When I was growing up I was a self-titled doormat. I was the person in the group that others typically relied on for favours and counsel, but when it was my turn, the favour was seldom returned. My mother blamed it on my inability to say ‘no’; a fault which many teenage girls adopt.
I grew up with 90’s American television culture which, being an influential teenager at the time, created a false template for the type of friendships I ought to have. I was filled with grand ideas that friendships were supposed to be sturdy, unchanging structures. The girls from The Sleepover Club showed me that it’s possible to ignite an unbreakable sisterhood no matter how different you or your interests are. And boys were a no-go zone (sisters before misters etc.). There was the fun-loving Zach Morris and his gang in Saved By The Bell, who, despite their constant disagreements, created a strong friendship which defied social constructs. Where else would the cool kid be friends with the nerd? Even Sabrina Spellman the teenage witch had a normal make-up of friends regardless of her magical secrets; albeit friendships should be open and honest. This culture gave me the impression that I ought to always have a best friend by my side, who never erred or argued with me. I went out into teenagehood expecting to be joined at the hip for life with the first person I shared lunch with and it meant I had to learn the truth the hard way – that friendships are actually fluid and fragile things that require an abundance of care and emotional nourishment.
What 90’s television culture failed to project is that friendship is a permanent and fixed structure and that my friendship expectation, by-far, contrasted strongly with my reality: friendships are fluid and fragile and require an abundance of care and emotional nourishment, regardless of what my adolescent subconscious wanted to believe.
Was I the problem?
As a teen, I was surrounded by a big group of confident girls and boys. I was slightly more reserved – I think – but I was also a hormonal post-puberty teenager who was still waiting for her boobs to come in, so that bore the brunt of the blame for all of my insecurities at the time. I never felt as though I was the friend in the group, but more-so the friend of the friend who would tag along; injecting awkwardly into conversations that didn’t really interest me.
I seemed to fall in and out of friendships at an alarming rate and eventually a pattern formed: I was befriended by someone – who was usually ‘cooler’ than me. We would be inseparable for a few months until the person adopted a newer, cooler, friend, and I would become the dreaded third wheel. This pattern repeated four or five times before my mother’s words hit home: two is company and three is a crowd. I was the person booted out of the conversations and the plans, and ultimately, I was the person that got hurt. By the time I hit my late teens the pre-adolescent euphoric ideas of friendship had rapidly diminished and I was left adrift; completely lost. Physically I was always surrounded by peers, but mentally I found little or no connection with many of the people around, and I often felt a sense of displacement, un-relatability, and loneliness. Soon I began to recognise all of my relationships were changing – those with my parents, peers, siblings, even teachers, from ones of societal norms (worrying mother, strict teacher, irritating older brothers) to ones based on honesty, loyalty, mutual respect, happiness, and love. Was this what real human connection was like? A give-and-take exchange of ideas and emotions rather than a side-kick cameo?
This year saw the separation of life-long friendships and the creation of new ones. Loss of friendship is frightening and sad, and the feelings I felt were similar to the ones I experienced while grieving a death. I clung onto my old friendships with clutches of hope. I used to feel guilty for parting ways with childhood friends and regularly questioned the choices I made. “Maybe they’ll change, maybe I’ll change”, I thought. But that was the thing; we have changed.
I’m coming to the realisation that as we grow older and start to mature that it’s okay to be picky and choosy about how we spend our time, and who we spend it with. Having various health problems has – aside from dulled my social life – taught me that I won’t have a connection with every person I meet and not everyone I meet will like me, but when I do meet a person who relates to life the way I do, the connection will be deep, meaningful, and lasting. Now that I’m in my twenties – and having experienced more than most adults twice my age – I can start to fully understand the meaning behind those words. I’m learning the difference between being alone and loneliness, and that you can surround yourself with groups of people and still feel like the most isolated person on the planet. I was told that the people you meet in your twenties will be in your life forever; I guess I’ll have to wait and see.