I REMEMBER Stewarton in snatches. Over twenty-six years specifics have largely lost their edges, though some seemingly unrelated pieces have been preserved in brilliant detail. Crisper memories include hauling frog-spawn out of the house-hugging Annick Water that would eventually become my empty bucket of escaped frogs. There are the cows greeted on the way to playgroup, and my first tombola at a drizzly town fete. Among the detail is the memory of my first major disappointment in other people.

For me, Stewarton represents the prelapsarian view all kids have of the world until your fellow humans let you down for the first time.

Autumn, Ayrshire, 1990. I’m going to have my first party, for Halloween. Mum and I walk across town to the fabric shop, where she’ll buy two yards of soot-coloured cotton and 3D fabric gel in three colours. This will become a cape – my cape – with a moon, star and a sitting cat applied in temptingly pickable paint. We’ll buy the rubber nose with elastic that digs into my cheekbones, and glow-in-the-dark fingers with crimson claws that I won’t be able to keep in a full set. Mum will do her best to carve a passable face in a turnip (it will be her last in favour of the previously “too American” pumpkin). She’ll do a small buffet and fill a plastic cauldron with flying saucers and drumstick lollies. We’ll sit for hours waiting for the first knock from a friend. We’ll eventually give up and go to bed. Nobody came.

The next day, mum shouts at a short-haired woman in the street. A flaky fellow mum who promised several times to give out invitations but didn’t. I’ll try to disappear myself into the fabric of her coat sleeves, but won’t fully appreciate the many hues of her disappointment for another twenty years.

Even now, parties make me queasy. Whether my disquiet with the social gathering is a quirk of personality or a direct descendent of Halloween '90, who knows? Either way, the looming chasm between expectation and reality is what I call to mind when anyone mentions the p-word. It’s where my brain goes to first before “fun” or “cake” or “friends”. It doesn’t help that most are organised via Facebook these days, which gives more scope to slink out of commitments because you haven’t looked someone in the eye when you said you’d come. We’ve all done it. Click and forget.

That’s not to say I haven’t had good parties. The informal thrown-together evenings have been great. By contrast, my wedding was stressful from start to finish. The parties I’ve tried to plan and execute have never really worked out. Only a couple of kids showed up to my twins’ party in the October holidays, when people had plans and no daily reminder of their friendship. At Hogmanay, all but one person cancelled, leaving me with little option other than to pull the plug and eat all the cheese myself. This has become a predictable pattern.

I’m about to turn thirty, and this approaching landmark more than any other so far has been subject to questioning. “What are you doing for it?”, “Are you having a party?”, “Who are you inviting to this party I presume you’re having?”. Ummmm. The answer is no one, for the simple reason that I’ve chickened out. The threat of a no-show, of being optioned on a Saturday night and decided against, make me feel like the little girl with the tumshie lantern and the homemade cape no-one saw. I can’t imagine anything worse than seeing out a tumultuous decade alone, albeit with a dry martini instead of an unyielding vegetable in hand.

The fear of rejection is common to all of us, manifesting itself in different ways. Imposter syndrome at work, inability to commit to a romantic partner, the things that stop you from doing that degree or applying for that job, separation anxiety. Humans desire proximity to others in varying degrees. The idea of trying to convince more than a handful of people into a room with me is my rejection kryptonite. Parties are a declaration in the way that weddings are. It’s sort of a roll-call of friendship. When you stand at the altar and say I do, you’re making a commitment to a person in company. When people show up on a Saturday and choose you over Netflix or a night out, they’re saying, “I choose you”.

Sure, I know lots of people, and get on well with them – but after more than a decade of child-rearing and receding from the balmy waters of a regular social life, I’m not so sure a night of cake and my company would beat Orange is the New Black. I worry no promise of good cheese or free booze is enough to tempt a critical mass to make the endeavour worthwhile and leave my self-esteem intact. I’m starting to think that for someone who’s been wilfully abstemious where friendships are concerned, a well-attended party is a tall order. Too tall.

I’ve spent the last ten years putting my life into a passably grown-up shape and the price of that has been missing out on these sorts of deep, willing-to-show-up type friends. Perhaps the next decade should be spent filling in those gaps, making myself the sort of friend who isn’t an afterthought because I’ve prioritised others too. And I think the beginnings are there.

This week I’ve been invited to dinner, called to see how I was, and thanked for a book recommendation. I’ve just finished eating the fresh eggs we were given last night after being wined, dined and welcomed by relatively new friends. So that’s at least four for 31. I’m feeling optimistic that I might fill a room by 40. Probably too soon for a save-the-date, though.