I’m going to let you in on a little secret: I am very shy and very bad at making friends.
The thing is, you’d probably never know. Most of my friends probably don’t even know. It is a huge effort for me to introduce myself to someone new if I am by myself. If I’m with someone else, I’m comfortable, I’m happy, and I’m excited to meet new people. That’s when I make friends. Alone, I shrink into myself, bury my face in a book, avoid making eye contact, and try to pretend that I’m calm and cool and satisfied being alone. Most of the time, I’m feeling the exact opposite. I don’t know what I’m afraid of. I don’t know why taking a chance is so hard. What’s the worst that could happen? Worst is, we have an awkward conversation. So what?
This past week at work showed me what it feels like to be isolated in a building full of people. My last remaining comrade in primary left Malaysia last weekend and I had the privilege of helping her make the arrangements during her last week at school. It’s the least I could do for someone with whom I have the shared experience of being bullied by our boss; every time I mention something that our boss has done, I wonder if the person I’m talking to actually believes me. It’s usually that ridiculous. Thankfully, my friend and her family are back in their home country now. I’ve never seen her and her children as happy as they were when we came back from the airport holding the tickets that had been paid for in cash! I miss her terribly but it’s definitely better for them to be back home.
Without her, I’m definitely lost at work. I rebel, and that’s not going to change, but now I’m rebelling on my own. My remaining friends are in secondary and I don’t see them at all during the day. My other friends are lower primary teachers so we don’t have the same recess and lunch times. Long story short, I am completely alone at work and I hate it. It’s hard to tell what “side” people are on so I can’t say what I’m thinking most of the time. The walls have ears in that building, anyway. Up to this point, I have been incredibly lucky to work in a very tight-knit social studies department. The people in that department were my closest friends at work and having them as colleagues was a wonderful part of my job.
With my friends here, we’ve starting talking recently about our social lives. A very difficult part of that is that they’re limited. The staff at school is quite small and we don’t live in a vibrant, cosmopolitan area with a plethora of opportunities to meet people outside of school. We live in a very small town where everything one would want to do is about an hour away in KL or Melaka. An hour might not be far to travel, but it’s far to go to find somewhere livable, especially since I’m used to Rochester where literally everything is within 20 minutes and I strategically positioned myself in the middle of all of it. While I love my friends here, we all agree that we miss having multiple social groups and social opportunities.
Friends have not been hard to come by here, despite my shyness, because everyone showed up looking for friends. I do feel alone, however, because it’s my first time without a roommate, because my boyfriend lives in another country, and because my closest friends here are a couple. Mitch and I never minded – and honestly really liked – when another friend joined us for a meal or an outing but that’s not the same for everyone and I’m not brave enough to ask. If I were braver, I’d attempt to include myself more often. I’m not braver.
I had a similar experience my first year teaching. I moved back home and started work and graduate school while my friends from undergrad did the same. My friends from high school were finishing their senior years of university. My friends in graduate school had attended the same school as undergraduates and most of them had friends still in the area. I never felt like I fit into that group of people, also because many of them had known each other since undergrad. They never made me feel that way; I made myself feel that way. I don’t know why.
I was very lonely until some my friends moved home the following year. That loneliness led to a series of terrible choices because I was looking for a “go-to” person. My roommates had always been my go-to people and now I was living with my parents. I didn’t feel comfortable enough (why, why?) with any of my new friends to call them up on a Saturday night and make plans, so I just didn’t make plans. I was alone a lot.
Life definitely got better when some high school friends returned to town and I moved in with one of them. We had a social life! We had friends! Most of the new hires at Mitch’s company were our age and because Mitch is great at making friends, I also had new friends! In at least two of our groups, I had the job of Planner, so we always had plans on weekend evenings. Sometimes we’d be with this group, sometimes with that group, and sometimes we’d be with a new group entirely. With at least one person who I know in a room full of people, I’m quite social. I think it’s because I know that I can always join another conversation or wave at the one person that I know. Mitch and I usually spent our nights talking with different people and recapped our experiences to each other on the way home. When Mitch spent months at a time studying for the CFA and people were busy, I’d call my mum. I like being alone for finite periods of time, usually weekday evenings. Otherwise, I prefer to be around people.
Here in Seremban, I’m alone very often and I find it very hard. I’ve never felt isolated before because there has always been someone to call, and sometimes I chose not to. Here, I feel isolated, lonely, and sad much more often that I used to. No one has done anything to make me feel that way, so it’s probably self-imposed. I just don’t know how to fix it.