My own friendship complex

Yesterday morning I woke up too early for a weekend: 5 a.m.

I decided not to fight it and try to go back to sleep, but instead turned to my phone and started scrolling through my Google feed. I found this story on Man Repeller written by Haley Nahman about why it’s so hard to make friends as an adult:

The catalyst for my spiral was a reappraisal of my social life and the re-emergence of a latent, enduring belief that mine has never measured up. It only took a few days for the idea that I didn’t have enough friends in New York to take shape in my mind and solidify into a dense gray cloud that followed me everywhere. It was a familiar feeling — friendship insecurity has troubled me most of my life — but its persistence into adulthood felt ominous. How was I still here?

Me too. How am I still here?

Maybe I romanticize childhood friendships too much, or maybe I thought friendships would get easier going into adulthood, but both expectations resulted in deep loneliness and dissatisfaction.

I think people (incorrectly) think that childhood friendships were so easy – “Hey, you like Barbies? You wanna play Barbies with me?” “Yeah! Let’s be friends!” – and when middle school and puberty hits, the mean girls and jocks emerge and destroy all that whimsy with a hearty reenactment of Lord of the Flies, but with less murder.

That’s simply not true. I have vivid memories of boys singing “Pop goes the weasel” at me until I cried. Another time during recess I was hanging out with a girl who I thought was a friend when she asked me, “Why are you following me?”

I appreciate that Nahman doesn’t romanticize childhood friendships. She acknowledges that the early childhood structure of friendship is rather unstable, and that she has yet to meet an adult who hasn’t had some kind of complex left over from high school.

Social insecurities seem to carry a disproportionate amount of shame as a result. The fear of friendlessness is deep-seated, codified into our malleable brains at too vulnerable an age to be easily dismantled. I feel fairly certain this is true, and yet, like the human-shaped pile of contradictions that I am, I still manage to believe everyone’s fine and definitely hanging out without me.

There’s a strange, sad irony to all this: everyone’s lonely and isolated, but nobody’s talking about it. Everyone’s feeling vulnerable, but we just keep up the facade that everything is okay.

If childhood insecurities scar us into adulthood, modern media seems to only deepen those wounds. Every day on our social feeds, we watch as people publicly curate their lives, feeding a constant stream of invisible omissions which, while understandable, present a false reality. Movies and shows don’t help either, with their charming ensemble casts that meet twice a week — once for brunch, once for drinks. Who’s living like that?

Add to all that the recent focus on female friendships in the mainstream which, although wonderful for many reasons, has also given what are complex, messy relationships a sort of invincible, performative sheen. Maybe some people really do have that perfect, evergreen kind of friendship, but I would guess it’s less common than we think.

I’m so grateful for the focus on female friendships. It’s been a long time coming, and I have had some of the most meaningful relationships in my life come from my female friends. But the pendulum has swung so far in the other direction that I feel like a failure for having less friends than fingers on one hand, and sometimes even those friendships are not without their flaws.

I’m actively working on making friends wherever I can: I get along with everyone on my team at work, I communicate with the family members who I know will reciprocate, and I hang out with the two friends that I do have.

But it’s a constant work in progress, and sometimes I break down and I cry.

Which is why this article resonated with me. So if you haven’t read it yet, I strongly recommend you do, and then go reach out to someone and keep trying to make friends with people, even when it feels impossible.

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