All my life, making friends has been one of those awkward challenges that I always thought would eventually get easier. I mean, I wasn’t going to be awkward forever, right? At some point, I was going to have mastered this skill, and nail it down pat. All it would take is more practice, more time, more growing up, right?
One would think so, watching other people. Everyone else seemed to possess this skill. It came onboard their cognitive operating system. I figured it came with mine, too; maybe it was just hidden somewhere, waiting to be clicked on and opened.
But alas, it’s not to be. My operating system seems to lack that app altogether. And this fun-fact, of course, explains the historical struggle. It also tells me that the struggle will be an eternal one; it’s not going away.
I do have my own version of the Making Friends app. It’s just that it’s only recognized by a select few. Most peoples’ operating systems don’t recognize it, and wouldn’t know what to do with it. I shrug, for there’s not much I can do to change that, and also because much of me has come to say, “so what”, since my situation has definitely become a case of quality over quantity, which is perfectly fine by me.
The way my Making Friends app works is this:
Feel their “vibe”. If it’s too angry or something seems too “off” or parasitic, ignore. If they seem “safe”, quirky, genuine, etc, they “pass” the first round.
Next, in an online setting “heart/like” their posts on social media, if applicable. That’s like dipping your toe in the water. Viewing profiles or conversations while lurking in the background feels to me almost like a passive Small Talk stage without actually interacting (yet); I can get a feel for them without taking any risks yet. If it’s an offline setting, then interaction is relatively inevitable, so I try my best to get past the small talk stage as quickly as possible, since my Making Friends app doesn’t perform that function well. I try to test the waters of deeper conversation fairly early on, by tossing a little tidbit or two out there and gauging the response. On the miraculous off-chance that they don’t think I’m weird by now, they “pass” (or the bond between us passes) again, onto the final round.
Here’s where things get a bit deeper yet. The waters are mutually tested, mainly to identify any “forbidden” topics–i.e., topics we don’t agree on that are also accompanied by a knee-jerk negative emotional response. If we’ve reached this stage, changes are greater that we’re probably going to be friends–at least, the verdict is leaning more toward that direction, although it hasn’t been officially rendered yet. That final verdict hinges on how many topics we can reach mutual understanding about, as opposed to a crash-and-burn. We don’t necessarily need to agree, per se, but disagreement needs to at least be respectful and cerebral. I’m perfectly fine with engaging in a respectful, mature, academic discussion about a wide variety of subject matter, even the sensitive “taboo” topics like politics and religion at this point, as long as the discussion is indeed respectful, mature, and academic. As soon as negative emotions hijack the drivers seat, that topic is “ruled out”. If not, the topic is “ruled in”, and is “safe” to talk about. If we can rule enough topics “in”, and our connection is compatible, the final round is over, and a true friendship has been forged. Or at least, the ground is fertile and it has been broken, with a solid foundation laid.
My Making Friends app might seem strange to some. It may indeed be complex and convoluted. Some might even say it’s overkill. But it saves me from a lot of BS, drama, pain, and betrayal. It filters out those who would be unhealthy for my own stability. It eliminates those who would be detrimental. It’s protective, having been developed over (and by) years of that betrayal, pain, etc. It has become necessary. And that’s OK. Quality over quantity is actually a good thing.
Interestingly enough, I’ve been blessed with a higher quantity–and quality!–of new friends than I’ve ever had in my life. My previously-flimsy social life has been brought to life by joining communities on social media, and the word “amazing”, even when we stop to ponder its full meaning, seems trite. I’m not sure a properly descriptive term exists. I literally (physically) smile to myself when checking my news feeds and profile walls (both my own and those of others).
And last but not least, I have actually made friends with myself (for once). I can finally view myself in a new light. I used to think I was quirky and awkward. That hasn’t changed; I still see myself that way. But rather than paint that sentiment with a dull, dark, negative brush, my soul has gotten a facelift, and the sentiment now glows with vividness and iridescence. Gone is the little voice inside my head whose existence I hadn’t even realized, who constantly scolded me and held me to impossible standards, berating me when I didn’t (couldn’t) meet them.
And sometimes I wonder…
Do neurotypical people ever pause to ponder along these lines? How on earth do they make friends, anyway? From what I’ve noticed, higher value seems to be (mis)placed on physical appearances, puffed-out chests and peacock feathers, and an implied contest of one-up-manship. The rest of society seems to be on the endless hunt for ways to make their friends jealous of them. If that’s how neurotypical friends treat each other, I can only imagine what they must do to their enemies! That just seems silly, unnecessary, and even inaccurate to me. You don’t make real, genuine friendships that way; in fact, they’d be better off backtracking socially to the way they did it in kindergarten: “I like you. Will you be my friend?” That would seem logical and reasonable enough, but of course, the way the rest of society operates, they’d stare at you as if you grew a second head. How dare you be so direct! You’re so weird for saying what you’re actually thinking! Of course, most neurotypcial people don’t even realize that “I like you; will you be my friend?” is actually what they are thinking. They, too, act and mask. In a cloak of boastful peacock feathers.
Meh, that’s not for me. I’d rather be able to let myself Off The Hook and just be me. I might look strange to many, and even get raised eyebrows or disapproving grimaces from a few. I’ve almost reached the point of saying, who cares? I’m starting to become convinced that the people who are worth being around are those around whom I don’t need to mask or act anyway.
My neurodivergent version of the Making Friends app now feels like the deluxe, platinum version. 🙂
(Image Credit: Cyril Rolando)