Friendship is a skill you practice

Photo by Alex

Without delving too deep into the white-bread trauma of my very happy childhood, I didn’t have a lot of friends growing up. For a few years, when I was very small, I didn’t have any friends at all. Unless you counted my little brother and my mum and my dad. Unfortunately none of those people were allowed to come to school with me so in kindergarten, I would spend my lunchtimes walking laps of the playground by myself until the bell rang and we could go back to class. I liked class; it was much better than lunchtime.

I was very anxious and very strange, both things I struggled with pretty well into adulthood. Even once I made friends, I was afraid of being alone. I always worried that something would happen and I would go back to having no friends and be unable to make new ones because I was so bad at it. In fairness, this basically did happen when my “best friend” unceremoniously dumped me in year 4 because she decided overnight that she didn’t like me anymore. I promise this will all get less depressing soon.

I spent a lot of time making friends with whoever was closest and discovering that the hit rate on this method is pretty low. I thought I was the kind of person who would never have heaps of friends, who’d probably always be content with a few close ones. And so it is strange, to find myself at age 25 realising that actually I have a lot of friends. I am surrounded by friends. And it turns out that maybe friendship is something I am good at.

We don’t talk about friendship as a skill, as something you can get better at. But everyone could be better, even people who didn’t start as late as I did.

Recently I decided that if I was going to be good at one thing, I wanted to be a good friend. I would still try to be good at writing and at my job and at making food, but above that and before that, I would work hard to be kind to the people that I love. It turns out that this is a surprisingly sturdy thing to pin your self-worth to. It is a useful, practical skill and putting energy into it is endlessly fulfilling.

You have to work to maintain friendships. You have to remember to reach out until it becomes habit. It takes a lot of practice to see that a friend is sad and to ask if they are ok. It’s even harder to know what to do if they tell you that they’re not ok. Remedying sadness (even small sadness) takes energy and effort and practice. It takes time to realise that small acts of kindness count for a lot; they defiantly count for more than doing nothing because everything you can do feels so small.

It takes practise to overcome that niggling feeling that maybe people don’t actually like you that much, not really. Or that maybe you shouldn’t try to be friends with someone because they’ll think you’re weird for reaching out. It took me a long time to realise that no one ever got mad at someone for wanting to be their friend.

It takes practice to tell friends that you love them, because somehow this is not a skill that we are taught. It takes practice to remember that sometimes people just need someone to tell them that they’re wonderful because otherwise they will forget.

I still get very excited when I make a new friend. There’s a tiny part of my brain that still belongs to lil child Alex and every time a talented, kind, brilliant person wants to be friends with me, she just loses her mind. I am still learning that it is ok to be openly excited about this, that actually most people think it is nice.

I still find the whole process of making new friends quite stressful, I still have panic attacks about it sometimes. But it has helped a lot to think of friendship as a skill. It has helped to practice. It has helped to realise that I can get better.

These days, I worry a lot less about being alone.

Further reading

December – home

I spent the first minutes of 2018 on the beach. I’ve never actually spent New Year