I just read this AWESOME post from Sue where she confesses to the guilt and pain caused by not calling a friend back for over two years. Those of you who know me IRL are already thinking "sounds like YOU, Cole.".
You'd be right.
I know all about the guilt that goes with not returning a call because you're busy or just don't feel social, putting it off for later, then later, and later until you become afraid to call for fear of the censure (or a previous best friend saying Cole Who?). I know about the in-box full of read and appreciated emails that you're going to respond to "later"....until you cringe whenever you see them and wonder if your friends would believe that you lost their address AGAIN--because it's so much easier than admitting that I'M A
JERK LOUSY HUMAN BEING BAD FRIEND.
Social awkwardness. It's the disability that keeps on giving. And no, I don't think you outgrow it. You can overcome it with a lot of work, but it's always going to be there.
My social relationships haven't evolved much since childhood. I'm intensely interested in what's going on in your life. I admire and respect you. If you would notice me once in a while, maybe throw the odd "atta girl" my way, I'll be great. Just please don't expect much more than that. When you do I get flustered and confused and neurotic, second-guessing every word and expression and action until I annoy myself to the point that I'm convinced NO ONE could ever want to be friends with the mess that is me.
There are two main things standing in the way of my social adeptness. Three if you'd like to go with the simple "I'm a jerk" explanation.
The first is that there are too many variables in friendship. Different cultures, different expectations, different love languages, different personalities, different RULES. I just can't keep them all straight.
Example? Two friends: for one person, you call once a week. For another, send little cards and gifts. But don't send gifts to the one who prefers calls, they hate collecting "junk" and discuss how you waste time and money behind your back. Don't call the gift preferree (is that a word?) because they have a busy life and hate being interrupted by all your silly calls. A little token now and then lets them know you're thinking of them and brightens their day.
It sounds shallow when I type it like that, but it's the way the cookie often crumbles. (But no cookie for her, she's on a gluten-free diet.)
I do have wonderful friends who I can call up once a month or year or two and discuss anything; from the deepest dreams and fears in our hearts to the silly thing that happened last week. I often frustrate these friends because I have a hard time breaking through my family script. In my family, every conversation goes in a predictable order: weather, health, weather in other parts of the world/natural disasters, news about everyone in the neighborhood, THEN the reason you called. Don't mess with the order man! Want to annoy my in laws? Call them up and start with the weather. They prefer content communication: hello, reason for call, thank you, good-bye.
It seems like there's a different set of rules to follow for each person, and I get exhausted trying to remember them all. Sometimes I get confused about who I'm supposed to be, what type of friend they want. Then, of course, I tell myself to just be myself and they'll like it or leave it. The problem? My SELF, is a pleaser. I LIKE making people happy. I LOVE hearing that I'm a good friend. I WANT to understand your rules. It's just so much work. Then, when you meet someone you truly mesh with, someone you instinctively understand....well, they move across the country (or you do) and keeping in touch with them just makes you miss them more.
Which brings me to reason number two: Self-Preservation. Relationships hurt. There are expectations, misunderstandings, egos, scripts, rules...Great friendships get past all of that (eventually) but you usually have to work through some of it before you get to the place where you can just be completely yourself. If you chose good friends (and mine are golden) you can get to the place where you can forget all those things, but that just opens you up for the REAL pain: empathy.
Um....doesn't everyone? I do. Especially with friends. Maybe that's my problem. Maybe I'm from another planet. On MY planet, when a friend is sharing their life with you, you FEEL for them. Every up and down, you're right there with them. A friend holds your hand, right? You can't hold someone's hand if you're not beside them. I AM the kind of friend who will laugh with you one second and weep with you the next. Over the years I've learned to keep a flat affect in public, but I'm still there, still feeling, and I let it all out when I get home.
This is why I love books, love blogs, love Facebook. I can follow your life. I can rejoice in your triumphs and sorrow at your trials. But I can do it on my own terms, from my own distance, on my own time. I don't just type LOL or "you made me cry", I really mean it. I can see from your photos how you're doing, how you're seeing the world: but I can give you my hand and still keep the rest of me in the safety of my own world. I can take the time to think about what I want to say in response and look at it before I press send (though that still doesn't keep me from putting my foot in my mouth). I can even say what I want here on my own blog and trust that if you are getting bored or offended you'll just leave. I don't have to watch your eyes glaze over in person; even rejection is safer from a distance.
I thought I was alone in this, but reading Sue's post and the comments, I think there may be more people like me out there. Maybe that's one of the key reasons the Internet has become such a popular social tool.
I don't know. I don't have all the answers.
But I do have a full in box and a bunch of people I love who deserve a phone call. I truly have nothing better to do, and the virtue at school this week is courage.
Reading this over, I see how many times I referred to friendship as work and being exhausting. Looks like if "why doesn't Cole keep in touch better" were a multiple choice, and the answers were
a) too many rules
b) she's cowardly
c) she's a jerk
the correct answer would be
d) she's lazy.