This helpful illustration cropped up yesterday on my Twitter feed. Sarah has a whole Tumblr full of perceptive doodles if you’re interested.
For a long time this was how I made friends. In high school I developed a peculiar habit of assuming that if someone showed interest in me, they probably hated me. Or if they didn’t now, they were going to once they really got to know me. My insecurity irritated people and drove them away.
This was exacerbated by the cult I was in for about three and a half years after college, where friends throughout the country were warned not to talk to me. What had begun as an irrational feeling of being hated or ignored now had a basis in reality. People would simply stop talking to me. Then, a few weeks or a month later, I would learn that it was because the leader of our group had told them to.
And because this went on for over a year, I came to accept that there was no stability in relationships; that just because someone was my friend today, didn’t mean we would be friends tomorrow. Some of my best friendships ended simply because he wanted them to. Friendships I had spent years cultivating.
So this doodle expresses a very real fear of mine; but one that I’m struggling to overcome as I begin to rebuild my social life.
On the one-year anniversary of my friend’s death, some of my friends invited me over to their apartment. I was feeling depressed and anxious, and I worried that all my relationships were going to fall apart. I started apologizing for everything.
Noticing this, my friend Kendall said some words that have stayed with me. He said, “We’re not under the old system anymore where every little mistake is held up and used against you. Your friends genuinely care about you. We have actual relationships where we mutually respect each other.”
Sometimes what seems so obvious to everyone else is the thing that you need to hear most.
Because he was right: I do second-guess everything I say, wondering how it will be taken, wondering if it could be the end of a friendship.
But I don’t have to. I have choices. I can choose to believe that my friends love me. That I’m safe.
I can talk to people. I can be close to them.
Sometimes I can even be the one to contact them.