Don’t beat yourself up if you haven’t found the group of friends after parenthood that you thought you’d have.This is something that takes time for those of us who didn’t stay in the same town or state we grew up in. If you relocated for your spouse, a job, a simple change of scenery, or whatever reason, no doubt it opened your life up to big change, and with that change, came the task of making and investing in new friends.
Let’s walk down Friendship Lane for a quick lesson, shall we? A friendship you’ve had since you were 5 is an anomaly in the world of friendship. It’s like that security blanket from your younger years that stayed with you forever, even if it was far away tucked in a box in the attic; it’s not going anywhere due to the sheer preciousness of longevity that you share. With these lifelong friendships, it can get tricky to remain extremely close since we’re all constantly growing and changing. You could end up in different directions, with polar opposite political views, and/or severely tipped socio economic statuses that maybe make for an awkward encounter or lack in having things in common to chat about. But neither of you will sever the relationship, because…longevity man.
OK, so you’ve got your one or two lifelong friends that are distant in proximity in addition to your college bestie that is your lifeline. But that doesn’t help when you’re having an off day or the best day ever and need someone to share it with other than your partner. This is when the whole tribe thing becomes so important. It is in your best interest, for your own happiness and well being to make friends that are close in proximity to you. People that share interests with you, have children the same age as you, and value what you value should all make up this tribe of yours. This is not to say that occasionally, some not-so- deserving of your time won’t wind up in your circle.
We all know them. The people whom we hang out with from time to time, who just can’t help themselves in catching you up on their lives-without any form of pause. You are genuinely interested in what they have to say and are always a captive audience. But over the years, you’ve come to realize this person knows almost nothing about you. You ask yourself- how is it possible that Henrietta knows nothing about my life? You start to wonder how it is that you’ve known them for actual years, and this could be the case. Then it dawns on you: it’s because they never ask. They simply never utter the words, “How are you?” or “What’s new with you?” or “Catch me up on you.”
They’ve enjoyed having your ear, your undivided attention, and your support when they’ve needed it. But they know next to nothing about what’s going on with you and have provided you….wait…absolutely no support whatsoever? How can that be? Because you cared so selflessly about this person, you never thought to be a tallyman and count all the times you spoke about your life with them. This person is not in your tribe, my friend. Friendship is give and take. They are draining you of what you have to give and soaking it up. Because who wouldn’t want someone’s ear without pause. This is why people pay therapists…to sit there quietly and listen. As my dear friend so eloquently put it: you are giving them free talk therapy.
Let’s take a look at another person you may mistake for being in your so-called tribe. I only know this because I speak from experience having trouble in parsing them out. They’re what I like to refer to as the professional BS-er. They make promises, offer to help you often, make plans with you pretty consistently, and rarely, if ever follow through. These are people that likely mean well, but over promise and almost never deliver. We’ll never truly understand the “why”, but my hunch is that they see themselves as being a superhero friend and truly want that to be the case, however, they simply do not commit. Maybe it’s out of fear, or overcommitment, or self absorption- only they themselves truly know. But that’s not for you to stress about. Steer clear of depending on the BS-ers, you’ll be disappointed constantly during times when you really need them to show up.
I’ve come to realize those in my tribe are a variety of rare gems that I could have never predicted would be in my life, and now I cannot imagine my life without. Some of them are quite different from me, and I welcome their opinions, feedback, and advice for that very reason. They play devil’s advocate and yet they always have my back no matter what. The others come from childhood dysfunction like I do, and we clicked almost immediately. Interestingly, we found out we were raised mostly by one parent, finances were always a scary thought, bullying was a bulk part of life, and making our own way with no help from anyone was the only option. These are the resilient people who somehow manage to let many in and often need help in weeding the not-so-great people out.
So how did I meet my tribes people and how can I help you to meet yours? I went out and actively searched for them. You simply cannot sit idly and expect people to be delivered to your doorstep. Life does not reward people when they sit in their comfort zones. Trust me on this one. If you’re someone feeling angst when you hear someone talk of their group of friends or see on social media the circle of friends that you are somehow lacking, know that there are actions you could be taking to fix this. Let me explain.
When I first moved to Connecticut 17 years ago, I knew one person: my boyfriend (now husband). His roommate, his step-brother, and his step-brother’s girlfriend also became my friends-naturally by default. I could’ve stopped there and made no effort and sat comfortably. But that’s not me. At the time, I worked for an amazing marketing agency with tons of peers who were also not necessarily from the area, and who, thankfully, were completely open to the idea of friendship. We went to lunch together, hung out on weekends, and enjoyed walking down the hall to have a quick chat at work. These friendships were abundant during my twenties. But as life goes on, we age, things change, and when I became pregnant, I was no longer at the same awesome company with my lovely friends.
It was merely a timing thing. A large chunk of my friends took new jobs and moved to New York City, or New Jersey, or a good 45 minutes away. Many of them had no plans of starting a family or getting married just yet. I was the first of my East coast friends to be starting a family, and now, I was basically alone in Connecticut since all of them had moved away. Being an extroverted, people- loving person, and knowing my baby’s due date was approaching and maternity leave looming, sounded like death by loneliness to me. I immediately took action. I found meetup.com and joined a mom’s group of fellow pregnant women. When the meeting turned out to be a scam to take our money, we all exchanged numbers on our way out of that meeting and promised to call one another. I didn’t give up, and we did plan another meeting. At our next meeting, which happened to be shortly after the economic crash, I was the only person in the group who still held a job. All the other women had been laid off or had decided not to go back to work. They mentioned their playdates would shift from weekends to week days from now on. I left the meeting and cried on the drive home knowing I could not attend playdates during the work day, which meant I was essentially pushed out of the group. I was trying, I really was. So why was I hitting a brick wall? When I shared this with my husband, he recommended I start my own group online for working mothers so the message was clear that us moms could only hang out on the weekends or after work during the week with our babies. Brilliant! I thought.
My meetup.com group grew rapidly. The first few women to join are some of my closest friends to this day and my firstborn is still friends with their children. Shortly after starting the group, I transferred it to Facebook, where it continued to take off. We had a monthly mom’s night out, and playdates periodically. This was a much needed void that was being filled for many. Looking back, I wish my husband or I had started one for dads. I think dads could really benefit from this type of connection as well. My husband is introverted though, so on second thought, it likely would not have been his jam.But that is not to say there is not a void out there for dad’s groups! So if you’re a dad, feeling lonely and reading this-start one today!
A lot of people will tell you that you will make friends once your children are in elementary school. This is true, but you should not put making friends on hold for 5 years until Johnny or Susie is in elementary school. That is NOT at all good for your psyche. If you’re reading this and you feel isolated, or in desperate need of a playdate so you can have a conversation with another adult human, stop reading this right now and search Facebook for “Moms of (insert your town here)” or “Parents of (insert your town here)” and join. It will change your life.
As a matter of fact, once my eldest started school, I found it difficult to meet the parents from school and befriend them. I was working hard at my full time job and was never in a scenario that would have propagated a budding friendship. At this time, I was enormously thankful for the mom friends I had from my group since his babyhood. Additionally, when my second child turned 2, I found that I needed friends for him and I personally wanted to meet other mamas of 2 year olds. So I created a subgroup within my initial group on Facebook for moms of two-year-olds in our town and we met up for playdates. You know what? Three people showed up and two of them are part of my what-would-I-do-without-them tribe today.
Do you like to read? Start a book club. This is a double whammy. You not only get to read and discuss books, but I guarantee you will make new friends while doing this also. Do you like to excercise? Start an accountability group and go together or strike up a conversation with the woman you see at the gym regularly and see if she’ll be your accountability partner. If striking up a conversation with a perfect stranger scares the crap out of you, then you can do this a softer way, by joining a group that already exists. Go on meetup.com or search Facebook for these groups. Do you knit, dance, climb, pole-dance, do aerial yoga, enjoy being a vegan, have a child with special needs, have triplets or multiples, have nursing woes, want to meet other divorced moms, enjoy cooking, etc. etc.? Do you see where I’m going with this? You can make your circle by putting yourself out there. But don’t just show up, be open and talk to people when you’re meeting up with them too.
I’m sharing this with you today because while my group of working moms hits 10 years this year, I continue to receive messages from new members about them feeling isolated, lonely, or finding it difficult to make friends. I have listened to these women and created events for them, and guess what? They don’t show up. In fact, sometimes 20 people will RSVP and only 1 person shows. You can lead a horse to water…..you know the rest. Help yourselves is what I’m saying, but know that you cannot do it by doing nothing. When someone is trying to help you, let them, and do your part too! Finding your tribe takes time, but more importantly, it takes action.