I suspect that friendship and community used to be easier, or at least simpler than it is now. “You live next door and you’re available to watch my kid sometimes?” Great, we’re best friends. Doesn’t matter if we disagree politically. Your differing thoughts about race, gender, and religion don’t matter because I know you and you know me. We are in each other’s homes. We filter our perceptions of each other through knowing each other’s hearts.
Unfortunately between social media and a pandemic, we’re struggling more than ever to connect. Fear and black or white thinking often gets in the way of making or sustaining a connection. Through social media we get curated sound bytes of other people’s lives that either make us feel lesser than, or give us the illusion of connection when we know what’s happening in other people’s lives. What’s the point of calling after all, when you can just find out how the kids are doing through social media? Or, what’s the point of building a connection with someone who has an opinion that is hurtful or different from our own? Or, what’s the point of reaching out when this person seems to already have tons of friends?
Another one of the challenges in making friends is that we all have different expectations and definitions of friendship. Some people want friends they can go months without talking to, and pick up where they left off when they are ready to hang out. Some want to talk regularly, and have their friends know what’s going on in their lives and vice versa. Some are looking for deeper conversation and connection, others want people they can joke and have fun with, without ever touching on more intimate topics.
At least in romantic relationships, we feel we have a little more ability to say, “this is what I’m looking for…” when we begin dating someone. I wish we could do the same with our friendships.
When my clients bring up issues with making friends who are life giving (which is all the time), I have to acknowledge how much I have not figured this out in my own life. I have ideas and theories, can listen and ask good questions, but I have no best friend. No one I feel I can text or call randomly when I’m struggling or sad. No one I can text to go get a drink, or who does the same with me.
I have found that I make a good first impression generally, but that folks start to back off at some point. I’m inconsistent. I can be super fun and energetic, or quiet and contemplative. You don’t always know what you’re going to get with me. I cannot help but tire of small talk and conversations that center around people who are not there. It’s hard to always be fun and energetic when I carry the weight of other people’s worst nightmares. My job requires me to know the worst of humanity and life. It also requires me to see through defense mechanisms, unhealthy coping mechanisms, and pointless conversations that fill space and nothing more. When I’m in groups of people and one or 2 people are dominating the conversation, I find myself worrying about those not getting an opportunity to speak. I am uncomfortable because I’m worried they’re uncomfortable. Or, I get frustrated at their inconsideration even though I like those loud people and have nothing against them. Sometimes I’ll drink too much so I can loosen up and just be present without noticing every godforsaken thing. It’s exhausting.
The pattern is this: I’m fun, sometimes funny, I listen well. People share, and I am empathetic. They talk, I listen. I hear things they don’t say out loud. They are later embarrassed by how much they shared (though I absolutely never have an issue with it or see them any differently or worse because of it. Quite the opposite, actually). Or maybe they understandably didn’t appreciate that I offered feedback. And that’s it. They back off. Or, it stays one sided and I back off.
Or, I share because I don’t want others to think I’m counseling or judging them. “See? I’m human here, too! And off duty!” I share my hard stuff, or mistakes and shortcomings. Maybe they see me differently because they unconsciously thought I was supposed to have my shit together because I’m a counselor. Or maybe they assume I want advice or help, and they don’t know what to say or how to help. So they back off. They are looking for levity and fun.
I’ve come to realize that I can only become good friends with other counselors. Or people who have had a lot of counseling, are sensitive feelers, or are self-reflective. Otherwise I think I must just come off wrong one way or another. I don’t blame others for backing off, as you can see I’ve spent time considering their potential perspectives, but it sure is lonely.
I have many acquaintances I care for and enjoy, but I won’t give up hope for close friends. Or, a best friend or two. Here’s my friend dating profile, just in case you think you might fit the bill:
38 year old mom of 2 boys (8 and 11 years old) seeks a best friend who lives nearby (I’m in Alpharetta, GA). Someone who would be down to randomly meet up for a drink, or who can respond with empathy or humor when I send an errant text about a hard day or funny situation/meme. Must not think you have your shit together or think you know more than everyone else, and admit when you make a mistake. Must be nonjudgmental and open. Must be good at asking questions and checking in. I will offer you the same in return. Bonus: you love Mexican food, sarcasm, funny memes, and have watched every episode of Friends and Gilmore Girls.
How about you? Do you have a friend dating profile? If so, please share!