Friends and friendships. We all want them, need them and many of us depend on them. Most people have friends and these take the form of acquaintances, workmates, close friends and intimate friends. You know the latter case being those you could tell everything and anything to and not show the slightest hesitation. When I say “intimate” that does not have to mean physically but in most every other way. Most people have very few if any of these intimate friends in their lives but many of the former listed friendships. And that just might be fine for many. At different times of our lives we change out friends when some move on, get married and move away, some pass away and others simply change life course and no longer fit into ours. This happens and is not always a bad thing. As for me and my friendships through the years….? Well, it is not so cut and dried.
While growing up in both California and Montana, I had the small and select group from school as we all seem to have. Usually about five or six pals and our play time was mostly at school and on the playground only, rarely with any visitation at their houses or living spaces. When I got a bit older and moved to Spokane, I found my total number rose very slightly when entering middle and high school. Where were all of the friends I was supposed to have during these most informative and educational years? Well, I simply didn’t know then. Although I was told that I could really only have friends in the same faith/religion I was part of. As JW’s, we were told and admonished not to associate with other “worldly” people outside of the organization except at school,work,etc. This “rule” or I might call “order” was also applicable to adults as well. It was supposed to keep us all clean from outside and worldly influences and wholesome. Really? Um, OK.
So, as a result of this, the total number of real friends ( other than a very small number of other JW kids, none of whom I had anything in common with ) could be counted on one hand. This meant I had little peer influences and other kids to learn from or to play with. This also left me to either playing and exploring life with my brother (which was always a good thing as I adore him and we got along/get along splendidly) or left to my own devices. Yes, I was a really lonely kid through most of middle and high school. Now in all fairness to my parents I must say that while they towed the church line a little, they also didn’t forbid me from ever doing anything with other kids. Therefore I did get to experience a few things and learn. But to most of those in school I was a pariah of sorts due to the religion I was part of. Not that I was abused or persecuted at all as that was never an issue. But I was a reject and not “fun” as I couldn’t do anything they did nor able to explore and experiment. I was simply not invited to things nor could go if I wanted. Unless…it was an event with the congregation. THEN….I could go. Yet these were very rare and almost always had to include something religious as part such as study, Bible games, Bible related films or the like. You see where I’m leading with all of this. Friendships were tough for me and I never really developed the skills then for being a good one nor letting others get close to me. Self esteem issues suffered and I was always beating myself up about life, religion and how my future would look.
This would not really change much as I entered my 20’s and 30’s nor would my loneliness change either. I was awkward with both genders and while I did and do for the most part get along much better with women than men, I still didn’t have friends due to that damned system of control. And I believed it, drank the Koolaid and paid the price. By the time I married and was working up the congregational ladder, nothing had changed. I had four, maybe five friends and none but one could I talk to about anything, that being my wife. Yes, she was my best friend and that’s great. but damn, I wanted men friends as well. Not only the guys one plays basketball with once a year or meets for a coffee before the ministry or meeting. But men who could relate to me on a masculine level, or an intellectual level that didn’t include religion being spouted every other second for fear of being thought of as “weak”. Due to my then hidden bisexuality and my feelings for the same gender, I was very afraid of ever getting close even as friends for fear of the usual backlash of homophobic comments that would be displayed when the chance arose. Yes, they were supposed to be loving and kind to all no matter what but the homophobia is alive and well in most religions and JW’s are no exception, though it is well hidden and done behind the closed doors and in private a lot more. I was there, heard it,felt it and know it’s effects. I kept my distance from men in general except when I knew it was safe. not due to what I thought I would do or say, but due to the lack of self esteem and bonding that males are supposed to have by the time they reach adulthood.
Therefore, you can see why I had so few friends in my life. Why my self esteem could plummet at times and why I drew back instead of forward when a possible friendship was offered. it wasn’t them…it was all me. And, it continued for many years. There is a silver lining to this cloud so please doc, stay with me. As I approached my 40’s I was more and more determined to get away from the organization that caused so much harm to me. As mentioned before, this I did in 2008 at age 41. The rules and restrictions that invaded every aspect of my life had dropped away and I was free to actually make friends!!! But while this was a grand idea and the skies were open, It didn’t mean an overnight change. This brings me down to where I am right now in my life. After leaving, many of the other life changes brought me into contact with prospective friends and I’m happy to say that there are many more now that I call such. From running pals (more like a running family) to those met at work, at clubs, online, at Brunch and other events. I was not being held back from meeting them now.But I still have some of that conditioning that restrained me for so many years. I’m reticent in approaching men, for fear of rejection due to the above mentioned orientation. And to be honest and open, I still have very few male friends even now. And only one or two I’d be open to and with. I have many more women friends than I’ve ever had and for that I’m truly grateful. But admittedly, I’m lonely in the men department and every time it seems I get close to one or more, they run away or I draw back, giving a wrong impression. (This is a therapy page and so I’m baring it all.) Or, they drift away without a word. Why? Could be a host of reason. I talk too much, I’m a bit more emotional, I’m possibly too boring ( meaning I’m not into all the sportsy male dominated gun and hunting stuff)? Seriously, I don’t know. So this means I still struggle with a few issues now and then and also, like us all, have my off days. Hopefully in time I shall find those guys who do want to be close friends without fear of me hitting on them (which is exceedingly rare as I’m super picky and there have only been a few I’ve liked in all my years) or that I’m just not one of them due to my orientation or lack of straight guy aspects. Either way, this is a work in progress. 🙂
Time will tell.