On Friendship, and Learning To Be Vulnerable

I’ll let you in on a secret: I don’t really know how friendship works.

Growing up, I was always the third, fifth, seventh wheel of friendship groups. I think I had opportunities to have closer friendships than I did, but I never managed to capitalise on them. I never knew how to. Because for most of my childhood, my experience of people my age was that they were terrible. But those years aren’t what I want to talk about today. I want to talk about the aftermath.

Because here are the things I never learned to do: I never learned how to be a friend. I never learned how to talk to people without fear of judgement. I didn’t learn how to be vulnerable in front of people, and that meant I closed up whenever I got scared. Which was, and remains, most of the time. It’s only really in the past few years, thanks to my fiance and the friends that I have managed to make, that I’ve begun to learn those skills I never got.

Which means…I still suck at them. And that’s annoying.

I spend a considerable amount of my time worrying that I am a terrible friend. I find it difficult to initiate conversation with even my closest friends, sometimes even my partner when my anxiety is bad enough (though that happens only a very small amount of the time now). So I go days sometimes without talking to them and that leaves me thinking…am I a bad friend?

I’m pretty good at looking after people when they need help. I’m actively trying to be better at that. But going to people when I’ve got a problem is still overwhelming for me. With some relationships, always being the one to initiate conversations, difficult or otherwise, is hard for me. And this gets into everything, even though I’m getting better and better at doing these things.

That might seem weird, because I have a blog where I talk very openly about my mental health. But talking to a blog is incredibly different to talking to a person, and my experience with talking to people is – well, much less than in writing words that go out into the void of the internet. But I have to get better at it.

Because if I don’t understand how friendship works, can I imagine it? Can I write it?

So much of Oracle is about the friendships between the main characters, and I can’t tell you how terrified I am that – in my lack of knowledge – I haven’t done that justice. In my first draft? Corentine and Kalyani never argued. Ever. Because conflict and disagreement means you hate one another, right? Your best friends should be people you never, ever argue with.

But that…that isn’t how things work.

Everyone frustrates you sometimes, everyone can make you angry, everyone can do things to hurt you. That doesn’t necessarily stop them being your friend. I know this logically. I’ve slowly begun to start learning it emotionally. But it’s not ingrained into my mind yet, and that means that when writing I don’t include it unless I consciously make the choice to.

I actually went through in my second draft and wrote in disagreements, resentments, moments where everyone snapped at each other but then worked through it. And since then I’ve been worrying about whether or not those changes have done realistic friendships justice. Hopefully, I’ll find out when my incredible beta readers start to give feedback!

Basically, I’m just trying to be aware of my anxiety.

Which sounds counter-intuitive to a lot of advice you’ll get. But I don’t think ignoring certain anxieties solves anything. I think in order for me to learn to be a better friend, I need to acknowledge that I don’t know how to, because otherwise I’ll never work on it. And I’ll never be able to write it authentically.

Which is why you’ve heard me talk about this before, and you’ll hear me talk about it again. Because so many of the things you need to learn as a writer to write well – and you do need to learn them – are about the ways in which people engage with one another. And, much more importantly, because it’ll make me much happier as a person when I’m in a place where I can be open about everything.

If you want to read Oracle for yourself to see how I did with making people angry at each other, become a Patron today and you’ll get immediate access to the beta read!