When I started high school I had a couple of friends. However, they ditched me and found new friends. I was never alone like that and I didn’t know how to get around, socially. I had no friends and I was very shy. At some point I thought I wasn’t good enough for friends, while my old friends made new ones. I’m going into tenth grade now and I’m still struggling a lot and I feel really insecure. How do I face my fears?
Imagine Little House on the Prarie. Close your eyes and let the image fill your brain: small town, small community, tiny one-room schoolhouse with about 15 kids in it…. Have you got the picture? You can open your eyes now: you’ve just experienced my high school.
Yup, growing up in Memphis, Tennessee, The Yeshiva of the South was a tiny brick house with 14 girls in the entire high school (my grade was the largest grade, coming in at a whopping SIX girls!) The boys’ school was a completely separate entity, with a grand total of TWO boys in the whole school. (When they both graduated one year, one was valedictorian and one was salutatorian. It was a win-win situation.)
Needless to say, it happened to be that none of the 14 girls were really suitable soul-mates for me, so I spent my entire high school career without a best friend in school. So I understand what you’re going through. I’m so sorry you feel lonely. I think loneliness is the most difficult life challenge to endure. But what can you do about it? Well, from my own personal experience in high school I learned a lot.
First of all, I learned how to cobble together a social life for myself. Because none of the girls in my school were going to work as my best friend, I was friendly with them, but not super-close with them, and not exclusively friends with them. I found other friends in other places, and each one of my different friends understood and could relate to a different piece of me.
My “semi-friends” in school were the people I spent all day with, and we shared on the level of “we are in the same school together.” Then I had a friend who understood my deep love of books. But she wasn’t the same friend who I could really have a fun time with and talk to about life. And that latter friend didn’t go to my school, so she didn’t understand what my days were like, and she didn’t really understand my observant lifestyle and what Shabbos and Kashrus were all about. And then I had the friend who just was my “fun friend.” (My most salient memory of her is driving 80 miles per hour down a dirt road in Arkansas with her in her new car, listening to Steve Winwood’s “Back in the High Life.” As I beg my own children: please, please, please learn from my mistakes so you don’t repeat them! My smart kids have (thank you, Lord!) already assured me that they are fully aware that driving down dirt roads at 80 miles per hour is not an intelligent decision, and they’re not planning on ever doing that—especially not in Arkansas.)
So yes, I was lonely, but I found pieces of what I needed, socially, in many different people. You don’t have to limit your search for a good friend only to the kids who attend your school with you. Perhaps you can find additional “candidates” in your local B’nai Brith, NCSY, or USY chapter, in your synagogue, in summer camp, in extracurricular activities…..
Another thing I learned from trolling around for a friend, instead of just automatically having a friend there for me: the best way to get a friend is to be a friend. Look around, and see whom you might want to become friendly with. Then sincerely show that person your interest in their likes and dislikes and opinions. Ask them what they think about things. Ask them what they like to do. People are touched when others are interested in them and their thoughts and their preferences. And sincerely show them that you like who they are. That’s the best way to begin the process of acquiring that person as a friend.
I’ll tell you another great lesson I learned the summer before seventh grade. I used to be very shy, much as you describe yourself to be. I didn’t just go over to people and start conversations with them, especially not people I didn’t know. But that summer, I decided I didn’t like being shy. It was too isolating, and I felt lonely. I was at sleepaway camp, so there were lots of kids around. I decided to watch, observe, and learn. I watched how outgoing kids behaved. I saw them marching straight up to someone and just laughing and talking to them, and I studied very carefully how they did it. Then, even though I was terrified that someone would say, “Hey, Lauren! You can’t act like that—you’re shy!” I did the same thing. I just marched up to people and started talking and laughing with them. And no one berated me for it! No one said, “Hey! That’s not the way you’re allowed to be!” By practicing and practicing acting gregariously, I became gregarious.
Finally, I’d say the most important lesson of all that I learned from my feeling so lonely in high school was: learning to love myself. Learning to be my own best friend when I couldn’t find someone else appropriate for the job. Being alone is not what’s difficult; feeling lonely is what’s awful. Learning to be alone and to be content just by yourself is a beautiful skill to practice and to become adept at. And it’s a skill I’m so grateful I have. Do you know that now, as an adult, even though I have friends, I really enjoy being alone, too? I make sure to schedule time to be with friends, and I also make sure to schedule time every day just to be alone. It’s a wonderful feeling to love yourself and to enjoy the company of your own thoughts.
You’re welcome to look for friends, but don’t forget the best friend who will always be there for you—yourself.