My mom had a story. She said that when she was in fourth grade, her friends suddenly dumped her. She didn’t know why or what happened, but they stopped talking to her. She felt so alone and embarrassed at lunch time that she would take her sandwich into the bathroom and eat it in the stall.
I heard this story many, many times growing up, and it always ended the same way. Every time, my mom looked straight into my eyes and said, “You always look for the lonely ones. You include them. You talk to them. Always.”
I had a really unusual childhood - I was homeschooled until I was 16. Homeschooling at that time was different than it is now - I was much more sheltered. At the same time, it was a fantastic childhood, full of innocence and silly fun with my siblings. When I started public high school my sophomore year, everything was very different, and very, very hard. Everyone was kind, but dismissive. No one was mean to me, but I was sweepingly ignored. And I found myself, for the first time, doing what my mom taught me. I was lonely, so I looked for the other lonely ones.
People are lonely in high school for lots of reasons, but it’s often for the same reason I was - they don’t quite get it. They haven’t mastered the rules, the cues, they don’t know how to dress or stand or talk. I knew I didn’t have much to offer - just the chance to be friends with someone who was willing to overlook those kinds of things.
I followed this rule all through high school, through college, and beyond - offering what I had, even though it wasn’t all that spectacular. I was intense, literal, a homebody, awkward, laughed at the wrong things, missed all the cultural references - but I could be a friend, and that’s what I offered.
It’s kind of like a kid making a picture for her grandma when she’s sick, or a mom drawing a picture of flowers for her kid because she asked - the art is pretty terrible, but it means so much more to that person. If you’ve ever sung your baby a lullaby and you can’t carry a tune, or cobbled together a Pinterest fail for your best friend’s birthday - you know that it’s not your talent that makes them happy.
Sometimes we create, not because we’re good at it, but because someone else needs what we make. Sometimes we introduce ourselves, make the first move - not because we’re good at it, but because someone needs the human connection as much as we do.
I hear women talk, so often, about that poverty of loneliness. I know exactly how that feels. What’s so important, when you’re in that place, is to look around. Sometimes when you’re so focused on your own shortcomings, inability, confusion, you can completely miss people that are right in front of you, that want exactly what you have to offer. Don’t miss them. Look for the lonely ones.
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