I am a lousy friend. I don’t often contact others to ask how they are doing or invite them to social activities. When we are together, I don’t know what to talk about. Half the time, I can’t remember what you told me last time—did you get a new job in Flemington or Florham Park? Did you move into a new apartment last month or last year?—and feel stuck in this limbo where we never grow or learn anything new from each other. I try to be a great listener, but my memory doesn’t usually cooperate. If we were in the Sims, our friendship meter would hover perpetually around 65 out of 100, cordial and lukewarm. Sorry, I suck.
I always have ideas for places to go and things to do, but don’t like to invite others along because I don’t know if those plans will be disappointing. I hate taking people to restaurants and hearing them complain or seeing sour expressions on their faces because the food isn’t to their liking. I hate the sinking feeling I get when, despite my thorough research efforts, we travel an hour to find the museum’s hours have changed, the park is closed for maintenance, or the special event was canceled today just because. I hate that whoever originally proposed the outing also tends to be responsible for contingency plans—your idea, your day, and your fault if you don’t come up with something else to save it. This probably sounds like some real passive-aggressive shit, but I assure you, it is 0% about anyone in particular and 100% about my own perpetual insecurities. I have always been paranoid, and I have always hated letting people down.
Once upon a time, I could talk your ear off about anything. I’ve written before about mysteriously losing that ability. Thinking about it further, I think I just can’t relate to most people anymore. I am the only one I know with my kind of job, so I can’t share daily little triumphs with a friend. I am the only classically trained musician serious enough to play paid gigs, but not to make a living off music. I am not the only writer, but I don’t like talking about works in progress, and you can’t really discuss the art itself with a group of largely non-writers. We don’t read the same books. We don’t watch the same movies or listen to the same bands. I don’t follow any sports (beyond the bare minimum for gambles). I no longer play any popular video games. And at the intersection of my gender identity and politics, I feel starkly alone, too. What else is left? Do you want to tell me about your personal projects, fears, regrets, dreams, ambitions? Hard to get to that in social settings. Or maybe you just don’t feel comfortable enough with me to go there.
It’s understandable if you aren’t. I can be fickle. I have no tolerance for any behavior I perceive as fake. I don’t like when people “out” my personal business to others I barely know. I’ve lose respect for, and interest in, people I witness saying contradictory things to different audiences. Even if they aren’t lying—as long as they don’t take the time to explain themselves to me, then I assume they are, and it makes me uncomfortable. I get frustrated by imbalances in offers and exchanges: I always share information with you, but you never tell me anything. We always only go where you want, never where I propose. I don’t even bother to confront anybody about this, because I don’t respect our friendship enough to try to save it. Instead, I try to act chill, but I’m sure it affects my demeanor in subtle ways. Funnily, that probably makes other people think I’m fake.
Because of this, I suppose, I am rarely on people’s short lists to call or text. I am seldom part of the sub-clusters that form within larger social circles. I know plenty of people like me enough, but I am not widely beloved. Sometimes I can’t help but wish I were one of Kerouac’s glowing firecracker people, “the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn.” That others shouted my name in joyous chorus when I arrived at the party, scrambled off their seats so I could sit among them and share my latest exploits. That they watched or listened to me in the midst of something incredible and exclaimed to each other, “I love her!” At heart, I know I am too introverted to revel in that degree of attention. I would honestly make for an unnatural life of the party. I just wish—sometimes—I knew how to be different. I wish I could stop being so easily irritated, at least, and simply be carefree.
I once went to an event where participants pitched ideas for a new technology application and then assembled teams to brainstorm how to execute them. At the start of the recruiting free-for-all, I had a dozen attendees crowding around me, clamoring to tell me what they had to offer and why we should work together. I was so excited and wanted to sign them all up. By the end, about fifteen minutes later, I had a team of four. What happened? Where did everyone go? “I thought you were already too popular,” someone admitted afterward, a woman I’d sort of befriended while waiting for the event to begin. I felt slightly betrayed. Though it was my first time attempting any activity like this, it somehow felt familiar, a pattern of my life.
The older and wiser you get, the more capable you become of assessing yourself objectively. You become more aware of your own true strengths and limitations. For me, this has meant realizing I am not nearly as great as I thought I was at a number of things, and likely never will be. I am not the best employee in my company, or even my department. I will never be the best writer or flutist I know. And—to my bewildering heartbreak—I am not the most fascinating person or the warmest friend. Is it too late to change? I know that, if it’s possible, I would need to keep pushing myself out of my comfort zone to make it happen. It feels awkward and contrived when I try to be more outgoing or bubbly or laidback, but damn it, I want to be better.