~ I had to let go of a toxic friendship so I could befriend someone amazing. ~
For the longest time in my life I’ve wondered how it feels like to have friends who support you. Or if you are someone like me who never had any personal relationships during your school years, you might not know how wonderful it feels to have friends at all. I for one am blessed with friends from all over the world and I’m grateful to have best friends who treat me like family. Throughout my three years on campus, I’ve created a large enough community for myself that it is almost impossible not to encounter someone I know down every corridor I venture or every corner I turn. And let me tell you that these random nods, smiles, handshakes and hellos are one of the best moments I look forward to every day. But has it always been that way?
Back in my school years, I was a pretty shy kid and I didn’t have much going on. I was a chubby kid until high school and I wasn’t really good at any sports. I wasn’t a part of any after school club either. I never went out with any of my ‘friends’ because I was never invited to their hangouts. And even if I was, my family wouldn’t have allowed me to go out anyway. So to make up for my lack of friends, I spent most of my days (well to be honest all of my childhood) staying indoors, reading books and writing short stories. The only place which I frequented with my father was the British Council Library where I’d go to get fresh reads every weekend.
I also liked to study to pass the time. I loved to write notes but I didn’t have anyone to share them with. My parents set up multiple white boards on the wall for me to study and I use them to teach an imaginary class of students and no, I’m not a lunatic. My sole ambition ever since primary school was to teach and I believe I learn best when I’m explaining a concept or a problem to someone else. I didn’t have any friends to study with and my parents didn’t like anyone coming over to our house (and I had no friends to invite for that matter). So from primary school to high school, I’d have these sessions with my imaginary students whilst I think to myself that one day I’m going to be a professor in a reputable university and I’d be working with hundreds of students, shaping their minds and nurturing their abilities.
My life had been pretty lonely throughout my teenage years. I didn’t get into any relationships and I never found anyone who I felt comfortable enough to be myself. I’d call my classmates as ‘friends’ just because I saw them five times a week and not because there was a deep emotional connection which bonded us together. I was adamant to escape this bubble of loneliness when I got to university and based on what I had experienced, the whole friendship experience can be dangerous and agonizing if you trusted the wrong person.
Back in my foundation year, I was determined to distinguish myself. I tried out almost everything: martial arts, community projects, MyBuddy program, and got involved with various student clubs. I was reserved and lacked confidence at first but I knew I had to get out of my comfort zone if I were to leave a good lasting impression on someone else. It was difficult at first. I had to immerse myself in different social settings; I had to sit in big groups even if I didn’t want to. I felt anxious around people but I had to put on a smile and engage with everyone like a socialite would. Overtime, I got better at pretending to be social and surprisingly, I became a socialite that everybody knew – and I loved it.
For the first time in my life, I felt visible to people. I was hanging out with everyone and I was meeting new people every day. Of course, I didn’t open up to everyone I met until I felt like I found for a best friend for myself. He was a boy from Pakistan and I first met him in our “Oral Communication” class. He was one of the first students to give an impromptu presentation on the topic of “If I were an animal, I’d be…” While other students picked classic pets, he chose to be a dragon because he thought it’d be cool to breathe fire and his exact words were, “Hey, I can have barbeque anytime I want right?” He had come up to say hi right after class. He was living in the same dorm I was in and that he thought we should be friends. We got along great. He was like a brother to me. Everything looked innocent back then.
Only it wasn’t.
Over a year of friendship, I had discovered that he had been manipulating me for so long. He was placing bets with his friends to see just how much he could take advantage of me and I was blind to all of it. I continued to help him with his studies and supported him when he needed someone to listen or vent or solve his problems. But towards the end of the year, I had decided that enough was enough and I knew I had to put an end to my misery. In the middle of the year, I had started to tutor “Fundamental of Mathematics” for foundation students and I had started to build a friendship with two gentlemen: Mohsen and Karam. Relying on the friendship I had with them and knowing that I’m not going to be alone, I took the brave decision to cut the toxic friendship I had. It was painful at first, but through the kindness of the lecturers and my friends, I was able to recover from the wounds of broken friendship.
Perhaps I was meant to survive a horrible experience so I could know better and grow. I had learned not to completely trust someone I knew so little about. For quite some time after I lost my ‘friend’, I was unable to welcome and accommodate new people in my life. I was scared of the impact a bad friend could have on me. I was scared to relive the whole ordeal. But through the love and respect I received from Mohsen, Karam and all their friends who later became the closest people in my social circle, I was able to see the light, warmth and beauty in friendship again. And as fate would have it, I had to let go of my toxic friendship so I could befriend someone amazing. Shortly after, my detrimental friendship fell apart, I met Noman Nabeel, a young boy from Yemen who would not only become my best friend but also a strong, supportive and defining character in my life.
Before I end, I’d like to offer some carefully considered advice for those of you who are looking to get out there and make some friends. Remember, it’s always quality over quantity and true friendship will not hold you back but nurture you to grow to your fullest potential through love, understanding and support – just as my best friends have done for me.
- Don’t be in a rush to make friends. You should know what you’re looking for. Do you want people to hang out with or are you looking to form an emotional connection? If you pick the former, try to approach people in a classroom setting, the Starbucks down the block or at an event. If you decided on the latter, try to get the know the person before engaging any further with him or her. Sometimes it’s hard to read people because some wear their masks so tight and perfectly.
- Try to get involved. Join a student club. Try out for a sports team. Hit the gym. The more involved you get, the more likely you are to meet new people. More people will start noticing you but you shouldn’t assume responsibility for the sake of getting noticed. If the activity is making you uncomfortable, opt for a different hobby.
- Offer to help people. This was the key to my friendships. Are you good at math? Do you create awesome reports and posters? Are you a great listener? Use your gifts and make a positive difference in someone’s life. You’ve got nothing to lose.