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.
I am lucky enough to have the online equivalent of the the neighborhood with 5 online friends. They truly were my growing up friends 50 yrs ago and 3 yrs ago we discovered each other on FB planning a 50th grammar school reunion. The girls next store, down the street and behind us where our Moms had a step stool placed so they could easily go over the fence for coffee! And I am blessed with how much fun we have, chatting several times a week. some who live close by have lunch occasionally, 4 of us went to Ireland last Spring and now we are planning a Branson vacation in the Fall. And a side benefit, it’s so nice to have someone say, I remember what a good cook your Grandma was or remember when your Mom made you that yellow Easter coat? They are an unexpected blessing for sure.
So envious of that Mary Ann! I’ve tried to keep up with old friends but not everyone is willing to be on FB or even write emails. You’re lucky.
I look forward to your posts every day and have thought so often how lovely it would be to have you as a neighbor and friend. The older I get, the more important friendships are to me and the more energy I can and do put into maintaining old friendships and nurturing new ones. Thank you for your daily posts; no matter the topic, they are a bright spot every morning.
That is such a lovely thing to say Carol and I wished you lived next door to me too! Sadly although we have had cordial relationships with our neighbors at our current and former house, I always thought I’d find a friend to walk down to get coffee with or the grill with in the summer. Some stop to chat while we walk dogs or garden but that’s often where it ends. Some are totally focused on their families, travel non-stop for work or just don’t seem to have an interest in getting to know other people in the neighborhood. We’ve invited others to countless parties and gatherings at our house but it’s also clear to me that some people have 100% of their social lives with extended family and we have none withing 1,000 miles so my online friendships have become very important. Thanks for reading and cheering me on. I very much appreciate it.
I know exactly what you mean about the whole nanny thing. I had a similar experience with my neighbor. She said I could come over any time with my toddler to play with hers, but, when I did come over, it was to sit uncomfortably next to the Chinese-speaking nanny who spoke no English. And going to the park isn’t much different. I have nothing against nannies, but it’s just not the same mom and baby relationship and you can’t build the same kind of friendships. In a way, it’s nice to hear that I’m not the only one who finds friend-making such a maze. And constantly moving makes it so much more difficult. It’s amazing to me how important it is to simply have another person to be with in a deeper-than-casual way. Here’s hoping that we can all find that person (or people).
Another terrific post, Weeks. I had a similar afternoon-with-the-nanny experience when I stepped off the career track for a few years. In my experience, friendships become a luxury once we’re juggling husbands, kids and jobs. Thank God for understanding friends like my grad school roommate who lives on the other coast…we can go for a year without speaking and simply pick up the conversation where we left it without missing a beat when we reconnect. Since the nest emptied and quilting assumed a much larger role in my life, I’ve forged some marvelous friendships in this creative community and my life is so much the richer for it.