How do you make friends? Okay, literal translation time: “Take a large lump of modelling clay, a few adornments for the face and body, mix them all together, and there you go! A large, squiggy mess! No, sorry, I mean – a person. You’ve made yourself a friend!” Er, I think not, though how I wish it could be that easy!
Wasn’t there a book called “How To Win Friends And Influence People”, or did I just make that up? I’m sure there is, or something like, and I know I’ve never read it. And even if I had it wouldn’t have helped me navigate the strange world of socialisation because I would only have taken it all very literally and misinterpreted most of it, starting with the title – does it mean you have to “win” people, like in a game of cards? So there’s a competition between you and another person to win the friendship of a third?
On second thoughts I think I might have inadvertently read some of that book when I was about five because this sounds awfully similar to my approach to friendship! As I’ve discovered recently, I can’t multi-task at all, and I can now see how this even extends to the “task” of engaging in relationships with people. I can’t seem to “do” more than one friend at a time. Back when I was a child I was always part of a group of about four or five, trying to balance being friends with each member, and seeming constantly to be in conflict to establish who my best friend was, and where all the others fitted in: or, more to the point, where and how I fitted in. It seems I couldn’t simply be one of a group of friends, just as it seems that I cannot simply be one of a group of anything!
So anyway, to return to the days when I had friends (plural) but didn’t quite know how I’d achieved this miraculous feat, I now see that I didn’t so much “make” friends as acquire them, a bit like the way I acquire carrier bags or boxes – I don’t quite know how I got them, I don’t quite know what to do with them once I’ve got them, but I keep them nonetheless, and because of that thing called “attachment” that I do – I just can’t seem to let anything, or anyone, go!
And because it’s what you do, isn’t it, have friends? And the more the better, as far as I’d worked out from what I’d picked up in the world, because if you lose one (or, God forbid, more!) then you’ve still got a few left to replace the ones who’ve gone! Plus they also appear to be a statement to the world about how popular you are, and generally what an interesting and busy person you must be, and what an exciting life you must lead.
Personally I can’t see how you can possibly have the time to do anything particularly interesting or exciting when you’ve got so many people demanding your attention, and you spend half your life gabbing on the phone or meeting in coffee bars etc to chat: but then that’s because I’ve got aspergers and I can’t multi-task! Oh, and I don’t do chatting, but long monologues because I don’t know when to stop talking once I’ve started! Basically chatting is hazardous to my health – not to mention to that of the person I am assailing!
I think that part of my problem is that I think there are actual “rules” to how to go about making friends, a kind of instruction manual that exists somewhere which everyone else appears to have read and understood, but which I seem not to have been party to. And, as with the way I approach everything in life, I seem to believe that if only I could learn these rules and apply them exactly as they are written (ie literally!) then I too would have lots of friends, the way other people do.
Having examined this subject in detail (and had a number of failed attempts at making and sustaining friendships) I have come to the conclusion that, as with everything in life, there actually aren’t any specific rules, only guidelines: and therein lies the problem. The requirement here is an understanding of social communication in order that you can read social signals, such as whether someone is genuinely showing an interest in being your friend or simply being polite. I cannot count the number of occasions on which I have mistaken simple politeness as being the prelude to a deep, meaningful friendship which, most of the time, I haven’t really wanted, but I’ve felt that it’s only polite to reciprocate! I have therefore deduced that being polite is a dangerous business, and often results in a confusing mess unless you know what you’re doing with it – so this rules me out! This basically goes for the whole friend-making business. You might just as well ask me to make an atom bomb. It would probably be easier, and less likely to blow up in my face!
Plus, to complicate the whole thing even more (as if it wasn’t complicated enough), there are different types or levels of friendship, which require subtle differences in behaviour. Unfortunately I don’t do subtle. I can’t seem to discern the difference between what’s appropriate conversation when talking to a complete stranger, and talking to my best friend, so I communicate the same way with everyone! Actually I have recently learned to show a little more discretion, but it is only a little, and it isn’t consistent. I am still apt to spout forth the details of my life to anyone who unwittingly engages in any kind of dialogue with me, no matter how trivial. Or, equally as bad, to offer my opinion and assistance (unsolicited!) whenever I feel that I have an answer to some problem they may have shared with me.
Witness my attempts to solve the sleeping problems of my next door neighbour, with whom I had barely exchanged more than two words of dialogue, other than to say “hello” whenever I had previously seen him. He foolishly told me one day, when we were standing at the bus stop, that he suffered from insomnia. In an attempt to be chatty, and seeing an opportunity to be helpful (I seem to have a desperate need to be helpful, which possibly stems from the delusion I have that I know a lot about everything!), I proceeded to bombard him with a series of questions about his habits, and whether he’d tried various remedies, including the one thing closest to my heart – yoga! Fortunately, before I had time to suggest a complete overhaul of his whole lifestyle, the bus arrived. He moved house not long after that!
You see I mean well, and because I can’t do spontaneous small talk, but I don’t want to appear rude by not at least trying to reciprocate, I grasp hold of anything that appears to be an opportunity for me to be able to keep the conversation going. Inevitably, though, I end up wishing I hadn’t bothered because the resultant headache and confusion created far outweighs any benefit. After all, what is it I’m trying to prove anyway? That I’m not a social leper just because I can’t do chatting?!
In conclusion, I have decided that having just one good friend is enough, especially as I have been blessed with her being such a good friend. I have given up chasing after this particular neurotypical dream, of being popular and inundated with friends, and of needing lots of back-up friends in case my best friend suddenly pops her clogs (that means dies, for those of a severely literal nature)! As I’ve recently realised, people are not interchangeable like batteries or light bulbs: you cannot replace them and not notice the difference. And now I wouldn’t want to anyway. My best friend is very special and unique, and I’d never have the exact same relationship with anyone else as I have with her.
Personally I think that making friends is an art form that requires special skills which, unfortunately, they don’t formally teach in school. Apparently you’re supposed to learn and pick it up instinctively just by being in school around other children – imagine that?! To me it’s as unfathomable as the inner workings (or otherwise!) of my computer and, as with my computer, I should perhaps simply give up trying to understand how it all works, and just blunder on as best I can. After all it has worked, in its way, so far, and you just can’t learn this stuff by rote. A pity, really: I’ve always been far better at theory than practise!
"Do you believe in Magic?" asked Colin.
"That I do, lad," she answered. "I never knowed it by that name, but what does th' name matter? I warrant they call it a different name i' France an' a different one i' Germany. Th' same thing as set th' seeds swellin' an' th' sun shinin' made thee well lad an' it's th' Good Thing. It isn't like us poor fools as think it matters if us is called out of our names. Th' Big Good Thing doesn't stop to worrit, bless thee. It goes on makin' worlds by th' million - worlds like us. Never thee stop believin' in th' Big Good Thing an' knowin' th' world's full of it - an call it what tha' likes. Eh! lad, lad - what's names to th' Joy Maker."
From 'The Secret Garden', by Frances Hodgson Burnett
"There is no way to happiness - happiness is the way."
The Dalai Lama
"If you don't stand for something you will fall for anything."