I’ve been thinking, and reading, a lot about friendship lately.
One book is all about dealing with the loss of an important friendship. There is a lot about why friendships fail and one of the biggest reasons is that one or both of the women’s lives change, leaving them with less in common.
And is has me begging the question: Can we be friends with women who aren’t like us?
The answer is obviously yes, it can be done. But is it done that much? Ultimately, at the end of the day, do we have a lot of friends who are very different from us? Do those friendships last?
I’ve been thinking about this a lot as I try to make new friends. In my attempt to get to know more women in my area I invited all the mothers of kids in my daughter’s preschool room to a monthly dinner date. This spring most of the kids in her class turned four and suddenly we were going to birthday parties every other weekend. After two years “together,” I finally started getting to know the other parents and realized that I enjoyed their company. But it was hard to really get to know them at a chaotic birthday party, especially when I had to manage my own children, so I set up the dinner date hoping to befriend some of the moms that way.
The moms in my daughter’s class seemed like a great place to start making friends because we already have so much in common. Of course there is the obvious similarity–we have all have four-year-old children–but there are other correlations as well. Because my daughter’s school is open from 8am to 6pm, most of the families are dual earning and the moms work outside the home. I tend to find it easier to relate to other WOHM because we are dealing with analogous issues and have complementary schedules. Also, most of the families live relatively close to the school (or at least on the same side of town) which means they lead similar lifestyles (*cough* make about the what we do) and none of them are particularly hard to meet up with.
These are of course very basic parallels, but they feel important to me, and I can’t really imagine how I would meet women who didn’t share these basic experiences, let alone build a friendship with them.
I’ve even been noticing myself drifting away from women who are different from me in the blog world. When we were all dealing with infertility and/or loss, if seemed like we had so much in common and our shared struggles–and feelings of marginalization in mainstream society–allied us. Now that infertility is not the main focus of our lives, our differences are becoming more apparent. I’m realizing the these women lead very different lives, and sometimes have very different beliefs, and I wonder if I have much to contribute to the conversation, or if my point of view will always be welcomed and valued.
It’s not that I don’t want to be friends with people who are different. I do, and I am. Life would be boring if we only spent time with those who share comparable experiences. I cherish friendships with women who come from a variety of backgrounds and cultures, with political and religious beliefs that don’t mirror my own. I am friends with women who aren’t mothers and never plan to be, who work in fields that diverge significantly from teaching, who make decidedly more money than I do (though very few who make considerably less…). Yes, not all my friends are exactly like me, and yet…
And yet as time marches on, I see and hear less from the people whose lives have diverged from my own, and I gravitate more toward the people whose lives are comparable to my own.
At the end of this month I’m spending the weekend with a friend from college who now lives on the opposite coast. We’ve seen each other annually since we graduated over ten years ago, but never for more than a dinner alone. I have to admit, I’m nervous to spend 48 uninterrupted hours with her. Our lives are so wholly different: she doesn’t have kids and doesn’t plan to, she works in a field I know little about, she enjoys a dual-earner-no-kids life with a significant disposable income and she travels around the world constantly. Our daily lives are so divergent I worry we will find no common ground. What will we talk about for all that time? What will we do?
I think the reality is, you have to have at least one big thing in common to be friends with them, preferably more. For a lot of mothers that one big thing is motherhood, but I suspect that as your kids get older, there need to be other commonalities for the friendship to flourish instead of falter.
Making new friends is hard. I find that if just one thing doesn’t match up it becomes almost impossible to build a friendship. One colleague at work lives too far away for us to get together (plus her daughter is already in 3rd grade, so her schedule more open than mine) while another doesn’t have kids and doesn’t plan to, and spends most of her free time with her husband. A third has a son my daughter’s age, and lives two blocks away, and even dealt with infertility (and she is awesome, I love her) but she’s an introvert and a homebody and she rarely wants to meet up. Through my daughter’s school I’ve met a few mothers that are potential friends, but one is stuck at home because her husband works long hours, another cancels a lot, so it’s hard to make plans. A third already has a ton of friends and is always busy and a fourth isn’t great at following up. There is even a woman who has two kids the same ages and sexes as my own, she lives close by, she is a teacher, and she is always game to hang out, but we just don’t seem to hit it off.
Everything has to line up just so, and even if it does, a friendship may not happen. It makes me want to throw in the towel and give up. And it makes me wonder if it’s worth investing in friendships with women whose lives are really different from mine. Can we engage in a constructive dialogue? Can we ever really be friends?
Do you have a lot of friends whose lives are significantly different? What brings/keeps you together? What eventually pulled you apart?