Saturday, May 18, 2013

The Strange Impossibility of Making & Keeping Friends

Today I had a major realization. Though I’m proud of the many difficult and painful obstacles I’ve overcome in my thirty+ years on this earth, there is one particular theme I haven’t quite mastered: making and keeping friends.
I often still feel inside like that little girl, sitting on the bumper of my mum’s Subaru, aware of the neighborhood children playing nearby but avoiding direct eye contact with them, hoping they’d one day, magically, invite me to play along with them.
After all, I had so much to share. Perhaps I’d just read a fascinating portion of the Encyclopedia and was brimming with facts about the magnetic fields of the sun. Wouldn’t they be absolutely captivated? Or what about the newest dog breed additions to the American Kennel Club? Surely they’d be intrigued.
Or not.
“Hey you! Do you want to play with us?” I’d imagine them saying—a fantasy image reflective of an old Disney film or possibly a television commercial for a horrid sugary fruit juice substitute. I believed if I imagined this benevolent invitation enough in my mind, it would eventually occur.
It didn’t.  
Yet I knew then I was never interested in kickball or flag football or tag of any sort. I had no interest in being loud and obnoxious or causing trouble. But I knew I wasn’t particularly pleased with sitting alone all the time.  
Today, I’m much the same. I have no interest in drinking, partying, or being surrounded by large gatherings of people. Smaller gatherings around a theme such as dinner, board games, or charity work are fun. I’d rather drink tea, read books, listen to the ocean, walk in nature, travel, play with my dogs, or enjoy quality, one-on-one time with the few I am lucky enough to be close with.
For those of us who fall on the introspective side of things, chit-chat is not an option. It is a bloody waste of time, it’s senseless, and creates a challenging obstacle course when making a daring attempt to get to know another being. Yes, I know . . . it’s been abnormally hot out lately and there are guys making a hell of a lot of money running back and forth on wooden floors throwing round objects into netted hoops. What does that have to do with you and me and where we fit into this world? How will we know if we are worth each other’s time when we spend the first fifteen minutes of meeting discussing mindless, heartless, gutless non-topics? And oftentimes that brief fifteen-minute encounter is a solitary one, so I‘d just assume get down to business straight away and forego all the nonsense.
Who are you?
And I’ve tried. I really have. When I’ve attempted to try on for size this chit-chat business, I end up with a mouthful of blah and have no idea how to counteract the near nuclear disaster of what may have slipped out. For instance, today I was volunteering at my local Humane Society. Another volunteer had announced she’d be adopting one of the long-term residents of the shelter that day and after the rest of us celebrated this exciting news with yays and smiles, I decided to attempt to start a conversation with the woman. Though I wanted to ask what breed the dog was, the dog’s age, and inquire about its background and temperament, I assumed that enthusiastic line of questioning might not be appropriate after only knowing the woman for all of two minutes (I wouldn’t fancy being perceived a know-it-all). I thought I’d try chit-chat. The jumbled words that escaped my mouth made me want to sink into a hole in the ground and hide until everyone went home and I could return to my car unharmed.
And then she avoided me the rest of the afternoon.
I couldn’t cease silently repeating what I had uttered, and silently attempting better options in my mind of what I could have said.
There are many potential friends I’ve met through my husband, or through work, or via the long-term friend I’ve managed to keep since childhood. I maybe found these people interesting or incredibly kind or possibly even somewhat like-minded and added them as ‘friends’ on a social networking site in an attempt to keep in touch and maybe foster a real friendship, an attempt at broadening the circle and having fulfilling conversations. Nine times out of ten my attempts to reach out or check in have gone unanswered.
Maybe they are all excessively busy people. Intelligent people typically are.
Or . . .
Am I overzealous? Am I overwhelming? Am I simply too much for people? Do the women find me odd or un-relatable? Do the men find me inappropriate or think I’m flirting? Surely I mustn’t be completely repulsive. My personal line of self-questioning has greatly matured from ‘Am I too ugly?’ but I had to admit to myself today that it is still present. And I want to not care. And I want to not be bothered. And sometimes I’m not, really. And I wonder how many others are out there feeling like the little girl sitting on the Subaru station wagon bumper without the slightest clue as to how to make a valuable, permanent, thriving connection, even at thirty-eight. 


Fan said...

..." I decided to attempt to start a conversation with the woman. Though I wanted to ask what breed the dog was, the dog’s age, and inquire about its background and temperament, I assumed that enthusiastic line of questioning might not be appropriate after only knowing the woman for all of two minutes (I wouldn’t fancy being perceived a know-it-all)."
I disagree with your decision to NOT ask what breed the dog was, background, etc. I think she would have loved to have talked about that. That wouldn't make you a "know-it-all," it would have shown your interest. Your both at a shelter and she just adopted a dog. That gives you both a common bond. As for the "chit-chat," it's difficult to comment on that because you don't say what that was. If you could share that, maybe we could comment. You are easily "likeable," so I am curious as to why you DO get the responses you mention. Are you SURE she responded in a "strange" way? This seems like (now that you're an adult), something you could attack as a research project and actually find out why. Perhaps the next time, you COULD ask her those questions, i.e., how is your new adoption going? What breed is he, etc., etc. I've been with you out in the public. You have no problems relating to people, so I'm not getting it. :(

Anonymous said...

you are not the only one, take some cold comfort from that if you can.

Brandy Nightingale said...

Good for you for disagreeing. I wish it were that easy for me. Fact is, I've learned from experience that when I go in with my zealous questions, people back off really quickly. What I meant to say to her was "Have you worked with Holly (the dog) a lot before deciding to adopt her?" Because I wanted to see if she had been walking her as a volunteer and if she fell in love with her from that or if she had begun volunteering yesterday because she saw Holly once and decided to start volunteering. What actually came out of my mouth was, "Have you met Holly before?" Ugh. This is what happens. The nervousness creeps in and my words get jumbled and shortened and blah. So she looked at me like I was crazy and said, "Yes, of course I've met her. Once." I tried to explain what I was trying to say, but she then quickly walked away to the other side of the group. When I attempted (3 times) to walk toward her again to clarify what I was trying to say, she turned her back toward me or started up a conversation with someone else, all the while looking at me strangely. Would I make that up? You say I'm easily likeable—I've known you since I was 4. Do you remember my mumbling, my lack of eye contact, my nervousness, my constant fear? It's NEVER been easy for me to meet new people. It takes years for me to feel slightly comfortable. My research project started at least 20 years ago and the results were an Autism diagnosis. If you are interested in understanding me, please read up on Asperger's or listen to what I am saying in my writings and trust that I'm speaking the truth. When you ask "are you sure?" . . . why would I write it if I wasn't sure? Could I have been wrong? Absolutely. But in my mind, I was sure. And part of having Asperger's (for some) is not being able to read facial expressions. It was the avoidance I was mainly paying attention to. But the uncomfortable expression on her face looked to me as if she was trying to get away from the young girl who must be on drugs. LOL.

Unknown said...

Ohmygod! You are giving me so much insight and reviving memories of my daughter growing up. And grown. She rarely told me how things were from her perspective, but I'm seeing it now. When as a little girl she sat in the window, watching the other kids, pulling out her eye lashes and saying she can't go play with them, there are bees out there. But she could catch a hummingbird in mid-air and read the encyclopedia to it for hours.
You are a gifted writer, and a gifted teacher. Thank you for sharing.

Brandy Nightingale said...

Thank you for your kind words and I'm glad I could give you some insight. Your daughter sounds amazing. I can picture so clearly this magical little girl befriending a hummingbird and teaching the little soul about the solar system out of the Encyclopedia! I was afraid of bees too then, as I had been stung and had a terrible reaction. I've since made peace with them. :^)