Thursday, April 10, 2014

Making Friends - My Messy Beautiful

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If you haven't heard of her, Glennon is a pretty fantastic Blogger.  Her mantra is all about being real, owning our brokenness and being kind to others.  I've been following her for a few months and I appreciate her gift of "letting it all hang out", digging deep into hurts to find the love, and her ability to make me laugh at the madness that is being human/woman/mother/wife/warrior.  

I was excited and a little unnerved by her recent invitation to bloggers everywhere to share their "Messy Beautiful", as she calls it.  I mean, my comfort zone is more in reading about other people's brokenness and sympathizing.  To discuss MY imperfection in a small, public forum like the INTERNET seemed just crazy.  And honestly, I don't feel super broken.  So what do I have to offer?  And how do I fit that into my "find the joy" theme?! 

The more I stewed on the idea, the more I felt compelled to participate.  And so here is a small glimpse of my Messy Beautiful. Still a little shaky on the idea, but trusting the joy will follow.  

I'm not very good at making friends. True story.  In fact, I pretty much suck at it.  My best friends are ones that I've known for over 20 years, both because they are awesome people, and because I'm too lazy/inept/awkward/shy/busy/whatever to make new best friends. 

I think the height of my social career was in high school when I ran with the band geeks, the student council group and a side-bar group of girls that I still call friends today.  As a teenager I never really appreciated how easy it was to find someone to hang out with on a Friday night.  We were SURROUNDED by kids our own age.  We all had lots in common.  If one of my normal girlfriends was busy with work or boyfriends or whatever, it didn't phase me.  I'd just pick up the phone and call someone else.  Because truth was, I had lots and lots of friends to choose from. 

In college, the story was pretty much the same.  Although the social scene was somewhat muddied with "old" people (like those transfer students in their mid-20's), for the most part I was still surrounded by like-minded people my own age.  Living in the dorms meant meeting new people every day while riding the elevator or eating lunch in the dining hall.  Friends aplenty.  Weekend plans were easily made while bumping into an acquaintance in the hallway.  Friends of friends quickly became my friends.  My social circle expanded, seemingly without effort. 

Typical night out in college.  Ten friends gathered with probably two phone calls.

After college is when I came to realize the real world is not padded with gaggles of people exactly my age with my exact same schedule looking to make friends and socialize. The world is a mix of ages, genders, ethnicity's, schedules, priorities, personalities, hobbies and temperaments.  Never again will I be in the midst of a social structure designed for exactly my age and temperament, until I move into a retirement community.  But even then the age span could be 20 years or more.  How's that going to work?  Do I have to be friends with 96-year olds when I'm only 82? 

I spent most of my 20's confused about how and where to make friends in the real world.  My first job right out of college was at a Lutheran summer camp where I latched on to a few friends that I'm still close with today.  Outside of that safe social bubble, I struggled.  I sucked at small talk.  I quickly snubbed those with different political views.  I literally did not know how to move from the "casual acquaintance" phase into the "real friend" phase when I wasn't in this intertwined social web of school life.  I had a hard time trusting new people because they weren't in a circle of established mutual friends.  And just where ARE all the people my age in the real world anyway?  Where did they all go?!  The work people were old.  The church people had kids, or were too Jesus-y.  The neighbors were weird.  I felt like I had been pulled from the Gethsemane garden of friends into the Sahara dessert.  In a drought year. 

During my 30's I came to understand (and begrudgingly accept) that the real world IS different.  It is not a bubble like high school or college.  Growing up and moving out means you're mixing with lots and lots of different kids of people.  Your kind of people are actually not all that common, no matter what kind that might be. Finding decent people that make you laugh, don't offend you, have time for you, share some interests with you and would generally make a good friend are HARD TO FIND.  The social circle of my school days is really gone forever.  My overflowing circle of buddies has been pared down to a small ring of confidants, many scattered across the country and not even directly involved in my day-to-day life. And don't even get me started on the complicated mess of finding suitable "couple friends" that both you and hubby can enjoy.  Ugh.

Now that I'm a seasoned 40-year old, I have come to own the fact that I'm not super great at making new friends.  Part of that I blame on the world.  Life is busy.  Kids suck the life out of you.  Marriage takes time and effort.  Personalities, opinions and schedules are difficult to mesh together successfully.  But part of that blame lies squarely with me.  I forget friends are important until I need one.  I (still) hate small talk.  I judge quickly.  I discount so many different people in some ugly, desperate attempt to find people just like me.

Ha.  So how's that workin' out for ya?!  Well.  Not so great.  

It's not that I don't like people.  Because I do. It is just more relaxing for me to sit quietly rather than keep a conversation going with a stranger or casual acquaintance.  The energy required for the back-and-forth, filling of silence, flow of topics, and inserting appropriate laugh track is WORK for me.  I can do it, but sometimes I get lazy.  Ok, a lot of times I get lazy.  I can talk to a crowd of 100 with no problem.  But small talk with a stranger at the thanks. 

I am that social cliche that has daily conversations with friends over the Internet but doesn't know the names of the neighbors that live across the street.  I am the mom that shuttles the kids to ballet or soccer practice and can't find a comfortable way to get past the "Hi, how are you?" conversation with the other moms on the sidelines.  I busy myself with my kids to avoid having halting, uncomfortable small talk with strangers because they just might annoy me, or we might have different opinions about gun control, or there might be an uncomfortable silence, or we might just not have any fun talking to each other.  So, it's better to just stay busy.  Head down.  Focused.  No time for small talk. 

At least that's what I tell myself.

Truth is I've got time.  But I've also got fear.  Fear of rejection.  Fear of discomfort.  Fear of being needy.  Fear of somebody (God forbid) thinking I'm talking to them because I don't have any friends of my own.   Because that would really be the worst, wouldn't it?  Appearing to actually want or need a friend?  Opening your soul just enough to a perfect stranger to let them know there is a small vacancy in your life.....yikes. 

It has occurred to me that perhaps the rest of the world kind of sucks at making friends too.  Surely I can't be the only one.  And how much easier does it become to try to make friends when we realize that very few among us are winning popularity contests these days?  I guess there are probably those that feel like they don't have the time for one.  more.  friend.  But I don't think I've ever actually met any of them.

So here's my pep talk to myself, and anybody else that might need it.  You're good enough and smart enough and people will like you.  The world IS full of people like you, but you might overlook them if you're too busy scrolling through Facebook on your phone instead of taking a chance talking to a stranger.  The world is also full of people NOT like you, and some of them aren't half bad.  Did you hear that?  Different is OK.  You are cool and all, but you're not the only version of cool in this world.  The older ones, younger ones, more conservative ones, religious ones, free spirit ones, vegan ones, whatever.....they just might have something to offer.  Give them a chance.  Because here's the deal.  Everybody needs a friend.  EVERYBODY.  Every single last one of us. 

Even the ones that suck at small talk.

This essay and I are part of the Messy, Beautiful Warrior Project — To learn more and join us, CLICK HERE! And to learn about the New York Times Bestselling Memoir Carry On Warrior: The Power of Embracing Your Messy, Beautiful Life, just released in paperback, CLICK HERE!


  1. Love this. I agree. I think everyone feels this way. I also think you lucked out and met the very best friends early on in life. I KNOW I DID! =) Carry on, Warrior.

    1. Maybe that's part of the problem finding new old friends are just TOO AWESOME. Other than the fact they live 2,000+ miles away.

  2. You're not alone. I completely get what you are saying. Thanks for the pep talk, but I'll probably continue to suck at making new friends anyway.

    1. Lucky for us, there are some in this world that really rock at making friends! Hope for all of us. Carry on, warrior!

    2. First, awesome photo. Those were the days... Second, this post spoke to me, I have this same struggle, maybe this is why we are friends? Although I have made a few friends since high school and college, it's not the same kind of friendship as those long-time friends.

    3. That photo is a goodie, Erika!! Totally embodies the Glory Days of carefree friendships. Glad we are friends (even long distance). Makes me wonder what would happen if we had met today on the sidelines at soccer practice. Circumstances are not as easy for nurturing friendships in this stage of life, but I have to keep reminding myself that there are CERTAINLY more good people in the world that I haven't met yet.