Why I’m a terrible friend

It’s only Tuesday, isn’t it? How is that possible? The last two days at work seem to have gone on for weeks! Sort it out will ya, time.
Anyway….

It’s been a while since my last “I am a terrible, horrible no good person with no social skills post”. Now it’s time for another one. Here’s something that’s been on my mind lately.

Jan thinks I’m a good friend because I keep in touch with people, remember birthdays and make an effort with gifts for every imaginable event. He, on the other hand, is terrible at replying to e-mails (I am too, but he never believes me when I say that!), has reminders of people’s birthdays on his computer but fails to actually do anything about them and would probably never see anyone if they didn’t make an effort to include him – or I wasn’t there to occasionally force him to respond to a message/invitation/whatever. So he has come to the conclusion that I am a good friend and he is not. However, in my opinion all that stuff is the easy part. Respond to a few facebook statuses, congratulate people on pregnancies, engagements and birth, keep a record of everyone’s birthdays (and their childrens) so you can get gifts and cards in the mail in time… none of that is rocket science. I look generous and my friends and family feel special because they received a parcel all the way from Germany (this is not why I do these things by the way. I realise this sounds like I’m trying to buy my friendships but I swear I’m not! I just enjoy giving birthday gifts/making people smile). But when you place me in the same room as another person, which, after all, is the whole point of a friendship – it can’t all be done via Facebook – it’s a different story.

Jan and I used to have the same argument over and over again. I would get upset because he never told me what was going on in his life, while he was convinced that I wasn’t interested in what he’d been doing because I never asked him anything about it. A typical converation would be something like this:
Me: How was your day?
Him: Alright.
Me: Oh, okay. *looooong silence during which I would usually get on with cooking while Jan sat down with his laptop*
Me: *Start rambling on about what I’d been doing that day/thelatest news from England/which of my friends had announced their pregnancy this time*

'awkward silence hour'
Photo credit: CRASH:candy

Eventually, I pursuaded Jan that just because I don’t ask any questions it doesn’t mean I’m not interested. I really do want to know about his day, I just have no idea what to ask. So he started telling me things without being asked and I tried to extend my repertoire of questions (I now have “what have you been doing today”, “did you get to do any work for your dissertation” and “how was your meeting” (only if he had one, obviously). Plus, after choir practice I also get to ask him how that went and how the other members of his choir are. Yay me… or something. Now, I am aware that the way to show people you’re interested in them is to ask questions, but beyond the standard “How are you?”, “how did your exam/job interview/driving test go?” and “How was your birthday/holiday/honeymoon” I have no idea what I’m supposed to say. It’s not that I’m not interested… I just honestly don’t have the words to show that I’m interested. Unless someone answers one of my standard questions with a nice long tale that screams out ideas for further questioning/comments I am completely lost. Which leads to awkward silences and me saying something random to fill in the blank, usually about something in my life because that’s the topic I know most about. And because other people do have social skills (or have possibly taken some master class that I wasn’t invited to in how to keep a conversation going), questions do get asked and the conversation remains on me, or goes off at some random tangent. The end result: I appear selfish, unfriendly and only interested in myself. Which would explain why I have so few friends (well, that and the things I’ve mentioned in previous whiny “I have no social skills” posts, such as my being ridiculously shy around new people, leading to me either not saying a word or overcompensating, talking too much and coming across as a complete weirdo. True story!).  But I have decided this has to change! I’m meeting a friend on Saturday (yes, an actual friend!) who I haven’t seen since July and I shall be practicing asking questions then. In the meantime, if anyone has any advice, book recommendations, websites or the like please throw them my way. Any and all suggestions gratefully received!