When I was 7 years old, my mother told me that nobody was ever really my friend and that nobody would ever truly love me, that she was the only person I could count on. I was young, naïve, and impressionable, so I believed her. When I was 9 years old, I ran away from school during recess because nobody wanted to be my friend and I wanted to go see my mom—I wanted to go to a place where I felt wanted. When I was 10, I sat at my desk as one of my classmates talked about her birthday party and then felt bad when she saw I was there. I told her, “It’s okay. I already know I’m not invited.”
“How did you know?” she asked, surprised.
I was never the girl people invited to birthday parties, over to their house on the weekend, or shared secrets with. The Klutz title “My friends and Me; The Book of Us” states on the cover “Do not write in this book … by yourself.” I had no one to share it with.
As a result of not making childhood friends, I didn’t know how to socialize, and I was generally very anxious around most people. My self-love was so lacking that my desperation left me lonelier than the last dented box of off-brand cereal in the supermarket. I had so many ideals about friendship without any idea of how to really be one. I didn’t know what or how much was “normal,” and as a result, shared too much, too quickly, too often. I was so hungry for the kind of affection that comes from being accepted that I would go out of my way to please anyone who showed me the least bit of kindness.
When I was 12, I would bring in bags of candy with me to school to share with my classmates, until one morning one girl told me, “You know, we’re not friends just because you share your candy with us, right?” Needless to say, I was crushed. When I was 14 and a new girl was introduced in my science class, I offered to share my notes with her and help her catch up on anything she didn’t know. She spoke to me for about two weeks before finding cooler kids to hang out with. Another time, I spent hours making a piece of intricate line art for a girl who said she really liked my artwork but didn’t like me.
When I started working, I became more comfortable talking with people, but handling customers is different than handling friendships, and with more financial control, I started trying to buy friendship without realizing I was doing it. One Christmas I bought presents for and spent nearly half my paycheck on people I wouldn’t even be talking to three months later.
It was also difficult for me because I held so much shame. Shame about not having a normal childhood, not having normal parents or a normal relationship with them, shame about having to work to support my home, shame about the scar on my forehead and the way I looked. I felt inadequate and undeserving and undesirable. How can you have a healthy, positive relationship with another person if you don’t have one with yourself?
My first real friendships started online while playing a video game. It was an organic process that bloomed over months and years of working towards the same goals together. Being online at the time, in an age before Instagram and selfies all over the internet, also allowed me to only show the best parts of myself without having to worry about being judged for the parts I hated. My friends online thought I was smart and funny and liked my goofy sense of humor. They enjoyed my music tastes and how patient I was when it came to doing difficult tasks. They didn’t ask about my past, didn’t push when I would shy away from talking about something, and were always excited to see me log on. Even if everything else in my life felt like it sucked, I always had that to look forward to.
I wouldn’t say I was ever addicted to playing any game, but I was addicted to the feeling that playing with those people gave me. The feeling of acceptance and belonging and understanding that I had yearned for for so long. At a turbulent time in my life, when I was depressed and antisocial, it felt like the people I had through that game were all I had. I would stay up too late talking, spend all my free time logged in, and obsessively read and reply to every post on the forums.
Looking back now, I’m so thankful I had an outlet like that to hold onto and I’m so thankful for the wonderful people I met as a result of those experiences. I’m so far removed from who I was back then that it can sometimes feel like a different lifetime, but a little digging into my friendships now tells me that not everything has changed.
I’ve had some wonderful in-person friendships and often what hurt the most was that they didn’t last. As an adult, it’s difficult to find people who don’t already have awesome, established relationships. And if one of you moves away, be it to a different company or a different city, the friendship will often putter out, even if you don’t want it to. I’ve had to learn to not take it personally or make harsh declarations about the quality of the friendship while it did last. When I say that I understand that these lovely women have other family and friends that are more important than me, it’s in no way a putdown. It’s just the truth and I’ve had to learn to accept that.
Sometimes, when I spend time with people I very much enjoy, I try and engrave the present moment into my head, because I don’t know how long it’ll last. I know that’s not the way I should be thinking. I’m trying and I’m still learning.
I’m grateful for the friends I have who genuinely care about how I’m doing and share their experiences with me. The ones who call just because they miss hearing me laugh or just to catch up for a while. Truly, I am so appreciative of the people who have gotten to know me as a person and made the decision to love me despite my many imperfections. Even if it’s just for the time being. And there’s still time. Maybe one day I will find friends to fill in that Klutz book with over tacos and margaritas. The kind who will stick around no matter where I live or how many times I suggest making friendship bracelets as a fun activity.