And then, a huge, beautiful smile from the girl, and a hand that reached over to touch his arm. "Oh, hey Ryan! How are you?" His smile, now full blown and confident, "Hey (girl's name here). I'm good." Then the ordering of sodas and candy resumed. His smile remained and you could tell as he ordered his Sprite and Air Heads candy that even a high pressured concession stand decision was made with more happiness and confidence after that brief social exchange.
Ryan once told me that making friends is a risk and since he's not a big risk taker, that's why he doesn't really have any close friends. At least not a friend in the way you or I, or the rest of the neorotypical world, would perceive a friend. Most of his peers are kind and friendly, but, not really "friends".
I can't say that I blame him. He is kind of right. It is a huge risk being a friend. When you make a friend you put yourself at risk of being hurt or hurting someone else. What if the friend doesn't like you as much as you like them? What if the friend hurts your feelings, lies to you or leaves you? What if you say the wrong thing, do the wrong thing and hurt your friend? It's a risky game, this friendship thing, with sometimes heartbreaking consequences.
When you have that connection with a friend, you feel their heartache when they are sad, you feel their fear when they are scared, you feel their frustration when they are angry, you feel their pain when they are hurting and you feel their desperation when they are barely hanging on. Why subject yourself to all that extra "feeling" if you don't need to, I mean, life is hard enough on your own without carrying someone else's pain, right?
But what Ryan doesn't understand, because he has yet to really make that connection with a friend, is the flip side to the friendship coin. That although a risk, making a friend, having a connection with a friend also allows you to feel their joy when they are happy, feel their pride when they succeed and feel their love when you desperately need it.
Someone once said to me, "The deeper you get with someone, the greater the pain WHEN they let you down". Not IF they let you down, but, WHEN they let you down. I thought to myself, that's a terrible way to live. Do some people really expect WHEN and disregard that IF may never happen?
Yep. And my kid is one of them. Rejection and heartache have proven to him time and again that it's not IF, it's WHEN so why take the risk. "Because it's worth it", doesn't resonate when you took the risk once, a risk that honestly every neuron in your brain went against, and you got burned and worst yet, you had no idea why. When your friend ding dong ditched you, but, didn't have the courage, the maturity or the kindness to tell you why they walked away, the risk and the pain was NOT "worth it" because in the end, the friend is gone and you are left alone, right where you believed you should have been all along.
I have always wondered, does Ryan prefer to be alone, or is it just easier to be alone? I felt like that question was answered a few weeks ago, when I went to visit my girlfriend, and her 18 month old daughter ran to me and asked for "RyRy". When I told "RyRy" this later, he smiled and said, "I wish she were my age, then I wouldn't be so alone". (Pick heart up off the floor here). You see, babies don't know the risk that comes along with loving a friend, they love and feel with reckless abandon, with no regard to risk and so it is equally easy to risk loving them right back.
I told Ryan the reason I think this sweet, little toddler loves him so much is because he knows with her he can be his silly, funny, self and she adores him with no risk. No prompt is needed when he sees her, he greets her with confidence and joy. Ryan doesn't feel confident enough to do that with a beautiful 16 year old girl at the theatre concession stand. In his mind, he has said and done the wrong thing, reacted the wrong way and been rejected too many times, so it's not worth the risk of "messing up" again.
I would give anything for teenagers and adults to love like a toddler. To see everyone as a source of entertainment and joy. To not care what a person wears, what a person says, or how a person responds. To accept everyone just as they are seen in the eyes of a toddler, with kindness, joy and love.
I continue to hold out hope that one day my son will find someone who sees him the way my friend's beautiful girl does...funny, silly, kind and safe. That one day, he will see a friend in the theatre concession stand line or the mall or in the hallway at school and greet them with confidence and feel assured that the risk and the friend really are "worth it".