I have a massive case of Turtle Syndrome. Well actually, it should be tortoise-syndrome, but turtles are so much cooler, they swim a whole lot more, and I can’t say the word tortoise without hearing Ghetto Radio in my head. *shudder*
I don’t feel the need to get around much, because all I need is five minutes from my house. I watch the world with slow, wise, seemingly-sluggish eyes, and if anyone so much as sneezes, I tuck my head back in. Speaking of which, has anyone ever wondered why tortoises walk so slowly yet they can retract their heads at lightning speed? And what would happen if you slotted a stick of dynamite in the shell?
Anyway, I know the exact moment when I consciously stopped making friends. I guess I got tired of the back-stabbing and playground politics that kids are alarmingly good at, so I simply stopped trying. After that, whenever I felt someone was getting too close to me, I deliberately pulled away. I’d either start avoiding them or give them some reason to stop talking to me. Like suddenly wearing an Arsenal t-shirt and spewing pointless stats because I knew they hated football.
Once in a while, I’d take risk and let someone in all the way, exposing myself completely. I’d feel like I’d found a kindred spirit, someone who really knew, understood, and accepted me. But human beings are busy and they have their own issues, so sooner or later, my new friend would get distracted with their life.
I’d feel so empty and distraught, missing them with unnatural intensity because I’d given so much of myself. I’d be aware that I was over-reacting, and that the average person isn’t nearly as intense as I am. In truth, my friend probably hadn’t even realised they were ‘ignoring’ me, because in their mind, they really weren’t. So if I dared to bring it up, they’d laugh, get mad, and/or call me ridiculous. They wouldn’t really be wrong.
I’d blame myself for relying so much on just one person. I’d steel myself against them, and when they came back, they’d ask why I was suddenly so indifferent, and they’d soon drift away, wondering what they did wrong, why I had drastically changed, or whether they ever knew me at all. They’d call me selfish, childish, ask me to get out more, to stop living inside my head. And I’d smile sadly, “I like it in here. It’s warm and safe.”
I read about a character in a book, I forget what her name was. In the story, she’s getting a tongue-lashing from her boyfriend. He accuses her of placing people on pedestals, expecting more from them than they can give, and then feeling disappointed when they don’t measure up. I felt like the words were speaking to me, even though I don’t demand anything I wouldn’t do myself.
I have a friend who says life is about living, and that getting hurt is part of what makes us alive. He says by shielding myself from pain, I’m already dead. Of course, he also says we don’t need to be happy to be alive, and that the pursuit of happiness is pointless. I told him if life is pain, then I’d rather be a zombie. And to him, that’s exactly what I am.
After a while, being a loner became a habit. I’ve always enjoyed my own company, so it wasn’t a drastic jump from reading all day to ignoring invites and phone calls. There are people I’ve met that I’ve thought would be fun to hang out with, but I reminded myself of being a kid, and how much it hurt when yet another playmate turned on me on flimsy pretexts, reasons that were beyond the grasp my little ten-year-old head. Then I retract my turtle head, content to admire from the safety of my shell.
I look at people sometimes, people who have cliques and ‘gangs’ and chamas. People who are so tight they know each other inside out, they rally when any one of them is hurt. They changa to buy a new phone for someone’s birthday, or plan communal road trips to the Coast, or organise fundraising concerts to pay for one of the group’s medical treatment.
They get together to plan somebody’s funeral, or have nyama choma parties just because. They pool funds and buy a surround sound system as a wedding gift, or they meet every Friday for lunch or sports or drinks. I wonder how they do it, and a part of me wishes I could be in a group like that.
But I have no herding instinct. I’ve tried getting involved in groups like that, and all I do is study them like a mousy lab technician. I sit among them, wondering how this curious species communicates, and waiting for the earliest, most polite method of excusing myself, so I can run back to my books, my music, my shell, my baby, my own little world where things make sense and peace exists.
About a year ago, I attended some Landmark Courses and decided it was time to join the real world. I made a conscious effort to meet new people and spend time with them. But grown-ups are interesting. They don’t want to hang out unless it involves coffee, booze, loud music, or money. So when you have a girl like me, someone who wants to sit in the park and just talk, it becomes a little hard to be … social.
Friends have invited me to poetry readings, book events, dance nights, yoga sessions, jazz festivals, coffee houses. These are people whose company I actually enjoy, people I’d love to get to know better. But I always decline, and instead suggest we meet up at my house for some tea and conversation. Sometimes, when I agree to go out, I ask if I can bring the princess along. It narrows the options of meeting venues to warm, well-lit, child-friendly places.
Sometimes a new friend asks me to go to some fancy place, because that’s what grown-ups do. But in my mind, I wonder why I should pay several
thousands hundreds to go to some noisy, crowded joint where waiters will hover and rush us to leave. Why not just chill out at the digs where you can talk for hours and barely spend a cent? Because much as I don’t like people, there are exceptions that I’d like to spend a few un-pressured hours with.
I’ve developed a pattern over the past few years. I’ll find a new friend, accommodate their coffee dates/outings for a few sessions, then quietly disappear. I don’t actually exit the friendship. I just stop calling and figure if they’d like to hang out more, they’ll seek me out. Of course in the grown-up world, life moves pretty fast, and sometimes my friends go for weeks, months, even years without realising they haven’t talked to me. Then they finally call and tease me about sulking and throwing tantrums, or sometimes ask if they’ve offended me in some way.
A while back, I switched from Android to S40 (dumbest decision ever!) and lost a lot of phone numbers in the process. I don’t realise whose number I don’t have until they call me and bitch when I ask who they are. I’ve considered using mutual contacts to trace all the ones I lost, but it seems like a lot of work. I figure I’ll get their numbers when they eventually call.
The sad thing is a lot of my ‘new friends’ are now cut off because they’re too distracted to realise how long it’s been since we last spoke. I don’t want to reach out because they’ll just want to have coffee at some fancy place that I don’t want to go to in the first place. Or worse, they’ll want to do ‘stuff’ when my idea of a day well spent is a book, a blanket, and a Stargate Atlantis Marathon. Good conversation works too.
I read a blog post once about how hard it is to make friends with grown-ups. Most people have social groups made up of former school-mates or workmates. They stay close knit because they’ve known each other their whole lives and have a whole world in common. But when you make a new adult friend, all you can do is have drinks after work or attend sports events. No matter how cool you think they are, and how well you get along, things stay mostly superficial. You see each other once or twice a year and don’t get to really bond or be part of one another. Chances are the only (new) person you really know is your significant other.
Still, I could be wrong. I could simply have a warped idea of what friendship is. For me, it’s about sharing yourself, talking about life and love and the things that really matter, being at ease in one another’s company. From what I’ve seen, typical adult friendships are more like pseudo-dating where you talk about fluff and show your practiced public image to each other. No one wants to let you in and show what’s beneath the surface. And I guess that’s how the world prefers it.
It could be something else entirely. It could be that I have no social skills whatsoever. I already know I’m small-talk-challenged, and that I make people uncomfortable by going for the jugular. So it’s possible that I’m simply not capable of having standard grown-up friendships. After all, I can’t handle group dating (or any group at all really) and I’d rather sit at home and read than go to a party or attempt to talk about nothing for three hours.
I suppose in a way I’m happy in my shell. But it does make me a little sad every time I meet an interesting new person. I watch them out of the corner of my eye, smile, exchange a few pleasantries, wonder how cool it would be to count that person as a friend. Then I think about all my backfired social attempts and retract into my shell. The reading light is surprisingly good in there, especially on the Kindle Paperwhite. Plus, I have in-built wi-fi, so yay!
Conventional wisdom says people need people, and even Paulo Coelho says you need other human beings to be really happy. I’m blessed to have one human that makes me smile even when she’s driving me crazy – my baby girl. But beyond her, I don’t really deal with anyone for more than an hour at a time, and even that is pushing it. I used to get my social fix on Twitter, but lately that’s getting too much like the real world, so its appeal is fading.
Lately, I find I’m more at peace with the way I am. I still feel a little sad when I spot a new person and think ‘Ooooh, I’d love to get to know them. Too bad I won’t.” But mostly I’m easy, content to sneak glances and write bits of poetry in my notebook. It’s probably all the meditation I’ve been doing. My boss says I’ve been moving around in a glowing bubble of Zen. Of course, he also says I should write soft porn, so I’m not sure his head is in the right space *cheeky grin*
I guess what I’m saying is … if I fell off your radar, it probably wasn’t something you did. I just really suck at being friends with grown-ups, or kids, or humans, or aliens. I like being in my shell, there really isn’t room for two, I don’t like people in general, and on the few occasions when I do, it’s safer to like them from afar.
♫ In the rough ♫ Anna Nalick ♫
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