Over the past year or so I have made some new friends. Good friends. Some of whom I am highly confident I will have a wonderful, long and genuine connection with. They seem to be popping up everywhere! Turning from colleague into friend, acquaintance into coffee-date, stranger into sending each other hilarious texts. And it feels like I am hardly even trying. It’s amazeballs!
These new friendships are astounding me. All the time. Because I had nearly given up on my capacity to make new friends. I had a wonderful and beautiful tribe of people around me and I was – and am - more than grateful for them. It seemed like the factors and circumstances required for friendship-making weren’t just going to come my way again. And that was okay.
A few moons ago now, I moved to one of Australia’s most underrated ‘cities’ – Canberra. Whilst the adjustment to the weather was a challenge, the bigger challenge was figuring out how to make friends all over again. It felt like it had been decades since I’d last been in this position. And the last time I had been in this position, I’d had the advantage of having to share very close living quarters with 300 other University students with a lot of time on their hands, a desire for partying and a huge thirst for alcohol. The Canberra social scene for 30 year-olds was a tad different.
Without being conscious of it at the time, I think I assumed that I’d be likeable to others by showing off my strengths and my accomplishments. By letting others see the things that I was proud of. Using my job or my education or my background as a shield against anyone who might deem me ‘unlikeable’.
And making sure people saw the right qualities of me so that I appeared likeable. Cheerfulness. A sense of humour. Agreeableness. A dose of intellect. And so I would worry about being perceived as laughing too loud, caring too much, appearing too eager. I was trying to put up what I thought was the right shield to be ‘cool’. Hello High School.
After a while I did make friends. Wonderful friends whose connections I treasure today.
But I don’t think it was due to my technique. I think the real friendships and connections formed when my ‘technique’ became too difficult to uphold and my shields eventually faltered.
When I moved to where I am now, things are much, much different. Because of where my health was at when I relocated, it was important for me to be with my supports. As such I was already surrounded by my nearest and dearest loved ones. Old, true and genuine friends who I know will be with me forever. We could hypothesise that because I was already with my tribe I had less of a desperation for friendship air surrounding me (That is, I was ‘cool’ already – I’m pretty sure Trudy would disagree with this entirely).
I don’t think it’s entirely that. I think my new, beautiful friendships all boil down to my developing capacity to be vulnerable and authentic.
“The only true currency in this bankrupt world is what you share with someone else when you’re uncool” – Almost Famous
When I first moved back home to the area, I didn’t have all that much that I felt was worthy of showing off. I was 32, recovering from an episode of mental illness, newly single, unemployed and living with my parents. There was not much to hide behind. So I tried not to. When people ask “what do you do?” I told them. I tried not to be afraid of departing from the ‘normal story’ and instead revealed (some of) my awkward truths. Because basically I had no choice.
And despite all my preconceived assumptions and cognitive distortions about how the world would respond, revealing these things didn’t bring on the great danger I predicted. If people laughed, they laughed with me and not at me. It often opened up conversations about the state of unemployment in the local area or how living with elders is a sustainable solution to housing affordability in Australia. And the thing that surprised me the most, other people would respond with their own stories. Stories of similar periods of unemployment or heartbreak or their own personal stories of vulnerability.
And this is where I think friendships can begin. By being a bit vulnerable and opening up about something I was reasonably ashamed at, it sparked opportunities for real connections.
In this gift of vulnerability that leads to trust. It is entirely possible that we can only get close to others by revealing things that would, in the wrong hands, be capable of inflicting appalling pain on us. Friendship is the sharing of gratitude that flows from an acknowledgement that one has offered something very valuable to someone: the key to one’s sense of self-worth.
Obviously though, letting it all hang out and sharing every single secret we have with someone to hot-wire a new BFF is probably not going to work either. Unfortunately when we do this, the response can be the opposite of what we are seeking: the other person recoiling, shutting down and letting us feel much, much worse. Over-sharing is generally not a good thing. We all need boundaries still.
When we are reach out and share ourselves – our fears, hopes, struggles, and joy – we’re connecting. With someone else. And it’s really important that these people are the right people to hear them – people with whom we’ve cultivated relationships with that can bear the weight of the story. People we trust. Where there is mutual empathy. Reciprocal sharing. These are the things that ensure our connections will continue.But if we can find that middle ground - the courage to be imperfect, to set boundaries and to allow ourselves to be vulnerable – imagine all the friends we might find there