March 25

The Friendship Maze

I read a lot of magazine articles on a broad range of topics. Recently I stumbled upon an article on friendships in Psychology Today. Written by a Harvard professor emeritus, the article talks about the role of friendships in culture over history. As a child friendships seemed so simple. I remember driving into our new neighborhood in 1970 and quickly surveying the kids out playing for one my age. The primary requirement for friendship was being in the same grade.

As an adult it is so much more complicated. Do you spouses/significant others like each other? Or are you just going to meet this friend for lunch occasionally because your work schedules are totally different, your kids are at different ages, she travels with her family to see extended relatives, her kids’ travel swim team, vacation house etc. most weekends? Is this a once-close friend who happens to have moved 1,000 miles away? Is this a work friendship that will dissolve when your cubicles are no longer adjacent? As a work-at-home new mother I didn’t fit in with either the stay-at-home moms who would gather at each others’ homes for coffee and leisurely chats daily nor the moms whose children were cared for by full-time nannies nor those who juggled daycare routines. I got very excited 10 years ago or so when a new friend I really liked and admired invited our daughter and me to join their daughter (and presumably her) for a late-afternoon swim in their pool. When I got there the woman was at work and it was clear that the invitation was for me to hang out with her Spanish-speaking nanny while the kids swam. Totally did not see that coming.

Recently I saw someone marketing leashes for dogs color-coded to indicate whether or not the dog is comfortable or not being approached by another dog or if the dog would not be friendly to small children etc. I remember thinking that I wish potential friends came with color-coded warning labels, “I’m sincere but you’re going to have to maintain the friendship because I’m distracted.” How about “I’m nice but not emotionally available.” How about Yelp reviews for potential friends? That would be very helpful. Or an interview before we decide to become friends? “Are you applying for the online position on Facebook or were you thinking this might include actually doing something together, you know, in person?””Are you going to bail on me if I lose my job, get sick or go through a rocky patch?”  or conversely “Will you be excited for me and cheer on my successes or will you become jealous and distant?” “Do you return calls somewhat promptly?” “Will I be a priority in your life because you’ll be one in mine?” “Is best friend status an option or has that position already been filled by someone who has been your BFF since kindergarten?” It all seems so complicated sometimes.

Conversely I’ve made so many great friends online and wish so much that you all lived nearby. I can’t even allow myself to fantasize about a neighborhood filled with the great friends I’ve made online. I would never, ever move! I wish we could all get together for a potluck dinner on Sundays or a walking club on the weekends. I think back to my best friend as a child who lived three houses away. We told each other everything. We cheered each other on. We were each others’ fashion adviser, boy consultant, kootie catcher recipient, school bus seatmate and therapist. Oh what I’d give to have that three doors down.