The other day I made an appointment for a haircut at a salon I’ve never been to. I’ve had my hair cut twice since moving to Kalamazoo, both times at the same place but by two different stylists. K and I are still trying to find a place that feels like “the one” after years of really good NYC haircuts on the Lower East Side. I started thinking about the kind of smalltalk that I make with stylists while I’m getting my hair cut, and started reflecting on how things like that have gone since we moved back. My brief “about me” is always centered around the fact that we just moved back to town: what neighborhood we’re in, why we moved, the time we spent in NY. Follow up questions are usually related: what we did about jobs when we moved back, how we feel about being back etc. I suddenly realized that at some point (probably before too terribly long) I won’t be able to lean on “we’re new here” as my go-to introduction. We won’t be new anymore, we’ll be established, or at least that’s how I would imagine it’s supposed to go. That doesn’t mean that we won’t still have a few things to sort out (that list is long: nobody has a dentist, we just found the kids a pediatrician…) but it won’t make sense at some point to talk about how we just moved here.
If there’s one element of feeling fully settled that I think we may find ourselves falling behind on for awhile it’s making friends and building a new community here. I’m firmly in camp introvert, even though people who don’t know me well sometimes find that surprising. That doesn’t mean that I don’t need people or care about deep relationships, but it does mean (in my case, anyway) that I’m terrible about taking advantage of (or creating, for that matter) opportunities to meet new people and potentially build new relationships. One of the things that I miss most from our life in New York, besides our good friends there (which I’ll get to in a bit) is my open-concept office. When I sat in a closed cubicle I rarely got up to wander over and chat with someone, because that required some sort of awkward conversation starter. Once we remodeled and went to an open office, all of these opportunities to overhear and jump into a conversation that intrigued me suddenly appeared and I found myself socializing way more than I ever had before. I love organic opportunities to get into a conversation that might be wonderful, but I’m terrible at finding them and downright averse to setting up a scheduled opportunity to talk with a new person. Now that I work from home full-time, I almost never talk to anyone about non-work-related topics besides my family. I have zero opportunities to meet and talk to people. An extrovert would do something about that, but I seem to be digging in my heels.
At this stage in my life, with young kids as both a time suck and a convenient excuse to decline things I don’t care about, I’m just not sure what my community and friendship needs even are. That doesn’t mean that I don’t have them, I’m certain that I do, I’m just confused about it lately. In New York we had really wonderful friends. Some of our friendships shifted over the 13 years that we were there, some people came and went, but we met lots of people we truly enjoyed and by the time we left we were especially close with a small handful of other families with young children. Spending time with those friends was so effortless because we knew each other so well, we could be fully ourselves, they knew about our flaws and loved us anyway. And as Kristin pointed out the other day, those bonds were built up in part through the sharing of some pretty significant life milestones.
This transition is going to seem unrelated, but stay with me.
The other day I told Kristin about a blog post that had resonated with me by a blogger I really enjoy. When I shared it we weren’t talking about community or friendships at all, we were actually talking about the end of the holidays and what a downer that can be for me (which was more or less the focus of the post). The TLDR, if you don’t feel like clicking away right now, is that the end of really special things are generally a total downer for the writer, but she’s trying to focus more on the mantra “there is more” to remind herself that yes, there is more joy to be experienced, there’s more beauty to be found, there’s more magic with her family and her friends and that it isn’t limited to Christmas and vacations. I really enjoyed her post and felt it was a good reminder.
On that same car trip (K and I were headed out of town for a wedding, so we had some uninterrupted conversation time) I asked K her thoughts about a conversation that popped up on our FB mom group the other day. The conversation was about the concept of Friday night meatballs, a trend I’ve been hearing about for awhile now where someone decides to host a group of people for a casual, inexpensive dinner party on a very regular basis with a rotating cast of guests, with the purpose of seeing more people and making those connections a priority. A good friend back in New York mentioned that she and her best friend’s family have been doing crappy dinner parties for awhile now and are really enjoying it, which is another spin on the theme. Here’s another good piece on why making dinner with good friends a priority is important to your sanity and wellbeing. This topic came up in our mom group and so many people jumped in to say what a wonderful idea it was and that they wanted to start hosting these gatherings immediately. I read the thread with interest but never commented because, honestly? I wasn’t sure that I would enjoy it. I’d probably enjoy attending something like that occasionally, if I knew the people super well and liked their other friends, but hosting? Historically I’ve hated hosting; it stresses me out and I often end up in tears from the pressure I put on myself to make it work, and I have such social anxiety that I annex myself in the kitchen with tasks to avoid having to mingle. Kristin and I both agreed that we also hate the obligation of a recurring commitment. We could both imagine having a few friends over for casual meals from time to time when we’re in the mood (and in fact Kristin just said the other day that we ought to buy more bar stools so that we can have parties, which surprised me), but the basis for a lot of these meatball/crappy dinners is that you do it on a recurring basis no matter what because it matters. We don’t even meal plan on a weekly basis because we want to have the ability to change our minds depending on how we feel.
So if Friday night meatballs aren’t our thing, how to make friends? How to build any sort of real community here when we don’t have the “new to town” excuse any longer? Kristin brought our conversation back to the blog post I shared earlier about the mantra “there is more.” She suggested that because our friendships in New York were forged through the sharing of some significant life milestones (prenatal yoga and breastfeeding classes together as we prepared to become parents, experiencing the accidental home birth of a friend’s second child, leaving our two-year-old in the care of two wonderful families while our twins were born, visiting each other at the hospital and sharing tears over unwanted c-sections), that maybe there isn’t more. That sounds bleak, and maybe K was just playing devil’s advocate or maybe she was feeling particularly anti-social in that moment, but she raised the question “what if we can’t expect to make friends like that ever again if we are done having babies and those milestones that forged such strong bonds are over?” I think that there will be plenty of other firsts in our lives, but I agree that bringing children into the world is pretty incomparable to most other things two families can experience together; sharing some big life changes probably does expedite the relationship building process. We’ve actually met a family or two via the kids’ school and have enjoyed them thoroughly, but we’re getting in our own way of deepening those relationships or continuing to find new ones because we aren’t making much of an effort.
I love having deep relationships with old friends, I love the way you can just pick up wherever no matter how much time has passed and no one is offended by the passing of that time or the lack of phone calls. I love having a history with someone that erases all need for explanations, but at this stage of my life I kind of can’t be bothered to create new relationships like that. I need them to happen naturally and our lives are not terribly conducive to that. Without having given it much thought (up till now) I may have been hoping that after being here awhile it would just happen organically, but I’m realizing now that might not be the case. We may need to push ourselves a bit.