I’ve been sleeping really badly the last few days. Yesterday I had a terrible night’s sleep and started Saturday in a worse mood than before. I had arranged to meet R from a gay book group in town that I sometimes go to. We’d be having coffee in a centrally located coffee shop. R is one of the friendlier people that go to the book group and for years I’ve been trying to extend that friendship to outside the group, to make it a “real” friendship I suppose. P nagged me to invite R to the farewell dinner I was organising in town last night. Sadly he couldn’t come to that, but he could do coffee in the afternoon. We met in the designated spot and his husband was there too, which I wasn’t expecting. I could hear P in my head saying this was brilliant, a chance to make friends with another person at the same time and form that “group” I was dreaming of. I don’t know why but just imagining P say it made it seem really sad and it made me not want to try.
The only thing that made me try was the inability to be rude. I had to talk to them both, put on a brave face and act as if I was perfectly happy to see them. I just had to get through the coffee, keep smiling politely until it was time to go. Having known R for a while I could trust that he wouldn’t be judging me, but having never met his husband J before, I had no idea what this J would think of me, and my default with any stranger is to assume that they are judging me negatively. I had absolutely no evidence to suggest that he was judging me in that way – he was perfectly polite throughout the hour we were there, asking me questions about what I do and where I’ll be going on my forthcoming holiday. The three of us had quite a good chat in the end. I got lots of tips for places to see on my travels; at the end before saying goodbye J even suggested that I should come to their place for lunch when I get back in November. So my efforts to appear friendly must have worked, somehow. It would be nice to think I can go to their place for lunch and become real friends with someone that isn’t P.
If I am to build more successful friendships in my life and find this “group” that I’ve been missing for years, it’s hard to think what else I can do other than keep going for coffees and lunches like that one yesterday. It means facing the fear of rejection again and again, a fear I’m well used to but one I still don’t like. Every time I face it it tells me there’s no point in trying, it’s going to be a failure. That voice has never subsided, in all the years I’ve tried to work with it and to overcome it.
I faced another fear last night as I went to meet P and N in town for my farewell dinner. On the way there P told me another friend of his would be coming as well, as a last minute addition. I didn’t know the friend that well; I’ve met him a few times over the years and he’s always been very quiet around me. I could hear P’s annoying voice saying “here’s another opportunity for you to make a lifelong friend!” I had to put it out of my mind when I got to the meeting point near the restaurant because I was already in a bad mood (it had steadily declined since the lunch earlier in the afternoon) and I couldn’t bear for the entire evening to be ruined.
I’d chosen a small independent French restaurant that I had wanted to try for years because it looked nice, and I love all things French as we know. We arrived and the friendly attentive staff showed us to our seats. Orders were taken quickly and smoothly; we didn’t have to wait long for our food. So far, so successful. Conversation amongst the group was low key but steady. P was essentially the group’s lynchpin, as he was the one that we all knew first. We all knew all of his friends and so there was something for us to talk and gossip about. By the time we were onto desserts we were I guess having quite a pleasant evening. The restaurant was really nice; everyone was impressed with my choice. After dinner P wanted to go to a gay pub as it was too early for the night to end. Since I wouldn’t be seeing any of them again for at least six weeks, I agreed to extend the night, though I was close to tears and kind of wanted to run home at that point. I couldn’t face a gay pub in that state so I convinced them to go to a mainstream pub near the restaurant instead. We were lucky with our random choice. It wasn’t too busy, there were places to sit and the atmosphere was friendly and relaxed, not at all rowdy or boisterous like most pubs on a Saturday night. We spent a pleasant hour there chatting about my holiday and stroking the dog that belonged to the people at the next table.
When it was time to say goodbye, I was still close to tears, perhaps because I’d had such a nice evening against all expectations, and I knew I wouldn’t be having another one like it for months. Let’s face it, unless some miracle happens and I find myself with a new personality in Europe, I’m not going to be having any meals out with friends there. I don’t know anyone in any of the cities I’m going to. And I know how crazy it must seem that I’ve chosen to do this, I’ve paid for this experience with my own money. I booked it because I wanted to see these places at least once while I have the time and the money to see them; perhaps when I was booking it I also thought maybe I could challenge myself a bit, see if I can meet people and make friends in foreign countries. It’s easy to believe I can challenge myself like that when the time is months away. Now it’s here, and I don’t know what I’m going to do.
Last night before I could say goodbye to P he gave me the phone number of someone that he knows in Madrid and nagged me to message them about meeting up. This is someone he met through Grindr when they were on a trip to London last year. They’ve met twice. P says this guy, C, is a nice guy who will be only too happy to show me round Madrid and take me for a coffee. I don’t know – am I wrong to think it’s a bit weird messaging someone out of the blue who I’ve never met and who P has only met twice? When I expressed reservations P practically got upset. His main argument was “what harm can it do?” Oh I don’t know, maybe this person won’t care enough to help me out because he doesn’t know me and he doesn’t know P all that well either?
P wouldn’t let me go home without taking the guy’s number and a promise that I’d message him. I could just be being really negative about this; or P could be being really naive and over optimistic about someone he’s slept with twice. Since yesterday, P’s had a message from the guy which essentially says “sure, I’ll meet him” which P is taking as proof that he was right all along and I’m being silly. I can’t help reading it a different way: sure, I’ll meet him just to get you off my back. The message hardly says anything, it doesn’t say a time or a place when he’s free and it doesn’t suggest how I’m going to get in touch with him. Now I have to get in touch with this person just to get P to shut the hell up. I’ll do it, but it will really annoy me having to.
I might have been in a better mood today if I hadn’t had another terrible night’s sleep. I don’t know why but I could barely manage more than about three hours last night. When I did fall asleep, my dreams were lucid and worrying. I’m obviously super anxious about the trip now and my body is reacting to the overdose of cortisol it’s getting. I wish I could overcome this, I wish I could tell the anxiety “no more – that’s enough” but it doesn’t work like that. All the meditation I’ve done this year, all the practise I’ve put into mindfulness, it meant nothing last night when I was lying there, practically shaking with fear.
What’s the worst thing that could happen on this holiday? Oh, it’s not death that I fear. I don’t mind being in foreign countries where there’s a risk to tourists who don’t know their way around. I’m not scared that I won’t be able to eat or look after myself – there is always McDonalds. It’s loneliness that I fear. At the core of this anxiety is the fear of being alone and feeling loneliness, that cold, icy feeling in the gut which tells me I will be alone and unloved forever. I take it seriously because it nearly drove me to suicide as a teenager. It’s the reason I’m obsessed with making friends, because friends seem to be the only thing that counter it. When I’m on holiday, I won’t have friends and so I’m going to have to find another way of countering it. AA meetings spring to mind, as always, but they won’t always be there. At the moment my best idea is picking up the phone to someone if I feel that I really need to. I hate the fact that I’ve been driven to one of AA’s core suggestions to newcomers, one which I’ve resolutely ignored for years. Somehow I’m wise enough to know that my thinking isn’t going to get me out of this hole, only suggestions from outside will.