My sweet Pips and I had lunch with an old friend today. He calculated we hadn’t seen each other in 28 years. Good grief. I must’ve been 6 last time I saw him. No wonder he said she looked so like me when I was younger…..
Anyway, we were discussing perceptions of each other when we were in school together. He described me as shy. I never would’ve used that word, but I definitely feared jumping into others’ conversations where I may not be welcome. He recalled the feeling of never being accepted at the “in” table, which I also remembered clearly. Then he talked about a girl we both knew, who’d confessed to him that she had feared rejection badly. I had always thought she was arrogant and had avoided her accordingly. I didn’t need her looking down her nose at me, since I was already nearing the bottom of the social heap. I was really surprised, when I reconnected with her, how genuinely open she was. And how much we had in common. Others I never expected have welcomed me as a friend just as generously.
It struck me how we all gauged our relationships on fear. Of the unknown, of uncertainties, of potential humiliation.
And once we got past the expectations and perceptions of high school, we could all be friends. It makes me happy I’ve chosen to homeschool. My kids have no conception of peer pressure or expectations – because it’s not part of reality. It’s only a construct in schools (and beauty shops.) My kids, like most adults, just like or dislike a person based on actual experience with them, not who they keep as friends or what they drive.
It also makes me happy I’ve grown up. There are people I’ve known for years and feared being friends with for nothing more than a perception of who they are. That is so wrong. Everybody suffers when a potential friend is not realized or developed.
Growing up, I was the only girl on my street, and I didn’t get a sister until I was in college. I’ve had precious few female friends. Which was fine for a while; it’s a lot easier to talk cars with guys than girls. Only for the four years I lived in Las Vegas did I have a circle of female friends. I missed them before we met, and I miss them again now. But all the way through school, most of my friends were male. My initial choice for my maid of honor was male. I didn’t have bridesmaids; I had bridesbuddies. No joke.
All this just to illustrate the power of perception and it effects on friendship. Years ago, I was invited to a family party with a friend. My family didn’t have parties, so this was a real treat for me. It sounded like fun. The minute I arrived, I met my friend’s grandmother and parents. It flashed across my mind that I was not merely a friend, but a marriage prospect being considered by the elders. I saw other friends I knew at this party, including the guy I went to lunch with today, but that didn’t change the perception in my mind. I panicked and extricated myself immediately. I don’t remember, but I may have walked home. I never explained to my friend what happened nor spoke to him again. While I’m sure he has not spent years pondering what he did to offend me, I’ve often wished I’d given him the benefit of an explanation. Because that’s what friends do, and I wasn’t one that day.
I was in the 8th grade when that happened. Fear is a powerful force, and drives us to do stupid things. It’s also not from God. I desperately wanted family and friends, and yet when they presented themselves, I ran away. God wants us in fellowship with others. Anything that isolates us from humanity is not from God. I thought about the truth of 1 Sam. 16:7, which was the theme of the book Pips asked me to read when we got home. “For the Lord seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart.” (It’s an Amish book, so the King James Bible was quoted.)
I am so glad I had a chance to talk with this friend today. Fear will no longer rule the day. Because perfect love casts out fear, and (I’m hearing a mantra I recite to my son) communication is key to every relationship. I could have had many, many friends in school had I merely asked if I were welcome to join the group. Because we all know how honest schoolkids will be.