When I was little, I was a people-pleaser. I was nice. I got along. Like anyone growing up, I wanted to fit in. If one of the cool kids gave me attention, I was proud of it, and I thought about how I could make a friendship out of it. I sought this kind of validation. I agreed to the things I should. I laughed about the things I should. I was what they needed me to be. And it didn’t feel pathetic. It felt strategic. It was code switching.
In high school I had a bout of senioritis, like we all do, and I couldn’t care less about, well, anything, except for getting into college, but after that was set, well, that was it.
And then in college, I met so many cool, strong, intelligent ladies, and I felt a renewed sense of motivation and inspiration. I wanted to be all their friends!
The first thing I noticed was about old friendships. I had begun to fall out of touch with many of my friends from high school. I came to the realisation that some of these friendships were nothing more than proximity. I’d try to keep in touch with some people, but the waits between our responses got longer and longer and would finally stop coming. Yes, I could like a photo on Facebook or Instagram, but I had no real idea of how any of them were getting on. It took me awhile to be at peace with this, to realise that we were all beginning different parts of our lives, and that it was okay.
The second thing I noticed was about new friendships. As a first year with other first years, I was excited to make new friends. This was my chance to branch out. Before they realised I wasn’t cool. There were no expectations about what “group” I should be friends with. I hung out with cool ladies that I probably wouldn’t have had the courage to hang out with before I had come to college. I listened to them talk and enjoyed their conversations, sometimes making a little remark of my own, glowing inside when it received a response. This sort of conversation could never turn into something deeper for me. Because I didn’t feel like me; I was a muted version of myself.
I found some more cool ladies (so many cool ladies in college!). And we clicked. We vibed.
All these ladies, the ones I clicked with and the ones I didn’t, had something special about them that made me want to be friends with them and spend more time in their light. But only with some of them did I click. That’s when I understood that just because we didn’t click didn’t mean that they or I were any better or worse. It didn’t mean that I wasn’t cool enough for them, as my younger self might have thought. It just meant that we vibed differently. We could both enjoy each other’s company and have a good time and good conversations, and also know that we could find the comfort of that deeper connection with different people. And it would be okay. Because we don’t need to be everything.
This helped me prioritise where to put my energy, and as an introvert with a limited amount of energy for socialising, this was very helpful. I put energy into getting to know people who I thought were interesting and might want be friends with, and who also put energy into getting to know me. If they weren’t all that interested and I was always the person reaching out, I would pull back and put my energy somewhere else that didn’t feel so draining. If they were as eager to become friends as I was, I prioritised that and would make time for them when they needed me and even when they didn’t. I became very intentional about my friendships.
To the point where I would pull back once I realised something wouldn’t last. Now I’m a junior in college and I’m realising that there will be people I keep in contact with once I graduate, and there will be people I won’t. Just like how it was at the end of high school.
So I pull back. You don’t need me. I don’t need you. I’ll get along just fine after graduation.
Maybe it’s a defense mechanism. To protect myself from feeling lonely? To protect my pride? One answer is better than the other but I’m not always the better person.
I think what I need to learn to do now is enjoy the time that we have. The present. To not worry about what happens later. To find value in friendships of all different levels. Maybe they won’t all amount to something grand in the end. But the part we have right here, right now is something.