“Friendship is unnecessary, like philosophy, like art…. It has no survival value; rather it is one of those things which give value to survival.” – C.S. Lewis
When I was a kid, I thought being a grown up was going to be like one big long episode of Friends. I was going to have an exciting life in a big city and share an apartment or a floor worth of apartments with all my friends. We would all eventually get married and have kids, but not before we had made our share of harmless but lesson filled mistakes and drank too much beer and smoked too many cigarettes on the roof of our tragically hip but kind of dumpy apartment building. Then together we little would raise our cubs as a happy urban village. But, that’s not really how it worked out.
I have three friends from high school that I still see on a regular basis. One, I married, so he doesn’t count anymore. One lives in the same city as I do but has a busy life and a schedule that rarely intersects with mine. The other lives in the town we grew up with and we make it a point to see each other as often as possible which isn’t very often. Pretty small village. I also had a major falling out with my closest college friends the summer between my sophomore and junior years. They are all still friends with each other and I’m not really friends with any of them. I’ve since reconciled with all but one of them and we all live in different cities now, but even when I know, via Facebook, one of them is going to be in town, I hesitate to reach out. A meeting over coffee seems painfully intimate and an unfortunate reminder of what I could have had but walked away from. I burned that bridge. It seems very unfair of me to ask any of them to try to walk back over the smoldering remains.
Despite my acute awareness of my potential to disappoint, I made other friends, many of whom are my best friends today . When we graduated all but a couple of them scattered across the planet like the loveliest handful of marbles you have ever seen. One rolled to Louisville, splintered into a million prisms from which she built her new life, and decided to stay. We took her cat to the airport. Another whorled all the way to Japan. Yet another to Miami. Two to Oregon, one to Vermont. It is the saddest kind of math to realize all you are doing is subtracting. Suddenly, it felt like I wouldn’t have anyone nearby if I needed help burying a body.
Which finally, finally gets me to the purpose of this whole thing. Why is making friends as adults so hard? Cognitively, I know it’s because I share less common denominators with the people I meet. Gone are school, work, continued proximity; shared enemies and insecurities. There is also this awkwardness that comes with getting past that platonic “dating” phase and into the friendship phase. It doesn’t really help that I am extremely extroverted while somehow being painfully awkward. As I’ve gotten older, my availability has shifted. I used to spend days with friends, holed up in an apartment with 10 rented movies, cold pizza, and cheap beer. Now, I have three, dogs, two jobs and one kid. I can’t just take off and disappear. I can’t stay out all night or dedicate entire weekends to doing nothing. It’s not reasonable, but it’s also how all my other close friendships were kindled. Time together, learning each other. I don’t know how to make friends in bits and pieces, snippets over coffee and conversations about the weather over a quick weeknight dinners.
The weird thing is I thought it was just me but I’m not the only one who feels that way. Talking to others, I’ve found a lot of people my age feel the same way. They are lonely, they crave platonic intimacy. Something is missing. Friendships are important but we don’t know how to find people or reach out. What if you click with someone in a coffee shop? Do I give them a business card? Is that weird? Does it show my desperation? Probably. It’s also kind of embarrassing. I’m part of ten different meetup.com groups and I’ve never gone to an event because the idea of attending knowing no one sounds like a disaster where I just sit in the corner and nurse a warm beer until I feel like I can slink out on my belly unnoticed. The fear and sting of rejection are never tempered, not by age, certainly not by experience. Moving from “will you like me?” to “you like me, you really like me!” is a commitment to vulnerability, acceptance and the possibility of failure.
Sometimes, I wish there was online friending in the same way there is online dating. Do they have, like, match.com for BFFL’s? If not there should be. I’m sure my profile abound with pictures of me standing next to intricately designed trashcans would get a lot of hits. I would spend some time cultivating just the perfect way to explain my penchant for literature, baking, Netflix, Star Wars, travel, and the Chicago Cubs while establishing myself as a mom, a bleeding heart liberal, a photographer, and certified geek (I went into labor at Comic Con 2010) while carefully avoiding my Peter Pan complex. I would totally join and not tell anyone in real life that I’d done it. Or maybe I’d write a blog about it.
Written by Rachel Brandt