When I was a young girl, I was often berated for not smiling or for appearing unhappy. I was a happy enough child but very contemplative, and often lost in thoughts or observations in what was happening around me.
I couldn’t possibly make myself smile. I was too distracted trying to camouflage myself in my surroundings. I was desperate to witness that heated discussion of the couple nearby, or to subtely listen to the school girls behind me on the bus while I pretended to read.
I was shy and very unsure of myself. I couldn’t force a smile as I was too afraid to talk to others, and being berated for not constantly smiling wasn’t going to encourage me to do so.
I was too lost in my little stories of my imagination, and I was not very good at small talk. Strangely I just accidentally wrote smile talk (since corrected) – which is an apt description of what I’m attempting to write about.
That is, that friendly small talk you have with someone next to you on the bus, or at the playground. You catch their eye, smiling at them, and conversation is initiated.
You find yourself smiling throughout the whole exchange of pleasantries. Afterwards, you feel content and happy that two people can have a random interaction, and it feels as though there is harmony surounding you.
I can’t help but think if I’d been better at this skill at school it would have been easier to make friends. I was the new girl four times at school, and it was a gut-wrenching experience. Each time, I would look for my bosom friend (‘Anne [of Green Gables‘] and Diana style). I would resolve to myself at the start of each school year to talk to more people and not to be so shy, but my blushing severely impaired this resolution. I was so shy that if I needed to talk to the bus driver as I hopped on the school bus (probably to explain my baby sister’s missing bus pass), a slow queue would often build behind me, and I would redden.
I would try and answer questions (only ones that I was very confident with), but the embarrassment of putting my hand up would mean my cheeks would be red once the teacher gave me her full attention. I could barely get my answer out and my confidence quickly dissolved. Laughter permeated the classroom at my discomfort.
I often went days not talking to anybody in class, only saying ‘hi’ at recess or lunch in our small circles. During my early high school years, I was often on the sideline of these conversations, and found it very hard to contribute. I witnessed the golden friendships being formed around me and often felt as though I was the third wheel.
Year 9 was when I had my first inklings of real friendship at school, and my dreams of sleepovers and hanging out started to come true, but it was not to last. This is not a good year for the development of girls – we all seem to be trying to force our way out of girlhood and will resist anybody who stands in our way. My small circle was soon due to for a shake up.
After many arguments, negative commentaries and outrageous break ups – new little pockets of friendships were formed, I didn’t belong in any of them. I suddenly to endure much harassment and derision for my introspection, labelled ‘snobbery’, and there was bullying for the months that followed. Thankfully, I found a disabled toilet to spend lunchtimes in, and finally, the anger dissipated.
Somehow, I found somebody who didn’t mind that I was quiet (she was even quieter), and we could sit in our own little corner away from the negativity, talking about our heart’s desires.
That girl was my first ‘Diana’ – and I’m so lucky that I still have her to confide in at anytime, almost 18 years later!
This was the first real friendship and to have this pure understanding gave me a huge boost. This confidence has built over the years (independent travel definitely helped). I slowly found that I became less hesitant with my smile and more open to new people.
Once I felt that kindred understanding, I was on my way to seeking out more friends. I have found that the easiest way, is to start with a smile and to proceed purely by just, being nice!
I’ve moved universities and to new countries, and have thrown myself into new social settings (as nervous as it still makes me feel). ‘Smile talk’ turns into coffee dates, and slowly you find yourself chatting to somebody who was once a stranger, is now an essential part of your day.
I am blessed that I have gone on to have many meaningful relationships with a wide group of friends since school – and these friends have helped me through many teary days as relationships have ended or hospital stays.
My chronic pain has complicated relationships for me and has often meant, through my honesty, that I have become closer with others faster, as I have had to explain some ordeal that is going on with my health at the time (one such shocker was a painful miscarriage during my first semester of my postgrad degree – oh what a horrendous time, but I’m grateful for the girls there with me) .
Whilst living away from home these friends were my family, and I think of them still (and will always) with so much love and appreciation. I could not have got through those times or been who I am today without them.
I haven’t wanted to demonstrate how my shyness left me lonely, but rather to illustrate the importance of real meaningful friendships, and the benefit that they can give to you. I’m also attempting to explain (or to teach my girls), that often igniting powerful friendships can start simply with a smile.
It is so much easier to make friends once you have children! My girls have been my gateway to friendships as you can comment on similar snacks/screams/nappies that you see another Mum use, and suddenly you are chatting happily away with a stranger about all your personal trials and tribulations!
I met one of my dearest closest friends by merely sharing smiles. We’d pass each other on our morning walk with our newborn baby girls – usually one of us going in or out of our apartment building. It took one of us (me), to ask if we could start heading out on walks together at a prearranged time for a change. The walks turned to morning coffee and now, with our almost four year old girls (also best friends), we have had many great play dates and mornings together and we’d be lost without that friendship.
Being unwell has cemented the need for powerful friendships, as I have often had to rely on people in a way that would probably look uncomfortable on paper. But my gorgeous girl friends make helping out seem so natural that I’ve been able to turn to them for anything from regular childminding during my uni days, help to drs appointments, play dates, hospital pick ups and once even taking my daughter to her gym class (most of this list from the one amazing friend)!
My lesson to my daughters is, although this has taken me more than twenty years to realise – is to see everybody as a potential friend, and to smile your shyness and discomfort away. You’ll soon find people wanting to talk to you – and conversations enrich your daily experience. I learn so much from my beautiful friends every day.
I still observe people keenly and find human behaviour fascinating, but I save my contemplative moments for when I’m by myself and find myself smiling when out and about (without having to think about it like I once did). If all else fails – talk about how beautiful someone else’s baby is (as all babies are) – you will surely make a friend easily then!
Dedication: I dedicate this post to my friend Kamila, who has always got my back, and will let me rant and vent about my health and personal issues, without ever judging me. I feel so grateful that we both rented the same dodgy apartment in the most beautiful location opposite Mort Bay Park. The walking and talking we enjoyed every day made early motherhood so much easier to bear, and are treasured memories. Thank you Auntie Mila xxxxxxx