I thought I had a pleasant circle of friends. We saw each other several times a month and I liked and respected them. They had young children like I did, and we had similar interests, struggles, dreams, and ideas. I knew they, like myself, were trying to be the best they could. Then one day, through an inadvertant mention in an unrelated group email, I found they had a monthly girls' night doing a hobby we all enjoyed. Without getting too bogged in details, there was no possibility I had been overlooked (I had even mentioned a few times that such a night would be fun, but everyone always seemed strangely disinterested); I'd been deliberately not invited. In fact, obvious effort must have been made to not mention this group in front of me. For whatever reason, my presence was undesirable.
It didn't help that not long after, I was given a Christmas letter from one of the women where she went on about several large parties she had thrown throughout the year where she and her husband had invited ALL their friends. I've never been sure why she felt a need to give me the letter without giving me a single invitation. But it compounded the still recent sting.
I was humiliated and heartbroken. I thought I had friends who liked me, but I was more a tolerated ... what? Acquaintance? Annoyance? Affliction? The worst part was I still knew these women were good women. I couldn't feel bitterness towards them, I had simply misunderstood our relationship. It had been my mistake. If my attendance made their night out unpleasant enough to go to the trouble to hide it from me, I couldn't begrudge them not asking me. After all, at the stage of life we were all in, these nights out would be rare and meant to be fun. I took it as a kindness (if a little misguided) that they went out of their way to keep me ignorant. In fact, a few years later I found myself on the opposite side of a similar situation and understood their position even better.
I learned a lot through this experience. I learned that liking me was not a prerequisite for goodness. Compatibility with me doesn't have a monopoly on kindness, hard work, or happiness. I also learned that, despite what other people thought of me, I liked myself well enough. In fact, I see this as the genesis of feeling comfortable in my own skin and letting others learn to do the same.
Our family's next couple moves were to places where people were more, um, direct about their feelings and more embracing of eccentricities. I continued to grow from its the lessons, but rarely thought about that less-than-pleasant situation.
But since moving here, I've found myself reflecting again on that time. Recently I've realized I do carry some negative baggage I picked up all those years ago: I'm frightened of unrequited friendships. Obviously, I'm not great at reading social cues about friendship and I don't know if I can handle making friends only to find I really haven't. To learn to care for and admire women who simply don't reciprocate. I don't want to be tolerated, I want to be friended. Coupled with my natural shyness this has kept me isolated, probably a little prickly, and (I suspect) not responsive to more subtle attempts at friendship.
Now that I've identified a problem, maybe I can move forward. My comfort zone needs expanded a little bit, and I need to risk getting hurt. Another hard lesson learned. Getting wiser, not just older, is a difficult thing sometimes.