The first answer that comes to mind is: force.
I make myself. I have to, otherwise my time on this planet would be a very single, solitary existence and, believe it or not, I actually do have friends. Some, anyway. When I’m having a particularly bad day and just want to banish all communication with the outside world it baffles me how I actually came to make those friends but, nonetheless, they do exist.
My social circles are relatively small and have always been forced out of situations; work, university, sixth form, etc.. I don’t think I’ve ever made a friend as a result of me optionally putting myself out there through something I’ve chosen to do, like taking up an evening class or striking up conversation with a friendly stranger at a bar.
That’s not to say I can’t form close friendships, or maintain them; okay, I could definitely be better at keeping up with everyone (or at least replying to my messages – sorry!) and I have been known to breathe a sigh of relief when plans have fallen through. But really, I’d consider a lot of my friendships to be pretty strong and most of them have been going for a number of years.
But, with me, you don’t really get a choice in that last part – if we’re truly friends, you better believe it took us forever to get there! You see, for me, being an introvert means it takes a painfully long time to even begin edging out of my shell. I’m not kidding – however long you think I mean, double it. At least. People I now consider to be good friends often say they had to spend loads of time with me for at least a year before feeling like they even started seeing a glimpse of my authentic self.
Not that I’m playing a part or anything, but my social hang-ups mean I hide a lot of myself away, only showing very small flashes of my personality. You might hear a quip of my dry sense of humour or see my eyes light up briefly when we talk about music or Disney holidays; you might get an idea about me from my colourful hair, or my Dr Marten boots, or my tattoos, but it’s just an idea. It’ll take a lot longer before you really get to see beneath any of that and understand me as a person.
It makes it really hard to connect with people, and especially hard to fit in, when you can’t show all the way up. Every time I meet a new bunch of people I tell myself, this is it – this is your chance to start all over again, reinvent the wheel, squash your insecurities down and be yourself right from the start. But does it happen? Does it hell.
I keep quiet, I smile politely, I turn down kind offers of joining colleagues for lunch because it’s easier to spend an hour alone plugged into my headphones. I laugh at jokes but am too shy to make any of my own; I say the appropriate thing when inside my head I’m screaming something completely different; I nod along with chit-chat even though I’d rather spend my bank holiday weekend in a festival field than sunbathing in Saint-Tropez and I’ve never even heard of Heidi Klein (isn’t she that woman off Project Runway?!).
Sometimes I feel trapped inside my own skin and, let me tell you, it’s a bloody horrible feeling. I wish I could just snap out of it, but it’s like someone pulls an imaginary zip up over my head and that’s it – every part of me is hidden away except for a breathing hole. It’s frustrating, of course, but that zip is like a comfort blanket, it’s my safe space where I think, if I can just make myself as small and silent as possible, people will leave me alone.
It’s difficult when it takes you twice as long to open up and feel ready to make real connections and bond with people. It’s really, really difficult and, in all honesty, not everyone will always understand that. They’ll expect you to get there faster, and leave you in the dust as someone they “never really clicked with” when you don’t meet their deadlines. But you can’t rush it; the important people will wait for however long it takes you to get there and, trust me, once that foundation for friendship is in place, it’s unshakable.