(First written on Feb 28th, edited on March 16th/17th)
Last Monday I was having a lazy day. Winter came all of a sudden, and I spent the morning having ginger tea and working on some video projects feeling cosy in a warm sweater, the rain tick-ticking against the window. Then the rain turned into storm, and I wasn’t really feeling like walking all the way to Newtown t meet Kate for coffee. But I did, and boy was that an afternoon that made a difference.
Kate is not someone I really know. I met her through some volunteering we did together and she seemed like an interesting person but we’d never really had a proper conversation, so I was quite excited to finally get to sit down with her and lay the foundations for a possible friendship. We went to one of my favourite cafes, and over our soy lattes we found out we have so many things in common. I hadn’t planned this, but as we spoke I opened up like I hadn’t with hardly anyone else before. It might have been because Kate is so chilled and friendly and she made me feel at ease straight away, but I found myself talking about how tough last year was, how it felt to be back home for Christmas, how accomplished I feel with my life now, and what I’m working on for the future. I talked about self love, mental health, self discovery and growth - with a terminology and confidence I wish I could use on a more regular basis.
I wouldn’t normally bring up any of these topics on a first conversation with someone I don’t know, as my inner self tells me it’s not “appropriate” to get too personal with somebody you’ve just recently met. Being a hopeless introvert, I suck at small talk and I have very poor social skills. I’m always very conscious about what comes out of my mouth when I first meet someone, and I tend to only say things that I think the other person would want to hear, with the result that my conversations often sound clumsy and forced. My worry is that I won’t come across as who I really am, and that by the time I feel ready to open up these potential friends will have an idea of me that is completely different from the real deal, and it will be too late for me to talk about all the things I want to talk about because they will not expect me to have all these repressed issues, they were probably already thinking I was not worthy of their attention anyway and if I reveal my inner self now they’ll be taken aback and I would sound fake and unexpected, so instead I will continue to pathetically cling to these shallow relationships until everybody loses interest in me and I’ll be left to die alone. (In all this I obviously spend hours recreating past conversations in my head where I am the life of the party and always have the perfect comeback and I sound natural and relaxed and people actually like me.) These thoughts have been haunting me since I can remember. Trust me, it’s not fun to have this voice in the back of your head that constantly reminds you that you really should be concerned about how people perceive you.
By the time I moved to New Zealand, I was done with it. I saw moving overseas as an opportunity for a fresh start in many senses, and when I settled in Wellington I made a point that I was going to be myself one hundred percent. It obviously didn’t happen overnight, but I have been working hard towards becoming better at meeting people and at feeling confident talking about myself. What really helped was reminding myself of how it makes me feel when somebody is honest and genuine with me even if we don’t know each other very well. When someone opens up to me, it always makes me feel good about myself, because it means I’m creating a safe space for them to feel relaxed enough to talk abut anything. It means I can be trusted. I do believe very few traits are sexier than confidence: I admire people who are not afraid of putting themselves out there and expressing themselves for what they truly are. That’s what I aspire to be: confident, genuine, not afraid of whether my feelings are “appropriate” or what others might think of them.
Moving to a place where I didn’t know anyone was the perfect occasion for me to present myself as truly me. If people were ok with that, great; if they had a problem with it, also great - I wouldn’t need them in my life. In fact, I’ve been getting more and more used to the idea that it’s ok not to be friends with everyone. I’d much rather have fewer friends I can spend quality time with, instead of acquaintances I have hardly anything in common with. After learning it’s ok to say you don’t want to do stuff because you don’t want to do stuff, it became much easier to stop seeing people who were not adding anything to my life. As harsh as that sounds, it’s true: I’m done with small talk and wasting time building relationships that I already know will not lead anywhere. I only have one life, and what I want to fill it with is authentic interactions. I want to surround myself with people I can be myself with. People who support me and who understand me. People I can drop my barriers and preconceptions with. People who make me feel good about myself, who make me feel at ease and like it’s ok to talk about all my repressed deep shit and who can do the same with me.
So thank you Kate for being one of the first people who made me feel valid and accepted. Our conversation made me realise that being honest and genuine is not as scary as I thought. I can tell people I’ve had a rough year and they will not think I’m not worth of their time.They might even think I’m actually cool. Can I be your cool friend? Ok maybe I still need to work on those social skills after all.