You may not believe this, but I have never had many friends. I am friendly with many but friends whose connection last? Those I have always had a habit of having a few at a time.
When I was younger, I was a pretty intense child. Though no longer a child, I think I still am. I always had a lot of what I wanted at a particular point figured out by or for me. Somehow, I still do. I know that may sound strange, but then I have always been a thinker and a bit (okay a lot) of a worrier, and so yes, I kind of always did. I also have always taken life a little bit, well a lot, too seriously; mostly because I heard at a very early age that you only get one shot at it and for someone who always wanted to get it right, I guess many forms of paranoia set in. And because perfection was demanded of me and I successfully delivered albeit most times. But friends and friendship? Those are concepts I came to really understand and appreciate much later in life Nnwa.
In retrospect, I think I lost the idea of these words when as a 4th grader or thereabout, my then teacher asked everyone in my class to write about their best friend – which I did. Only to find out much later, when everyone had to read a bit of his or her essay aloud, that I had written about someone who had written about someone else. I was a bit confused, of course, and now that I think about it, later hurt not because I claimed sole exclusivity of any sort over this human but because the sniggering that followed told me something I had not known before. I was a friendly child that had no actual friends – at least not in the 4th grade understanding of the word.
You see, I was almost always surrounded by people that found me aloof in some way. Perhaps it was even because I always had a brother or two around watching over me and that, I suppose, scared the little humans. Maybe it was because I was almost always buried in a book or too much television and sometimes thought or spoke as though I belonged to other realms or maybe I was just not as good at making friends as I thought. It could have been any of these things or none. I don’t know. I remember wanting to fit in and wanting to be the one with the best friend.
It may be different in your time, but in mine, that was a 4th Grade necessity I thought. I wanted to morph into someone more acceptable. Someone more relatable. Someone they would find worthy. (See? Intense child right there) Maybe then, I thought, I would be that kid. I also remember your grandmother saying to me, often after my rants, that I was enough. Overdrive imagination, stubborn personality et al. That being liked is not something a child needed. All I needed was to know that I was enough she said. To young ears, she sounded like she lacked empathy at the time but I am glad she did not cuddle me to believing otherwise. Because I was just a child becoming many things and to have felt at that age that I needed to sate this natural craving to be liked by everyone saved me from myself. She believed many things, but she did not find that likeable was something I should have strived to be and so I did not. I was kind when shown kindness, smart because I was my parents’ child, tough because I learnt too soon that there are really no teams – I was on my own, and that was okay too.
Much later I began to understand what friendship meant, and I made a few. It was at this time I also learnt that I was doing it wrong in many ways before. I understood that it was not about having someone to write about in an essay, someone or someone to queue on the lunch lines with. I learnt friends were not people that stood by you because they felt, somehow, that they had to but because they chose to. My 4th-grade self-did not know it was a choice. She pretty much figured it was a right that came with the school package I guess. As I grew older Nnwa, I understood myself, understood others, and I have met some rather interesting humans. Some have come and gone, and that’s okay. Their season came and bloomed, and I am forever thankful for that. Some came and stayed. Those ones you will meet. Your aunts and uncles they will be.
I wrote this for you because I will want to give you so much that in doing so I will forget to give you even much more. You will be your mother’s daughter. Perhaps your own will be a more carefree spirit free of thoughts and fears of what lurks in the places we cannot see. Maybe you will be spared the curse of the overactive mind. But then again, you will be your mother’s daughter. So I tell you this: likeable is not something you need to strive to be. Be kind. Be patient. Be honest. Be loving. Have empathy. Those are things to strive for. Be you – you are enough. The friends will come and go. Sometimes in different proportion. You will have some for seasons and some for a day. So just be, some things you will learn along the way. And one of them is that a lot of stuff top being likeable. And one of them is choosing to be you. Every day.