I'm 36 years old and back at it again. Making friends never used to be a problem for me. I met my first best friend in preschool, managed to make friends as I changed schools five times from fourth to twelfth grade and even made some really solid post-college friendships. But that's when I was in my 20's--and single.
When I got married at 31, my former college friends and roommates still lived in the same city as me, so I wasn't desperate for new relationships, but as they all eventually began to move away, I found myself alone again.
When I was pregnant, I decided to start "friend dating." I picked out a few acquaintances who were close to my due date to meet for coffee, but it felt forced and unnatural and nothing more came of those relationships.
I assumed having children would usher me into the "mom crowd" I had been so in awe of as a single woman, but was soon disappointed to find that two moms talking at the park usually goes about as deep as two dog owners chatting at a dog park. If anything, having kids complicated rather than simplified matters because not only did the mom and I have to click, but so did our kids AND our parenting styles. Add in child number two, and you begin facing impossible odds.
This April, we made a cross-country move and I have been determined to make friends. About a month after moving here, my son hit it off with another boy at the park. His mom, who was carrying a baby about the age of my daughter, and I had a long conversation. At the end of it, I took a deep breath and gave her my phone number. We have gotten together about twice a month since then and, though I would call her my friend, it feels like we have just reached the point that I had already reached after just one week of living in the dorm with my college friends.
My husband (as has been the case with my friends' husbands as well) has had an even harder time than me since he works from home and has little interaction with others.
Sex and Netflix are our evenings right now (though not usually at the same time). But contrary to Hollywood thought, we have discovered that we cannot complete one another. Though God and our family are first priority, we also need other relationships to be healthy. We have actually found that my meeting and expressing my "many words" with a girlfriend helps our marriage, as my husband is okay with the more condensed version of my thoughts.
This summer (in an attempt to make friends), I joined a study on a book that actually sounded pretty lame to me at first, called The Friendships of Women. To my surprise, this updated version of a book first written in 1988, by Dee Brestin, put words to so many of my unexpressed desires for female friendships. She writes about how most women have a gift for intimacy that men just don't have.
"When I talk to my closest female friends, I feel my soul being sunned and watered when they ask questions, drawing out the deep waters of my soul, and as well when they empathize, rejoicing when I rejoice, weeping when I weep" (p. 29).
Women are designed for intimacy. This is why two women can reach a level of friendship in months that it takes men years to attain (and even then it may never reach that level).
As women, we need other women.
"Friendship is unnecessary: like philosophy, like art, like the universe itself (for God did not need to create). It has no survival value; rather it is one of those things which give value to survival" (C.S. Lewis The Four Loves).
I am writing this post mainly to convince myself that I actually do need female friends, because I have been wondering if I am expecting too much at this stage of my life, which Madeleine L'Engle calls "the tired years." But how to find them?
In 2012, the New York Times published an article called "Friends of a Certain Age," about the difficulties of making friends after the age of 30. The author mentions that sociologists consider three conditions important in making intimate friends:
2. Repeated, unplanned interactions
3. A setting that encourages people to let down their guard and confide in one another
All three of these conditions are easily met in college and in the work place (especially when you are single), but what about when you work from home or have a family? Marriage and family are a time suck (in the best sense of the word) and there just isn't a lot of down time to shoot the breeze with potential new friends.
In theory, I believe religious communities have an advantage over secular communities in this regard because they attend weekly services where all of the above can happen. And yet my husband and I have struggled with this as well--maybe because we don't often see other people at church more than Sunday mornings, so we really don't have the "unplanned interactions"? Or maybe the setting is actually not conducive to people "letting down their guard and confiding in one another"? Or maybe Christians actually just have unrealistically high expectations after reading the Acts passages about believers sharing all things in common, eating together, praying together and exemplifying what seems like amazing community?
C.S. Lewis in The Four Loves said that, "Friendship is born at the moment when one person says to another, 'What! You too? I thought I was the only one.'" A lovely sentiment, and yet just as the birth of a child is not simple, neither is the birth of a friendship. (Am I sounding like a jaded 30-something yet?) So far, just being able to relate to someone has not led to the intimate friendships I desire, because we have not had the benefits of proximity, unplanned interactions or a safe setting.
We have only recently settled on a church and joined a small group, so maybe the awkward asking-of-phone-numbers-in-random-parks can come to an end. We have actually been invited to someone's house for dinner for the first time in seven months and was just asked to celebrate Thanksgiving with another family.
So there is hope.
What about you? Please leave your words of wisdom in the comments, I will definitely take them to heart.
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Labels: friendship, marriage, parenthood