Vin and I were talking about friendships the other day and I was narrating how I often felt like a third wheel in most of the social circles I was in. For those who don’t know me, I don’t have a best friend, nor do I belong to a clique (or “barkada” as we call it in Filipino). Rather, I’m the guy who knows a lot of people (friendly acquaintances if you will), and perhaps the tragedy is that it stops there.
Not that it always began that way. I mean early on in grade school, I was a popular kid. I got high grades, I regularly had parties at home, and had a few sleepovers at my place with friends. But a part of me changed when I realized that I wasn’t being a good friend to those I was with. I mean when we were playing video games, for example, I always wanted to be one of the players and didn’t want to pass it on to other people. There was also the fact that yes, I was popular in school, but I was also teasing a lot of my other classmates. And I had a best friend at the time. Unfortunately, he was also a bully (more of the physical kind, not that he ever really hurt me physically), and shared my propensity for self-centeredness.
To put it bluntly, I don’t know what happened. The day I stopped teasing other people and started caring, the world around me changed. From predator I became prey. I faced the insults, the bullying, and the social isolation that kids were capable of. I survived, and found solace in the few friends that stuck with me.
And then I graduated from grade school, and three-fourths of the class weren’t my classmates anymore. Those that did remain my classmates were well, let’s just say that they weren’t exactly my top ten choices. High school was filled with new discoveries, new challenges. Unfortunately, few people wanted to be my friend.
Vin was mentioning that in maintaining and making friendships, one has to take a proactive stance. You shouldn’t just depend on the other person to keep in touch with you. In high school, I was very active to the point of annoyance. I talked to a lot of people and tried to be their friend. Unfortunately, no one in class truly wanted me. They had formed their own social circles, their own cliques. At best, I was at the fringes, tolerated but not invited. There’s always group activities in school. You know that feeling when classmates immediately know who to team up with? I was one of the rejects, the clumsy kid you usually picked last during a sports contest. And so I drifted into various groups, never truly belonging to any one team. I tried insinuating myself into their cliques, but I was merely rebuffed. I tried opening myself up to them but they didn’t care.
And so for four years I attempted that. But by my last year, I knew it was a futile effort. In a soap opera, I was the guy who courted the girl, but the girl was in love with someone else and would say that we could still be friends (and he’d help the girl nonetheless despite knowing the fact that they could never be together). I was accepted up to a certain point, but never brought in. I was the person you could rely on if you needed something, but not the person you invited to your birthdays, to your celebrations. And true enough, this would be the pattern in the various organizations I would be part of in the future. Of course I was foolish back then, and perhaps my weakness was that I was too eager to befriend people to the point that I was “clingy”. Which as you know, turns off some people, and makes them less trusting of you. So if I lacked good friends back then, it wasn’t due to the lack of effort but perhaps too much of it. And people who would call me friend always kept me at a distance.
Graduating once again, I had a paradigm shift. But the results were still the same. I was a bit more amiable, a bit more friendly, and perhaps a bit more cunning. Unlike in the past where I was mister unpopular, now I was the guy who knew everyone. Yet the same problem persisted. I was kept at a distance, never truly having close friends. Lots of friends, yes. Close friends, no. So many of my weekends were lonely, and school actually gave a comforting aura because I was around people. Honestly, when you’re in college, making friends is easy. They’re all around you. And because you’re all facing common adversity (i.e. terror teachers, difficult schoolwork, merely belonging to the same class), there’s something you can talk about and one doesn’t need to be shy about approaching other people. Compare that to the real word, where you don’t talk to the stranger sitting beside you in the jeep, or the person you come across at the supermarket. The only place where you’re perhaps forced into forming friendships is the work place. Aside from that, you revert to your old habits, and party with the same set of friends you previously had.
Of course nowadays, I can’t say I’m brimming with effort to deepen friendships. When somebody asks me how was my day, I reply with a generic answer of “okay lang” (just fine), mainly because explaining the trials and tribulations would take too long, and I feel I shouldn’t burden other people with all my worries and complaints (that’s what reading my blog is for). Or at least if they’re sincere about it. How do I know if the other person is just finding an excuse to make casual conversation, or if they’re really interested in my day. The other reason why I reply with such a generic answer is because of confidentiality issues. Suffice to say, there are some stories I can’t tell other people because they’re not my right to do so (case in point: as a call center agent, you can’t really talk about your clients because that’s a breach in protocol; the best rant I can do is talk in vague motions, but nothing really specific).
Not that I’ve stopped being friendly to people. In fact, I’ve made a few new friends over the past year. But the fact is that I’m usually at the periphery, and no one wants to take the risk of deepening the friendship. On my part, I don’t want to take on the role of the uninvited guest, because I’ve played that part too often in the past, and all you get are disgruntled people. And perhaps the other factor that’s impeding me is the fact that I’ve developed a reputation. Sure, some people like me. But a number of people hate my guts, or hate my habits, or have reasons to dislike me (whether justified or unjustified). Just look at my friend’s list in livejournal. A number of people there hate me. But I add them to my friend’s list anyway, because to tell the truth, I don’t usually break the relationship. It’s usually other people who do so. Offhand, I can only remember one incident where I was the one responsible for breaking off with the other person. As for the rest, it’s usually the other side that gets mad at me, gets angry, or simply stops being my friend because their friends got mad at me.
Moral of the story? Well, it takes two to tango when it comes to forming deep relationships. I mean I could be the most amiable person in the world, but if the other person is unwilling to accept me, then there’s no friendship. Vin says you can win them over with persistence. Well, that’s true. But the opposite can also happen: they’ll get so annoyed with you that from mutual acquaintance you’ll turn into a pariah. And of course, even if you’re already friends with someone, unless you take the time to keep in touch, that relationship will eventually drift. People change, after all, and it’s the gradual changes that we can live with. When you keep out of touch with someone, you’ll one day discover that he or she is a totally different person. And perhaps another fact I want to tell is that people’s perceptions should change as well. I mean people do change, yet more often than not, the way we treat other people is as if they were static. I mean personally, I’ve grown and matured. Some people who dislike me before have seen the changes and have grown to accept me. Some still perceive me as the foolish kid I still once was though. And the opposite can be true as well: a person might have been a good friend to you once, but now, they’ve changed whether for the better or for the worse. The relationship shouldn’t remain static but change appropriately as well.
A fitting end would perhaps be my experience just a few hours ago. On my walk home, I passed by Robinsons Galleria to take shelter from the rain. A Chinese boy, with pale skin and shaved head, looked at me and started following me. He eventually came up to me and introduced himself as Allen. What’s your name, he asked. Charles, I said. Can I be your friend, he asked again. By now, I was suspecting he was a retarded kid or something (and his speech pattern didn’t help him either, because they were far from fluent). I hesitated, but I eventually said sure. He then asked me more details, such as where I was heading and where I lived. Of course I remember the warnings parents usually give to their children: don’t talk to strangers. And so I answered truthfully but vaguely, mentioning that I was walking home and that I lived in Mandaluyong. I asked him whom he was with and he said his companions were at the basement. By now, I was eager to get rid of him. Honestly, I appreciate the gesture. But why did he choose me of all people? I suspect it’s because he has nothing else to go on but by appearances, and by my appearance, I looked like one of his kin: that is, a fellow Chinese.
Before I walked out of the building, he eventually left me and said goodbye. We shook hands and I was only too eager to be away from him. Perhaps we’re not so alone in the world as we think we are. There are people willing to be our friends. The problem with us (and me in this case), I think, is that we choose our friends. We don’t accept who’s available, but rather pick the ones we think we deserve. It’s much like courting a girl: you think is the perfect one for you. Unfortunately, her opinion greatly differs from yours. And you have this friend, waiting patiently for you at the outskirts. But we ignore her, because we think she’s not the one for us. Sometimes it’s true. Sometimes… we’ll never know. Stranger friendships have been born out of stranger circumstances.