One of my big goals for 2014 was to be a better friend. My tumultuous childhood gifted me with a slight awkwardness when it comes to socializing.
I’m happy enough with most of my quirks, with the exception of one blunder. I have difficulty assuming people want to hang out with me, even my friends. As such, I have spent many weekends of my life alone and lonely, taking the lack of a friendly phone call or text as a sign I wasn’t wanted.
Half way through high school, I finally realized the flaws of my logic thanks to a helpful friend. For the purposes of this article, let’s call her Beth. Beth was almost exactly like me. Along with sharing many of my interests, she also suffered from depression and low self-esteem. I saw myself in her. We mixed well, but both spent our share of weekends lonely.
Then, it dawned on me. Beth was doing the same thing I was. She sat at home, sadly waiting for the phone to ring without giving a thought to picking up the phone herself. If we both did this, how would we ever hang out together?
This realization was another step of my growing confidence. Perhaps it seems like common sense to ask someone to hang out with you, but it was a new development for me. I started calling people here and there to hang out. Turns out, most of my friends were more than happy to spend time with me. Who would have guessed? As the years went by, I eventually started college and thought I was past this poor social habit.
Fast forward to the end of 2013. I had a friend point out to me that I had a habit of not inviting her to various events and excursions. Sadly, I had not even thought of inviting her most of the time. In fact, I was right back to where I was in high school. Without giving any thought to friends who might like to do something with me, I just acted.
I had been a horrible friend.
Here was a person who valued my friendship, and yet I had done many things without considering whether she would want to join me. I hadn’t considered whether any friend would want to join me. Who did I think I was?
Since setting the goal of being a better friend, I think I have gotten better. Just last Friday, the boyfriend and I decided to see the new Captain America movie. Immediately, I suggested we invite our friends. Through that interaction, a friend who could not be there Friday invited us to hang out Saturday night. Just like that, I was able to enjoy a pleasant weekend with some of the most important people in my life.
I’m far from perfect at this whole friend thing, but I’m happy to report that I am improving. Perhaps there is hope for me, yet.
As for Beth, I haven’t seen a lot of change in her. Of the group of friends we had in high school, almost all have moved away. She, however, still lives in that small Iowa town. Honestly, I wonder and worry about her. Has she made new friends, or is she the same as when I last saw her? From my own invitation, she has come out to visit me a few times, but does she ever ask her friends to visit her? Does she call and ask about going out to visit them?
Beth and I both shared childhoods filled with an uncomfortable amount of bullying. It’s easy for me to understand how a lower self-worth contributes to a lack of socialization. To someone who hasn’t experienced that kind of self-esteem issue, her inability to reach out to others comes off in the same way it came off to my friend last year, rude and offensive. It becomes a self-fulling prophecy, hindering one’s ability to make friends.
I was lucky, then and now. Then, I saw myself in her. More importantly, I saw my own flaws in her which provided me with the motivation to change. I hope she has noticed as well and sought to change herself for the better. No one deserves to live a lonely life. Now, I am equally lucky to have friends who are willing to point out my flaws when I don’t notice them without also throwing away our friendship. I suppose it all acts as proof that practice makes perfect. Without at least attempting socialization, how would I have ever improved?
Have you, like Beth and myself, assumed that people didn’t want to hang out with you without bothering to ask? Have you been on the other side, and assumed a friend didn’t want to hang out with you because they never called? The most important question here may be, how do you tell the difference between someone who is truly rude and someone who doesn’t have the self-worth to assume people want to hang out with them?