Confession time: I spent many years of my life significantly hooked on socializing. When I’d fill out one of those forms that asked what my hobbies were, I’d sincerely consider writing, “Hanging out with friends.” Never did it, but that’s really got to be my favorite thing to do.
The truth is, most of the people I grew up calling friends have long since left my life, some by chance, others by design – sometimes on my part, others on theirs, still others by mutual agreement. I think that’s probably the case with most people. And those who have remained in my heart have not, by and large, remained in my hometown (Anaheim, CA). Some moved north – Ojai, Humboldt, Eugene; some went east – New Brunswick, Raleigh; while others have remained on the move, here for two years, there for three.
I’m part of that last bit, I guess, as is Chris. Since we’ve not settled in any particular place, we’ve had the bonus of picking up friends along the way as well as the loss of saying goodbye perhaps a little more often than we’d have liked.
I almost always cry when I say goodbye. It’s just something I’m not very good at.
But here we are, in Chris’ hometown. Mind, since he left aged 16, reunions with old friends are limited at best. So even if he knows every tiny twisting street in the old town because that’s where he learned to drive, and even if he can show you all the trees he turned into fortresses as a child, he can’t exactly ring up an old mate and pick up where they left off…too much space has gone between.
So we are, effectively, starting over. Again.
Here are 9 (because 10 is boring) reasons why making new friends is really hard for me:
- (a) I’m difficult. I’m very passionate about my world view, and while I’m open to those of others, if I perceive them as mean-spirited, cold-hearted or selfish, I (sometimes-not-always) tune out.
- (b) I’m difficult. I’m vegan. I’m also now apparently allergic to wheat. Ahem. This is France. Where meals constitute a virtually religious ritual. And everything they eat is drenched in butter. Mopped up with baguette. And when out with mates, often washed down with a beer. Count me out of all of the above.
- This isn’t my first language. I’m getting there, but it’s slow-going. And, as anybody who’s ever been through this will likely concur, people out for a night on the town don’t want to put the extra effort into speaking slowly with the foreigner.
- I like my old friends. They were really hard to find. They understand me. They know how effed-up I am and how that makes me special, not (just) a pain-in-the-arse.
- I’m kinda fed up with going out to the bar. If there isn’t going to be live music, and none of my afore-mentioned old friends will be there, I can’t really see the point. We have ventured out enough times to have a few acquaintances from the local joints. They’re predominantly under 25. That’s not a bad thing as such, but we’re just not in the same world anymore.
- We don’t have kids. We love kids, but we don’t have them. So we’re now working our way into that population of outcasts…is it because people with kids don’t want to bore us? Or is it because they don’t approve of our lifestyle choice? If these were people we’d known for years, it wouldn’t be an issue. But in this teensy town where everybody’s new, it sure feels like it is.
- (c) I’m difficult. It’s hard to get into my heart – even if I do helplessly wear it on my sleeve. True, I don’t carry the faintest air of mystery. I couldn’t win a game of poker if I played it alone. But I’m paranoid about how I’m perceived (I call it Willy Lowman Syndrome, but I guess it’s the same as Energetic Tackiness). I tend to err on the side of everyone-hates-me, at least at first.
- We’re really busy. Even without kids. Seriously, I have no idea how people raise children in this world. Not only are they incredibly expensive, they’re so damn time consuming! Anyway, between my French course, my writing, my English lessons, cleaning the house, doing the shopping, Chris’ crazy demanding job, spending some quality time with each other, and, erm, sleeping, how on earth are we supposed to find the time to cultivate new relationships?
- We have no idea what the future holds. We might stay here. We might not. So how much effort should one put in to getting out there? Because new friends aren’t banging our doors down; if we want ’em, we’re gonna have to go out and get ’em. But what if we end up leaving in a couple of years? I’m not sure I want to go through the goodbyes yet again.
In Girlscouts there was this irritating song we sang all the time (in rounds…blech) that went, “Make new friends / But keep the old / One is silver and the other gold!” Funny – in French, the word for money is argent – silver. You do the math – we’re basically the modern-day aristocrat: we’ve got gold scattered all over the world – we just need to get our hands on some money!
For the moment, I’m thanking my lucky stars for the modern technology that enables us to keep in touch with our besties, and – really and truly – trying to peel away the thin-but-persistent layers that have grown across my heart over the years. One cannot force friendship – no doubt. But one can most certainly welcome the opportunity.