I posted this quote on my Facebook page a few days ago.
I realise that the words sound arrogant at first glance, as though I adhere to the belief that I can pick and choose the friends I want in my life – something that couldn’t be further from the truth. Nevertheless I like them, because they describe exactly how I feel about the truly important people in my life right now.
I was never the popular mum in the playground and with a naturally-introverted personality (although carefully disguised) and a less well-disguised introvert for a husband, close friendship has never come easy to me.
Added to which, we’ve moved around a lot as a family and where it was relatively easy to make new friends when the kids were younger, teenagers refuse outright to let you hang onto their shirt tails at school pick up. It’s even less easy to attract new friends when you’re the mum of a child with special needs and generally the class clown, although there are two sides to every story and some of my best friends are now the parents of kids with ADHD.
When I saw my oldest sister in the UK recently, she jokingly accused me of being a people-pleaser. And she was right, because I do get flattered when people take an interest in me, yet find it impossible to let them go even when it’s obvious to both of us that our relationship has moved in opposing directions.
Who doesn’t like to have friends and feel loved?
From a narcissistic, selfish perspective, one of the hardest parts about raising a child like Kurt was the closure of a whole avenue of potential friends that I felt entitled to, like the friendships I made with other mums through NC. It also meant that I had to have a strategy about developing new friendships and chase them down. Each time I’ve walked into a new office or a new playground, I’d set my sights on the group I wanted to be part of and worked at it, biding my time until things fell into place, no matter how long it took. And sometimes it took years!
I’m ashamed to admit that in my thirties I used to judge my success in life on how many friends we had and whether or not we were socially busy each weekend. Part of that was due to being a stay-at-home mum and in need of adult conversation by the weekend, but the bigger part was related to the reassurance I needed to feel valued.
I used to feel slighted when we weren’t invited to so and so’s dinner party, even though I hardly knew them. Fortunately for me I had the down-to-earthness of the man I married who always stood firmly by his principles of introversion and kicked me neatly into touch each time my insecurities threatened to get the better of me. He refused outrightly to see people on certain weekends and would score ‘KEEP FREE’ through them in the family calendar.
How things have changed over the past few years.
I’m not sure when I first realised I was happy enough in my own skin to look forward to a “free weekend” and was truly able to identify with the quote above. It has come with time and ageing, as well as circumstance. When you move to another country in your forties, the chase becomes much harder without the lifeline of school children to nudge it gently along and the people we met in Australia initially already had their “life” friends, just like we had in the UK. It was so much harder to infiltrate established groups and force them to adopt us – although luckily there are a lot of expats in Australia, and in the end we sniff each other out.
Then, when we started to go through the tough years with Kurt, I isolated myself for a while because I didn’t have the energy to socialise, entertain and pretend to be happy, nor did I want to douse everyone’s enthusiasm for their lives with our problems – although I’m sure I did.
Whenever I sensed a connection with someone new in the past, it was like a personal challenge for me to get them to notice me, but recently I’ve become much more reticent about my old ‘look at me!’ puppy dog approach. Why? Is it because I know now how much effort it takes to procure a real friendship, or is it because I’m more confident in who I am and no longer need numbers on my Facebook page to prove my worth? Perhaps it’s because I’ve finally recognised what a wonderful, eclectic band of friends we have that I can rely on to be there, indeed have been there even when I’ve been depressed and as boring AF.
The realisation that you don’t need to chase friendships or popularity is not about arrogance; it’s about maturity and understanding that the best friendships come from some luck and a lot of hard work, which is why not everyone can sit at your table.
One piece of advice I always give NC is that you have to service your real friends.
People who need to be chased never stop running.