Auntie SparkNotes: I'm Nobody's Best Friend
Everyone I know has someone that they’re better friends with than me. This is to be fairly expected, as I’m not asking for everyone to lay down at my feet in devotion, except that I’m tired of being everyone’s acquaintance and no one’s friend.
I go to a small-ish private high school now (I have been for three years), which probably aggravates the problem, but even when I went to public school (where class sizes are in the hundreds and maybe thousands), I never had a “best friend” to call my own, or even someone who would give me some priority most of the time. Every person I’ve ever tried to be close friends with is already closer to someone else and my attempts and befriending both of them equally just turn into me becoming a third wheel that the other two enjoy having along whenever they remember (in every case this has happened, I have been welcomed, but forgotten, unless I initiate contact).
This trend carried over into my private school life where everyone had already known each other for a long time, which just made it that much harder to find a dedicated friend. Don’t get me wrong, everyone went out of their way to make me their acquaintance/casual friend, but when it came down to having a group of friends, or even just one friend, that would let me into their inner circle of esteemed confidences, I was left behind. It’s gotten to the point that every time there’s an opportunity to pair up or cluster into a group (in a school or a social setting), I’m usually one of the last people invited. Not gonna lie, it wounds my little ego and leaves me a very lonely girl.
I’ve navel-gazed for years to try and figure out what has caused this conundrum. My parents have always noticed my lack of close friends, and whenever the topic comes up, they’ve always told me I have been raised to think very differently from the rest of society. This is somewhat accurate. My mom was raised out of the country and has a very different perspective on American culture than most people. Both of my parents are highly skeptical and have taught me to think through everything, which has led to my family having pretty unique viewpoints in most areas of life (for example, I am a strong Christian but also a strong liberal, which confuses pretty much everyone I meet in my very southern, very conservative environment).
And I do feel isolated, ideologically speaking. I feel like most people can’t relate to me in shared experiences (public school put a huge strain on me and I developed some pretty serious mental illnesses). But really, come on. Am I really that much of a ~special snowflake~? What should I do? Am I doing something wrong? I try to be nice and considerate, but I do have a sarcastic sense of humor that I worry is hurting people’s feelings, even though I’m usually just replicating their humor myself. Is it wrong to want a best friend? I just want someone I can talk to and feel understood; maybe someone who appreciates me enough to want to spend time with me over other people. Do I just need to get over myself?
Er, I'm not sure I'd put it quite that way, sweet pea. I mean, if nothing else, it's a sort of harsh and unproductive thing to say to someone who is already trying so hard to figure out how to solve her problems, and we have a policy 'round here about not kicking our dear letter-writers when they're down.
But at the same time, it is true that thinking of yourself as inherently different from all your peers (and of your peers as a great unwashed mass of simpletons who will never truly understand you) is often a recipe for loneliness. And on that note, there is one part of your letter that made Auntie look very askance, not at you, but at your parents—who instead of encouraging you to connect with other people based on what you do have in common, have instead encouraged you in your isolation by telling you that they raised you to be misunderstood. On purpose! And, uh, in a way that conveniently allows you to imagine yourself as not just different, but superior to everyone else. (Because your folks taught you to think through things, unlike all those other kids who were taught to make their choices by throwing a bag of goo at a wall and analyzing the patterns in the resulting blob).
Which is to say, if you were doing something wrong, it would be taking at face value the idea that other kids can't relate to you because you're smarter and more skeptical, whereas they are a bunch of sheep who can't think—and then letting it lead you to behave in ways that make your loneliness a self-fulfilling prophecy. And to be clear, I'm not saying you are doing that. I have no idea if you're doing that! I'm just saying, if you were, you wouldn't be the first person to preemptively distance yourself from people you've been told will never get you, and sabotage your ability to get close to anyone as a result.
Meanwhile, the truth is, there probably are folks in your class who you could be close with, even if they don't end up being the be-all-end-all BFF of your dreams. But even that isn't going to happen on its own, kiddo. If you already think that people just don't get you, and if you seem aloof, they aren't going to chase you (or eschew their existing connections in order to spend time with you and pick you first for team projects, as the case may be).
Which is why, rather than continuing to dwell on how much your peers can't relate to you, I'd like to suggest that you start looking for ways to relate to them. Your classmates have already welcomed you in on an acquaintance level, so why not extend yourself the same way? Compliment the earrings of the girl who sits next to you in homeroom and ask where she got them; ask the guy with an unusual hobby how he got into freestyle competitive dog dancing; and never underestimate the value of extracurricular activities that will put you in proximity to people with whom you already have something in common. Above all, stop trying to make yourself understood, and start making an effort to understand others. Figure out which of your classmates you'd like to be friends with, and take an interest in them. That's how you spark the kind of connection that leads to a rewarding friendship. And if you do all of this, a month from now, I can virtually guarantee that you'll feel happier, more connected, and better liked by the people you find most likeable.
Got something to say? Tell us in the comments! And to get advice from Auntie, email her at email@example.com.
Want more info about how this column works? Check out the Auntie SparkNotes FAQ.