Online Friendships – Should we GIF a F*CK?

online communication

It can sometimes seem like this is the age of the introvert. The internet makes it increasingly easy for us quieter people to function and recently there’s been a slew of introvert promotion from Susan Cain’s Quiet, to Rebecca Holman’s Beta: Quiet Girls Can Run The World 

I’m a typical introvert and as such I find it easier to communicate in writing than I do verbally. I’m also very sensitive so when I’m engaging with written communication I can sometimes read texts and emails in the worst possible tone, assuming someone is annoyed with me when they actually were just busy. I don’t struggle to make friends but I do find it difficult to foster big ‘group’ friendships (I was never part of a clique) and it used to be something that really worried me.

Recently, I’ve noticed some introverts crediting the internet with enabling them to create huge friendship networks from the comfort of their sofas and I wanted to investigate how that works and whether an online friendship can equal an offline one.

Continue reading “Online Friendships – Should we GIF a F*CK?”

Things I Wish I Could Tell My Teenage Self

Once, when I was 19 I turned to my friend and said, “I was so worried last night that I haven’t slept at all.”

We were sat on our filthy rented house sofa. I was wearing a huge baggy jumper, clutching a glass of vodka and blackcurrant squash, I was exhausted. I hadn’t slept. I’d been up worrying about the three things that took up most of my brain space as a teenager: how fat I was, how stupid I was, how uncool I was. It had taken an immense amount of courage to utter those 12 words.

My friend rolled her eyes and let out an exasperated sigh.

“You’re always worried,” she said without even looking at me. She was on her laptop, looking at impossibly cool things on the internet because she was cool.

Then she went back to being her apparently self-assured self whilst I continued to worry, now with the added anxiety that I was annoying. I would worry that I worried too much for the next three years.

I spent most of my teens being a scared little mouse. I was scared about who I was, I was scared about what I might never be. I worried about fitting in and to combat that, I decided to just be like everyone else. I listened to the music they liked, I watched the films they raved about, I wore the clothes the magazines told me to wear and I spouted the same opinions my friends did.

Another worry crept in to my nightly rotation: that I didn’t like this person I had created. I didn’t like these bands, these films, these opinions, these clothes.

Looking back on poor, scared, teen me with the perspective of a decade, I wish I could go back and tell her a few things and save her a few dozen sleepless nights.

Firstly, your body is so much more than something for other people to look at and assess you by. The width of your hips is not a visual representation of the depth of your kindness. The gap between your thighs will not diametrically increase your confidence. You are not just the rolls of flab on your stomach and swell of your buttocks.

The hours and hours you spend now, looking in the mirror, pinching inches of fat until your skin goes red and sore, writing down calories, frantically doing sit-ups in the dark, those hours could be spent doing something worthwhile. In the time you spent agonising over your body you could have written a book, learnt to play the piano, watched Gilmore Girls a third, fourth and fifth time through. All these things are more enriching than measuring your thighs with a tape measure and worrying that the tap water has sugar in it.

Also, this is the thinnest you’re ever going to be, so have sex with the lights on, wear the crop top, take up space – be proud of your body, don’t punish it.

Secondly, you are a person all in your own right. You have your own likes and dislikes and talents and weaknesses. If all your friends are pretending to like the same band, same hairstyle, same thoughts then let them. There is so much value in being different, being the one voice saying something true. There isn’t safety in being the same – it just leads to the panic of being caught out as an impostor and misery over denying your true self.

Even when I did ‘all the right things’ – wore the correct clothes, listened to the right music, went to the right bars – I couldn’t enjoy myself because I had the constant fear of being found out. That any second someone would turn and scream, “she’s not meant to be here! She’s not one of us!”

Finally, just because somebody else says something with certainty doesn’t make it true. I’ll tell you what sort of people speak with authority about matters that do not concern them: MORONS.

People will tell you that you are too worried, that you are too boring, that you should hang out with your boyfriend less, that you should hang out with your friends less, that you should go to festivals (you hate festivals!). You will tie yourself in knots trying to please everybody and you will rarely please yourself. Don’t. As long as your actions aren’t hurting you or anybody else then the correct thing to be doing is WHATEVER THE HELL YOU LIKE.

What I’d really like to say to teenage me is this:

Be brave. There are lots of things to worry about in this world but what people think about you should not be one of them. I’d say, eat the cake and don’t worry about it, wear the weird dress that no one likes but makes you feel like Kate Bush, decline invitations to parties you do not wish to attend, if you want to see your boyfriend then see your boyfriend and if you don’t then don’t. I’d say, listen to the song you like on repeat, go for a long walk on your own, cry if you’re sad and do not feel compelled to wear low-rise jeans just because everybody else is.

This is your life, I would say, it’s yours to make what you want out of it and you won’t do that by letting other people make your decisions for you.

I don’t want to go out (in defence of staying in)

I have learnt a few things during my 28 spins round the sun. Don’t wear black and brown together, always use conditioner, don’t cut your own fringe, how to make a delicious bolognese, and this:

I do not like going on nights out.

It took me many years to learn this lesson. Years of standing at the bar sinking an eighth gin and tonic. Years of dancing awkwardly to songs that I hated but every single one of my friends professed to love. Years of carrying a ten pack of Marlboro Lights and a novelty lighter in my handbag for the sole reason of being able to escape to the smoking area when the dancing and noise got too much for me (which was frequently).

During my time at university I repeated the same dull routine every week:

I would spend agonising hours getting ready and worrying over how I looked. During that time I would drink most of a bottle of gin because the only way I could get myself to be excited enough to go out was if I was plastered.

Then it would be time for pre-drinks. Oh how I wished pre-drinks could last forever! Just me and my housemates gathered in the kitchen, playing music we all liked to sing along to, drinking the rest of my gin and making jokes.

Inevitably though, the time came when my housemates would insist we left the house and went out. By this time I’d have drank a bottle of gin but the thought of leaving sobered me. It took all the conviviality out of my mood. As soon as we reached the club I’d be straight at the bar ordering another G&T just so I could face the dancing, the smiling, the lights, and even that wasn’t enough to stop me awkwardly swaying on the dance floor, staring off into the distance to a future where I could return to my home.

There was no one single element that caused me to feel so awkward. Yes, I had low self-esteem, but I didn’t feel embarrassed dancing round the house with my friends, when I went out for coffee I didn’t spend the duration worrying about how I looked, I didn’t have to drink a bottle of gin to make conversation with a few friends around a pub table.

Why did you carry on going out then, you might well be asking. Well, it seemed the normal, correct thing to do. Everyone else was doing it, and they loved it. If I ever got near to confessing my hatred for nights out I felt like it was misconstrued as a hatred of fun. When I tried to be more myself, it seemed like everybody thought I was boring and at 19 I absolutely did not want to be boring.

As I reached my mid 20’s I gave nights out another go. Perhaps I’d just hated them in uni. Surely now, when I had more disposable income and lived in a big city, I’d enjoy them more.

Nope!

I hated them just as much. I was just as awkward at 24 as I had been at 18, perhaps more so.

But here’s the thing: when you tell most people you don’t enjoy nights out they think there’s something wrong with you. First they might let out an awkward, disbelieving chuckle, then they might roll their eyes a little – eventually, as the veracity of your claim is understood, you see them mentally crossing you off their list of people to hang round with, you’re a dud, a dullard, a square.

I stopped going on nights out (pretty much) when I was about 26. I just didn’t want to do it any more – and it was freeing! I spent my time and money doing things that made me feel happy. If anyone invited me somewhere I didn’t want to go I would answer with a gleeful, firm “no, thank you!” And then I’d go home and do something I actually enjoyed like watch Murder, She Wrote, or read Cold Comfort Farm for the 60th time.

I felt really good about this choice until, one day, when my mum had had a bit to drink she told me she thought I’d become really boring in the last couple of years. My own mother! Not even a friend or work colleague, but the woman who had birthed and raised me, the person, who above all other people, should know who I am at my core.

“You don’t do anything,” she complained. What she meant was, “you don’t go out at the weekend like society expects a childless 27 year old to.”

Now, I’m a chronic over thinker and you better believe that this comment stuck with me for weeks. Months even! I’m not entirely over it now! It particularly stuck in my craw because I knew that some of my friends felt the same.

What hurt about people thinking I’m boring because I don’t like to go out to loud, obnoxious clubs and bars and drink too much overpriced gin and dance awkwardly at the edge of a circle of women hoping that my fake tan isn’t too patchy, is that I know I’m not boring.

I may not go ‘out out’ at the weekend, but my life is as full and exciting and rich as anyone’s. I spend my free time reading, cooking new things, walking in the beautiful countryside, spending time with the man I love, taking long, relaxing baths, writing the book I’m working on, seeing friends for coffee or wine and most of all, being myself and enjoying my time. It hurt that for some of the people in my life, that wasn’t enough.

Some ‘friends’ painted me as selfish for never wanting to go out and that upset me. But on reflection, I think that perhaps they couldn’t understand that not everybody likes the same things. They couldn’t comprehend that something they found so exciting to me felt like a chore. And I wasn’t yet articulate enough to explain myself.

These days, I explain myself better. When I meet new people I come right out and tell them I don’t enjoy nights out. I’m a ‘meet you for coffee friend’ or a ‘mix cocktails in your pjs whilst watching Clueless friend’ and many, many more iterations – but none of those iterations will ever ask you to hang out anywhere with strobe lights.

Look, if you like going out and having a good time with your friends then that is your right and I sincerely hope you enjoy yourself. When I go out to clubs and bars, I don’t enjoy myself, and whilst it may make my mother think I’m boring, I have decided to stay in instead.

How about you? Do you like to go out or are you firmly ‘team staying in’? Or perhaps you like a nice mix of the two? Let me know in the comments or at hello@terriblypersonal.com