still found myself wondering how it seemed so easy for other people to have formed entire groups of best friends.
Over the next few years, I would face more social challenges. In the second half of my freshman year, I was lucky enough to be “adopted” by a group, one member of which I ended up rooming with for the remainder of the year since the two random girls I was initially paired with made being in my own room a miserable experience. Another ended up being my roommate the following year. All the while, though, I still couldn’t shake this feeling that something was missing, that I was that one piece of the puzzle that didn’t quite fit, that I still lacked that closeness and deep connection I wanted. In my sophomore year, I met my boyfriend, whom I’m still with today, and was sort of naturally assimilated into his group of friends, which later proved to be disastrous and toxic to both of our mental health. Junior year, things finally started to improve a bit, and many of the people I got to know during those two years are the ones I now consider some of my close friends. Why, then, do I still feel insecure in those relationships 99% of the time, like I have to be careful not to lean too hard on or reveal too much to these people? Why can’t I seem to put the same kind of trust and faith I used to put in EVERYONE back when I was first trying (and ultimately failing) to make new friends those first few months of college? Society drills it into our heads that we should talk to our friends about EVERYTHING that's going on in our lives—the good, the bad, and the ugly—because no matter what, they’ll always provide the emotional support you need. Why can’t I just believe that, let myself surrender, and be vulnerable?
Because I’m afraid. I’m cautious because I've had so many friendships fail in the past—people I did let myself be vulnerable in front of, people whose companionship I invested everything I had into nurturing and cultivating—only to have it all fall apart in the end. It still makes me uncomfortable to know that there are people I’ll likely never be close with again walking around with a piece of me, with knowledge about my life and the inner workings of my mind, that I can never take back. I’m cautious because I know all too well what can happen when you get too comfortable and too settled in a friendship. I’m ashamed of my past, of how dependent I used to be on other people for my own sense of worth. I used to view everyone I had any sort of remotely positive interaction with as a potential lifelong friend, and that over-attachment and infatuation with people ultimately proved to be detrimental to my relationship with myself, something I never really gave any thought to in the past. I think about the girl who took me for an L ride in her car right after my ex and I had a blowout fight, the one I barely knew, but somehow felt comfortable enough to let her see me broken-down, and perceived this as some grand gesture of friendship that would lead to something lasting, especially since we had the Same Taste in Music. I think the time I took a walk around campus late at night with a relatively new friend and didn’t think twice about revealing my entire history with my ex, and where things presently stood. I think about the conversations I had with random girls in my classes, trying to squash the hope that was already creeping into my heart that more conversations, or an invitation to hang out, would follow. And then I think about those people who I once thought would be my best friends for life, the ones who used to show every sign that they felt the same way, and expressed their love for me in all the ways that mattered to me, and then changed into completely different people with whom I could no longer feel that connection. Those are the relationships, I think, that scarred me the most—and the reason why I’ll never be able to love (platonically) in quite the same way ever again.
When I take a look at the friends I have now, as well as those once closer-than-close friends who I loved and trusted with every part of me that I eventually had to let go, I can’t help but notice that I still didn’t really “make” them—we sort of just ended up floating into each other’s lives, and our relationships happened naturally, organically, without any warning or formal initiation by either party, and maybe that’s why they occasionally feel a bit flimsier and less set-in-stone than I used to think I wanted. But just because I’ve got a few people who’ve been pretty consistent mainstays in my life for a couple of years now or even longer, whom I feel things are going well with, doesn’t mean I’m going to let myself fall back into my old habits, cozying up to these people as if there’s no chance they could ever leave, showering them with love and affection, and following up every hangout, every conversation, every joke, with “see, this is why we’re best friends.” Maybe in the past I believed that being vulnerable like that, tearing down your walls and getting beyond the surface with people by showing them all the parts of yourself, even the ones you don’t like very much, and somehow being able to trust that your they’ll see past your flaws and your relationship can still be a great one regardless, was the key to keeping friends, but I know better now. I know that sort of behavior is rarely reciprocated—in fact, it’s often taken advantage of—and even when it is reciprocated, there’s still no guarantee that things won’t ever change. I know that all too well from personal experience. Could I try going out on a limb and taking a few risks with my current friends? Perhaps, but frankly, I don’t want to take that chance anymore. I don’t want to be that girl rushing to find someone to vent to whenever something upsets me just because society tells us we should be seeking that kind of support from our close friends. (I know there’s a chance the interaction will end with me feeling disappointed or unsatisfied, and that they most likely wouldn’t run to me with a problem, which would just reinforce my mental role as the subordinate in every relationship.) I don’t want to be that girl who opens up about anything and everything, just because I’ve convinced myself I’ll feel better if I talk to a friend about it. (Just FYI, my goal here is not to be a total hardheaded, cold-hearted, independent-to-a-fault bitch who can’t ever admit she needs help with anything—I do have a therapist I see on a regular basis and have been since I was 11.) Besides, if things feel good in my current friendships the way they are, why mess with that? I’m fine with getting together every once in a while—hanging out and texting constantly would feel like overkill. I’m more than fine with not being so quick to reveal my deepest, darkest secrets to people. And I’m especially fine with acknowledging my friends’ flaws instead of viewing them as all-perfect, almighty beings who could never ever possibly hurt or betray me, idealizing them and raising them up on pedestals in that way (ultimately at the expense of giving myself the same sort of love). In short, I'm perfectly fine with having friendships that actually align more with society’s definition of an acquaintanceship.
People have tried to tell me that I need to make new friends if that’s how I feel, to which I reply, A) I still don’t know how, and B) I disagree. Learning not to get so attached to people is one of the best things that could have happened to me. Someone shared a quote with me about 2 years ago that really changed my life and my way of thinking: “you can’t pour from an empty cup.” I used to channel all of my energy, all of my being into raising up other people, which meant I had none left for myself. As for those people who feel they’ve found the platonic soulmate, ride-or-die, separated-at-birth, can’t-imagine-life-without type of best friends that society and popular media always glorify, that’s great if that’s what makes them happy, but I can’t help but feel afraid for them that centering their whole lives around their friends is hurting them in ways so subtle they won’t realize it until the damage is done. Learning to be more guarded and less “friend-centric,” for me, equaled learning to love and respect myself, something I was never able to do before. It’s made me okay with the fact that people change, people leave, people are fallible and inherently flawed, and most people aren’t actually meant to be in your life forever. It’s made me better at being alone, and at toughening up, dusting myself off, and carrying on when something bad happens, instead of seeking that kind of help from someone else who just might not be emotionally equipped to give it, fueling a vicious cycle of compulsive reassurance-seeking. I mean no offense to any of my current friends by writing this, nor do I want anyone to think I’m giving them a watered-down version of the friend I used to be, but being that friend was detrimental to my self esteem, and now, nobody comes before me, which is the way I hope my friends are all thinking too. We’re busy, working adults now anyway, and we *should* be striving to be more emotionally independent and cultivating strong relationships with ourselves above all else—after all, at the end of the day, the only person you can truly rely on is you. Have I completely mastered the art of taking care of myself? No, but I’m much more likely to focus my efforts on building my career and my future than on friendships that, no matter how close or good they may get, still always have the potential to fizzle our just as unexpectedly as they began. I’m the girl who used to have a very unhealthy idea of how to make and keep friends, and I’ve never been so happy to have let that idea go. If you’re feeling a bit socially lost right now, my hope for you is that you, too, will eventually come to the realization that while the accepted societal definition of “best friends” might seem like all that matters in life, there’s something that’s far more valuable—feeling happy and content with the person *you* are, the one who really will be with you until the end.