Mistake #2: Making Friends the Wrong Way

I can remember two times where I felt true loneliness.

(1) I moved abroad to Spain to teach English. I knew no one and had to deal with a language barrier.

(2) Sophomore year of college my closest friend moved away and transferred out of school. My other friends lived “far away” in a completely different dorm.

In each instance, I struggled to make new friends. I learned that a certain D9 frat was really hip when they created their motto. I made a few mistakes in the process, but I was ultimately successful…in my own way.

Here are a few of the DOs and DON’Ts to finding real friendships that I’ve learned (and am still learning).

DON’T Fall in Love

When you’re feeling lonely, it’s easy to mistake that pain for wanting love when what you really need is a good friend. I only knew this subconsciously, so when–let’s call him Armand–rolled up on ya girl as I was walking to the movie theater, I let him in without a boundary in sight. Like hello, stranger! Come on in!

I’d just moved to Spain and everything was so disorienting. They really don’t speak English, I thought. No matter that England was a stone’s throw away or could I forget that I was in Spain! Duh. I had no choice but to use my weak Spanish and it made me uncomfortable all the time.

black couple making friends

I admit I’m a recovering hopeless romantic, but even back then I would’ve given things more time to develop if I was back home. Things moved lightning fast.

After a whirlwind of a month and a half, Armand and I came to a halt. Are you surprised that our language barrier love came to an end?

It was Christmas. Our plans had mysteriously fallen through. I was upset. A week later, I found out that he’d spent the holidays with his family.

Stupid! How could I not see it? In retrospect, it was all clear. I’d never seen his place. He wouldn’t spend the night. He’d flaunted me around friends, but so what? I didn’t really get to know him; I didn’t do my homework. My cloak of loneliness and homesickness clouded my judgment.

My family and friends were literally thousands of miles away. There was a whole ocean between us and I was alone on Christmas.

DON’T Force It

Enough romance. I wasn’t the only Black American girl in Spain! I would find my tribe!

There was even a girl I went to school with who was also in Spain teaching English just like me. We weren’t friends back in college, but we could still connect, maybe even become travel buddies! …We never met up.

There was a Facebook group for black women living abroad in Spain and they’d periodically have events. I would make friends that way! I went to one of their events, met some new people. There was one girl that I felt like I clicked with.

las morenas de espaba
Me at a LMDES event.

Afterwards we’d message each other on WhatsApp and instead of one of those situations where you say “yeah, let’s meet up” and never do, we actually hung out once and went out to dinner. Read that: once. The restaurant she’d suggested was dope though, so I wasn’t too upset. Another girl whose bantu knots I put in I hung out with twice. Yay.

I went to other events like a New Year’s party and even a spades tournament, but couldn’t really say I’d made a friend friend. Friendship rejection was something else. I didn’t understand why it was so hard. I guess we needed more in common than being American, Black and a woman.

DO Go Out Alone

My coworkers were a mix of European and American. We ate lunch together every day.  We’d talk. But oftentimes when I’d suggested hanging out. Crickets.

One day I told them about this weekend bus trip to the south of Spain for La Feria. Chirp. Chirp. I was used to that response by then and had resolved to go alone.

Sevilla
Feria in Sevilla with my Spain bff

By then, friendless as I was, I’d been doing a lot of things by myself. At first it was scary, but then it became freeing. Movies. Restaurants. Are you brave enough to sit at a restaurant table by yourself? Any social events I showed up without a plus 1 in sight. So why not travel alone?

When I turned onto the street lined with buses, I seriously considered turning back. Going out to eat was one thing. But traveling? Could I do it? I walked up and passed groups of English teachers, study abroad students and nannies. Groups. Of friends. Until my eyes caught another black girl. Alone. Walking confidently towards the middle bus. Was she waiting for friends?

I didn’t know, but like a weirdo, I followed her onto the bus and sat right in front of her. She was sitting alone. Something compelled me to introduce myself. She was working as a nanny and was from Philly. She was cool.

We hung out with each other that day. Y’all, I had the time of my life! The Spanish know how to party, man! And then just taking in the culture, seeing all the dancing and beautiful outfits made a wonderful experience. I also had the best chocolate-covered churros of my life.

traditional spanish dresses
Traditional Feria clothing

More importantly, the friend that I’d been praying and longing for materialized. We would travel together to other countries and parts of Spain for the rest of my time there. We were attached at the hip. On a trip in Morocco, I even ran into that friend from college (the one I never met up with) and she asked that unmistakable question only ones with a visible connection get asked: “How did y’all meet?” That was just how in sync we were.

Even though I’d made a friend, I went on to travel to Portugal and another part of Spain alone. I wasn’t afraid anymore and I damn sure wasn’t waiting on someone to live my life.

blue city Morocco
Chilling on a doorstep of Morocco’s blue city

DO Own This Part of Your Journey

I think the energy of the entire 7th floor shifted when my college friend moved away. Hers was the corner room at the end of the hallway everybody would pop into to stop and chat. I’d see her room more than my own.

The space of our daily chats ballooned with emptiness. I remember a year later a mutual friend asked, “Who did you hang out with when she moved away?” No one. I didn’t say it. I just laughed it off and avoided giving a response. I’d found sisters, made new, true friends, but him merely bringing up that time period immediately recalled the taste of loneliness.

Life is an awful, ugly place to not have a best friend.”
― Sarah Dessen, Someone Like You

I remember taking trips to the nail salon and grabbing a jumbo slice of pizza. I went to see my first movie alone. Cried my eyes out to The Perks of Being A Wallflower. On the way back to the dorm, I angry-texted my on-again-off-again college boyfriend for not coming with me.

On a beautiful spring day in D.C., the kind that makes you think God’s showing off, people walked their dogs, rode their bikes, and played across the street at the park. It was picturesque. All I could think about as I strolled up to my dorm with jumbo slice in hand was how it was spring outside when I felt like winter.

I didn’t tell anyone. I felt embarrassed; it wasn’t like Freshman year where everyone was insecure and clamoring for friends. Friendship groups were solidified.

I didn’t know that just a year later I’d make friends whose weddings I’d be in and who I’d do anything for. I wasn’t content with that season, but it was my truth, not cause for shame.

DO Be Yourself

I had another friend that year who I ate lunch with faithfully. We were two out of the handful of sophomores who had a meal plan. We’d stayed on the same floor Freshman year and became even closer through our lunch chats. But we really didn’t hang out outside of lunch.

When my other friend moved away, I wanted desperately to fit in with her friend group. We got along fairly well, but they were still her friends. One night at a party I tried to impress them. I danced awkwardly to their music. As a bit of back story, they were all first-generation Americans, the children of African immigrants. I cringe at the memory.

Nothing can be more hurtful to your heart than betraying yourself.
― Roy T. Bennett

She said, “Look! It’s like she’s African, too!” As soon as she said those words, I realized I’d been doing entirely too much. I quietly slipped out of the party.

That night I vowed to never make a fool out of myself again. I’d just be myself and the people who are supposed to be my friends will respect that.

A Theory on Friendship

Friendship is love. It’s not the romantic kind, but your life can feel pretty darn empty without it.

Loneliness is a pain I wish on no one, but it can teach you a lot, like how to be a friend to yourself, how to take risks and go out boldly alone, and how to accept your true self and let what comes, come.

You don’t need to be an alchemist to turn loneliness into simply being alone. Just show yourself the most compassion you can. Like a good friend would.

 

Share your thoughts on this post below. What mistake should I write about next?

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