Once upon a time I asked a well-known Christian psychologist how to make new friends. Not that I was in need of more friends at the time, but I’d made the mistake of trusting someone who proved untrustworthy, and had lost some faith in my own abilities. After all, I’d lived in the same community for decades, and had finally become a part of that community. No need for new friends. Nope. Not me.
Now that Mel and I have moved what seems halfway across the country, the good counselor’s words have returned to me recently. I believe it’s time to heed them.
Her first piece of advice was to move slowly. Don’t take anyone at face value. That was a difficult suggestion for me because I tend to want to like everyone I meet. Obviously, people appreciate beauty. That’s why the picture above of my character, Lauren, shows her beauty, and why novelists are always attempting to create the most appealing cover for prospective readers. But some people could look at this picture of Lauren and automatically like her for her beauty–a shallow basis for friendship. Others might hate her out of jealousy. Those would not make good friends.
It’s difficult to tell how people will react. That’s why one must move slowly when reaching out to make friends. I might turn people off simply by the way I apply my makeup or behave–and that’s not going to change. Not, of course, that I have Lauren’s beauty, but someone might react poorly to my eye color or my tendency to smile too much. Oh, yes, someone asked me the other day why I was smiling. It either irritated or intrigued him, I’m not sure which. So many people see things differently from the way I see them. That’s a good reason to move slowly. Making friends doesn’t always mean finding those who totally agree with everything you think, feel and say, but it should mean avoiding someone who could be toxic to you–someone who might dislike you because you’re fat, skinny, smart, simple, (insert any of your physical or behavioral qualities here). Anyone who would prejudge you for your appearance or personality tics is not good friend material.
I walked into a store the other day and observed the interaction between the two workers on duty. One was perky, bubbly, spoke in a high, girlie voice, and was very talkative. I found her outward personality appealing. I love people who are easy to talk to because I find it difficult to carry a conversation. This lady made it easy. Her coworker, on the other hand, replied to her comments with biting sarcasm, make sharp retorts to any of her observations, and came across as filled with animosity toward her. It might have been a clash of personalities, but I could feel the toxic brew in that store. Maybe it went both ways, I don’t know, but it wasn’t comfortable. Those two women were not friends, and they shouldn’t even have been working together at the same time.
My good counselor’s second piece of advice about new friendships was not to share everything of myself upon first meeting–another difficult piece of advice, but so very true, as I’ve learned in years since. It isn’t quite the same as moving slowly. I have a tendency allow myself to be read like an open book–or at least that’s what people think. I AM very open about some things in my life. That makes people think I’m open about everything. Not so. Not at all. They don’t know how many secrets I hold. After all, I was active in our clinic and knowledgable about many patient problems when we were open. I would rather sew my lips shut than share any private information about those patients to others. In fact, some of my best friends had family coming to our clinic, and they never heard a single word of it from me. Logically, when you think about it, why shouldn’t I be as protective of my own secrets as I am of our patients? So thanks to my counselor friend’s advice, I will decide what I will and will not share with a new, prospective friend in our new community.
Third and final piece of advice for now–beware those people who share all their trials with you upon first meeting. They have ulterior motives whether they realize it or not. Some desire to lure people into confiding, as well. Then those predators can use the secrets of others against them later. There are psychopaths among us–not necessarily killers, but psychopaths. I’ve read books about them. They don’t feel human emotion for themselves, so they have to feed off others. There are apparently more than we might think. Doesn’t that put your defenses up a little?
There are others who are so needy for friends–and incapable of retaining friendships due to character weaknesses in themselves–that they share all in order to force you to be a friend. In my opinion, that’s as toxic as befriending a psychopath.
I’m not talking about chatterers. I love people who love to talk and can hold a good conversation with you for the duration of a long walk. I have many friends like that, and enjoyed them immensely when we walked together. They didn’t, however, dump all their woes on me the minute they saw me. They don’t need a mommy, they just need someone to share with them. I love talkative people. I also love people who know when it’s time to stop talking and say goodbye.
For now, my friends are online and I can talk to them on the phone. You don’t spend decades in one community without making a boatload of wonderful friends. You also don’t spend those decades in that one small community without realizing how difficult it is for new people to break through the well-settled core of solid friendships and become part of that new community. But I’m moving slowly, checking things out, and relying on old, proven friendships while I test the waters here. Few people know my name, much less that I’m a novelist with over thirty novels under my belt. That’s okay, because I don’t want them befriending me because they think I might be famous (you and I know that isn’t true.)
There seem to be a wealth of opportunities for friendship–after all, I’ve been told that the small towns of Nebraska are comprised of the salt of the earth. Now to gradually become acquainted.