Friendship Without Common Ground?

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?

10 Comments

  1. This is a really interesting post. I could probably write a book, but I’ll just share 2 examples instead.

    I have one friend who is single and who I get along with quite well. I find that we often forget to include each other in things because our lives are so different, but whenever we do get together we have a great time & vow to do it more often. We talk about work, our parents, diet/exercise, people we know in common. She’s pretty much my only single friend, but it works.

    My second example is the only close mom friend I’ve made. She cleans houses for a living, and she goes to church twice every Sunday. But our kids are the same ages & are all biracial, we both work part-time with husbands who work long hours, and we have very similar parenting philosophies. It works well.

    In short, you do need to have something in common, but it’s not always the obvious things of careers and kids.

  2. I suppose this is as good of a time as any to introduce myself! I stumbled across your old blog ages ago (at least a year before you had your son, I think) and found that, while my life is very different from yours, I could relate to your writing. So when you left the old blog, I moved with you, though I’ve never commented before. Anyway, hi. 🙂 Hope this isn’t too weird.

    I think a lot about types of friendship and friends. I’m in my late 20s, single, gay. I’m in grad school, so I have the opportunity to meet lots of people, but I wouldn’t say I’ve made a lot of close friendships that will stand the test of time here, they’re more friendships of common experience and convenience. Which is hugely important, but not necessarily the stuff of long term friendships.

    My close friends are spread out across the country. Most are in long term relationships, if not engaged or married. No kids yet. But I am definitely watching our lives and priorities diverge. I love them dearly, and I love hearing about lives that are so different than mine, but sometimes it’s hard work to maintain those friendships when they are busy with their daily experiences of jobs and spouses and home ownership and I’m busy living a very different life. And I know that will become even more pronounced when they become parents, and we’ll have to renegotiate our friendships again. And I hope that we can do that in a way that meets my needs and theirs.

    I guess all of that is to say that having friends that are “like you” makes things easier. But I agree that whether those friendships are going to be close or long term friendships depends on “clicking” than on common experience. And maintaining those closer friendships as peoples lives change and diverge from your own can be hard work.

  3. I’ve been thinking about this since I read it this morning and considering my close friends. I agree that yes, you have to have something in common in order for a friendship to develop and last. That common thread could be your history and shared memories, as may be the case with your friend you are going to visit. At the stage I’m in right now, I find my life pretty consumed by parenting, so most of the friends I hang out with on a regular basis are also in that same stage. Whether our friendships will last through this stage remains to be seen. I do think there is truth to the saying that you have friends for a reason, season, or for life, which helps it be less painful when friendships start to fade away due to differences. I actually LOVE being with my friends who are a lot different than me- I love talking about their lives and respectfully discussing different beliefs. Also, I just want you to know that I think it’s awesome you are making such a big effort to get women together from your daughter’s school. Don’t give up- they will be so blessed to get to know you and count you as a friend. I know I am 🙂

  4. Yes there has to be something in common, but that “something” might be more internal—not noticed from the outside—but a common bond nonetheless. A way of thinking, sense of humor, ideology…just a way of relating to the world. If you have THAT in common, that often makes for a much more natural and long-lasting friendship than simply having procreated around the same time and getting a similar paycheck. We end up becoming friends with people that are externally like us simply because its easiest, but like you mentioned, everything on paper could be the same but you just don’t get along. Because the internal stuff just doesn’t mesh.
    All of this came from considering my (very few) good friends—one of whom is single & childless, one with older kids, one who happens to live nearby and have kids the same age.

  5. Most of my good friends have opted to not have children by choice and live far away. Most of my acquaintances that I actually spend IRL time with have kids whose ages match with one of my kids’.

    Today I shared a long drive from a work function with one of my work colleagues who is childless and has a very active social life. She seemed jealous that I spend time outside of work with 2 of our work colleagues… the one who has a daughter my daughter’s age, and the one with a son my son’s age. Even though she’s going out tonight with a huge group of childless colleagues. I’m very much not jealous because I’m pretty introverted and feel like I see enough people at work as it is given my family obligations (I don’t want to hire a baby-sitter so I can spend more time with people I see all day), but I think I may have sounded jealous when I countered her complaints about people with kids getting together by saying she has a much more active social life than I do.

  6. Interesting question. I kind of find it hard to be friends with people extremely different. I can do fine with people with very different political views ( well, as long as they keep their mouth shut about them–I mean some of us just know not to speak about our political views at work with people who don’t share them but some people are clueless) at work, but I don’t see myself hanging around with these people. Different religious views are fine except when people try to impose them on you. Which a lot of religious people do.

    I’m actually going through a stage where even though I have no free time i’d like to connect more with friends. My former baby-parent class moms had a book club going beyond the end of our class (our first kids are almost 4) but people have been moving–some in the military, others for various reasons–and now there’s very few of us. The leader of our book club kind of gave up and the few others never show up. So pretty much our monthly dinners have ended. We also see parents from our daycare/preschool around town since many of our kids take swimming, ballet, etc. but that’s it. Right now it seems other parents with children of similar ages are the best fit but it’s hard to get together. Generally there is a better fit when both parents work.

    Even before kids though there was always something big in common–college, sports, work, etc.

  7. This is a really important post. I’ve got a lot to say but I can’t comment on my stupid phone. It’s so true that so many factors need to converge to make friendship possible, and it’s so easy for making time for friends to be the thing that gets lost in our busy lives. Thank you for writing this!

  8. Hmm. At the moment I don’t have nearly enough close friends, so that makes my sample size tiny. I do have a pretty wide-ranging set of friends though, from very conservative politically and/or socially to very liberal politically and/or socially. I do that on purpose because I don’t want to get trapped in my bubble thinking I’m doing the only right things. I also recognize that we all know more together than we do segregating ourselves. My closest friends share that sense of humor like Ana says but we share rather little else beyond a curiosity about the world. I suppose we also tend to like to talk about politics and world events, and to some degree we are also willing to let and let live, accepting that it’s all right for us to be friends and different. What pulls us apart? No free time has really been hard on my friendships, plus I don’t text. I suppose I could start doing that, but I really hate texting and needing to keep the stupid cell phone around all the time. I also have put a few “hard stop” points in – if you don’t vaccinate your kids, then they can’t play with mine. We could get coffee but no play dates. Also if you actively protest on the other side of two issues near and dear to my heart, that’s a hard stop. I’m all right with personally held views that oppose mine, but if you hit the pavement to support the other side, then no. That’s only lost most of one friendship though (I think I’ll try for coffee with no kids with the friend).

  9. Friendship is like love. What makes it work is impossible to define – there’s something that makes us connect, and it’s rarely – in my experience – because they are like me. Sure, some things in common help, but in my experience it is much more about an attitude or approach to life than anything else. Sure, a certain degree of common experience helps – but it might simply be working at the same place, being interested in something in common, having a similar curiosity about something in the world. I have friends with young kids, grand-kids and no kids, friends who travel and those who don’t, friends who love support and those who despise it, and ditto to Dr Who! But there’s a je ne sais quoi that draws us together.

  10. I think when you have small children it tends to be mothers of other small children on the same nap schedule that you hang out with. That being said, I definitely don’t think that means you’ll be great friends forever! My closest friend here is one whose husband gets along great with my husband, so although they don’t have kids yet and we have 2, since we’ve found the elusive unicorn of friendships – COUPLE friends whom we both like and enjoy spending time with – they tend to be who we see most often. My long-term friendships from childhood are different in that we might not have a ton in common anymore, but our shared memories ensure we always have a ton of fun when we get together.

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