A Thorn amidst the Roses, James Sant (1820–1916)
A Thorn amidst the Roses, James Sant (1820–1916)

“Am I fawning?” “Do I look too desperate? Am I trying too hard?” “Am I being weird and needy or clingy?”

These are thoughts that constantly plague me, and have, ever since that day in first grade when Natalie W. told me to leave her alone and stop trying to be her friend. (I had thought that maybe the two least popular girls in Mrs. Holbrook’s class should be friends, but apparently, I was a moron for thinking so.) I remember feeling a little bit hurt by the exchange, but somehow it also felt inevitable. I had come to believe that, at six years old, I was hopelessly unfriendable–and to my young mind at the time, this humiliating exchange proved my theory beyond the shadow of a doubt. I gave up all attempts at making friends after that, and it would be a very long time before I gave it another shot.

That is not to say I never had any friends, but the companions I had were usually girls that decided, for whatever reason, to make friendly overtures to me. On my first day of fourth grade, it was already several weeks into the school year; I was new to the class, and the school, and the state of Florida as we had just moved to the southeast from Ohio. A frizzy-headed blonde girl with watery blue eyes took it upon herself to immediately become my friend. M. was a rather large girl; she was, in fact, the largest human I had ever seen. But I didn’t care what she looked like. I didn’t care that her family lived in a crowded mobile home that smelled weird and they drank bitter yellow grapefruit juice for every meal (they were constantly dieting, as they were an entire family of rather large people) and that they took me to stupid boring church every Sunday, and that all my new friend M. ever talked about was Kirk Cameron, who I quite frankly thought was a curly-headed goon. Nope, I went along with all of it–I finally had a friend and, dammit, I wasn’t going to do anything to screw it up!

M. and I stayed friends for my remaining years of elementary school, and we had big plans for middle school– but they were soon to be derailed. During my first week of seventh grade as I was shuttling between classes, trying to figure out how my locker worked, how not to get noticed by the wrong people, and myriad other details that I still dream about once a week,  I felt a tap on my shoulder, and a note was thrust between my fingers. Intrigued, I skimmed its contents. In a bold, looping hand was a frenzied note of introduction and flattery. The writer commented on how much they loved my hair and clothes (huh? I hardly ever washed my hair and I was going through a ratty jeans and tee-shirt phase), and by the way, was that me they saw at the heavy metal concert the other night, hanging out with the band? (Uhh? No? I wasn’t allowed to go to concerts, let alone hang out with skeezy dudes twice my age) I didn’t even catch a glimpse of this person, and I didn’t know what to think, and thus began a friendship that throughout its development often felt just as confusing and fraught with as many such moments of “how is this even happening?” as it did at its inception.

V., I was to learn, was a bit of a trouble-maker. A mediocre student with a big mouth, who was always talking trash to the popular girls who looked down on her, she was a sassy whirlwind, and I often thought, much too wild to continue being friends with boring, quiet me–yet she adored and idolized me in a way that I have never encountered since. At the time I thought it was maybe because she coveted the way I lived; my family was in a lower-middle-class sort of situation, but in many ways, we may have been better off than they were. Her family lived,  literally, on the other side of the tracks, the wrong side. They were what I thought of at the time as, “poor people”…which had a thrilling, sort of illicit ring to it and looking back now I wish someone had given me a talking to about how incredibly insensitive and irresponsible it was to romanticize such a thing. Wow, all of this is so uncomfortable to confront and write about now. But back then all I knew was that when I’d visit her home, no way were they going to make me eat a Weight Watchers burrito and a sadly dressed salad for dinner– it was deep-fried fish and french fries and buckets of iced tea so sweet we’d be buzzing around and off the walls until way past midnight.

V. took me to parties where there were boys and beer (gross and grosser; I was a late developer); she convinced me to skip school and see big hair heavy metal bands down on the boardwalk during the era when Daytona was a big destination for crazy college spring breaks; she began an affair with her aunt’s boyfriend when she was 13 (he was 28). At 16 she met a construction worker at a bus stop while she was skipping school, and shortly thereafter she was pregnant. After that there was no more school for V. And no more V. for me.

In both instances, these friends were strangers who approached me, and, not having any better options at the moment, my instinct was, “well, why not?” As such, I suppose I wasn’t as invested in the relationships as I could have been, and when we drifted apart, my response was most likely a shrug and an “oh well.” I never pushed for strengthening our bonds or for making things work, or for another chance. I just let it go.

I’m afraid I do this still in many areas of my life, but I will get back to my thoughts on that after this brief but related next tidbit. I did manage to snag one more best friend in my early 20s. We met through a mutual friend who had organized an evening for us all to meet up and make sushi together, which sounds like a fun, nice way to get to know someone new, right? Facilitated through the buffer of someone you already know? Sounded like a fine idea to me. Well, the mutual friend never showed up. Instead, I spent the evening in a stranger’s kitchen, just the two of us awkwardly warming up to each other while shaping rice and fish into sushi rolls and trying to figure out why our other friend flaked. Nearly twenty years later we still don’t know the answer to that, but I am profoundly grateful to her for she introduced me to the most fascinating, fabulous, complex, and complicated human I have ever met, whom I love with all my heart, and who became my dearest friend in the world. I know it’s a cliché to say so, but in the course of our friendship, although we have had our ups and downs, we have always managed to work them through and emerge from them stronger and more devoted to each other than before. And that’s what’s so wonderful with this particular friendship: when things get weird, or wrong, or challenging, I didn’t just say, “oh well” and walk away. I actually cared about it. About her. About us! And it big-time breaks my heart to think of a life without my dear BGF, so I will always fight to keep her in it.

My M.O. for a long time was to let go, to walk away, to “oh well”.  At this point in my life, although I’ve gotten better at the initial legwork of making friends, it’s the part that comes after the befriending that stumps me. And really, that’s the whole reason I started writing this. A friend on facebook requested some feedback from their friends about something or other…and I was too shy to chime in with a public comment, so I sent her a DM instead. But that got me to thinking…I notice that I don’t comment on a lot of my friends’ stuff– whether it’s on Facebook, or twitter, or Instagram…I oftentimes feel that my commentary or feedback or hell, even my vaguely applied emoji might be taken as too clingy, or needy, and then someone thinks I’m a fawning, bootlicking toady.

As it relates to blossoming friendships, that’s where this fear of neediness and desperation trips me up. How soon to reach out again once we’ve discovered that “hey! we’ve got some things in common and want to be friends!” How much is too much? What sort of continued overtures does one make? How do you build that into something more meaningful? I still haven’t figured that out, really.

I don’t want to be seen as trying too hard or come off as desperate, and I don’t want to think I should back off because maybe I’m innately supposed to know who is worth making the effort for, and who is not. I am not sure that I always do! As I’ve gotten older, though, it has become more important to me to make an effort; I’ve actually got more fucks to give than ever before! I just want to make sure that I’m not throwing them all at new acquaintances who might be made uncomfortable or freaked out or maybe just uninterested in all of my fucks and my genuine attempts at forging a bond and making a friend.

All this is to say, I guess, is that if you wonder why I lurk about and I don’t ever comment on your stuff online, aside from the alleged algorithms that hide your stuff from me in the first place–it’s probably because I don’t want to come on too strong or I’m afraid my earnestness is off-putting, or all the different ways I could phrase it really, just boil down to one thing: I’m scared. I’m scared you won’t like me. That maybe I am as unlikeable or unworthy as first grade me felt so many years ago. I’m just…scared you don’t want to be my friend.

If this reads like a long-winded secret diary entry that was written with the hopes someone will stumble across and read it, I guess that’s because that’s more or less exactly what it is. It feels a little mid-life crisis-y, too. I mean, maybe I should have this figured out, already, you know? Anyway, I use my blog here for a lot of things; an art gallery, a recipe book, a dream journal, a catalogue of covetations, and more recently, and for things like this, I guess it’s just a big ol’ brain dump 

Melissa Kojima says

Oh, thank you for writing that secret diary post. I too have had some strange experiences with friendship and have too often lost friends from my own ineptitude. I have a hard time fitting in, so have just decided to go at it alone most of the time.

S. Elizabeth says

"Ineptitude"! That's such a great word for how I feel about my role as a friend, sometimes. I am the most inept. There need to be classes and certifications and licenses and continuing education seminars on friendship, I think, to give the inept a leg up.

Stephanie says

Add this theme to the non existent blog post entitled: "They Don't Like You As Much As You Think They Do" and other fallacies of The World We Live In And Life In General.

lau says

<3 i know this feeling. and i'm so glad to call you my friend! its hard to be a people, that much i know is true.

Robyne says

I'm not sure how to enthusiastically agree with all of this without sounding fawning and sycophantic. (Oh em gee - sooo meta! *wink*) but yeah: "no one cares what you think" has been my self-affirmation mantra pretty much my whole life.

You are truly an incredible writer, though. You have a gift of expression.

Jennifer says

Eartha Kitt once said "I am learning all the time. The tombstone will be my diploma." None of us have it figured out, we are just stumbling along together.
In third grade my teacher sat me next to a girl who promptly said "just because you sit here doesn't mean you're my friend." I got bullied a *lot* and to this day never feel adequate with my "peers." It's okay. I'm glad you posted this. ♥ You are a lovely person and I'm glad to call you friend, even if digitally. :)

Sarah says

I found this via your Instagram, but can’t remember your screen name there so I’m commenting here. I have always and still struggle with this daily, since I was but a wee girl. The friends I do have I’m constantly worried I am over burdening or under communicating with, and I wind up either emotional vomiting all over the person to the point they can’t stand me, or staying silent until they forget about me. Thank you for making me feel less alone. You’ve got a friend in me. <3

S. Elizabeth says

Aw, thank you! I too, tend to do the "stand still and stay silent" thing, and I wish I didn't, I don't want people to forget about me and I don't want them to think I don't care! I just care SO MUCH it scares me and then I panic and turn mute. What can we do? Sigh. Well, you've got a friend in me, too! And I'm ghoulnextdoor on instagram <3

igorina says

hi! here's a comment from someone who's been lurking at your blog for years and never commented (because "oh it's really pretty!" or "yes that book looks very interesting" seems Not Important Enough to bother you with, and a comment on a personal post from a stranger who never commented on anything else seems just Wrong)
so... i hope whoever was supposed to stumble on this post DID and that all is well

S. Elizabeth says

Aw! Well, I am glad that you peeked in to say hello! I'm guilty too, of lurking and feeling like maybe my commentary is not worth all that much, but I can't tell you how happy it makes me when someone takes a moment to say anything at all...so maybe I should take my own advice ;)

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