Most people know material possessions can't bring true happiness, though some try to obtain it that way anyway. So what brings genuine joy in life, if not things? Many people would say things like family and friends. I used to think this too - that if I had more friends, I would be happy. But I no longer think friends can make me happy. Before you "unfriend" me, let me explain.
I've had anxiety and depression ever since I was a small child. I don't know when I started interpreting everything negatively, but somewhere along the line, I did. Elementary school and middle school were terrible times for me. I didn't have the necessary social skills to make and keep friends. I felt like a loser, and people treated me like one. People made fun of me. A lot. At least, that is how I remember it. Perhaps I am not remembering correctly.
I've pretty much felt like a loser all of my life. And the one thing I have been most envious of is friendships. I have this deep hole in me that needs to be filled, and I always thought it was more friends that would do it. If only I had friends, then I wouldn't feel like a loser. I would know I was worthy. Even now, when I see someone post on Facebook about how much fun they had with their friends that day, I feel a deep envy. Like, how come no one posts about how much fun they had with me??? Actually, recently someone did make such a post, so I guess I can't complain about that anymore. Ha ha.
I did have a few friends in middle school, but most weren't in my grade. In high school, through my involvement with Young Life, I did manage to make some more friends, but none that were super close (except for, perhaps, the Young Life leader). I did make a few friends in college as well. In fact, my sophomore year of college, I had a horrible roommate, and wanted to move out so badly. But even though there were empty rooms in the hall, I could not move into one unless someone would move in with me (thus, letting her previous roommate have a room to herself -such a weird rule). I had two friends that I'd made that year, who were rooming together down the hall. They actually agreed to split up, and one of them moved in with me. So.... I guess they must have liked me. All three of us lived in an apartment together for the next 2 years.
Even as I'm writing this, I'm thinking: Well, wait a minute, I did have friends; what's my problem? But I guess I always felt like I was nothing special. I wasn't anyone's best friend (since high school anyway), and most people have way more friends than me. Again, this is just what I thought. I realize my thoughts often don't reflect reality.
Anyway, fast forward about ten years. Over the past few years, I've made a few friends through my vegetarian groups, and I've made quite a few friends through my church. But you know what? It's not enough.
Because no amount of friends can make up for self hatred. I guess I thought that if I had more friends, I would feel validated, and my time spent feeling like a loser would be over. But it's not like the more friends I have, I suddenly hate myself less. In fact, my friends can do all kinds of wonderful things for me, and I can still find a way to make it mean that I'm a terrible person. For instance, I have an amazing friend who has done so much for me: she's watched my child for free, helped me clean my house, took care of and harvested my garden all summer, and left her family vacation to come be with me during my labor. Most other people would take this to mean that my friend really cares about me. However, I take it to mean that I'm a terrible person; you see, I don't feel I do anything in return to come even close to giving her what she has given me. I take take take and never give anything back. Anyway, that's how I feel, though I am now betting she doesn't see it that way (I hope!). I have another friend who had been meeting with me weekly to discuss theological topics, and I just feel like he is doing stupid me a favor, even though he has said several times that he enjoys talking with me. Perhaps he actually means it???
So, just in case anyone is wondering, I love my friends and want (and need!) them in my life. They are all very special. I enjoy the time I spend with them, and I am so grateful for all they have given me. Of course, without them, I also would not have had this important realization. I do hope that I give back and am not just a taker. But the idea of having more friends had sort of become an idol in my life. I thought I could fill the aching void in my soul with friends the way other people do with alcohol, drugs, sex, food, or material possessions.
Family and friends are obviously a very important part of life, and I don't think humans could be happy without having some form of connection with others. But, even though we may need social bonds to be happy, I don't think that is where happiness originates. It originates from somewhere else. I won't suddenly become a happy, fulfilled person because I have more friends. Or a better marriage. Or a more supportive family. Humans are flawed. We cannot fill each other up completely.
There must be something else.
I am reminded of something one of my friends says quite often, that the only way to get through a deep, dark valley is to keep walking.
And so I will.