As many of you probably know about me, the Sunday NYT Style section is one of my favorite things to read each week, rivaled only by the “Meh” list in the Sunday NYT Magazine. This morning, I barely entered my front door with the Sunday paper when a good friend of mine emailed me asking if I’d read the “Making Friends at a Certain Age” article yet.
Intrigued, I dove right in, distracted only briefly by the other front page story about the breakup of the Cruise-Holmes
facade marriage. If you didn’t read the “Friends” piece written by Alex Williams, a guy nonetheless, then I highly recommend it because Williams does a brilliant job of breaking down the reality of the difficulty in finding new friends as we age. I think this topic is particularly relevant if you move to a new city as an adult and after you’ve just had your first baby.
For me, I moved to DC in 1996 after graduating college and left only once for a brief 18 month stint in graduate school to Evanston, Illinois. When you go to grad school, you get built-in friends, so that move doesn’t count (though noteworthy, I went into grad school with the attitude that I didn’t want any new friends because I’d already reached my limit of friends. Like applying a limit of Facebook friends to real life. Do you love it? Especially because that strategy failed miserably and I made some of my now-current-ongoing 10 years later best friends). But there are plenty of people in my inner circle who have moved legitimately to new cities and struggle to find new adult friends. And it doesn’t make sense – why do they struggle to make new friends when they are fabulous? Obviously they are fabulous if they are in my inner circle, right?
I think Williams lays it out in the article – life becomes more complicated as we age and also frankly, we have much less tolerance for something we might consider cute or funny or quirky about someone when we are older. Enter a tired, cranky, short on patience 30-something with a few demanding toddlers and a quirky adult who is flaky or constantly late (both of these characteristics describe me, btw) – and forget it – friendship ain’t gonna happen.
Also, we all have serious time constraints. As you know, I am moving this week – on Wednesday and Thursday (so why am I blogging when I should be packing??) and Williams lays out the conditions “crucial to making close friends: proximity; repeated, unplanned interactions; and a setting that encourages people to let their guard down and confide in each other.”
For me, over the past nine years as I settled into my new house with my husband and went on to have my kids, that place became this:
Let’s start with the fence. Where else, as busy adults, can you find proximity, repeated unplanned interactions and a place to let your guard down than your fence in the back yard? This can span more broadly than your backyard however, and include your entire neighborhood (there were many times I roved the streets of my hood, like a brave explorer, on a quest to discover the only survival tool for the parent in the late afternoon: impromptu happy hours. In this realm of extreme parenting adventure, I am a true Olympian. Read: I was usually successful – perhaps I can smell wine 5 miles away? My mantle is now laden with gold medals).
I’m not sure how you hone in on the right neighborhood when you are moving to a new city but we lucked out. Having spent my entire childhood moving every few years to a new country, I never really knew what having a neighbor meant, let alone putting down roots in a neighborhood. Sometimes I wondered about it – but not really – I was a kid and I had what I needed. Now, I know. Having a next door neighbor or great neighborhood friends meets the criteria of proximity and unplanned. I spent 9 years at that fence with my next door neighbor, Julie, and it was never planned. She was standing in the driveway when we pulled up with our first-born for the first time (and I was crying and terrified) and her boys being older than my girls provided endless blog fodder and insight for me into what was coming my way. Over 9 years, everyone moves through some pretty major milestones, whether it be marriage, divorce, pregnancies, loss and certainly in Montgomery County, chronic power outages. So if you’re on the hunt for a great friend but you’re short on time, look next door or on your street.
I think neighborhood listservs have been one of the most helpful ways to foster relationships. The key is being willing to put yourself out there. Crash a few yards, or be out front with a glass of wine around 5pm, and you’ll be surprised what comes your way (There are Olympian happy hour crashers in every neighborhood. Of this, I am certain). People will stop, they will pull their cars over – make shift happy hours can make for great friendships. Trust moi.
I’m probably going to need to take a dose of my own medicine in about a week, as I’m wondering why I left that fence and my street.
The second part of finding new friends for me has been preschool. Again, this was unplanned. I went into it not even considering the new adults around me or how I might someday be vacationing with them (see previous post on Deep Creek Lake and sister wives) – I was solely focused on getting our oldest into preschool. I lucked out. Again. What I’ve since decided is preschool is preschool – what do they do but play? Well, they learn to raise their hand and share, kind of, but other than that – they play. Don’t kid yourself otherwise. So when picking out preschool for your child, in retrospect, the best advice is to pick a school that attracts the kind of parents you want to be FRIENDS WITH. Sure, it might be hard to generalize and you’re not going to like all the parents – but the philosophy and approach of the school is about more than just how they educate your child all day long – it’s also about your outlook on parenting and life – so here’s where you want to find other kindred spirits.
The sister wives from preschool are my people. Along with my early 20s working people, my grad school people and my neighborhood people. But the sister wives from preschool are the people I least expected because I wasn’t looking for them, didn’t know I needed them, and didn’t know I was missing them. But now look at them:
You need sister wives from preschool because your kids are the same age and so as they get older, your chances of them playing together increases, so you can have uninterrupted conversations. It does happen.
So what about if you are in that lonely place of having a newborn or a baby but you aren’t yet to preschool or you’ve moved or both have happened – how do you find these new friends? The new people who can relate to your life as it is now, not how it was before you had a husband and children? Unfortunately I don’t know the answer but everyone needs people. Again, I think putting yourself out there is key – literally asking people to be friends. I have met many women at random music classes or parks who have told me how they’ve almost accosted other women, basically asking them to be friends. I also defer back to neighborhood listservs and putting yourself out there – asking for a play date. And the accidental causal glass of wine out front during the early evening. Don’t forget that one. You’ll need the kids out front too, otherwise you could look kind of pathetic and desperate.
The park is also prime friend-meeting territory. But tread lightly. Odds are the person next to you at the swings is also equally as bored with pushing their kid by about the 35th push. But read their body language like you do the seat meat on the airplane. They are either exuding friendliness or they don’t want you to talk to them and wish they had a book to stick their nose in, even if they, too, are bored. If they appear friendly – then before you know it – happy hour could be scheduled, disguised as a play date.
And in the end, I think as adults, it’s not about quantity but quality. All those people on Facebook pages, Twitter feeds and from college parties aren’t necessarily real friends – I think most of us just need a small few key people.
I’m curious how you all have met new friends as adults? And if there are any of you out there who are trying to meet new people? I’d be open to letting people post on the WM FB page about play dates or even if there’s a movie or evening thing you want to do – look at the WM Book Club – we were all strangers and we had a great night and can’t wait to do it again. What do you think? Thoughts? I can also post for you if you email me. I’d love to know what you think because everyone needs people. Everyone needs a fence, a neighbor, and some sister wives.