I can feel my fear. I feel it lurking in the back of my mind like a waiting predator, ready to pounce.

I can feel it in the shadows of my interactions, in the spaces between the words.

I realised the other day that this is a fear that has shaped my habits since I was a little kid.

It’s a fear that has recently come back because, against all odds, I find myself with a bestie. Yeah, the kind I haven’t had since grade school, who you get into all sorts of adventures with.

I’ve never found it easy to make friends because it has always been difficult to connect with people. Having a father who left when I was young and who was unavailable in all possible ways has something to do with it. And as a result of that I had a mother who raised me by herself while working several jobs, which also had a profound impact on my life.

Keeping people at arm’s length and taking care of myself became the easy thing to do.

People always had their issues and problems and opinions and ways of doing things that they refused to negotiate. Being a deeply empathic person, I quickly turned into a people pleaser, eager to give people what they so desperately seemed to need.

But I just lost myself. I lost myself into living somebody else’s life, living a life that was dictated by the expectations of other people, and some form of twisted version of what I thought other people wanted me to be. So, pulling away from that completely, and isolating myself in a monastic existence while still living in society was the only way to find myself.

While doing this, I also didn’t make any deep relationships. And of the few the relationships that I did make, most of them seem to prove that people only care about themselves, and leave the minute you seem to be convenient for them.

There’s something to be said for me going after toxic relationships like a homing missile, too. I’m not innocent here.

But it did make it easy to see all relationships as transient, as something that would begin, would be, and would inevitably end, all in a matter of months or sometimes years. But they would all end.

Most of the time they ended because people always prioritised themselves over the complicated messiness that was relationships with others. Because being in relationships with others requires sacrifice, on some levels, requires negotiating, requires being flexible, giving more than taking…

And so I find myself face to face with this fear again. An old fear that I think goes back to my own parents, and specially my father who left.

Because I remember after he left he rarely kept his court-mandated appointments, often cancelling at the very last minute. After I had been waiting for hours, he would call and inform my mother that he wasn’t going to make it because he was still in some other city hours away, nowhere near my house.

I think it was the realisation that he was never going to make it, and that he didn’t even care enough to call ahead of time to cancel that hit me the hardest. Because it meant that I was just so unimportant to him that I didn’t even register when he was planning his day.

And it’s this pain of being so unimportant that people forget that you exist that I’m grappling with now.

So, ironically, when my new bestie began pulling away because of her own issues, it felt almost inevitable. That’s the part of me that knows what to do, a part of me that’s so familiar with cutting ties and closing my heart, that it just seemed business as usual.

Doing that, letting people go and saying, “Oh, you know that’s just how people are,” is the easy part, though. It’s the part that I’ve practised over and over and over again, since I was five. The harder part is when I have to face my fear and actually engage again, risk being hurt again – because every time being forgotten rears its head, I’m reliving my father forgetting that I even existed.

So, the easier thing for me, by far, would have been if she just decided to not to be my friend any more and left. I have the process of people leaving down to a science, neat and efficient like an airport check-in clerk who’s running on too little money, no appreciation, and does not give a toss about who you are or how excited you are about going on your first trip to Somewhere.

It’s the part where someone decides to stick around that’s unfamiliar for me.

Because that’s when I have to open my heart and open up to the possibility of being hurt.

And today I realised that this is a dance a part of me is reluctant to join in with because I have done it so many times before and always come out of it worse off.

I’ve opened myself up and poured all of myself into a connection, only to have that same experience of it not meaning as much do the other person as it did to me be repeated. Thanks, dad.

And so I try to remind myself that I am not my pain because if I am my pain, who is feeling my pain?

My true self cannot be hurt because there is nothing to hurt, the things that I feel are only things that I feel, and they they can hurt but they cannot hurt me.

Heading into my forties, yet still deconstructing and relearning friendship dynamics, trust and connection. And not with an animal, those connections are easy – all you have to show up with is your brutally honest self and everything else takes care of itself.

Maybe human friendships aren’t that different?