My mom always says I’ve never met a stranger. Since the time I could bat my eyelashes at someone, I’ve been a flirt and since the time I learned to speak, I’ve made friends with everyone—the mailman, our waitress, the person in line in front of us at the bank. Basically, if you smiled at me (or sometimes even if you didn’t), I’d be your friend for life.
I’m certain a big part of this is due to my extreme extrovert personality. I collected friends when I was young the way some people collect Lego. And as with a particularly awesome Lego set, I would cultivate a friendship to the perfect point and then put it on a shelf so it would never change. Of course after many years of having friends who stopped being friends (with me truly not understanding why), I realized cultivation is not a one-time thing. People are not like Lego. You can’t build the thing and admire it from afar; there must be nurturing and it must be mutual.
Other than the obvious insights we gain as we age, we also discover that our life views begin to matter and the nature of friendships begin to change. My best friend in third grade was a member of the Mormon church. I was Catholic. We compared notes and from an 8-year-old’s perspective, they seemed pretty much the same to us (Jesus was born on Christmas, check; he died before Easter, check; we were supposed to follow the golden rule, check). Forty year later, however, I have much more to say about the ideologies of both institutions, and those opinions make a huge difference in the depth and warmth of a friendship.
Making friends gets harder as we get older. I used to think it was because we were not surrounded by our peers in a school environment anymore, and to some degree I think that may be true, however many adults go to work, to church, to school functions with their own kids, and have ample opportunity to meet other adults with common interests. So why is making friends so hard? I believe some of it has to do with the emotional walls we build to protect ourselves as we age. I also think as our lives become more full of responsibilities, it’s harder to find time to cultivate a new relationship. Cultivating is hard!
The early stages, before you’ve shared your phone numbers, Facebook names, Instagram and Twitter handles, when you’re pleased to run into someone at the store but aren’t quite sure if they remember you from that thing at the community center three nights ago as fondly as you remember them, these are the parts that get hard for grown-ups. We don’t get recess together to figure out if we’re compatible, we just have to go on experience and hope we’re reading each other right.
As funny as this sounds for an adult to say, I have a BFF. She is without question my best friend in the whole wide world. We live hundreds of miles apart and only get to see each other every year or two. In the times between, we don’t email or text very often and we don’t even comment that much on each other’s social media sites, but we’re both always there for the other one. She is, in the words of “Grey’s Anatomy,” “My Person” and I will never not love her.
I also have a Heterosexual Life Partner, which is different from a BFF. We were roommates for about ten years; she lived with me when I bought my first house (seven years into our relationship) and helped me raise my daughter for the first 5 or 6 years of her life. As with my BFF, we live hundreds of miles away and don’t see each other often, but every couple of weeks, we exchange messages of, “I love you so much!”—and we do!
But everyone needs someone nearby. Someone to call when a local thing happens and you want to laugh or cry together. Someone to go to the movies with. When I moved to Arizona almost 7 years ago, I was afraid I wouldn’t find friends. Even if I could find people whose political, religious, educational, social ideologies aligned with mine, I was afraid I was too old to do the necessary things to cultivate a strong friendship. As it turns out, I was very, very wrong. I’ve never been so pleased to be wrong in my life.
I don’t love living in the desert. All the things that draw people to this place are the things I dislike the most, but I will say without hesitation that I have made closer, deeper, truer friendships here in a shorter period of time than I ever have at any point in my adult life before. It is astonishing to me that in this desolate landscape I have found so, so many people to love and who love me back. This is dedicated to all my friends in Tucson, and those of you who have moved away. You people are the world to me and I’m ever so grateful you’re part of my life!
This comic by Yumi Sakugawa perfectly sums up how I feel about you all.
Thanks for helping get through the awkward cultivating stage; thanks for giving me your phone number so I can text you when I’m thinking of you; thanks for being my friend.