My kids are still away, visiting the mystical land of Missouri, the land of their father’s upbringing and home to some of their most favorite people on the planet. I had set up plans with friends every day my children were out of town, and then summarily dismissed them with the stomach flu. Being left to myself, completely alone in a quiet house and too sick to do much besides lay still and try not to vomit, I realized that a small but definitive part of myself was grateful for the forced cancellations. You see, I am secretly convinced that I am a terrible friend. I am great at making a lot of friends, people who can count on me for advice and love, to bring over a hot meal or call their ex boyfriend a douche canoe. But in truth, I am really terrible at maintaining friendships- my fears of not being good enough, of falling on the wrong side of the line between quirky and weird, take over and convince me to distance myself from people before they see my shortcomings and decide to bail.
Since moving to Michigan I have formed new friendships and revived childhood friendships with amazing, smart and talented women. I have spent the last two years trying to find my tribe, to find the people that make my life make more sense in the context of their own struggles and triumphs. The thing of it is, many of these friendships are moving past the courting stage of friendships, past the feeling each other out for similarities and differences, past the initial compatibility questions and reminiscing of our pasts. Now is when the part of friendships occurs where you can just be present with each other, not try too hard and just let life and happiness happen in communion with others. But my inner insecurities and fears of inadequacy keep pushing fear to the top of my throat, fear of not being interesting enough or kind enough or selfless enough or or or… you get the picture.
Tonight, in a bold move to feel more secure in my ability to be a good friend, I am hosting a girl’s night at my house. I have six awesome ladies coming over with wine and snacks and friendship. Why can’t I resist the urge to make ice breaker games and have a silly hat contest? I so want to make an itinerary, create games and contests and ensure through proper planning that the only moments of silence will result from mouths full of food, the only awkwardness present at the end of the night when I am too tired to keep going but am unsure how to ask people to leave.
The evolution of friendship confuses me. In elementary I was so clueless about maintaining friendships that most were like flares- popping up and burning bright for a very short period of time, disappearing as quickly as they arrived. In middle school I was the girl hell bent on alleviating the social constraint of cliques and decided to tackle society’s ills by hosting enormous parties where at least 2 representatives from each group were invited to attend. I was also a bit of a kisser, using my cross-clique dating strategy (date ‘em all was sort of my motto) as a mode of ingratiating myself with everyone in the school. In high school I had my band friends, my wrestling team friends, my youth group friends, my neighboring suburb friends and my friends from vacations past. I kept the flare version of friendship, though. I would pop into someone’s life and become overwhelming, spending every waking moment with someone until they were annoyed with me and needed space. I was the quintessential clingy girlfriend of friendships- I was a smotherer.
In a fit of overzealousness I decided to go far away to college and start over. My first real gaggle of girlfriends, the first time I always knew without asking who my weekends would be spent with and that I would never be alone was in college. We had a great group of ladies that were always doing something. I honestly think this was the first time I was authentically myself with friends. I am still friends with most of those ladies, but we are now spread out across the world living new adventures.
Getting married at 23, having our first child at 25, I was thrown into a completely new life. Somewhere in this transition I began to forget how to be comfortable in social situations. Our marriage and kids took over my life and by 29 I felt self-conscious and awkward even around my closest of friends. I longed for my early self-confidence, of feeling like I was worthy of friendship. I never stopped seeing myself as a good person; I mostly just stopped seeing myself as interesting enough to warrant friendships of merit. My work to end homelessness in Chicago made for great cocktail conversations but earned me a few labels of pretentiousness. My attachment to the attachment parenting model we were using with our kids sounds like nails on a chalk board to people not yet even thinking about starting their family. I began to feel desperate.
Feeling desperate for a type A personality like me means one thing only- its time to make lists and plans and contingency itineraries. I need to control my controllables. I started writing out and memorizing thoughtful one-line statements about current events and popular TV shows. I always proposed playing games or cards in social situations as a mechanism for being busy. I had several reasons to bid adieu to the group should I start to feel overwhelmed and desire an early return home.
This takes us back to the present, this moment in my life where I am determined to prevent my insecurities from prematurely ending friendships. I wish I could go back in time to the moment when I stopped believing I deserved real friends and give myself a pep talk, but instead I will settle for doing the Stuart Smalley voice in the mirror and reminding myself that I really am good enough, smart enough and doggone it people like me.