“Put yourself out there.”
That was the mantra of my childhood. I was always a reserved child, not exactly great at making friends. As a result, most of my early friendships were based on general proximity and parental arrangements. Growing up, I watched as many of my so-called friends went out all of the time, getting invited to parties and sleepovers that I never heard about. I was quickly informed that not being invited translated to "loser." "Just put yourself out there," I was told. "Don't you want friends? You don't want to be alone, do you?"
In high school, it only got worse. I went to Disneyland with several girls I thought were my friends. I dressed like one of my favorite characters, ready to watch the shows and go on rides. They wanted to follow cute guys. When I wasn’t looking, they ditched me. Then they started making up lies to try and avoid me. I learned a bitter lesson that day: play along with others or you’ll end up abandoned. From that point on, I did whatever I could to “put myself out there” and make friends. I faked smiles for people I disliked and toned down my personality to be accepted in different social circles. It didn’t matter that I was rarely happy, so long as I wasn’t alone.
When it came to college, I was already preparing myself to shape a new persona, one fit for my new environment based on whatever new friends I would make. Unfortunately for me, I didn’t know a single soul. The majority of my initial social interactions came from awkward, open-door conversations with the other students in my dorm. Namely, a linguistics student who pegged me as Californian within the first minute and a German student I met in the hall who complimented my music taste. “Everything will be fine,” I assured myself, “You can get a feel on everyone within the week.”
It took less than a week to go stir crazy. The new "It" movie was coming out and I was dying to watch it but had no one to watch it with. My roommate had absolutely no interest in horror movies, especially those concerning child-eating demon clowns. I had no other contacts in my new home. In a moment of desperation, I even messaged the relatively inactive dorm group chat. Nothing. I had one of two choices, either skip seeing it or show up like a friendless reject.
After a few weeks of tossing and turning, I finally gave in and purchased a ticket. I skirted through the crowd, grabbing a lone seat towards the center of the theater. I kept my head down the entire time, terrified of even making eye contact with anyone else for fear of judgment. Instead, I was greeted by a crowd of horror junkies just as excited for the movie. While the lights went down, it didn’t matter that I was sitting by myself. I was just one of many terrified moviegoers, hiding in my sweater like an idiot. I left the theater exhilarated. This was my first real act on my own; no compromising on what I wanted to do for someone else’s sake. This was all me.
As time went on, it got easier to go out on my own. I started out nice and easy with occasional trips to the movies. Maybe some shopping. The Boston Public Library became my weekly sanctuary; the perfect place to hang out with a coffee and write for hours. When the weather was nice, I trekked to the Boston Common to read. Within a year, I found myself at places like Fenway, a lone Angels fan watching the Red Sox defeat the Yankees on their way to a World Series victory.
That didn’t mean I had to do everything alone. It wasn’t about forcing myself out there; friends came along unexpectedly. That German student who shared my music taste introduced me to several other girls who now all remain my closest friends in Boston. Another friendship developed over a mutual hatred of chemistry class. Even a rainy day fire drill became the perfect introduction to another student who shared my love of movies. I watched "It" alone in a theater, cowering and swearing under my breath. Two years later, I found myself back in the same theater for the sequel, only this time I had a friend to laugh at me, cry with me and spend the next hour texting theories back and forth with.
Still, it is always nice to try and find a little time for myself. Over the past few years, I have perfected the art of movie hopping in my local theater. I still hang out at the library on my own whenever I need a little inspiration. I got a job at Disneyland and spent most of my summer wandering around the park on my own. If I go out with friends for a brunch date, I might spend my free time after in the nearby art museum or in my favorite bookstore. I challenge myself to try and explore new places when I have free time.
I guess it is a little about putting yourself out there. I grew up convinced that I needed friends at all costs and that being alone was bad. It turns out to be the opposite. Sometimes putting yourself out there can mean exactly that: go out into the world as yourself. Maybe you can find things to share with others. Maybe you just need a space that is all your own. Never be afraid to do what makes you happy. It might seem easier to avoid conflict and just roll with other people’s plans, but do you really want to spend your life living according to others? You won’t always please everyone and that’s okay. At the end of the day, the only person you have to learn to live with is yourself.
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