On Friendships and a Broken Childhood

I am the child of a minister. We moved every few years, as my father was assigned to a new church. My father told me this was because the United Methodist church didn’t want any parish to be built around a single minister; it was about the church, not the personality.

When I was a child, I had two types of friends. In a new town, my first friends were children of parishioners. They were instructed to be my friend Or Else. Few of them ever truly felt like friends.

My second friends were kids I genuinely befriended on my own. But I was a misfit, and my impression of friends was already “people our parents forced us to interact with”, so for most of my childhood, this second group of friends wasn’t a very healthy group.

The older I got, the more broken my perception of friendship was.

It didn’t help that I didn’t fit well with the boys in the first place. But being gay wasn’t even on the table for me as a child, let alone being transgender. I was a straight boy.

I was a straight boy.

I was a straight boy.

I would pound that into my brain and do everything I could do to prove it, no matter how incorrect it was.

So. I was a misfit who was surrounded by Or Else friends. I was emotionally impaired, making me difficult to be around. My neurodivergence was, and still is, undiagnosed. Every three years or so I was uprooted and replanted somewhere else.

It’s hard enough for most people to develop a healthy view of friendships in our capitalist, opportunistic society. With the several things stacked against me, it’s not surprising that I failed to do so.

This message carried through into my adulthood. I couldn’t maintain friendships very well. Distrust played a part. Emotional vulnerability played a part. An inability to function as a man played a part. Manbox rules played a part. (Yesterday, I found out that neurodivergence inertial patterns also played a part.)

So now, in my second half century, I still struggle with believing that anyone is truly my friend. That they’re not either putting up with me out of politeness or opportunistically trying to get something from me.

Objectively, I know I have friends. Genuine friends, who aren’t seeking anything from me.

But it’s a struggle. The deeper the programming runs, the harder it is to disentangle it and tear it out of the wall.

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