On why it's hard to make friends

Lately, I’ve been spending a lot of time with a coworker of mine. This is a person who “makes friends easily.” When she walks into a room, she makes it her mission for everyone to like her. It’s not pleading or needy - or at least, if it is, she’s good at hiding it. No, instead it feels like a game; it’s as if she walks in to a room, surveys the crowd, and thinks, Psh. I can win this one.

She also told me that whenever she enters a new place - yesterday, it was a bar - she immediately begins thinking of possible ways to escape. She challenges herself to come up with five or ten creative ways she can exit the building. I first made sure that she was never locked in her own basement as a child (check) and that she grew up in a safe neighborhood (also check). Afterwards, I cautiously suggested the front door as an ideal exit strategy in most places. She told me that the front door is “too easy.” I told her that leaving isn’t a game.

To be fair, when I enter a new place, I’ve typically already divined an exit strategy. No sooner do I make plans than I consider how I’ll know when they’re over. It has little to do with whether I’m enjoying myself; I can be having a whole lot of fun, and still want to know exactly when, why, and how it will all end.

I’ve always found it a challenge to make friends. My coworker told me that, whenever she talks to a new person, she immediately tries to relate to them. She’ll “Yes and” whatever comes out of their mouth. I, in contrast, am a "No because" kinda gal. I look for the differences. (You know - kind of like I’m doing now, with my coworker.) Tell me what’s true for you, and I’ll tell you why it isn’t true for me.

Terminal uniqueness - that ongoing, reality-resistant state of feeling other. I’m the person who stares at a distance, equal parts curious, disdainful, jealous, and confused, as girls line up in pictures, hands on hips, elbows jutted-out to make themselves appear deceptively angular or curvaceous, or whatever it is they really aren’t. Where did they learn that? They’re somehow always the right amount late, or the right amount tipsy - the right amount into sports, the right amount detached. Their lipstick is always either off or on, but never in that weird, unflattering, crusty stage of “in between.”

On one hand, I know these girls exist. On the other, I know that - at least on the outside - I’m one of them. (Minus the lipstick. Mine's a wreck.) When I was 14, and in the heydey of my first bout with anorexia, my dad dropped me off at school one morning. He saw me slouch into the school, head down, and disappear among the hoards of kids. I virtually disappeared alongside the girls from whom I felt so different, around whom I felt so chronically alone.

A few days later, my dad offhandedly remarked on something I hadn’t noticed - something I couldn’t notice. I think he was trying to make a joke, an observation, trying to relate (a tall order when I am anorexic, and you are neither food nor the absence of food). He said that we all looked the same. Dressed exactly the same. Myself included. For someone who believed themselves to be terminally unique, I sure did blend in with the crowd.

Perception is a funny thing. It was my self-perception which made alcohol feel necessary. It was the feeling that I was other, that alcohol alone could bridge the massive divide between me and everyone else. When I drank, I could see clearly that we were more-or-less all wearing the same clothes. Drunk, I could place a confident hand on my hip, knowing intuitively that when this picture was uploaded to Facebook, I would look conclusively like every other girl there. Drunk, I knew that I had overestimated the differences - that, externally, there were none.

Photo by Brooke Cagle on Unsplash

Sober, I am still figuring this out. Sometimes, I stare at the way women make friends with other women, and I am mystified. What. Am. I. Missing? I’ve had a lot of close friends, most of them girls, and yet I still often feel flummoxed when I sit down across from one of them. There are a million questions I want to ask, of course - and 90% of them are nosey, or random, or just plain weird. I want to ask, How does it feel to be in your body today? I want to ask, What’s really bothering you? I’m curious, Are you really happy with your partner, or is it just better than being alone? How are you managing the feeling of not being enough? Right before you fall asleep: what do you do with your brain?

I don’t say any of that. Please. They’d soon be divining an exit strategy themselves. Instead, I say: How’s the job? Any new guys in your life? Did you find a new apartment yet? What kind of dry shampoo do you use?

That sucks. That’s stressful. That’s awesome. Good for you. Me too.

We are all wearing the same clothes. We are slamming our lockers shut, and we are finding our seats before the bell. In perfect unison, it seems - as if it were choreographed - we together feel quite alone.

For something which isn't real, "other" sure has a tight hold on us.