This week, I had an email from one of my sister’s friends, who lives just south of Nashville, cancelling our tentative plans to meet halfway between us (about 1.5 hours each way) and connect. She said her husband told her she can’t add anything else to her plate, because they are moving May 25. And I totally get it. Moving takes months of preparation when you have a family. Once they move, she’ll be about 7 hours away instead of 3 hours, so maybe it’s all for the best anyway. But I was SO looking forward to a real, live person, one I already know at that.
Honestly, there are days when I feel like giving up. Every opportunity for connection, every attempt to reach out to a stranger or someone I barely know here has ended in a closed door. I haven’t made a single in-person friend. The two people who did agree to meet followed it up with an announcement that they are moving away within the next couple of months. (Seriously?!)
There are books being written about this – books about how hard it is for women to make friends post-college and outside the workplace (see The Friendship Crisis by Marla Paul and Women Are Scary by Melanie Dale). I believe it. Everyone seems to have no available time, uber-controlled time (I can’t tell you how many SAHMs I’ve met who have told me they just “can’t do” weekend or evening meetups, to which I generally want to say, Well I’m so sorry I’m not able to work my salaried job around your stay-at-home schedule) or has enough friends already and doesn’t want any new ones, thanks very much. I’ve exchanged numbers with three different moms at the neighborhood playground, and none of them have returned my texts. Why would you exchange info with someone seemingly sincerely, and then just not respond? This feels uncomfortably like middle school, and I’m the girl on the playground everyone is covertly laughing at.
I despair at times. I really do. I have spent the past three years sustained by long-distance friendships, and it’s just not enough long term. Skype is not enough. The phone is not enough. For Pete’s sake, Facebook is. not. enough. I need a flesh-and-blood person to sit down with, across a real table. I want to stand on my roof and scream to all of Memphis, “I just want a friend! A real, live, in-person friend. A kindred spirit. Just ONE! Is that so much to ask?”
The thing is, finding kindred spirits is not easy. It’s not instantaneous. It takes time. It takes diligence. It takes patience and the willingness to be vulnerable, to risk exposure.
It is really, really hard work.
But it is so very worth it, too.
A friend posted something on Facebook this week about not having community, and I found myself writing her an encouraging note, telling her to keep on looking, that God would provide the right place, the right people. I told her that all of my post-college non-workplace friends are women I met in church small groups and other shared-interest groups (book clubs, writing groups, stitch ‘n’ bitches), and that it took many years of trying different groups (some of which sucked, because let’s be real – not all groups result in lasting friendships) to find them, to get to know them, to forge real bonds of friendship and loyalty and come-as-you-are affection.
It all sounds so simple, so natural.
The truth is that it’s hard to make friends post-college. It’s harder when you’re married, and even harder when you have kids. It’s harder still when you have a job without a real workplace. I love my work-from-home scenario in every way except for the fact that it’s isolating. I have no colleagues to chatter with in the hallway. I have no one to go to lunch with. And I miss those opportunities – they made it easy to forge friendships at work. My first friends when I changed careers and cities in 2008 were new colleagues.
But to be honest, I don’t want just one girlfriend, although that would be a good start. I want a community.
For years, I’ve longed for a house big enough to host small dinner parties. Now, here in Memphis, I have the house but no one to invite. I long for Supper Clubs a la Jen Hatmaker and Shauna Niequist. I dream of backyard barbecues and Sunday Night Church on the patio, cozy winter evenings of mulled wine, good cheese, and good conversation around the fireplace. I’ve had this kind of community before, in Detroit and in Chicago. I really, really miss it.
I dream of a tribe, right here, right now. Some people we can think of as ours. People we can trade date nights with, share meals with, laugh and cry with. We got a teeny, tiny taste of it during our last seven months in Virginia, as we finally and with great relief found a home church (we miss you, dear NCC folks).
Starting over in a new place and forging meaningful relationships takes time, I know. It took a year and a half to find a church home in DC that felt right, and then we moved seven months later. It was heartbreaking. And the truth is, I don’t know how much time we have here in Memphis. It could be five years or twenty-five. Not knowing makes the search, the investment seem even more daunting. More risky.
I need to forge ahead anyway, I know. I need to follow my own advice and keep on, because we were not created to do life in isolation; we were created for community.
In the meantime, I’m going to keep polishing my table and stocking up on wineglasses and really good coffee, and hoping.
Photo Credit: Didriks. License: Creative Commons 2.0.