Tell us about the experience of being outside, looking in — however you’d like to interpret that.
Well, this hits close to home, Sally mused as she listened to her niece, Manda, tearfully explain how she’d not been invited to a sleepover with her supposed friends … again.
“I don’t understand it, auntie, what did I do? Why don’t they like me? Why do I always feel like I’m on the outside looking in?” Manda snorted through heavy tears and a stuffed up nose. She snatched at the tissue proffered by her aunt and blew hard into it. Nothing moved.
Sally sat beside Manda on the soft two-seater sofa and put an arm around her distraught niece. What could she say? It was a feeling all too familiar, but one with which she had learned to live while finding strength in her own solitude.
“Now, now, my sweet girl, don’t you worry,” she gave her niece’s shoulders a squeeze and then moved away slightly. “Look at me … please …”
Reluctantly, Manda turned to look at her beloved aunt and wiped a shaking hand across tear-tracked cheeks. She sniffed.
“Listen, Manda my love, you’re a strong girl, born into a strong family. We’ve learned to stand on our own two feet, and while that can feel lonely at times it is, in the end, the better way because we learn to be our own best friend. To take care of our needs without constantly needing the validation of others.” Sally reached for one of Manda’s hands and held it gently.
“What’s validation?” 12-year-old Manda asked with a sniff.
“Well,” Sally began, “it’s when people need other people to tell them how great they are all the time to feel good about themselves. Instead of finding that confirmation from within, they demand it of others. The only problem is that people can change their minds all the time about how they feel about someone. One day they think you’re great and the next you’re yesterday’s news. That can be really hurtful. These friends of yours, if they were true friends, would include you and not hurt you this way.”
“And it hurts so much!” Manda howled while doubling over into her knees and rocking back and forth. “I don’t want to be alone!!!”
Sally rubbed her niece’s back and gulped back her own sob. Oh, how she wished this lovely girl didn’t have to feel the pain of exclusion. And how long the journey would be until she found contentment in her own company.
They sat in silence for a few minutes.
Finally, Sally spoke.
“Manda, I know this feels horrible now, and believe me I totally understand what …”
“No you don’t!” Manda sat bolt upright and looked straight in her aunt’s eyes, still shaking. “How could you possibly know how I feel?”
“Of course, sweetie, you’re right. I am not you and cannot possibly understand how you feel. But, I’ve had my own experiences with this, and even now I struggle with it at times. But I would rather be alone, and happy in my own company, than with fickle friends who blow hot and cold. That is too painful. … You may have noticed that I don’t have many close friends,” she continued. “It’s not that I don’t want any, it’s just that I … ” How could she say it without sounding like a snob? ” … that I’ve learned to be selective. To only welcome people into my life I know want to be there. Life is too short to waste precious energy on people you have to chase to like you all the time. Believe me, sweetie, pretending to be someone you aren’t for the sake of being on the inside is exhausting, and debilitating, in so many ways you won’t understand right now. But one day …”
” … one day I can look forward to being lonely like you?” Manda wailed. “No thank you …” and she stood up sharply and stormed outside to drown in her tormented sea of self-pity.
Sally reached into her apron for another tissue and dabbed at salty tears.
Now she felt on the outside.
©Dorothy Chiotti … All Rights Reserved 2015