A few years ago, I was at the rink for my daughter’s first hockey game of the season. As an introvert who’s shy and finds small talk super awkward, I always dread meeting new people, and I don’t consider making friends my forte. Still, I sat myself next to the other moms clustered rink-side and tried to become part of the conversation.
I didn’t know any of the other women, but I tried to make eye contact and look friendly. Unfortunately for me, they basically ignored me. Finally, one of the moms (you might call her the Queen Bee) turned her head to talk to me and introduced herself. I recognized Queen Bee’s name, because she was the sister of an acquaintance. So, naturally I told her (the Queen Bee) that I knew her sister. She glowered at me and then told me in a cold voice, “I’m not like my sister,” and physically turned her back to me.
I was flabbergasted. Surely this sort of behaviour wasn’t acceptable outside of grade 10.
But as the season went on, it was apparent that I was not part of the group. I hadn’t been granted admission to the hockey mom club that year.
If you’ve ever been in this position, you know that rejection stings. I felt like I had done something wrong, or that I was simply unlikeable. Because of friendship experiences I had previously, I had convinced myself that I was better at being friends with men, or that I didn’t have time for friendships. And this experience with the hockey moms confirmed the idea that I was bad at female friendship and that I simply didn’t know how to make friends. Deep down, though, I longed for connection with other women who accepted me, understood me, and supported me. I wanted relationships where I could be myself, without being judged or mean-girled.
As a grown up, making friends with other women often feels hard, like you’re a female version of Bill Murray in Groundhog Day, except you’re stuck in high school, not Punxsutawny. It seems like no matter what you do, you end up feeling like an outsider.
Fast forward a couple of years, and what I’ve come to learn through a collection of extraordinary and spirit-affirming experiences is that I’m actually NOT bad at friendship with women. Yes, perhaps I wasn’t the best girl friend growing up. I readily admit that, and am ashamed of a couple of particular incidents from my youth where I was decidedly a terrible friend.
But, that was a long time ago, and since then, I’ve learned that there are a few things that are key to making friends: vulnerability, authenticity, and non-judgment.
Even a few years ago, I wasn’t really able to practice any of these things. I was too scared to be vulnerable and show my real self, and I was too insecure about myself and my own choices to be non-judgmental.
Do I still have a hard time being vulnerable, authentic, and non-judgmental? The short answer is yes, sometimes I do. Despite my best efforts, when I feel insecure, I slide into defensive mode.
I’m working on it.
I still have to make an effort not to slip on a mask when I meet new people, and when I’m feeling insecure, I tend to be judgy. With practice, though, I’m finding it easier to simply accept that others do things differently than I do, and that doesn’t make them wrong or me a better person.
My point is this: if you feel like you’re struggling to make friends as a grown-up, you aren’t alone. I’ve talked to MANY women who feel exactly the same way.
Keep trying. Making friends is about true acceptance and belonging, and not about fitting in. It’s about getting to a place where you’re comfortable being your true self, and, as I’m sure you know, putting yourself out there is super uncomfortable and hard. Be gentle with yourself, and know that a lot of the women you meet are feeling the same way as you are. True friendship and deep connection are worth the effort.
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