I thought it was like riding a bike. Or shotgunning a beer. That it was a skill, once mastered, couldn’t be forgotten. But then, at the age of 36 and a mom of two young children, I realized I had forgotten how to make friends.
I mean, I have friends. Of course I have friends. Lots of them. In fact, according to Facebook, I have over 1,400 friends. So, yeah, I’m doing just fine, thankyouverymuch.
Except, thanks to our semi-nomadic life, these friends live in Ohio. And Texas. And Colorado. And Oregon. And dozens of other places.
I also managed to snag a few wonderful local friends right here in Boston before I got pregnant for the first time and turned into a permanent swamp witch. Except they are younger, or older, and childless, or their kids are grown. And also I keep forgetting to contact these wonderful local friends to hang out in real life because all my time and brain power is now spent cutting up fruit my kids are BEGGING for, and then cleaning the mess from all that cut-up fruit that they did NOT eat but felt needed to be spread all throughout the house.
I’m also on friendly terms with our downstairs neighbors. Whenever we see each other. Which is roughly twice a year.
It’s not like I can’t talk to people. I’m not what you would describe as shy. I can strike up an awkward conversation with the best of them. And on really good hair days, I can even score a hot mom’s digits.
But after that I’m pretty much useless. What’s the next step? Text them? I guess. But underneath their name I usually put something like “Chick from playground” or “Blonde Lorelai Gilmore” because I never actually listen when I ask someone their name. And if by some miracle I do remember their name, I forget how to write a text like a normal human.
“Hello. Maybe sometime henceforth we could, whenever is convenient for you, of course, together our offspring get for a coffee. Or a beer. Or nine beers. Not that I’m an alcoholic or anything. LOL. OK. Well. You have neat eyebrows. *random gif of Chris Pratt from Jurassic Park.*”
It also doesn’t help that I am awful at first impressions. Just awful. The reasons for which I’ve narrowed to the following three things.
One, I have a major case of Resting Bitch Face. Some people look wistful when they daydream. I look like I want to murder you and your entire family and then will strangle your pet in front of your lifeless corpses. Two, whenever I do smile, I smile weird because I hate my teeth, which really only adds to the illusion that I’m probably a secret serial killer. And three, when I’m nervous (like, say, when I’m meeting new people for the first time) I always think of the perfect thing to say roughly three minutes after I should have said it (which you would think would stop me from saying it, but no, no it doesn’t).
So now, without the crutch of school or a regular 9-to-5 job where people are forced into close proximity to me on a regular basis (and thus are eventually able to see through all these quirks to my much more endearing quirks) I found myself struggling to make friends with other parents.
For a long time I told myself I didn’t need friends. It’s 2018, man. We, as a society, are beyond friends. That’s why memes and Netflix and mermaid blankets and boxed wine with straws were invented.
Coping mechanism, you know?
But you do. You really do need friends. At every age. And every stage.
I’d see these groups of parent-friends talking and laughing at places like the library and the park. Just go up and talk to them, I’d tell myself. You’re a grown-up. This isn’t like third grade. They won’t make fun of you because you’re wearing the wrong color scrunchie. But then my oldest would start yelling “MOMOMOMOM!” and I’d realize my youngest was running straight toward traffic and the moment passed and we’d head home. Friendless.
Secretly though, I was always hoping one of these groups would take pity on me and adopt me. It was a fantasy I often had while staring off into space (and looking like I wanted to murder you). That they would see me sitting there by myself and just swoop in and take me under their collective wing and say “let’s go get a beer, or nine, and by the way, you have neat eyebrows.”
You can imagine my surprise, then, when one did.
It was a chilly spring afternoon. A group of them descended on the playground. I’d seen most of them around the neighborhood from time to time. Made small talk with some of them over the years. Which is how this encounter started. But then, just like that, they let me in. Within 20 minutes, they had added me to their Facebook Messenger group. Within 45, I’d been invited to their weekend barbecue.
And that’s all it took. I had found my tribe.
And it’s made all the difference.
My kids now have neighborhood kids to hang out with. My husband has other husbands to stand over cooking meat and say meat cooking things about. And I…well, I can finally smile my real smile, forgetting how much I hate my smile for awhile.
Loneliness is a real epidemic. As adults we don’t like to talk about this. For too many of us it conjures up too many horrific childhood memories of bullies and not fitting in and birthday parties where you were terrified no one would show up.
But we should talk about it. And address it. Because not everyone is as lucky as I am and has a circle of friends that reaches in, deus ex machina, and saves you from your loneliness. And tells you, in big ways and small, that you are great, just the way you are. And will agree that yes, your kids are being total buttheads today.
Everyone deserves to have people in their life like that.
So, here’s to hoping you have found your tribe to help you get through the long days and short years of parenthood. And if you haven’t yet, hang in there. It will happen. And if it doesn’t, approach that lonely mom sitting all by herself and start the tribe yourself.