Being a confident adult is a privilege.
Growing up, I was extremely awkward. No big surprises there, since most of us are awkward while trying to find our feet in new situations outside our comfort zones. Except for the fortunate few that looked sophisticated and polished, hitting puberty with an unparalleled amount of poise, I remember several of us being attacked by hormones rather painfully.
I don’t really know how I became so painfully shy as a child, because I was a bouncy toddler. The shyness lasted throughout my schools and colleges, and only really went away when I got my first real job. And the shyness, as you can imagine, makes it super hard to make friends.
Not that I didn’t want friends; quite the opposite. I desperately craved friends. Friends in my mind were people who I could confide my awkwardness to, and have them explain the finer points of adolescence to me. Friends were meant to be forever, and this theory was largely driven by an exclusive diet of 90s American sitcoms like USA High and Saved by the Bell. And I had very few.
Actually, scratch that, I did have friends. But this was the time before Facebook, and instant messenger and email were just raising their heads in countries that were not the US. We weren’t in the habit of checking emails regularly, nor exchanging them frequently. So when I moved from Dubai to Scunthorpe for sixth form, I lost touch with people. Similarly, when I moved back to Dubai two years later, I again lost the phalanx of friends I had.
Making friends when not in a college or school? Really super duper hard. I came back to a Dubai where all my old friends had gone to university elsewhere. I was lonely for company my own age.
Now all this was background for my actual point, which I am coming to now. During my stint in the UK, my family had gotten friendlier with another family. One with two sons.
I should perhaps mention that in Dubai, most schools were segregated. Being an Islamic country, mixing the sexes was a definite no-no, although a few schools got away with it. Thanks to being an only child, and being raised in this insane climate, I was immensely uncomfortable around boys. [So many of my friends now would be aghast at this revelation, considering I am always surrounded by blokes these days.]
So, when my mother suggested I try being friends with the younger of the family friend’s sons, GP, I baulked. He was about 4 years older, quite good looking, and, most importantly, A GUY. How was I supposed to make overtures of friendship to someone who I was, for all intents and purposes, deathly afraid of speaking to?
My mum knew I was awkward, and bless her soul, she tried to help. She asked her friend, this guy’s mum, whether GP would take me under his wing. At the time, I was equal parts humiliated and hopeful. But GP didn’t warm to the idea.
I get it: a younger girl tailing you around, foisted on you by your mother, is potentially no fun at all. Also, he had just broken up with someone, and apparently I was the living spit of this heartbreaker. So a thousand times no. Fair enough. I was hugely upset, and somewhat relieved too, but I understood. Why would anyone “cool” want to hang out with me?
Cut to a few years later, and I was still painfully shy. I was in India, and had gone to Pune with my mum. There, we met one of her college friends. He had two grown up sons, the younger of which was, like GP, about 4 years older. But that’s where the similarities end; HP, the other guy, was far more gracious. He, and another friend, took me around Pune, and we had a fabulous time together. We ate in cafes, they introduced me to some of their friends, they showed me the sights, and much more.
Today, I am almost 33, and I am no longer the shy, awkward young girl, with a paralysing fear of boys. Quite the opposite actually, as I am often considered the brave one with the string of male admirers. [One of my friends once called me a ‘boy magnet’ to my extreme embarrassment.] But more than any of that, I have often been in the position GP and HP were in so many years ago. And I have always handled it like HP, never like GP.
[And here is my point, at long last. Kudos if you lasted this long.]
Being a confident adult is a privilege. Life takes so many twists and turns, with so many opportunities to be scarred, mentally or otherwise. I came from a a secure, loving family and home, and I knew nothing of the abuse that many young people face. My shyness was because of my environment outside of home, because my appearance lacked coolness and my demeanour was not sophisticated. I didn’t listen to the right music, and I didn’t know how to manipulate. I was a vulnerable young person, brimming with shuttered positivity, in a world that celebrates jaded been-there done-that attitudes.
Therefore, when I have often found myself with a young person under my wing, I am reminded of the young starry-eyed me, looking desperately for acceptance. It is easy for me to be gracious, to adapt my conversation to suit their interest, to put their anxious minds at ease, and to make them feel wanted. It is so easy because I remember the turmoil-ridden person I was at that age, and how much I wished for someone to accept me like HP did.
I only hope that this sort of thing carries forward. Because being accepted can be a huge turning point for someone.