I've always had trouble making friends. As a kid it was a bit easier because you didn't worry about things like having something in common or what life stage you were in. You like to play with paper dolls? Me too! Let's do it. As a teenager I struggled with making friends because I was sheltered and naive. I knew that some of the kids in my youth group weren't wholesome per-se, but they were at church so how bad could they be? Little did I know at the time, but the other kids could see this in me and rather than exploit it, they too protected me. No one told me they were in a gang. I found that out much later, after I had left the church. My best friend in high school (who also went to my church)...well, it turns out she was using me as a way to manipulate her mother. I wasn't even her best friend. She had another best friend and they would send each other notes laughing about how stupid it was that I didn't see through her lies. I know this because when her mother and I finally caught wind of what was going on, her mother showed me. The level of hurt I felt was deep.
Around eighteen, I started to make a nice group of friends. No longer as niave or trusting, I was more cautious around these people. I vetted them carefully. I held back from the people in our friends circle who seemed too wishy washy or dramatic. This served me well. I made several really good friendships from this time. Those friendships have been a struggle to maintain, but I am quite proud that I have had the same best friend for almost twenty years now and talk to many of them regularly. There's about five of them and I really do value their friendship.
I have moved several times all over the country and I readily admit that I struggled with forming connections with people. I thought at the time that the way to build friendships was to just go to church. Of course, looking back at my most lasting friendships, none of them were formed in a church. Not a single one. But I had bought the lie of the church that says that the church is where you should go to fellowship. It's where people are who will support you and encourage you. So everywhere I moved, I would immediately start looking for a church to go to, because that's how you become friends, right? Proximity + one single common interest (God) = friends. Right? It took me way too long to realize that this was a terrible formula that did not work for me at all.
So let's break down for a moment some of the barriers that exist that I think limit my opportunities to make friends:
1. Questions. To me, playing the twenty-question game with every new person I meet is exhausting. I try to have more organic conversations. If I mention I have a sibling, I'm not going to drill you about whether you do too. I mean, I just assume (perhaps incorrectly) that if you had a sibling you would now insert it into the conversation if you wanted to. I have been told by people that this lack of asking questions makes it seem like I don't care. I do. I just don't want to have to pry information out of you.
2. Opionated. I am opinionated. For the most part, my opinions are well-informed as I read a LOT, but it can come across as a bit strong. I hold my tongue a lot. People have no idea how much I hold my tongue. I have some really strong opinions about some subjects that I don't share with a damn soul. But even with me holding back, the being opinionated can be a bit much for some people.
3. Bossy. I've been bossy my entire life. As a kid it made me precocious and annoying, particularly to adults. As an adult it has served me very well in business and drives people nuts at game night. I would like to think that I am not as bad as I was when I was seven, but I also know it is always there, lurking. As a result, I often avoid taking on extra responsibilities where I would be in charge, because I know how easily I can slip that personality trait on and people don't like it.
4. Talkative. Folks, I talk a lot. A lot. I like talking. I may not ask questions, but I love talking to interesting people about interesting things. I could go on for hours about books, video games, movies, music. I love listening to others talk about their hobbies and interests. I learn tons of new things by talking to people. I also know that for those who aren't talkers, this really throws them off. I mean, I would rather chat on the phone then text and there is a whole sub-section of people out there who find this notion abhorrent.
5. Geek. Nerd. I am these things. These things are me. I know way too much about Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, Firefly, fantasy & sci-fi books, writing, physics, violin, classical music, D&D, puzzle video games, and board games. I do not like nor do I understand sports, manicures, MLM schemes, chick flicks, and badly written apologetics books. In church this particular thing was a problem because it seemed that only the guys liked the things I liked and guys & gals weren't encouraged to be friends...not unless you were looking to date. So I was stuck with the ladies whose idea of a wonderful afternoon was watching the newest rom com, followed by mani pedis, with a little Mary Kaye party in the end for something extra. For me, the entire afternoon was one horror after another, but I was trying so hard to fit in.
For the record I am also an excellent friend to have. Despite my flaws I have many strengths too. I will rearrange my schedule to spend time with you, even getting up at 4 or 5 in the morning to go have breakfast if you are a morning person. I keep in contact through text, messenger, social media, email, and phone, even when you don't reciprocate. I will remember your birthday and buy you an awesome present that you will like. I will go do things I don't love just because you love it. (ahem....bowling) I will invite you to concerts, plays, movies with no expectation that you will pay for it. I just want the company of someone who will enjoy it. I will babysit your children for free. I will buy a plane ticket and come visit you if you don't live near me anymore. (I've been to Boston three times since leaving, and to Seattle three times as well) There is absolutely no drama with me. Even if you are behaving in a way that I think is wrong, I won't offer advice unless asked for and even then I am kind and gentle. I don't talk shit behind people's backs. Ever. I accept people for who they are, flaws and all. I find more value in being supportive and kind, then being the kind of person who "tells you how it is".
How does this all tie into making friends when religious vs. not. Well, one thing I have found is that the 5 flaws listed above are really frowned upon in the church. Christians are supposed to ask other people a lot of questions because that is part of evangelizing and also a part of making those surface level semi-connections that are supposed to make new church-goers feel welcomed. Being bossy and opinionated were big no-nos for women in the church, unless you were the church gossip who "prayed" for everyone. She was okay in that context because she was only bossy and opinionated because she was such a strong woman of God, don't ya know. Talking was fine, as long as you talked about the right subjects, which did not include any of the interests listed in #5. Those interests were wordly. Sure, everyone saw the newest Marvel movie, but have you seen the newest craptastic Christian film? Because that's what we should be talking about since we are both Christians and are interacting in the church. Even my awesome church in Boston was sometimes guilty of this, although there was an added dimension of extreme intellectualism that colored all of this.
Here's what I have noticed about trying to make friends outside of the church: People are more forgiving of my flaws. The fact that I talk a lot means that there are certain people out there who would never be friends with me, but it isn't because they think women should be quiet in the church. My interests matter more because I'm not expected to fit into a neat Christian-woman box. Informed opinions are seen as adding to the conversation, not subverting the status quo. Making friends didn't become easier, but it certainly feels like there is some pressure that has been put off be being outside of a church. A pressure that I wasn't even aware was there until I walked away.
For the record, I am a wonderful friend once we have formed a connection. I have flown across the country for people. I will keep in regular contact. I'll get up extra early in the morning to have breakfast, even though I am not a morning person. I have gone to concerts for bands I don't like, just because a friend loved them. You can be guaranteed that I will never fight with, yell, or gossip about you to anyone.
This is a personal, but secret, blog archiving my deconversion from a Christian to a non-believer.