I don’t know how to have friends.
I gew up alone. I was home-schooled from birth, in a tiny house in the middle of the woods, out of sight of the nearest neighbors. It could only be reached by driving up a mile of treacherous, rutted gravel driveway. Everyone else I knew lived at least a half-hours drive away. My only playmates as a child were two neighbor kids who lived within walking distance. I would see my church friends on Sundays and my home-schooled friends at occasional home-school group meetings. If I was lucky, I’d get to spend Sunday afternoon with one of my church friends. But I was always on the outside, even with them, because I only saw them once a week at most. I shared none of the common daily experiences that other kids shared at school and playing at neighborhood playgrounds.
When other kids were in junior high I was coping with my parent’s divorce, and my dad’s subsequent emotional implosion, alone. We moved into town during that period, but I was too removed in experience, interests, and emotion to develop any signifigant peer relationships outside of church youth group activities. I eventually became a leader in the youth group, which made sense; my faith was what kept me together, and I was never “one of the guys” anyway. When I went out on weekends I went out with my mom (I was living with my dad).
My lifelong attraction to freaks and outsiders first manifested in my early to mid teens. Mark, a “troubled” church friend who’s family treated him like shit, became my best friend. He was a hyperactive cut-up, a loser, a walking catastrophe, an emotional mess, and I came to love him dearly. He stayed with us when his parents were out of town, and sometimes when they were in town. Although our contact was often sporadic, I think he was the closest thing I ever had to a best friend like other people have best friends – we hung out, stayed up late talking or playing video games or listening to music, I listened to his troubles, he taught me to love roller coasters, we had midnight water gun battles. He drove me up the wall quite often, and I would have done anything for him.
His dad finally got sick of his mom and blew his own brains out with a shotgun. A couple months later Mark was driving with a friend and showing off one of his guns. He put it to his head, said “see, it’s not loaded”, and pulled the trigger. Whether intentionally or not, he was wrong.
I would go to church camps and retreats, and usually wound up hanging out with the “freaks”. I made strong connections with some beautiful, beautiful people. I’d get addresses, and there would be long hugs and teary farewells, and I would try to stay and touch, but long-distance relationships are always hard to maintain. The spaces between letters or emails inevitably get longer and longer until you lose touch completely. Sometimes
Once I went to a retreat of sorts and really fell apart emotionally. The group of freaks I had naturally fallen in with gathered around to support me, and I told them what I really needed was just to have some friends. One girl actually said to me: “I’ll be your friend” – probably the first time I’d ever heard those words.
A few weeks later she was dead in a car wreck.
When other kids were in high school I was taking community college classes. Community colleges, ironically enough, don’t have the kind of community that I understand 4-year colleges have. I didn’t make any lasting friendships there.
I did make one lasting friend while I was at the college. A friend introduced me to a girl she thought I’d like. We hit it off, and spent hours online, on the phone, and in real life just talking and talking. Then, out of the blue, her dad decreed that she was not allowed to see me or contact me anymore. We had never been anything more than friends. After awhile we regained sporadic contact, and hers is one of the few friendships that I’ve actually maintained.
When I was 18 I moved out of my dad’s house and started working full time at the same place I still work now. I lead a more or less reclusive existance. It was actually one of the most peaceful times in my life, because for the first time I had a safe, controlled environment that I could find refuge in. But I was terribly lonely.
In 2000 I discovered the Christian Goth community, both online and in real life at the Cornerstone music festival. For the first time in my life I got a chance to hang out with some people my age I genuinely felt comfortable with. But I only had a short space of time to spend with them. I made several friendships that have lasted though, and I made more friends on the xnetgoth online community.
Then I met avivahg, and in whirlwind fashion she quickly became my wife. For a couple years my universe contracted to contain my new family and nothing more. I lost touch with what few real-life friends I had. We moved to PA, at least 45 minutes away from anyone we knew locally.
As a result of all that history, I am deeply deeply introverted and painfully shy. I know that a lot of people say that, but I feel that most of the people who say it have social advantages I don’t share. I have never been “one of the guys”. I have never had a group of
people, at any time in my life, who I hung out with. I have never had friends I’d see frequently. At most I have a few people I manage to see monthly or so. I have lived the vast majority of my life cut off from human contact. I don’t know the first thing about being friends.
Now for the first time in my life I’m starting to actually put forth effort to meet new people. I’ve been going to clubs in Baltimore relatively often, and slowly meeting the regulars. I’m starting to feel a little confidence that people actually like me. But I am singularly unprepared for this undertaking. I don’t know how to meet people. I don’t know what to say. I can’t make small talk. I never know what to ask people about themselves. I don’t know how to move from seeing people in a periodic social context like a club, to seeing them at other times, or when that is appropriate. I don’t feel like I have things in common with the people I meet. I feel terribly uninteresting – my life basically consists of working, sleeping, and sometimes clubbing. I’m intimidated, and usually at a loss for words. I’m so. fucking. boring. And while I accept that there are people who like seeing me from time to time, I’m scared that I’m just not interesting enough for them to want to get to know me personally.
For the first time I really want to find out what it’s like to have people to hang out with. I want to have people I can call up and say “hey, what are you doing this weekend?”. I want to actually have someone else I can call if the first person I call turns out to be busy. I want people I can talk philosophy with at 1AM when I can’t sleep, and who I can meet for lunch in Towson over my lunch break. I want to have hiking buddies and people to go to art museums and plays with. I understand that normal people have friendships like that, and I want it too.
Please don’t be offended if you are one of the people I already do this kind of thing with… I’m terribly grateful for the friends I do have, I just want to need at least two hands to count up my local friends.
I’m tired of being a recluse, and I don’t need to be one for my own safety anymore. I want to learn to be social. The time has come, but I need help.