It’s Real and It’s Deep

Over the weekend I came across a blog that linked back to me. The author, Jenn, is on a BFF search of her own. She writes, “Juggling work, kids, husbands, boyfriends and families while trying to develop friendships is much harder than it once was! The time I spend with my friends is time something else is not getting done – laundry, housework, yard work, painting, reading…and really I have a fairly tenuous grip on those things anyways! I recently ran across a new blog [this was me… thanks Jenn!] that is asking similar questions. And even though I had been thinking about this issue and in fact had written something last year, I never wanted to publish it because I felt a little, well, crazy. Even though we talk about making friends, and wish for deep connections with others, we don’t really talk about how or why.”

What Jenn says is spot on. People talk plenty about the importance of friendships. We celebrate the great ones. But when it comes to admitting that we want more, or that as adults we’re not entirely sure how to go about finding them—that making friends can be difficult, or hilariously awkward—we clam up. Why?

I think it’s because if you say to someone “I want more friends” what they often hear is “I have no friends.” There’s quite a difference. And wanting more friends must mean you’re lonely, and being lonely must mean you’re….sad.

The Sex and the Citys of the world have made it ok—even encouraged—to scream “I want a man!” from the rooftops. Why haven’t we given ourselves permission to do the same when it comes to friends? Jenn didn’t write her blog post last year because she was worried she sounded nutso. She thought she was the only one. And that’s what I keep hearing from women in the same situation. “I’m so glad I’m not crazy!” “It’s such a relief to hear I’m not alone!”

I toyed with the concept of this BFF search for a while. I knew I was eager to make more close friends locally, but, like Jenn, I felt crazy. I didn’t want people to think I was friendless. Or unhappy. I was neither.

Then I realized that the desire for social connection is universal and biological. As my friend Grace Adler would say, “It’s real and it’s deep.” (Granted she was talking about Jews and chicken, but it works.)  I learned there are plenty of women in the same boat and figured we might as well talk about it. But there are absolutely still days when I feel silly telling people about this quest. I say “I’m searching for a new BFF” and then “I do have close friends, it’s just lot of them live far away” in the same breath, before anyone can conclude I am friendless.

Why do you think women are embarrassed, or feel crazy, when we talk about wanting new friends? Why is it so awkward to admit we’re not sure where to start? What can we do to end the stigma?

24 Comments

Filed under Everything I Know I Learned on TV, The Search

24 responses to “It’s Real and It’s Deep

  1. Rachel, everything you are saying is so true! There is a negative perception that you are sad if you are out there looking for friends. I recently blogged about moving my life to another city and leaving all my gals behind, only to have everything fall into place except new friends. But I’m working on it!

    http://latherwriterepeat.blogspot.com/2010/04/cold-city-right-life.html

    It’s hard to ‘go back to the playground’ as an adult and try to make new friendships. Thanks for talking about it!

  2. I think there’s an expectation at this point in our lives that we’re supposed to have made our friends already, that not having them or wanting more is somehow a failing, and that all we can hope for now is acquaintances. Because with husbands and families and jobs, who has time for something silly like life-enriching friendship??

  3. I think this post is spot-on save for one tiny thing:

    “The Sex and the Citys of the world have made it ok—even encouraged—to scream “I want a man!” from the rooftops. ”

    I think SATC actually did the opposite! I think SATC made it okay to say, “a man will never be enough, I need FRIENDS who will never leave.” Which is why I heart SATC so very much.

    But you’re right, there is such a stigma to friend-searching. It’s treated more disparagingly than husband-searching, which says a lot. As though only sad lonely people would actually search for a BFF, when the truth is, it’s the opposite. Think how much courage it takes to put yourself out there like that and to not just accept any old friend that walks in the door!

    I think we should encourage each other to seek out friendships that are edifying and meaningful. Too often we become friends with the people with whom our paths automatically cross (neighbors, co-workers, friends of family, etc) when often those people aren’t well suited for us. I guess I’m making a different point now, but that’s allowed, right?

    • That’s so interesting. To me what I got from Sex and the City was, we all are supposed to have those friends who we can have lunch with every day. And if we don’t have Samantha, Miranda and Charlotte already, we are missing something. Our lives are less than. Because Carrie just had them. We never saw how she found them in the first place (did we?) Whereas for guys, maybe they aren’t enough, but there’s no shame in admitting that you are on the hunt. Full-time.

      And new points are always allowed! Love the dialogue. And perhaps that’s a post for another day…

  4. Lisa Z

    For me, developing deeper relationships with other women is a mature preventative measure against unpleasant issues such as loneliness, isolation or even boredom. Friends are necessary to my nature because friendships are fulfilling, I can give and receive. Friends help me grow. I hope that I will be trying to make build deeper relationships for the rest of my life. Nothing can replace laughter or affection, why wouldn’t someone want as much of it as possible? Your blog is helping to end the stigma of women seeking friendship.

  5. Rachel — this is all so spot-on. The idea that if you are looking for new friends, it means either a) you have none, or b) there’s something wrong with you because you need to actively seek friendship out rather than letting it happen organically, is very real.

    I’ve caught myself doing that same backpedal — “I have friends already but they’ve all moved out of Chicago.” (which is true, but I usually still end up feeling a little silly– I’ve lived here all my life so shouldn’t I already know all the ways one can make friends in this city? Not necessarily — it is not as easy as it might seem!)

    I don’t know what the solution is other than to keep talking about this issue until it stops feeling weird.

  6. I think part of the problem is many women feel like we have to channel our inner two-year-old in life and “do it myself.” That it is somehow wrong, as well as a sign of weakness, to seek meaningful friendship, to ask for help or to look for new people with whom you can have a real connection.

    I agree with Lauren that we often fall into friendships with those who cross our paths. That is the easy way and many friendships do result from that. But I think many of us simply don’t know how or where to reach out to others in our quest for friendship. I think your blog is removing the stigma, whether it’s real or imagined, and giving women persmission to move forward.

  7. It’s interesting that we often don’t verbalize the fact that we are looking for friendships. Even when I was younger I didn’t want to admit that I was seeking friends because I felt that by saying it out loud, it made me a loner. Which wasn’t at all the case. Also, similar to looking for a life partner, I feel like people think it should just happen ‘naturally’ and you shouldn’t look for it. I don’t like to say that I am looking for a boyfriend because people often say – ‘you’ll find him when you stop looking.’ Um, great, thanks. I know that often happens, but it can’t always be the case.

    RE: SATC, it is really interesting that we have no idea how those 4 became friends…

  8. silsila

    I think the stigma of admitting you need friends is because if you dont have any, there must be something wrong with you. For some reason, people don’t like you; you’re boring or a bad person and the potential friend is not willing to take a chance with you, so it stops your progress before it starts.
    I think of finding friends to be like dating – like a numbers game. If you play the field enough you will find the BFF or BFFs who see you and love you for who you are regardless of how many friends are listed on your facebook. Which is probably a blog in itself – how many of your facebook “friends” are truly your friends?

    • Your first point is so interesting and really gets to the heart of what I am wondering. Why, when we say we want more friends, do people automatically think it means we don’t have any?

      As for dating, I think you’re 100% right. The more you play the field and meet new people, the better shot you have of meeting The One.

  9. Donna

    This is a really great post with some great followup dialog, that has brought two, no three, things to mind…

    1) We are a very transient nation, so many of us say we moved here or there and have had trouble making connections (my case as well). It’s hard to start everything from scratch and meaningful friendships seem to be what suffers the most.

    2) The digital age has made us all more connected to our devices and less connected to those around us. How many times have you seen people together, but talking or texting someone else someplace else?

    3) Can anyone think of a TV show were a real GROWN-UP friendship developed (not a preset one from work, family, neighbors) and wasn’t just there already? Hollywood leads us to believe that grown-up friends are just there like the air we breathe. Heck, even the Lone Ranger had Tonto! How did that one develop?

    • I have been thinking about the transient nation thing a lot. As Americans, we move around so much more than the rest of the world, I wonder if the BFF search is uniquely American. (cue research post!)

      The digital thing… ah! So much to say.

      As for the TV shows, I am goign to think about it. I think you’re right. Shows like Friends sometimes have flashbacks to “when they met” but I wonder….. It is a very Hollywood thing, the BFF clique. It makes for very good dialogue

  10. Okay, this is a wee bit fromage but how about Beaches? What a great story of a friendship, from how it started to the tragic but lovely ending? You get to see the ups and downs, the fights and the forever support.

    Maybe that’s why it’s one of my rental favourites…

  11. I think you’re so spot on about this. I have lots of friends–but I’ve moved several times in the past 10 years and so they’re spread around the country. But trying to make new friends in a new city, you start at square one and there IS this notion that if you’re looking for friends, there’s something…off about you.
    I’ve said to my husband that sometimes I think finding new friends at this stage in our lives is just as hard as dating would be. It doesn’t help that I’m not very outgoing, but once you’re out of school, making friends becomes something you have to actively do, not just passively wait for people to drop in your lap.

  12. Ana

    Wow, this really got me thinking!

    I think admitting you want MORE friends for some reason automatically translates to mean you are LACKING in friendship. And I think the shame and stigma of having to search for friends stems from early childhood when I wanted to be part of the “in-crowd” of super-close besties that did everything together and (in my mind) were never sad or lonely or had bad hairdays….
    Even now I find myself somewhat downplaying the fact that I have very few close friends in this city…if I haven’t been very social, I rationalize it by saying (and thinking) that I’m too busy with this, that, and the other…
    Its as if I’m embarrassed by my lack of friends, but WHY should that be? Why should I care if others think I’m “popular”?
    I am with you on the SATC thing—I love the show & what it depicts about female friendship, but I always felt a little less-than because I didn’t have that go-to group of gals for Sunday brunches and pedicures.
    Great post Rachel!

    • Thanks Ana! You make a good point… I wonder if we dont like announcing we’re looking for new friends because we don’t want to sound like we’re trying to be “popular” again. And I wonder, is there even such a thing as “popular” when it comes to adulthood?

  13. I think the automatic assumption about adults is we already have established friendships. Long-standing, solid friendships to boot. And I think this stems from a time when people didn’t stray far from home. They stayed near for school and eventually began their adult lives close to where they grew up. So, after a certain point, many people wouldn’t need to make friends.

    The fact of the matter is we are of a different generation. We are constantly on the move and always in need of local friends. I think your journey is laudable, even if it’s awkward and humorous at times.

  14. Rachel,

    Since moving to a new city, I’ve tried to put myself out there and make new friends. Some have worked, others haven’t.

    I was talking to a childhood friend about the friendships that didn’t work. She had an interesting (which I don’t agree with) take on things on the friendships that didn’t work for me. She had a quota on her friendships. At this stage of her life, she was happy with the number of friends she had and wasn’t interested in making more. I was struck by this statement, never thinking that people had a “friendship quota”. I thought perhaps it might be an explanation as to why it is so hard to make friends in my mid-thirties in a new city. People are so connected with their childhood friends, college friends, spouse’s friends, that there may not be room for more.

    I have several friends in several cities, but am always looking to find quality friendships with people. Especially in my new city. A quota is unimaginable for me.

    As always, thanks for the post.

  15. J

    We’re afraid to say we want “more friends” because we think that makes us sound…well…socially awkward. Because only socially awkward, weird, friendless women who wear outdated cat sweaters want more friends. Right?

    Wrong. But it doesn’t matter, because we’re convinced we’ll be perceived that way.

    I want more friends. More girlfriends. Who want to go shopping and go see Sting in concert and will eat cake with me on a Tuesday (the Boyfriend won’t do any of that).

    And I’d *never* wear a cat sweater. Unless it was covered in glitter. Then maybe.

    • I used to focus (obsess) on trying to be closer to my friends because once I did that I’d not be socially awkward (normal people have friends but struggle with romantic relationships – so focus on friendship first because you’re allowed to be unsure about romantic relationships.)

      I tried to find a blog like this, but I only googled it when my parents weren’t home. I think most people look up porn when their parents aren’t home.

      I own a cat sweater – my sister bought it in Italy – and I somehow managed to make friends when I moved away for university. (I know what you mean though, and I wear my sweater in the mornings when I wake up but not usually anywhere else :) )

  16. I think I don’t need many friends, just friends I can both trust and who make me laugh.

    That’s all I need. And just a few of those if they’re really good.

  17. I think the bigger thing is that we as a society don’t talk about much that makes us feel awkward, and it makes us feel awkward because we don’t talk about it.
    I’ve had many instances over the years where I’ve piped up about something that might not be ‘nice’ to talk about only to find many other people feel the same way or have experienced the same thing.
    So I think you’re doing an excellent job on breaking the silence on something that doesn’t really need to be silent to begin with.
    I do wish I had more friends here. I have a few good ones, a few who I’d consider more than acquaintances, but it really isn’t enough to keep me grounded, especially since as graduate students, the vast majority of my friends are just as busy as me and I don’t get to see and chat with them nearly as much as is good for me.

  18. Pieces

    Our culture values busy-ness so much that having the time to develop friendships must mean you aren’t busy enough. When I talk to people about wanting to find women to befriend I often get comments like “That is great you have the time to do that. I wouldn’t have the time to make new friends.”

    Your blog makes me feel more normal and less lonely in my need to find more friends.

  19. Kat

    I’ve found that in addition to the societal stigmas surrounding wanting more/new friends, there’s another catch with saying putting that out there: the friends you do have sometimes get hurt/offended. I’ve definitely made mention of wanting the kind of friend who’ll come over on short notice to hang out or go catch a movie, and current friends seemed hurt because of that. In my mind, they were friends who were too busy or lived in another NYC borough, yet I suppose in their minds, we were closer than I thought?

    At any rate, I think that’s had an unintentional negative affect on some of my existing friendships. I do like them! I also want a BFF here, in NYC, and not in one of the other amazing places where my BFFs live!

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