Friendship: Lessons from a Puppy

by Susan C. Litton, Ph.D.

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Finding out that I was introverted -- coupled with the reinforcement that introversion could be a positive thing as opposed to something worse than the plague -- was probably the beginning of coming home for me. I had had a handful of relationships in my life that had been meaningful -- relationships where I not only didn't feel the intense anxiety of the puppy incident, but where I also had been able to be myself and connect deeply with another human being at the same time. I craved more of those types of friendships. Once I began to sense this need in my life, I also became aware that I hadn't a clue about how to go about satisfying it. How did one make friends? Where did one find them? What did friends do together?

The first thing I discovered on my quest for these answers seems obvious to me now but it eluded me in the beginning. I learned that generally, if you're drawn to someone, there's about a 90% likelihood that they feel the same about you. I'd had this axiom backwards - I had assumed that if I liked someone, then they were this really wonderful person who might tolerate me at best or turn up their nose in disdain at worst. Given this warped belief system plus the fact that I had a strongly developed sense of self-preservation, I had spent my life steering clear of the people I met that I truly liked or felt a kinship with. I was self-selecting out the very people to whom I was most drawn. No wonder many of my early friendships had not been very fulfilling. Early theories and beliefs die hard, but now, after much practice, when I meet someone new that I really like, what I do is assume they like me, too. Needless to say, this approach has yielded much better results than my earlier one.

The second thing I learned about making friends was that my upbringing had taught me to be hopelessly codependent. I think the reason that the now infamous puppy afternoon failed so miserably was that the two girls who came to visit were probably raised on the same bread and butter. I was sitting there smiling and waiting for some cue from them as to how they wanted me to be, and they were doing exactly the same thing. None of the three of us knew how to be anything except other-centered so we were all basically up the creek without a paddle. It became much easier to just abandon ship and look for other waters that were less hostile. They, as extroverts, probably looked for a different friend -- one who was less codependent. I, being introverted, turned instead to another book to read, piece of music to learn or art project to undertake.

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