En Garde, Ne Touchez Pas

Nobody has ever really considered me to be their Best Friend. Or at least, they’ve never told me about it. I grew up before the “selfie” thing began, so there aren’t any pictures of me cuddled up to my bestie, or manicured photos of us dressed up and ready to go somewhere fun. No home videos of me and my bff doing something funny or interesting. Those things don’t exist, because they never happened. Nobody ever looked at me that way. Unless you count dudes, who generally felt pretty safe around me, because I was “one of the guys,” which is a phrase I CAN’T STAND. But they weren’t jumping to preserve those fun candid moments in a photograph. They just didn’t do that stuff.

The fact of the matter is, I wasn’t the type to have a bestie, in the traditional way. I found the posing and posturing stuff to be forced, and was uncomfortable with hugs and arm holding and being physically close to my girl friends. I noticed them doing it, when they didn’t notice they were doing it, and I would think to myself, “Why don’t I do that? Why do I want nobody to come near me? Why does it feel weird and unnatural?” I didn’t feel that way around my male friends, because most of our contact was aggressive (shin kicks, arm punches, pushing and shoving, head smacking, etc) so there was nothing out of place about it. It seemed like what everyone did, but at the same time, I wasn’t going to smack my girl friends, so I just cut off the physical contact piece altogether, and thought that was fine.

Guys felt comfortable to me, because I grew up with my older brother and his friends. I also wasn’t particularly girly, I didn’t mind getting hurt or dirty, I swore a lot, I was abrasive and confrontational, but somehow also the funniest person in the room. It was (is) nearly impossible to offend me, and I think I was a breath of fresh air, for the guys in my class. I think they liked when I swore, and when I said things about boobs. That’s not why I hung out with them, though: to make them laugh and want to hear more, though that was a draw, for sure. I liked making people laugh, and it seemed like I was always more successful at making guys laugh, so I naturally gravitated toward that feeling. It had nothing to do with the girls not being fun to be around, because I definitely had a few kickass female friends, who I still love and respect. No, I hung out with the guys because it was just easier. I didn’t have to worry about hurting anyone’s feelings, because I grew up when guys were still afraid to show their vulnerability outside of their bedroom. They weren’t offended by my humor, which I KNOW is over the damn top sometimes, and it feels great to not have to filter yourself, and just let shit land. I could just be myself.

I couldn’t do that with my female friends, for the most part, because (in addition to the awkward physical contact) they had some real feelings. We were pre-teen/teenage girls, growing up in a small town, during the aggressive second wave of feminism. I had to pretend to be something I wasn’t – or rather, hide parts of myself that just wanted to be crude and playfully insulting. I used a lot of insult humor, and felt like I was being constantly fed opportunities by my classmates and teachers, and I didn’t want to pass on ANY joke; I wanted to say everything that I thought was clever, and put my wit on display when I thought the timing was perfect. I felt conflicted… I didn’t want to hurt or offend my friends, simply because it felt like it was the wrong thing to do. Even though my jokes were fueled by timing and set-ups, there was seldom any truth to them, and were usually not meant to hurt. Still, I didn’t want to put them in the situation where they had to work out whether or not I was truly making fun of them. It was a tangled web. I did make my female friends cry a few times, and I’m not proud of that, but at the time, I don’t think it mattered much to me. I cared about being funny, and barely stifled the urge to roast everyone at all times.

One friend did consider me their Best Friend for several years, and he happened to be a guy. I look back on our friendship, and I don’t know why he thought I was better than his other friends. I was pretty mean, and didn’t realize I was being such a relentless asshole about it, until probably right now as I write this. We can’t ever see ourselves the way other people see us, no matter how we scale ourselves back, no matter how funny we think we are, or how harmless we think our intentions are. In that same way, we can’t see what others value in us, either. I never thought to ask about my qualities as a friend, and never told him why I valued him. He was a fun and patient person, and that made me feel comfortable to be myself. I wish I had given him credit for that, because the act of not letting myself disappear completely, was probably the most integral part of my upbringing.

When I was a teenager, I once told my mother, after not seeing her for many years, that I didn’t want her to hug me, and that it made me uncomfortable. It broke her heart, and I can’t imagine one of my kids saying that to me, and on top of that, I probably was a fucking dick about it at the time. I was so guarded, that I didn’t know why anyone would be shrouding me in hugs. I thought I was such a rude and abrasive person, that everybody else saw me that way too, and that they all knew that they were all better than me. Like they all saw through my façade of defense mechanisms, and were ready to expose how sub-par I was, at any minute. Why did I feel that way around my own mother? It didn’t make sense. I had gotten so far into my own head, that I felt like I had been rejected by everyone, simply because nobody wanted me to be the traditional “friend” to them. I felt like I was being left out of something on purpose, because I didn’t belong. They went to each other’s houses, and went out to do things on weekends, and went to school functions, and played sports, and took dance, and had all the things I wanted… but I was left out, so I must not have deserved to feel included. It was me, not them. They all liked each other. I let that toxic mindset cause me to reject my mother, which is such a terrible thing to realize.

As an adult, I am still fairly guarded. I’m still not a hugger, though sometimes a person’s vibe can strike me in just the right way, and I’ll hug them. My daughter isn’t a hugger, either, other than with me, which is ironic. I think she’s as guarded as I am, because she has a similarly minimal group of friends, but unlike me, she places importance on having a best friend. Where I wrote off any interest in being a part of that culture, she does want the affirmation and acceptance, and to feel like she identifies with someone. She takes the selfies, and is comfortable with the casual physical contact, and wants to be included, but doesn’t like too much attention. She likes attention, but she doesn’t want the focus to be on her, is a better way to describe it. She uses voices and sound effects and random moves and faces to capture people’s interest, if even for a few seconds. I used jokes and sarcasm to do the same thing. Who’s to say which method is correct?

My son is one of the most personable people I’ve ever known in my entire life; he’s so intelligent and funny, with an incredibly mature and dry sense of humor, and an outgoing attitude that adults find charming. He’s polite in a way that is practically non-existent in this society, always holding the door for someone, or shaking hands with people he encounters, even casually.  He is involved in clubs and organizations, loves to act and sing and play music, and rolls with whatever everyone wants to do. Despite these great qualities, his peers don’t like him. The males like to assert their dominance over him, because he is non-confrontational. The females don’t know he exists, because he’s not an athlete, and that just happens to be the big deal in our area. He also joined his class in the middle of 7th grade, so he never outgrew the New Kid label. It doesn’t help that his sense of humor is so much more elevated than those around him, so the only people laughing are usually the teachers or parents. The kids don’t get it. They don’t realize he’s so funny, so one of his two biggest personality traits misses the mark with them. His other boldest trait would be his intelligence, and his classmates don’t appreciate that, either. The truth is, my son is what you would call a “Know-It-All.” He loves knowledge, and will read or watch anything in order to gain it. He reads copyright information. He studies people throughout history, that you would never think to care about, much less think to memorize their entire life story. He recites timelines, origins, and little-known facts like someone is testing him. He asks everyone’s opinion about everything, all the time. He wants to gather information, and if you don’t have information for him, he’s going to give you information instead. He uses that interest to his advantage, earning Honors in school consistently, and killing the grading curve on tests. He likes to show off how much he knows. In high school, people don’t really like that. They’ll appreciate it much later in life, but right now… not so much.

Therefore, his net of friends is widely cast, but sparsely populated. He will be the first to admit that he prefers it this way. I wonder how much of that confession is a defense mechanism of his own. Like my jokes. Like his sister’s outbursts. We create our own comfort zones, where we get to show the person we want everyone to see, and we acknowledge but still hide our true feelings, and we convince ourselves we don’t want the things that aren’t available to us.

Eventually, we find people who don’t make us feel excluded. We feel like we’re accepted, even without putting on the front. We don’t have to hide the rejection, because it’s not present, and we don’t have to create a comfort zone, because our true personality traits are naturally valued by those around us. The good ones and the bad ones, and we don’t have to make excuses for it. We can be unapologetically US. I think all of my classmates found that in each other, and I just never did, so that’s why I didn’t fit in. I put up the guard like it was my idea. Now, I get to be with people who make me feel comfortable and real, and so, I have stopped hiding my real personality. It’s about living my life, and accepting that not everyone will like it. Those who want to accept me, will. Those who don’t want to include me in their selfie, can fuck off.

 

-jg

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