Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Old friends, new friends

It's rather easy for me to lump my friends into distinct categories.

There are the childhood friends:
Kristen and Kate circa 1998

The college friends:
Kristen, Josie, and Laura circa 2010

The post-college, pre-kid friends:
Suzanne and Hans circa 2008
The sailing friends:
The Hopetown crew, 2007
The kid friends:
Julie and Susanna, 2013

This isn't very surprising. Alex Williams wrote a piece about this in the New York Times. As we go through different stages in life, we make different types of friends. But it's our early friends, the childhood friends and the college friends that stay with us.  

How did we make such great friends when we were younger? Proximity, unplanned interactions (spontaneity), and letting your guard down: these are all necessary ingredients for new friendships. This ingredient list makes it hard to make new friends after we are married and have kids. Our time is stretched, our weekends are full. We hardly have time for our families, never mind hanging out at the bar or a sporting event. Friends with kids work because the kids can play and the adults can socialize.

When Hans and I first moved to Philadelphia almost five years ago we hardly knew anyone. I could count on one hand the number of people I could call up to meet for happy hour on a Friday night. We spent many, many nights enjoying the summer evenings on our boat, just the two of us. It was a marked difference from the life we had just left, the cruising life. Sailing our boat around the Caribbean, we had little else to do but plan the next happy hour or beach potluck. We had friends in every harbor and if we didn't it was easy enough to make quick introductions and make new friends. The boating community is a real community. That's not always the case in the city.

We spent our first year in Philadelphia with Hans's classmates, all of whom were five to ten years younger than us, some of them almost directly out of college; I started up a young adults group at my church; and we went to different bars every weekend. Freja was born and we trudged through the first year, trying to figure out our new parenting gig. Freja's first birthday rolled around and we had a little party for her. I looked around and saw over twenty people in attendance. Where did they all come from? I didn't even know we had friends! We met them through Freja. They were our kid friends. What did we have in common? Kids.

Yet I value my non-kid friendships. They're different. I have a few non-kid friends that I treasure. They love my girls and, somehow they still tolerate me and hearing about my genius children. I know I'm only allowed to brag about (ahem. I mean talk about) my kids for a short amount of time before their eyes glaze over. And then I'm challenged. What else can I talk about that doesn't involve pooping on the potty or sleeping through the night? I'm up for the challenge. It's refreshing. But therein lies the next challenge.

Freja and Jeanette, 2014

How do I find and make new non-kid friends?

It was easy when we were sailing. It was a little like college. Proximity and spontaneity. We had boating in common; we had proximity (same harbor); and we had time (nothing else to do). Spontaneous get-togethers were commonplace. Instead of planning to meet for dinner in two weeks, we met for dinner that same night.

Making new friends is like dating. You have to put yourself out on the line. Don't wait for two weeks before having someone over for dinner. Meet for coffee and then let that coffee lead to dinner. Be open, be accepting, be interested.

Proximity, unplanned interactions (spontaneity), and letting your guard down: We just need to get out there and make friends. See people again, and again, and again. Pretend you're in college (well, perhaps minus the Wednesday night tequila shots). Have fun.

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