My biggest fear when growing up was being alone, or more specifically, being forgotten about. My mama never quite understood what made me so uncomfortable with my own company, and looking back now, I don’t either, but I commend her for being brave and understanding instead of fearful and dismissive of my intense heart-felt desire to be acknowledged and appreciated.
On tear-filled afternoons when I hadn’t been invited by the neighborhood girls to go skating or to see a movie, my mama would set me on the kitchen counter top, dry my face, and ask me to explain what I was feeling. I would sob through the usual hurt feelings dialogue of, “they didn’t invite me,” and “they don’t want me around.” I would ask her “what’s wrong with me that I care about them, but they don’t care about me?” My mama, as empathetic as she was, did not give in to my sadness, however. Instead, she told me, “any fun you could have with them, you can have with you. They didn’t take the fun with them; they just are having it their way. You can have fun your way, and when you see them next time don’t feel bad. Just remember you are built for your own fun and make sure you figure out what type of fun that is. The right people won’t miss out on you.”
Of course, this was a conversation mama and I had multiple times, as the girls in my neighborhood were in the business of leaving my little home schooled-self out of lots of things, often unintentionally, but each time I took it personally. With hurt feelings arising on a sometimes-daily basis, my mother would talk me through my thoughts instead of telling me to just “forget about them.” She never belittled my experience and walked me through my emotional moments with compassion and patience. Little did I know she was truly setting the standard for the friendships I would be open to once I fully knew who I was.
When I entered public school for the first time as a middle schooler, I held on tightly to what mama had told me about how other people may treat me versus how I should always treat myself. With a school full of new people, though, I was confident I’d meet friends who would think as highly of me as I thought of them and that a true friendship would unfold. I was right and wrong about that. I met many people, yes, but still was often only included when it was convenient or for gain. I remember once bringing back friendship bracelets from a trip to Hawaii and some of the girls asking why the bracelet I had bought for myself looked nicer than the ones I had bought for them, and then asking me to trade. I learned the hard way that you can buy people’s attention, but you can’t buy their friendship.
It was then that I started to write a lot more. I found solitude and validation in the pages of my journal and when I needed to trust someone other than my mama with my secrets, I had a select few girls who seemed as fed up with “mean girls” as I was, and we had each other’s backs. It was not until I stopped trying to be remembered, and instead found my fun in the pages of books I read and wrote, that I noticed some really awesome peers taking an interest in me and my writing. The best part, however, was that I had begun having so much fun by myself that their attention wasn’t even the focus; it was just a nice bonus and I finally understood what mama meant.
“The right people won’t miss out on you.”
And they never could, because there is something unique and special that makes like-minded and like-hearted people have a sixth sense for one another. The neighborhood girls attracted one another along with the fun that they had, and while I was attracted to their companionship, their fun wasn’t really my cup of tea. My initial middle school acquaintances attracted one another because they all felt a similar level of insecurity and preteen-angst, but I felt optimistic and excited and someone like me just couldn’t coexist in their environment. People like Kathryn, Lindsey, and Amber, however, all friends whom I cherish to this day, were all living similar experiences to mine. Each were trying to find their own way through the chaos and politics of maturing into adolescence, but they were creating their own fun until they met others who would join them. This made it available for us to co-create friendships with one another that had room for each of us and all of our greatness.
I write about this fear of being alone, forgotten, or not accepted because it is one of the BIGGEST self-esteem road blocks girls are facing. It always has been, but in this age, there are so many more opportunities to feel unimportant. I write to encourage all of us who see the young women, and young men, in our lives struggling to find where they belong with their peers to share in our own words what my mama shared with me. Empower them to find themselves, to define their own fun, and then to welcome people who are interested and be unbothered by those who are not. The right people will never miss out on them if they become the right people for themselves.