This article was written for a Readwave Challenge: 3 things I learned whilst...
I live in a small village in rural Wiltshire. Villages can be very friendly, but also very cliquey. When I first moved here I worked full time and tended to gravitate towards neighbours who did likewise. We had all moved into new build houses so knew few people in the area. Gradually these new found acquaintances formed friendship groups amongst themselves. I had different interests and desires; friendly though they were, I did not feel that I fitted in.
When my children first started at the village school I struggled to befriend the other mums at the school gate who all seemed to know each other well already. The same groups seemed to serve on the various committees that kept village life ticking over. They had coffee mornings together, looked after each other’s kids and ran the many fundraising events that all were cajoled into supporting. By then I was a stay at home mum and knew that I needed to emerge from my shell. In my quest to find friends I learned the following lessons.
1) Do not rely on first impressions.
That young mum who appears fully made up, perfectly coiffed and dressed in the latest fashion at 8.45am each morning? She is not necessarily a societal victim, but is simply interested in how she looks. Just as I am interested in literature, she is interested in fashion. How she looks matters to her as much as an opinion on an author matters to me. We may not have a lot in common outside of parenting, but she can still be a lovely person and interesting to talk to.
That pierced and tattoo’d lady keeping her head down? She may look a bit scary but her kids are amongst the best cared for in the village. All the kids have a great time when they go to her house because she does not fuss about mud or crumbs or noise, although she will expect plenty of pleases, thank you’s and sharing. She appreciates what really matters, and that is a fine lesson for us all to learn.
That mum who looks just like me and who I was inclined to get to know better? The slightly offhand reactions may or may not be shyness, but after a year of never being invited inside her house, accept that she is not interested in furthering the fragile friendship you have made such an effort to build. One sided relationships are rarely a good idea.
2) Smile at everyone
Once I realised that I was not going to naturally slip into a friendship group I decided to simply make the best of a job I had to do twice a day on every week day. As I walked between house and school I would keep my head up and smile at everyone I passed. A number of people seemed surprised by my eye contact. I did not try to engage in conversation but simply smiled as I walked past.
This resulted in people recognising me outside of school (the smiley lady) and I would be acknowledged at village functions and local clubs. I still didn’t have friends, but it gave me a sense of belonging.
3) Only befriend those you are comfortable with
This was a really difficult lesson to learn. I wanted local, adult friends so did not feel that I could decline invitations to social events when they were proffered. This led to some awkward situations when I would be sitting in a room full of people who knew each other well trying to work out if my acceptance of the invitation had been unexpected.
Many of the ladies were lovely but had radically different views or interests to me. I did not wish to go shopping or discuss the sort of television shows that they watched. I did not wish to go the the races or learn flower arranging. I wanted to talk books, films, politics, and had a habit of speaking my mind. I was often at odds with the general consensus.
Eventually I did manage to slip into a friendship group of lovely young mums with children the same age as mine. I was also invited to join a book group populated by a disparate group of literature lovers. A few of these acquaintances have become loyal, supportive and valued friends. Others I have let go over the years because, although I may struggle with finding friends, I have learned that quality is worth far more to me than quantity.