Driving down the 101, cigarette in one hand, and steering wheel in the other, Syd looked at me and said, “I love you b*tch.” In her black Mini Cooper with the top down, sun kissed surfer hair grabbing at the wind and her wrist resting on the window exposing her stick-n-poke of a question mark (which she later carved out because it faded), she gazed out into the LA morning light as she whipped us into our high school’s parking lot. I don’t think she ever really knew or knows how much her friendship meant to me at the time. Seeing her in that car (almost) every morning and every afternoon was probably the highlight of my day; joking about how she read Looking for Alaska so many times that she was morphing into a John Green character, her smoking while I mumbled on about my coffee addiction, and our endless recurring arguments over whatever boy we (both) liked that week. Knowing blondie since I was 11 years old, we both knew we could both be unapologetically ourselves around one another even if we were an unlikely match as sister soulmates.
Going to a performing arts high school, the regular competitiveness between girls was amplified; going up against one another for lead roles, trying to maintain some sort of cool image (whatever that meant), all while picking out of the same (very small) pool of available boys to date, made being well-liked by my fellow classmates daunting and difficult.
Sophomore year, I had (or so I thought) a great friend group of wonderfully smart and talented girls. I liked everyone I went to school with and things were going well—I had just switched from our school’s theatre department to the opera program, and I was really happy. After school one evening, I received four separate text messages from my girlfriends at school saying how I was pretty much “a b*tch”—not in the same way Syd would say her oh-so-famous line. A night of tears and confusion followed those texts and ended with me questioning myself and if I had done anything wrong.
The next day at school, I was shunned and friendless. This really made me uneasy and uncomfortable around others. Throughout high school, I had very few confidantes (most of them were already my pals from middle school) and it became very difficult to talk to people in fear that my peers would become easily annoyed with me or that I would say something that would offend them, so I never really went out of my comfort zone to speak to anyone new.
Once I left for college, I felt a great sense of relief knowing I was starting over and going to the same university as my nearest and dearest, Sydney. Since we were living in different dorms, I knew I would have to go out of my way to befriend other students.
The second week of living at the dorms, I met this crazy, funny, sweet and witty gal—Cass. She had this insane Australian/Swedish accent and the first thing she said to me was a that’s-what-she-said-joke. We both cackled uncontrollably as we became each other’s alter-egos within minutes. We stayed up the entire night eating cookies ‘n cream ice cream and talking about our ex-boyfriends—I know, what a cliche we were, but it was fun! It was probably the most fun I’d had with a new girlfriend ever.
Once we were besties, we did everything together: held dance parties in the lounge at three in the morning, “studied” together, took the Q line together…We even met my boyfriend, Max, together at a coffee shop a day after getting to know each other. Max and I immediately fell in love and have been together ever since. And that would have never happened if I hadn’t met Cass. Letting yourself be open to humans will allow the world to give you new experiences you never thought would be possible.
It really wasn’t until then that I truly opened up to the members of the human race. As someone who is somewhat of an introvert with social anxiety, I pushed myself to make more familiars. I no longer cared whether individuals liked me or not. All I cared about was that I surrounded myself with kind-hearted companions.
After what happened in high school, I stopped valuing the act of making new friends—I didn’t think it was important to be connected to other young adults, especially an abundance of them. I thought since I already had a few great close friends, why would I need or want anymore? It’s not that I needed more friendships, it was that I needed to let people in, to be able to have a conversation with a person and not leave mid-convo, go to a party and not be too shy to introduce myself, and I needed to truly want to be my own friend.
I have never felt more like a child than I do now. I am finally having a blast with my chums (Syd included! I drag her along to all of my gatherings). I have never laughed, smiled or shared more than I do now with all of my comrades. Pre-COVID, a group of my gals, guys and I went on a little road trip, shouting out lyrics to songs we didn’t know the whole car ride, Syd (still) smoking her cigarettes, and staying up all night talking. It was all new to me, and it felt great to not have to think about how I was acting or having to go over every word I was going to say before I said it—I felt free to be myself.
It’s hard to hate someone who loves themself, so love yourself and make some new friends.