Navigating life as a woman in the world today is interesting. From Nigeria to Timbuktu, it’ll amaze you how similar all our experiences are. Every Wednesday, women the world over will share their experiences on everything from sex to politics right here.
This week’s #ZikokoWhatSheSaid subject is a 25-year-old Nigerian woman who regrets choosing popularity over real friendships. She talks about being bullied by her school friends and still seeing them in her dreams five years later.
Let’s begin in the present. How would you describe your friendships now?
Easier. I’m less concerned with the vain things that seemed important to teenage me. Like being “cool” or “popular”. I mean, I used to want to be friends with people who constantly shunned me so badly that I see them in my dreams almost every night till today.
How does that work?
I dream about being ill-treated by my friends from secondary school and university. Sometimes, I get both groups mixed up in the same dream. I don’t understand it because it’s not like I’m still caught up on my childhood friendships, but it must be stuck somewhere in my psyche.
Tell us about it, please
I was never any of my friends’ first choice. Like, I was in a group of friends who always hung out together. But you know how there are always besties within a friend group, and some people will just be closer to each other? No one was close to me. I was the loose end. I knew this because none of them ever really wanted to hang out with me alone.
Does any particular scenario jump out at you?
Many. Like when I threw my 16th birthday party and invited everyone in my class. But because a guy was having a random party the same day, only two people showed up for mine, and only to stay for an hour before going to his thing.
Another time, I visited one of my friends I really liked, and she was so uncomfortable with me in her house, she didn’t let me go to her room. We just sat together awkwardly at her dining table. It was so weird. We talked for a bit, she filled my slum book and then promised to come visit me at some point during the holiday but never did.
Meanwhile, whenever we were gisting among our larger group of friends, she and a closer friend would always talk about all the exciting things they did when they visited each other.
Why do you think they treated you differently?
I think they just saw me as boring. I was smart, and in hindsight, they kept me around because I helped them pass. I could explain most subjects well. I also helped them cheat in exams. I’m not proud of that, but yeah. There might be other reasons, but that’s the only one that makes sense to me.
Did you ever confront them about how you felt?
No. I was scared to even face the idea of them pretending to like me. I was so socially awkward that I couldn’t even really have conversations with them.
Also, most of the shunning happened when we were in SS 3. It was like they decided since school was about to be over, there was no point talking to people they had no intention of keeping relationships with. True to that, after our graduation, I could only keep in touch with one person from secondary school. And she wasn’t even in my friend group.
They just ghosted?
Pretty much. Well, they went to schools in the UK or US. Meanwhile, I got into trouble after graduation. Boy trouble. So my parents punished me by making me attend a Nigerian university. That was the first major blocker because we made big plans to attend the same universities in the UK and US, cross the ocean semi-regularly to visit with each other and be friends for life. No plans were made to hang on to a loose end who didn’t manage to leave Nigeria. Only one or two of them are on social media, and they’re hardly ever online.
How do the others keep in touch?
I’m actually not sure. Once in a while, I see their IG stories of them meeting up in restaurants or at some Beyoncé concert. When I send DMs, it takes them forever to respond. And there’s only so much you can text about when you stop actually meeting up and being in each other’s faces regularly.
But didn’t you notice signs from this group of friends before SS 3?
There were some things.
The first time I sensed this behaviour, I was a little late for movie day in school. We were supposed to watch the original Superman as an example of classic Western cinema. When I walked in, I followed one of my other classmates I talked to once in a while to sit in the very first row. Just as I was about to sit, one of my “closer” friends called out and gestured for me to join them at the top row. I shook my head and said they shouldn’t worry. I didn’t want to go through the stress of walking all the way up the theatre steps when the lights were already off, and the movie was about to start.
I kid you not, they started treating me differently after that. This was sometime in JSS 2. I’d keep spaces for them in the dining hall, and they’d just ignore me and sit at another table. Then I’d have to shamefully stand and move to sit with them. They also used to shame me so badly for not knowing how to dance and being too flat to twerk. I think they just became more open about it in SS 3.
JSS 2 to SS 3? That’s a long grudge
I know it’s ridiculous, but it pops in and out of my mind today that if I’d just gone to sit with them that day, I would’ve had a more wholesome secondary school experience.
But the truth is, even in primary school and university, I struggled to keep friends. People just never listened to me when I talked. It was like I was never speaking loud enough or saying anything interesting enough.
How were your friendships in these cases?
I thought I’d made a best friend in primary school when she suddenly told me I should stop “clinging” to her. Another person accused me of follow follow and always doing whatever my friend told me to do.
Then I started making up stories to get my classmates’ attention. I’d tell them bogus stuff about seeing and talking to spirits. It worked. People gathered around me to hear my next outrageous story for the day, even though the attention never really extended to strong friendships. I was considered strange and not popular.
Was it important for you to be popular?
I guess it was, to a certain extent. I just wanted to be liked, even if it was by one or two people. I envied those who had strong friendships, besties who were always willing to spend time with them even without being asked. I wanted to be someone’s first choice of friend, someone they’d call first to give their private gist. I always seemed to be the last person to know things in my friend groups.
Did your parents know about any of this?
Yes and no. I think they sensed some of it but didn’t take it too seriously. My dad was unbothered about my school life — all that mattered were my good grades — but he’d comment about how my friends were rude. I’d tell my mum a nice version of what was happening in school, so she really thought I had all these friends and was doing well. Although, she’d ask why I was always going to their houses and events but they never came to mine.
You said you also struggled in university?
Yes. I didn’t care as much, so making friends was a bit easier. The first close friend I made, we bonded over our music tastes. We both loved a couple of musicians my past friends considered me weird for liking. But then, our friendship clashed with me wanting to be friends with a certain group of people I considered cool. The funny thing was that this group liked her and was indifferent to me. They ended up absorbing her into their group and ignored me.
How did you take that?
It was so frustrating because she became well-liked by everyone in our course. Our closeness gave me a passenger-seat experience of what it was like to be truly liked. But we drifted apart sometime during 200 level, and I never made a friend as close as her until NYSC.
In those slightly scary dreams, I’m constantly walking into rooms and talking to these particular people. But they ignore me, and it’s like I’m not saying anything, then they walk away. Sometimes, I can’t even find my voice. I’m frustrated, but I can’t speak to them no matter how hard I try.
That’s a lot. I hope you’re okay
I am, really. I still only have acquaintances and work friends. But when I do some soul-searching, I see I was the problem. I always sought friendships with people who didn’t connect with me, no matter how hard I tried to connect with them. I often ignored people who naturally gravitated to me.
It’s come back to haunt me because most people my age are friends with people they’ve known for five to ten years, and sometimes all their lives. They’re wary of letting new people in, and I’m tired of settling for the outsider role. So maybe I’ve missed my “find a close-knit friend group” window.
Why do you think you ignored possibly true connections for empty friendships?
I honestly don’t know why I made those choices in school. Don’t we all wish we could redo our teenage years with the wisdom we gain as adults?