Tuesday, April 10, 2012

It's Hard to Make Friends When You're All Grown Up

I recently had lunch with a new co-worker. It turns out that she’s very close to my age and we have some similar life experiences, perspectives. I am going to try not to smother her and force her to be my new BFF, but it’s exciting to have what looks like a promising new friendship.

Like so many others I know, it’s been harder for me to develop new close friendships now that I’m all grown up with a job and family. Making friends as an adult is just not as easy as it was as a kid, teen and even in college, at least the really solid, I-can-tell-you-anything friends. I remember the first time I experienced this. I’d transferred from a 2 year junior college where I’d been involved in all kinds of stuff to a large state university where I knew almost no one, and where I was involved in nothing on campus other than attending classes. Most students there had spent their freshman & sophomore years in the dorms and joining different activities, getting to know other students in their majors. I was brand new – trying to find someone I clicked with out of 20,000 other students was daunting. I did make a few friends but none that were like my old friends who I knew so well. Then I met a guy, we began dating, I got pregnant, I dropped out of school, our daughter was born, I started working full-time, we got married . . . HELLO GROWN UP LIFE!

Since then I have made many friends: co-workers, people I’ve met online, people from church, people involved in Etsy here in Chicago. Most of those friends, however, have been “just acquaintances”. Interestingly, the friendships I’ve developed with people online have been the deepest – I suppose because online you can quickly give a person a glanceover to see if you think the two of you’ll be a good fit, and it’s just easier to jump right into conversations that help you get to know people, than it is in person. You probably wouldn’t jump into a stranger’s conversation about marriage when you overhear them in a restaurant, but if you see someone talking about marriage on a blog the social rules are different. You can join the conversation without looking weird and it’s socially acceptable to share personal things about yourself much faster online than you would with new friends in person. Maybe it’s the kinda-sorta anonymity of the internet, the safety of not having to meet the person face to face, or the understood difference in social etiquette. At any rate, since moving to Chicago from my home state of Kansas, and commuting daily for over seven years, I’ve found it difficult to become close friends with people that I see on a regular basis, outside of a couple people at work.

I hear this from other adults so often that I know it’s not just me doing something wrong – it seems to be a problem for a lot of people, especially those who no longer live in the area where they grew up. I’ve joked around about starting an online “friending” service so I could find friends in my area – the type you can invite over for wine and reality TV, the type you can talk to about your sex life, the type who doesn’t care if your house is a mess. The type whose kids play with yours because you drag them along when you hang out, not because you’ve scheduled a playdate. I’ve been told about people who have written articles, blogs and books on their own attempts to make new friends as adults, they had varied results. Someone told me of a friend-finder website & I created a profile, but it doesn’t look very promising.

My current set of co-worker friends – the ones I socialize with outside of work occasionally, and hang out with at work functions – are mostly younger than me, mostly unmarried and they’re not parents. They live in the city and have more disposable income and time than I have. We have a lot of fun together, don’t get me wrong, but we’re in different stages of life. When I go out with them, I get a taste of the freedom of being young and unencumbered that I walked away from when I got pregnant in college. Still, I would like to have more local friendships with women who are married or have kids, who are closer to my age, who I don’t have to trek all over the earth just to see. I’ve been craving a more mature friendship for a while now and have struggled to find the time or courage or whatever magical ingredient I need to find that out in my suburban neck of the woods. If I could order a friend from a catalog, she’d live down the street, be married with kids, my age, and we’d be enough alike to get along well, different enough to keep things interesting.

As luck would have it (or wouldn’t, I suppose), my new co-worker looks like a great match except that she doesn’t live anywhere near me, and I get the feeling that she isn’t going to be up for much going out after work (she’s got a full life in the suburbs just like I do). Still, I’m excited at the idea of having a new friend, someone I can talk to face to face, every single day if I want to, who is closer to my age, has a similar way of looking at things, has gone through some of the same things I have and lives a lifestyle more like my own. I’m looking forward to getting to know her beter.

I will do my best not to ask her if she wants to wear matching outfits on Fridays.

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