Ooh, I’ve just thought of something really funny to say in response to that. But maybe it’s not funny. Maybe they’ll laugh politely but think I’m an idiot. Maybe they won’t laugh at all and everyone will feel awkward. Maybe I’ll offend them in some way and they’ll hate me, and although I’m not sure what could be offensive about it you never know. Maybe they’ll just ignore me and I’ll just feel awful and want to leave. But it’s so funny. No it isn’t. Damn, too late now. If say it now it’ll be out of context and I really will look stupid. Or really slow. I’ll just sit here, be quiet and carry on listening as if I really do know what they’re talking about. What are they talking about?
That’s a typical sequence of thoughts I work through whilst attempting to socialise with colleagues from work, friends of relatives, or any other group of people I find myself in the presence of due to some common interest or purpose.
On good days I attempt to involve myself in conversation allowing others to lead, and on bad days I’ll sit there listening, fearful of embarrassing myself. If there is some familiarity and I feel comfortable I may even introduce a topic. If I feel intimidated by bravado, looks, intelligence, anything really, that will surely result in quiet observation.
I struggle when confronted with a single person and idle conversation is required. Then it’s a case of attempting deduction to determine the subjects they may be interested in. If successful a conversation, sometimes quite good, can follow, but if unsuccessful the conversation is short followed by awkwardness. Harder still, the other individual starts the conversation about something you know nothing of or have no interest in. Then it takes inventiveness to give answers that are vague enough to suggest intelligence but not fabrication, or resolve to feign interest as long as is humanly possible.
And so from this I struggle to ingratiate myself enough for anyone to suggest a coffee later that week, or a repeat visit to the pub across the road.
Yet once I have had a few pints of beer or glasses of wine my inhibitions vanish. Completely. I’m loud, I start conversations, I make jokes. I’m me 2.0! It really is so different. I have a lot of fun, people seem to genuinely enjoy my company and I like it a lot. The next time I meet the people I was with we have fun memories and anecdotes. I can’t describe how good it feels to be part of a group and not just an individual. Through that other me I have started friendships on numerous occasions. And sometimes maintained a semblance of social integration for a while.
There are however a few problems. I can’t rely on drink all the time. So when the opportunity to drink socially becomes less frequent and the cloud of alcohol induced camaraderie drifts away then my confidence wanes, and I struggle. Through low self esteem and paranoia the relationships I have flip between idealisation and devaluation. Eventually conversations with the same people become awkward again and friendships either fledgling or established become strained. People begin to talk to me or involve me less and I feel isolated and alone.
In employment this is a big problem for me. Most people spend more time with colleagues at work than they do with their children or spouse, so working with the same people every day for 45 weeks of the year is so much harder when there’s no closeness. It becomes depressing, and that low mood feeds directly back into driving the traits that caused the problem.
I usually leave a company because I reach a point of desperate lonely rejection of everyone around me and I have an almost completely compromised relationship with immediate management. No one stays in touch, and I fear to make attempts myself when I consider how my temperamental behaviour would have made people feel, or just because I feel so resentful.
On one occasion I invited all colleagues in my department to a party I was holding, during a period when I genuinely felt that my relationship with them was good. No one replied. Not that day, or at any point over the following weeks. I felt so awful. My relationship with my colleagues never recovered from the isolation I subsequently put myself in.
I identified this pattern without understanding why many years ago. This has led me to seeking isolation in employment – working on projects by myself and where possibly from home. After all, it’s much easier to work remotely communicating by email or IM, surely? Not at all, in fact it’s possibly harder. There’s nothing in text that indicates intent or mood. Sarcasm is lost or imagined. Requests become demands. Meaning is lost.
So now, in my early forties, I have a single solitary friend.
I’ve known him since we were 11. Two people avoiding sports day, in similar positions. We have been through a lot together and a lot apart. He is like a brother. But most important of all he is my friend. An awesome friend that I trust. Who understands me – I don’t have to worry what he thinks of me.
I don’t need lots of friends.
But I do need to understand and handle the complexities of socialising and relationships. If nothing else, for 45 weeks of the year my state of mind won’t be running a roller coaster.
And of course, I do have another awesome friend cuddled up to me right now, watching TV whilst I type away. Patiently waiting for me to finish.
I have two…