By Mary McDermott
When I was five years old, I bit my little sister on her arm. Hard. It was hard enough that there were teeth marks sticking around for more than long enough for my dad to see. She had a toy that I wanted to play with and refused to give it to me, so I did what I could. When my dad asked me what happened as she stood there wailing and carrying on, I told him that she probably bit herself. I knew that what I did was wrong, and I knew that it was a less than stellar excuse. Yet I also knew that I could not reason with a two-year old and I did not want to own up to my obvious attack.
At the time I just regretted that she was so loud, and I do not know if I ever bit her again. I would be surprised if that was the last time to be honest, but the memory does stand out as a moment during which I learned a childhood lesson. It was wrong to bite people to get what you want (especially when your dad is working in the next room). It was wrong to lie to my parents, not to mention fruitless in this particular case.
There are many things that adults teach us as children. We are told to share, treat others the way we want to be treated and to say “please” and “thank you.” These are all perfectly understandable. They teach the conventions of social life and how to act in public. I realize that there is merit to many of these lessons. The one lesson that I no longer feel as obligated to, though is trying to get along with everyone. When people are children, they can’t read others very well. It makes sense to tell them to be friends with everyone.
But I have taken it upon myself to go against this convention in the past few years. I’m tired of trying to be best friends with people who I know—and I know that they know too—we are never going to feel much more attachment to each other than being acquaintances.
That isn’t to say that I don’t think I should be nice to everyone. I think that I am quite nice to everyone. If someone I don’t know wants to talk to me, I have no problem with that. But if we really can’t carry on talking about anything and it quickly turns into an awkward situation that neither of us wants to be in, then I don’t think it’s unreasonable for me to seek conversation elsewhere.
Over the summer, I spent a total of over four hours in the car with a friend from high school on our way to another friend’s summer house. Although I consider her to be my friend, we have never consistently hung out much for the years we’ve known each other. Yet, in those four hours, it was as if we were the best friends either of us had ever had. We simply click together in mutual understanding that we do not have to continuously act like best friends to have this connection.
Then there are the people who I just don’t click with. You know these people. They are those friends of friends that you just can’t seem to find anything to talk about no matter how hard you try. Or you get the dreaded feeling: that feeling that you can’t really describe, but you just don’t for the life of you know what to do with the person sitting in front of you. It is so awkward that choosing to do anything at all seems as if it will only make the situation worse.
It’s almost physically painful to force yourself to try to stick it out with someone who doesn’t quite realize how uncomfortable you are. I find myself reverting to mundane conversation topics: (insert name of mutual friend) is crazy, right?, why does it always rain on Tuesdays?, or how about that article in the newspaper last week? I wish I was joking that these are the conversation starters I use. They are the least I can do, though, when the only response I get is a blank stare into the distance or paranoid phone checking to see when other people will be joining us.
I do believe that relationships have the opportunity to change, though. I have a few that have adjusted over time naturally. For the vast majority of times though, if you don’t click with a person within the first three times of talking to him or her, it isn’t going to work out. You may genuinely like each other and even want to be friends. You might have a lot in common. But if you are not on the same wavelength, sadly it’s just not going to happen.
I find it exhausting to force myself to enjoy the company of people who just are not ever going to be my friends. It is so pointless. Why do we do this to ourselves? We do it because it is the right thing to do as far as social convention. It is the polite thing to do. I’m all for being polite; that is just fine by me. But I try to avoid painful social interactions at all costs.