This blog has been sitting in my drafts folder for weeks, just gathering dust because I felt a bit too vulnerable to publically share my situation. However, this week I have read blogs by Call Me Amy, Owls and Stags and Bethany Sandland which touch on this very topic so, buoyed by it being #MentalHealthAwarenessWeek too, I am finally pressing publish!
I am one of those people. I am an introvert. I am never bored of my own company. I am never lonely. I am fiercely protective of my free time and I love being by myself, but I do worry that I am restricting my own happiness sometimes. I do wonder – would I benefit from having close friends?
Brittany Wright, as featured in Cosmopolitan in 2016, talks about What It’s Like To Have No Real Friends and although I’m definitely not jealous of others who do enjoy deep and meaningful friendships, I understand and can relate to *some* of what she says.
I think it’s wonderful that we are more open about mental health issues nowadays (I am indeed 1 in 4) and although I now embrace my introvert-ness quite happily, I still don’t really understand it and I still have a niggling feeling that maybe something’s wrong with me.
Last year I enrolled on a Counselling Skills course. It lasted 11 weeks and I really enjoyed it, despite my anxiety issues and introverted nature. The funny thing is, although I am extremely anxious in certain social situations, I can usually manage my anxiety if the occasion has a purpose and is not about simply being social i.e. a course. As an anxious introvert, thoughts of parties or large gatherings or pub crawls are actually nightmarish to me, but attending a weekly counselling course for 3 hours is a-ok. It’s weird.
Anyway, studying counselling skills involves reflection. So, this is my attempt to reflect on why I do not have one single close friend as an adult and to consider my feelings about whether it’s something I genuinely want to change.
As a child and teenager and even into my early twenties I had plenty of friends – including ‘best’ friends. I made friends at school, I made friends with neighbours and I made friends with colleagues during my first ever post-college job at Tesco. Until my mid twenties I actually had different groups of friends and I was extremely social! So, what changed?
By my mid twenties I had already moved several times – jobs and houses. I met a man who became my fiancé (a not very nice man as it turned out) and moved again (jobs and houses). A few years later I began a distance learning degree, which was obviously non-collaborative, at the same time as I met another man who eventually became my husband (a lovely man as it turns out!) and moved again (jobs and houses). Are you beginning to see a pattern? (Small Woman Big Voice blogs about what moving city, job and house did to her mental health here.)
Is it any wonder that moving jobs and houses throughout my twenties and thirties meant I was unable to form and/or sustain close friendships? Now it’s been so long since I had close friends, I think I’ve genuinely forgotten the benefits and perhaps convinced myself I don’t actually need any. Well, I don’t NEED any, but do I want any? I really don’t know.
My husband (who miraculously I have managed to sustain a happy and solid relationship with for over 10 years) is still great mates with friends he met 20+ years ago. They regularly eat and drink together socially, go on holidays together, play squash, go cycling, visit each other’s houses and help each other out if ever they need a hand with anything. It really works – for them. But I honestly do not envy it at all.
As I talked about in my blog post ‘Lucky Number 13’, I have moved house 13 times in total. Anything I choose to do is usually time limited (for example the Counselling Skills course I mentioned above) so, on reflection, are these timely tactics to prevent friendships forming? Were my myriad job and house moves subconsciously a way of ensuring I remained quite isolated? I already wrote about being a commitment-phobe here! Am I so fiercely protective of my own space that I deliberately build or put barriers in place? Again, I really do not know.
After I published my blog post ‘The Mystery of the Missing Sparkle’ I had a lot of lovely, genuine messages of support, including several offers of cuppas and chats. I was so, so touched by the responses, but have I taken even one up on their offer? No. So why not? If I’m really honest with myself I’m a bit scared to. I’m more often than not alright with short bursts of social interaction (again, as per the Counselling Skills course) but if the social interaction is too socially driven and feels alien to me, I just panic. Panic I won’t have as much time to read, panic I’ll seem flaky or weird, panic I’ll say something ridiculous I’ll torture myself about for years afterwards, panic I’ll overthink and second guess everything before/during/after…it’s completely exhausting!
So, to summarise – I am quite a happy (yet anxious) introvert who has moved around A LOT and loves my own space – should I try to instigate friendships to enhance my day-to-life and general wellbeing? I’ve done a bit of investigating into HOW to make friends as an adult (here) and even how to make friends as an introvert (here) but I want to know the WHYS – tell me the pros, inform me of the benefits, convince me of the up-sides of having friends and I might cautiously consider venturing into unknown territory!