In weighing the pros and cons of a move from Canada to the U.S. one of the major cons was having to make new friends.
For most of us, getting older means our circle of friends gets smaller. We’ve lived longer and we know more people, but we’ve also become more particular about who we enjoy spending time with. At 46 I thought I was done with the ‘nice to meet you, here’s my life story’ conversations, at least on a mass scale.
Turns out no.
As a classic introvert, I prefer the company of my close friends and family to that of strangers. I’m outgoing when I need to be but I find small talk exhausting and stressful. Cocktail parties, networking events and networking events disguised as cocktail parties are my personal hellscape. Whenever I misbehave it’s not a red guy wielding a pitchfork I picture, but a room filled with people wearing name tags and fake smiles.
I am deeply envious of people who can work a room. Not the used-car salesman, finger-gun people, but the genuine ‘people people’ who are legitimately delighted to meet you. Because it isn’t having new friends that’s terrifying, it’s all the work that goes into getting there; the time and effort it takes to make a real connection, to develop a friendship versus an acquaintance –where you don’t have to worry if you’re swearing too much or if you brought the right wine.
When I shared my concerns with friends before moving, they suggested I join a gym or start a book club as a way to meet people. So I did join a gym, but not to socialize, and I did start a book club, but I’m the only member. We meet nightly on my couch.
Early on I tried convincing myself I didn’t actually need close friends here. Maybe I could manage to fly home every few months and fill my social bucket then? Stay busy, watch a lot of TV, find a job, stay insulated. Was my Oscar the Grouch, don’t knock on my trash can routine a way to express my general anxiety over moving? Probably.
Being willing to forego friendship and connection was a real low point, but it was also a wake-up call: a reminder to set a good example for my kids and to stop feeling sorry for myself.
Now that some really terrific women have taken me under their collective wing, I’m reminded of all the reasons we need female friendships and adult connection on a regular basis. Here, my female friends are starting to become my anchor. They’re tethering me to a place I’m growing to love but that still feels transient and foreign. They’re reminding me I can’t live on an island, especially in a new place where I need advice on completely novel topics like keeping scorpions out of the house and how much water a cactus needs.
Domestic advice aside, female friends are essential because they do what kids and spouses cannot: they remind us of ourselves, of who we are outside of laundry and meal planning and everything else we can lose ourselves in if we’re not careful. Men are from Mars and Women are From Venus is more than a catchy line or book title. Males and females are fundamentally different from one another in the way we’re wired and in how we approach most things in life. While you might find a great opposite-sex partner who compliments you, with other women we find alliances in the way we think and solve problems. We find more validation for our belief in the importance of community and collaboration than we do with most men. With other women, we find a connection that isn’t better, just different.
And the special bonus that comes with making later-in-life friends is that I’m no longer tying myself up in knots about making people like me. I want them to, I hope they do, but I’m not going to stress about it. I still have various insecurities tucked away in little compartments of my brain, but meeting new people is no longer a catalyst for their escape. I no longer worry if I’m wearing, doing, or saying the right thing, preferring an as-is, ‘take it or leave it’, human garage sale approach to my sense of self. While I’m always (okay, sometimes) trying to be a better person I’m also not fussed about whether or not you think I have improvements to make.
This feels pretty fabulous and it’s the main reason I’ve been able to embrace new friendships at this stage of my life. Excuse the Pinterest letter board phrase but I believe your vibe attracts your tribe and that by being authentic we can attract authentic relationships into our orbit.
Because who has time for anything else?