Desperately Seeking Susan (and Ramon, and Seymour, and Chloe)

Asking For It with Sibyl

Dear Sibyl,

Throughout my life, I have been blessed with some beautiful friendships. They are the kinds of relationships in which I get to be more of who I am, make life feel more like a funny fun weird road trip, help me see, laugh, grow and play.  

However, with the exception of two arenas, I haven't felt truly at home and at ease in a group of friends. I have watched solid groups of friends, so I feel like I know what they look like, but I have a hard time speaking the language.

The two exceptions: one was an arts summer camp I went to as a teenager; there were only 25 of us, we did arts stuff all day and the same semi-weirdos came back year after year. The other was in a school environment where it was also a fixed group. I feel like neither are the way life is -- full of busy schedules, Facebook-like stuff (which I feel completely awkward with), and tons of different communities.

My friends are scattered from being around the corner, to the other side of the world. I have dipped my toes into groups but feel like I generally have to pretend a little bit. Can you help? I want my team to eat with, to shake things up with, to dance with, to cry with, to feel at ease with.


Lone Wolf in Search of a Pack

Dear Lone Wolf,

Let me take a moment to commend you for being intentional about your friendships.  In a culture obsessed with coupling off, with achieving the “goal” of marriage and kids, the fact that you are willing to develop these other, vitally important relationships in your life is a sign of depth.  Brava.  As C.S. Lewis wrote, “Friendship is unnecessary, like philosophy, like art. . . It has no survival value; rather it is one of those things which give value to survival.”

On to your question.  I struggled between telling you that what you seek is a myth, a cultural creation à la Friends and Sex and the City, and simply telling you exactly how to create a meaningful group of friends.  Here is why: it is attainable---you can make yourself your very own Seinfeld, but---the more you set it up and carefully curate it, the less it will thrive.  The center will not hold.  I'm going to tell you why that is, but I'm also going to tell you how to do it anyway, and let you make your own decision about whether or not to dive in to the jungle of having a circle of friends.

There are so many amazing humans on this earth, but what fuses us together and creates a real bond between a few of them is a precarious balance of common interests, personality traits, and proximity.  Then there's that extra "oomph", that jolt of electricity when you get together, what we might call the "x factor".  Here are a few suggestions for how to gather a group of friends around you, to see if that “x factor” is there between you.

DIT: Dig In Together:  I'm sure you know several people that would vibe each other a lot, who all care about horseback riding or street art or environmentalism.  (Or perhaps all three---sounds like a fascinating group already!)  Start with a dinner party---get all these folks together at your house, bring up the latest news in the common interest they all share, and watch the magic happen.  Then, you'll need to do that very thing, consistently, for months on end, to see if it will stick.  Have the gathering rotate houses, and, hopefully, it will take on a life of its own.  People will start hanging out spontaneously, outside of the sanctioned dinners, and you will have to do less of the planning.  For your next birthday party, all you’ll have to do is show up.

Become a Regular:  Let's say you don't already have people pegged to be your very own Bloomsbury Group.  What you need to do is show up, with an incredible amount of regularity, at a place that you enjoy, and has the kind of people you want to get to know better.  This could be a Zumba class, a dive bar, a Karaokae night, a Mommy-and-Me playgroup, or even a church.  Listen, this is going to take AWHILE.  You need to be willing to stay, and to commit.  But it is the slightly less micro-managed version, since everyone has a reason to see each other every week.

Enlist:  Have you considered sneaking in to something already created?  Granted, this would work better with a loosely-formed group of friends, one that is just coming together and needs a bit of "glue" in the form of your awesome community-building skills, rather than people who have known each other since elementary, but it can work well.  Have a picnic with all those guys, ask one of them out for a drink and then suggest inviting the rest, tell them all about the pop-up store you are checking out after work---anything fun, spontaneous, and not insanely obvious.  Next thing you know, if this is the right group for you, they'll be inviting you along to Game Night or into their poetry-writing club.

Here’s the part that will be harder to hear.  These kinds of groups are ephemeral---even the Beatles broke up, even Golden Girls went off the air.  Your tight-knit, hard-won circle of buds will change over time, and probably will not last your entire life.  The most important thing to remember will be to let it go when the time is right, and appreciate the blessing of it while it lasts.

The most beautiful thing about friendship is that it is chosen.  Many times people try to subvert this, call their friends "family", and seek to guilt their friends into staying in their lives long after the time has come for them to go their separate ways.  That's the wonderful and terrible thing about friendships---as they are not family, we have no bond further than what the heart lends.  And the heart is a wily creature, rarely accepting bribes or following expected paths.

Friendship is about free choice, mutual attraction without even the bonding agent of sex to keep the intimacy level high.  It’s a bit like gardening---we can plant the seeds, water them, and prune their leaves, but we can’t make the sun shine on them, and we can’t stop them from one day drooping their little heads down, to return to the soil, fertilizing new plants in their stead.

So, Lone Wolf, I want to encourage you to cultivate this fledgling group of friends for yourself.  Watch it grow, and tend it carefully.  But also, be prepared for some hard rain, and write back to me when it’s time to till the soil.  We’ll discuss letting changes in friend groups happen with grace and grief.  I happen to know a lot about that.



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