Belenen (belenen) wrote,

Friendship: how do you do it

I got an amazing winter Solstice gift this year: a group of local friends.

I have always been a pretty odd person, which has made it difficult for me to find friends. Part of this oddity comes naturally, from my neurodivergent brain, my lack of gender, and being a minority as far as sexuality and relationship style goes. The other half comes from my unusual childhood.

When I was in school I didn't get to socialize outside of school, so everyone else got to know each other on evenings and weekends and the distance slowly increased between me and them. My mom began homeschooling me when I was 10, which took my chances for peer observation from low to almost none; we did not watch tv so I didn't have shows to learn from either. My socialization was exclusively in academic and religious settings, so I can make great contributions in formal discussions but am utterly lost in casual settings.

I made a friend at christian summer camp who was neurodivergent and far too serious, like me. We became best friends because I proposed it to her and she accepted, and very soon after we made promises to each other about how we would interact. She was my first real friend: not someone I was protecting or idolizing, but someone who I connected with in a deeply trusting, open, and extremely effusive way. I told her every thought that came in my head to say and I expressed my love often.

This was the relationship that became the model for all my future friendships, which was a bad idea because it was not at all normal. Now looking back I can see that we were in a relationship that was emotionally romantic though we did not do anything physically romantic, and it was far more committed than most people are comfortable with in a friendship. It also went from no relationship to extremely significant relationship in a single conversation, which seemed normal to me but is utterly bizarre to most people.

After we drifted apart I kept trying to make new friends in the same way. I wanted to bare my soul completely and I wanted them to do the same and I wanted us both to invest in each other in a continuous and deliberate way. And I got lucky, a lot.

I started using livejournal, which it turns out is where lots of naked-soul people congregate and share more than the average person cares to know about their friends. I met at least four people who were completely comfortable with sharing literally everything. We were often literally naked with each other as well as figuratively; when we visited each other we cuddled constantly; lies were taboo and openness was the air we breathed.

But all of these people lived far away. I had one local friend, but we went back and forth between closeness and hostility because we constantly misunderstood each other. I tried over and over to meet people near me but none of them wanted the same thing I wanted in a friendship.

Eventually I began practicing polyamory, and I finally was able to make the kinds of connections I wanted, but only by dating people. I didn't mind being romantic or sexual with my friends, but my primary desire was always deep friendship. For a little while I had all the intimate friendship I could ask for, but then for various reasons three of those people moved to three different states, and my relationship with the closest person fell apart.

Then I met Topaz sort of incidentally and after I posted on LJ about being desperately lonely and craving intimate friendship, they reached out and once again, I went from stranger to best friend in a single (nine-hour) conversation. We zoomed through all the "what do we mean to each other" stuff in a month, because we both knew who we were, we could read each other with shocking ease, and we had the same goals in a friendship.

Since then, every so often I reach out to someone but mostly, I don't know how to make friends and when I try it falls flat. All of my past connections have been made very rapidly and either through livejournal or through dating. I don't know how to get to know someone at a "normal" pace. I don't know what "counts" as friendship to other people. And because I have such a long-term habit of openness, what feels vulnerable to others simply feels normal to me, so we often have very different experiences with the same conversation.

So when I was asked to reflect on any friendships I made over the past year, I just came up with a bunch of question marks. Was I friends with the people I had gotten to know over the year, or were we just friendly acquaintances?

This question was finally really answered for me on Solstice, when people not only came to the gather that means so much to me, but several people said that they were determined to attend and that it was important to them to be there. For me, this would only be true if I considered the person a real friend and was internally committed to my connection to them. I felt overwhelmed by the care and deliberate effort that they were giving, and I think maybe, finally, I am starting to make local friends.

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