Friendship Flaw: I woke them up

Katherine Hepburn phone in bedShe answered the phone on the fifth ring, just before the machine picked up.  Reaching over her husband’s sleeping back, and clumsily grasping the receiver, she had her eyes closed as she mumbled “Hello?” Her eyes rolled behind closed eyelids as she recognized the voice of the too-perky-for-the-morning neighbor.

At least that’s how I imagine it. My phone call woke them up, and after that mistimed call, I never called again. It’s ridiculous, really. Even after she assured me it was no big deal, but I still never called again.  And despite having a lot  in common, our friendship relied on chance encounters and common acquaintances, and it never became the relaxed, easy relationship promised when we first met.

Sixty second experiences like that can easily affect relationships of all kinds. Combined with shyness or newness or simple embarrassment, friendships can flourish or shrivel when exposed to insecurities.  Seems silly, doesn’t it?  I’ve been thinking a lot about the relationships that modern society encourages and stifles. And since I’ve never been an especially social person, and because I often say and do (slightly) off-color things, I’m particularly hard hit its influences.

via Sisterhood of the Sensible Moms

Since moving to The Suburbs, friendships have changed the way they grow. With a backyard available, the park is not a twice-a-day trip. And besides, in a car culture, playgrounds aren’t necessarily inhabited by families who live close-by. Most of the people I know are through my kids’ preschool. And from what I hear, most of my future friendships will be based on my children’s elementary school classes – it makes choosing a school much more important!

I’ve also found that friendships are a lot more fragile than they seemed in the past. One conversation gone wrong (politics! race! education! taxes! twitter!) can mean uncomfortable interactions and half-hearted attempts at making plans.  We parents are sensitive, defensive creatures; every action and comment and behavior is judged as it is. And we parents have too little alone time to bother with drawn-out conversations and explanations and second chances.

Is it just me? Or have we lost patience with Try, Try Again when it comes to grown-up friendships?

image: The Week

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About That Unique* Weblog

Adjusting to car culture, dealing with leaving a career I loved, and spouting off along the way. Do The Most Good.
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36 Responses to Friendship Flaw: I woke them up

  1. johar1 says:

    OMG! That’s basically what I’ve been thinking about these days. Having started all over after moving to “The Suburbs” a year ago, I’ve had to learn how to make friends again. I have changed my persona to a more guarded one sometimes worrying how the way my kid is dressed or how big his ice cream stain is and how that will affect the way we are seen and accepted as friendship material. Did I write “OMG” and “ice cream”? I’m doomed! I am the once cool designer with no kids, now celebrating each birthday invite as my own.

  2. I don’t have kids and I’m like this, too. I have to be at a very high comfort level with someone before I can really be myself and consider them my friend.

  3. Lenore Diane says:

    I don’t have friends. I listed 10 reasons why I don’t have friends. You may have read it. (smile)
    I was talking with myself this morning, as I drove 21 miles to pick up my son from a sleepover. I then had to turn around and drive 6 miles to the school, to drop him and his brother off at camp. Then I drove 15 miles back home. I was sad that my son’s friend lives so far from our house. Alas, the boys attend a private school 15 miles from the house, so …

    I find making adult friends far more challenging than making friends in school. I think part of the reason is the fact that – as an adult – we are not surrounded by people 5 days a week, 8hrs a day, like we are as kids in school.

    • I think you’re correct about the proximity point. When I worked in a school, I made a couple of friends – but just a couple. Teachers are odd ducks, really. And not all odd ducks are odd in compatible ways.

      I can’t imagine having to be in the car for such stretches — I hope you have good music playing!

  4. Carrie says:

    I suck at meeting people because I’m so shy and awkward. There’s always uncomfortable silences and my face turning beat red…Thats why if I have to meet someone new I prefer to do so at a restuarant where I can order some alcohol and not seem like such a freak…LOL

    My kids aren’t in school yet but I’m not really relishing those encounters either…

    I still have friends from high school but otherwise I hang with my husband…He’s cool though and shy like me, so it works out. Unless one of us dies…then we are screwed!

    • Dogs and kids are great ice-breakers. The problem is that you sometimes have to break a lot of ice to find people with whom to connect.

      Something I’ve found comforting is finding out that even some of the most confident seeming people I know admit to feeling shy and embarrassed upon meeting new people. We’re all so freaking alike!

  5. L.A.C.E. says:

    It’s so hard to make friends these days as adults when everyone is so darned PC 😦

    • That’s part of what I was trying to say in the post. Many times we’re willing to take quick offense, but we’re less willing to listen to an explanation or elaboration to an “offending” comment. Thanks for stopping in!

  6. Jennifer Worrell says:

    People offend so easily these days. That’s why I stay home and blog:) I totally GET you:)

    • I wonder if part of the easily offended issue is that we spend less time discussing and more just expressing (like on-line). On a blog we can *trash* comments we don’t like. Or, conversely, we can say what we want behind the safety of the screen. In real life, it’s more intense.

      How’s that for more reply than you bargained for? 🙂

      • Jennifer Worrell says:

        I agree with the discussing part–there’s no time to just sit around and talk. We’d rather shoot someone a text, and we’re always rushing off to the next event. I do like the safety of the screen, though. Real life is just TOOOO intense sometimes:( I like your comment:)

  7. Robbie says:

    We just moved across country and I’m finding it HARDER to meet ppl now that my kids are school age. I am hoping that changes when school starts in the fall. I just started a new job and have 2 co-workers-one of whom is my supervisor and is 3 hours away. Don’t see anything more than workplace friendliness out of that. One of these days I might just start knocking on doors and asking ppl to be my friend. Would that be weird?

    • Actually, we just had someone move in down the block, and once I’m sure they are IN the house, I intend to stop by with pie to introduce myself. It was so nice when a couple of neighbors did that when we moved. Whether they did it out of niceness or curiosity or whatever – it didn’t matter. It was just great. So no, I don’t think it would be weird to stop in and introduce yourself.

      Something I’ve seen people here do a lot of is use the “mommies” message board to basically say “I’m lonely! I want to walk and have coffee and chat!” and lots of people always respond. Do you have that option?

  8. heidi says:

    This year has been one of the toughest for me in the arena of friendships. It’s because of kids’ activities and school that I find myself with people I don’t truly care for. I think some are worth the try, try again, and sometimes it’s better to cut your losses and hang out with people you like and enjoy…where it’s easy…if that makes sense. I get that some of that ease comes with time and dedication, but friendships should be something we enjoy…that are worth it and make us feel good (for the most part.;)). Or am I crazy?

    • That’s so true. I have to say, a couple of people I am now close to (despite long distance) had *issues* in the beginning of our relationships. But we formed them pre-kids, pre-careers, pre-a lot of things. Priorities have changed…sleep is at the top now! And for me, being free to express opinions without feeling like everything will be analyzed to find reasons to be judgmental is important. I get so few adult conversations that I want them to be deeper than the cordiality of passing through.

  9. I am often sad the opportunity even the opportunity for authentic or genuine relationships is virtually absent in our real life.good piece.

    • I think there are a lot of things working against us. The false realities presented by tv, movies, and yes – the internet – is toxic. And the reality that we don’t NEED people as much as our predecessors did. Babysitters and summer camp instead of neighbors, take-out instead of borrowing flour, texting instead of over-the-fence talks – or even talking on the phone. Many barriers!

  10. Maybe my experience will give you hope! Since both of my kids went off to college, I have found it much easier to make friends and build deeper relationships with people I only knew on a surface level before. I think when we and all our peers are in the middle of raising our kids we are so focused on our families and so busy we just don’t have the energy to work on friendships. When I was released from that I found that I, and a lot of other women, were suddenly ready to connect.
    Also, don’t forget the 50-ish women around you know as potential friend material. I remember women this age in my neighborhood or in my church who were so nice to me and it didn’t occur to me at the time that they could have been friends.

    • Thanks for the hope! And yes, I was just reminded recently that older (ten or even twenty years) people make great friends. I think it is definitely has to do with attention, and the time to give it. You’re awesome for sharing this future hope NOW!

  11. Vanessa says:

    It’s a funny thing adult friendships these days. I remember when your neighbors where all at the same life stage as you were. You went back and forth for coffee or tea and your kids ran back and forth too. I have one neighbor I am close friends with. Other than that I hold a certain distance or reserve when I meet new people.

    • That’s a good point. Same thing along the lines of “we all played on the block.” If only three families with kids at different stages are around, then where do you find playmates for the kids and/or the adults without getting in the car? Speaking of which, I haven’t even met the people who moved in last week…time to bring them pie!

  12. Ok, girlie. Just how far away in NJ do you live?? We are only about an hour from parts of NJ. The Sisterhood could plan a playmate!!

    Anyway, adult friendships are harder I think, because our expectations are higher. When you’re a kid, the fact that there’s another kid is good enough. As we age, we really figure out what it takes to make us happy and what we require in our friendships. I am a very open, friendly person (probably a little too much so!), but I have no trouble getting friendships started (Read: acquiring acquaintances). Only a few develop into the real deal though—the rest are just great people to chat with in the grocery store or at the school recital. That’s why adults treasure the ones that stick—they know just how rare and precious true friendship is.

    Great post.

    Hang in there. You are a gem . Anybody would be lucky to have a friend like you! Erin

    • Do you know it never dawned on my that you guys are close-by? I just assume everyone tangled in the Web is a plane ride away. Ha!

      And I didn’t mean this post to make it seem like I *need* friends. I have a lot of really amazing friends, actually! More than at any time in my life prior, I’d say. And for me, a lot means a handful with several extra fingers to fill in when needed. (Wow. That did NOT sound as bad in my head as it looks in the comment.) It’s more about how we tend to be more willing to drop the effort when things get rocky or a little uncomfortable. And I don’t think it’s a “fault” thing – more like a time/exhaustion/other options thing.

  13. I find it so hard to make friends. I say incredibly stupid things all the time. I do that with my core circle, but they are used to it so it’s OK. If a friendship isn’t easy, I don’t spend any time on it. I like to think it’s because I’m busy. But really I think I just worry that if I have to work this hard, maybe the other person doesn’t really like me and there’s no point.

    • I hear you. We are taught that “real” relationships shouldn’t be so much work. I call BS! It’s true that friendships can be really easy sometimes, but if there’s one thing I’ve learned from friendships that have lasted and grown, including my marriage, it’s work! And anyone who says it isn’t is living in the shallows.

      Wow. That sounded way more harsh than I meant it to. In fact, I don’t even mean that the way some people might take it.

      And there, dear Michelle, you may have an idea as to why friendship is work – at least with me!

  14. Lisa says:

    Interesting piece. Having young kids and living in the burbs is a bit like being a fresher at college again. There seem to be lots of people to befriend but then as time goes on, you realize that some people are not what you thought, some I have scared off with my sense of humor/ nonsense I sometimes blurt out and then others you can’t break into their circle as they’ve been here for zillions of years.
    However I also find I’m pickier now I’m older – I think it is because with young kids I have so little free time. You are spot on about it being an effort to properly maintain friendships.
    But I love going to coffee with peeps – so Red Eye soon my dear?

    • Yes to the many choices shadowed by the lack of freedom to be a complete “goofball” – although in my case, that doesn’t keep the weirdness from emerging. And yes to the pickiness factor. And yes! to the coffee…what are you doing today at Noon? 🙂

  15. Larks says:

    This post really rings true for me. Pre-kids I was happily socially oblivious. Not in a mean way. In a “I’m not out looking for new friends so not paying attention or putting in a bunch of effort” way. LIke, “Don’t like my taste in music? That’s cool. I don’t like your collection of Justin Bieber posters. I respect you and I’m sure you’re a good person and all but we don’t have to be BFFs. Different strokes and all that. See you around!”

    Now I have a kid. My daughter is in preschool and very social. She’s all about the playdates. In the beginning of the year I overheard another preschool parent saying, “Oh, man! My kid is becoming friends with Kid X. Dammit! I don’t have anything in common with Kid X’s parents. I don’t even know how to start hanging out with them. Maybe I can subtley suggest they hangout with Kid Y. I like the Y’s much better.” And I had this Holy Shit moment where it dawned on me that my kid would be directly impacted by how other parents saw me socially and if I didn’t find a way to fit in with the other parents I’d be doing her a huge disservice. I was being nice and respectful before and everything but now there’s this weird almost high school-esk pressure where I’m very conscious that I have to find a way to be A Member of The Group.

    Things like accidentally waking someone up or an awkward ending to a conversation suddenly become anxiety inducing.

    • Oh my gosh. And added pressure for friendships! I’m quite sure that my personality has affected my kids’ options…as others have affected theirs. (I’ll admit it!) But soon enough they will be at the age when the parents no longer are as involved – and then the real trouble starts. How can I control who MY kids are creating mischief with on a daily basis?


  16. So true!

    We made a cross-country move last summer and it is definitely a challenge to find new friends. Back in SoCal, I had friends from childhood, work, etc. In the cornfields of PA, my only contact is with neighbors, parents of my children’s schoolmates, checker at the supermarket, and the UPS guy. Much, MUCH harder to find friends. And there are many cultural differences, apparently, because folks often say things such as “is everyone in California like you?”

    • “Just like starting over” makes it sound so easy! Darn that John Lennon. Thank you for sharing your experience and making us all feel just a little more normal. (Or is it lots of us are abnormal?) 🙂

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