I have a new friend. Men who are reading this are thinking, ”So?” Women who are reading this are thinking, “How? How did you do it? Is this some sort of trickery?”
For women, particularly of an age, making friends is not that easy. The old Camp Fire Girl song lyrics, “Make new friends, but keep the old. One is silver and the other is gold” were some fine encouragement for us growing up. But dang, both parts of that are hard.
Let me work in reverse here and explain. Old friends really are gold, and keeping old friends seems like it would be easy. You have been friends a long time, right? But life happens.
Your kids have activities four days a week and by the time you get home and eat and argue about homework and think about calling, you realize it is 9:00, and because you are old friends, you know the friend you wanted to call binges all her sitcoms on that night, and you don’t want to interrupt.
When you finally touch base with one another, she tells you she was going to stop by Wednesday after work, but since you are old friends, she knew it was your mom’s birthday and you would be out to eat, so she waited for another day.
And as you talk, there is so much to catch up on that you both feel like you really missed out. You promise to not let as much time go before you talk, and the pattern starts again.
Not that old friends don’t come with some baggage. Reminiscing about your high school penchant for a tall skinny bass drummer is fun the first few times you get together for girls night, but it quickly loses its shine. Listening to your friend describe her ex-husband’s latest girlfriend’s tattoo holds a bit of prurient interest, but it isn’t very life giving.
Likewise, though, old friends are also the ones you can pick up the phone or message, who will automatically connect with what you are saying. Just this week I texted a friend with a picture of a new neighbor and said, “Who does this remind you of?”
Without hesitation, she answered, “Roseanne Rosannadana,” and we were both instantly transported back to sleepovers and watching Saturday Night Live skits. There’s that gold.
The new friend thing is a challenge because there are so many things to consider. Women’s friendships are complex, or as my daughter would say,”It’s deep.”
If the new friend candidate is too young, she might make you look old. If she is too fashionable, you might look shabby in comparison.
She can’t be too smart, because maybe she will think you are dumb. If she has traveled to France and loves fancy cheeses, will she be repulsed that you like your grilled cheese made from Kraft singles, a much less cosmopolitan choice?
Us girls talk to another mom at a school program, and we silently size her up. Does she have any stains on her shirt from a rushed dinner to get the kid backstage in time? Does she have a spot right in the crown on the back her head where it looks like she propped herself up for a nap and forgot to smooth out the matted hair evidence?
I am immediately suspicious of a really well-groomed mom. Perfectly manicured nails? Well, lucky you, to have time for a manicure when I have been playing taxi all day. Her kid looks perfect? She will take one look at the safety pins holding together my daughter’s shirt and dismiss me, no doubt.
If it is a new co-worker, we have another whole set of challenges. Do we want to mix work and play? Has she brought anything super smelly to heat up for lunch, or is she grabbing the half banana and pre-packaged chips and sticking them in her purse like I do? Does she have to re-heat her coffee? If not, is she too efficient, getting the coffee all slurped down while it is still hot?
When I met someone at work that I mentioned liking to my husband, he said I should see if she wanted to have coffee sometime. “Ahhh, I dunno,” I mumbled, and listed my concerns. If it was him, he would have rolled the dice and would maybe already be planning a trip together.
The very way we approach acquiring a new friend is just different than men. Guys just want somebody to have a beer with. Women want someone to empathize with them when their husband stays out too late having that beer.
Guys want somebody to watch a game with. Women want someone to plan the outing, tell them what they are wearing, invite the right additional friends, and make sure there are both salty and sweet snacks present.
Guys want somebody who likes the same kind of cigars they do. Women want someone to tell them the story of finding the perfect cigar, invite them to a tasting party, find shareable discount codes for cigars, and then connect them with other cigar smokers. Not really, for the most part we don’t even like cigars.
The reality of it is, lots of things separate women instead of unite us. There is no more of the “Hey, you wanna’ be my friend?” from our playground days.
Our interests and experiences are at the top of the list of separators, but other things present barriers, too. It’s hard for a childless friend to connect with the lady with a house full of kids.
“I am going to a yoga retreat this weekend while Doug is on his float trip. Wanna’ come with me?” she asks. The mom of four has to reply that she is interested in yoga, meaning she has worn the same yoga pants for four days straight, but she cannot go because of the kids. It’s a deal-breaker.
And the length of time it takes to curate a friendship in this immediate gratification society is a little overwhelming for some of us. We need two family size daily calendars to mark off the many months it may take us to slowly reveal small parts of ourselves to test the water to see how much our new friend can handle.
“I cut my own bangs sometimes,” I revealed to a potential friend once. I told her because it looked, in fact, like she too had cut her own. “Wow,” she replied.
It was not the “OMG you are so brave, tell me how you did it Wow,” but just “Wow.” We didn’t really stay friends, and when I saw her at the store, she immediately glanced at my forehead to see if I was still cutting my own bangs.
We have to consider how a new friend fits in with our other friends. Sometime when we have a Happy Hour at our house, we encounter this dilemma, and I have to take a long hard look at how the various friends will mingle.
I don’t want it to be like a Brady Bunch episode where I draw a line down the middle of my family room and friends made before 1990 are on this side, with newer ones relegated to the other side. My husband and I have a permanent A List of people we love and are always welcome, and we have built a pretty decent B List of good, relatively non-offensive minglers.
I once had two friends who met at one of my fabulous parties, and they became friends outside me. Not going to lie, it still smarts a little. They are both now on the C List.
And finding a best friend is another matter entirely. One of my very favorite friends once had a best friend contest when her teaching partner retired. They had worked together a long time, and she knew she was going to miss her pal dearly.
I still think it was really just a ploy to get a lot of gifts and perks as we competed for the coveted best friend role, but it became a full blown, knock down drag out contest. Turns out a whole bunch of people were looking for a best friend.
The winner actually wrote her a song, and sang and played it on the guitar for her class. Who can compete with that?
My new friend checks a lot of the boxes for a friendship with me, so I have great hope. When she and her family came over to eat, she brought a brownie cookie that made me cry it was so good, and she insisted on cutting it with a special knife because she baked it in her good pan and she didn’t want it scratched. She has good pans? Me, too!
Right before we ate, I started to set the table, and she made me put away the real dishes and use paper plates so we didn’t have as much clean up and would have more time to talk. Without prompting, she plopped herself down in the chairs by our fireplace that I had been begging my family to sit in to just talk.
“This is an awesome, cozy conversation space,” she said. I know, I thought, and tossed her a fuzzy throw to put over her legs.
When I texted her a picture of a Christmas tree I was putting up early November because it was COVID and we needed a pick me up, she replied with a picture of her already decorated mantle. “Girl, I feel ya’,” it said.
She sends me videos of her son’s steaming pile of laundry so that I know I am not alone in the teen angst phase. She lives out on some acreage with both a pool and a pond for a trashy or not so trashy swim. It’s also great to go out to her place if I need an escape or to bury a body. Kidding, Not kidding.
She recently sent me screenshots of a conversation she was having with the owner of a place she had rented for a family getaway weekend. The water from all the taps ran brown, and she was requesting help and/or a refund.
The first few polite texts she had sent made me so proud of her adult attitude about the whole thing. When she wasn’t getting a response, and she intensified her requests for help with a few spicy words, I was just as indignant from a distance as she was.
When she texted pictures of an empty Gatorade bottle pyramid they had constructed and then eventually a pic of a dwindling bottle of tequila they had resorted to drinking, I felt her desperation and wished I was there. The hilarity of it all would have broken the Internet if published.
She has perfected the art of sarcasm, a skill I totally respect. She manages a full time job and a family, and occasionally takes a mental health day. I can relate.
Don’t ask to meet her. I am afraid she might like you better. The next time she and I meet up, I am going to try to discern if she is the kind of friend who might later ask me for a kidney. If not, she is headed for the A List.
Cathy is a retired public school English teacher and Public Information Officer.