I’ve lived in a Southern California city for almost two years. I might have grown up a small town girl but, as an adult, I’ve lived mostly around skyscrapers, too much traffic and the ability to purchase anything I wanted within a short drive. My gypsy existence has included 15 moves in 26 years. Mostly, my adult homes were in the South where potlucks and football games were social events. If you wanted to make friends, you simply put yourself out there showing a little hospitality or interest and *POOF* budding friendships were formed. In the south, people talk to you in the grocery line about anything and everything. Once a woman gave me her address and phone number because she just knew I was ‘a good soul’. It was easy for me to find my place. I knew all the rules and never questioned myself. I thought the adventure of moving west would be pretty typical of jumping to a new city. I anticipated learning new streets, finding the best places to eat, making new routines and most of all finding my people. The people who would do life with me between the palm trees and the mountains.
When I lived in Ft Worth, I met a woman named Naomi. Naomi was a couple of years older than me, a tiny little thing with flaming red hair, with whom I had the privilege of sharing an upper level porch for two years. Her apartment always had this amazing smell of cinnamon, vanilla and oranges and to this day I still want mine to smell the same way. We were friends because our husbands were both in a graduate program at the same school, we loved anything cherry flavored, I made her laugh and we talked to each other about anything and everything including the uncomfortable. If we weren’t in our own homes, we were at each other’s. I will love her forever.
When I lived in a suburb of North Little Rock as a young married mom, I met Becca. Becca and I met in a large group setting during an interview for my then husband. The very moment….the very second… I locked eyes with her I knew we would be tight. Becca and I shared the same sense of humor. We could look at each other across a crowded room as if we had psychic capabilities and burst out laughing knowing exactly what the other intended. She was usually laughing. She kept my life lighthearted and fun. I will love her forever.
When I lived in a small community in southern Missouri, Jenny and I became confidants. One of her children was in a student environment that I worked with and she was so easy to bond with. We shared a lot of “Take it to to the grave” secrets. We both said to each other, “If this ever gets out I will deny deny deny!!” We shared life over the phone because, if someone wasn’t pulling on me in public, they were pulling on her. Long hours with both of us laughing and crying. A secret lunch here and there and LOTS of conversations with a diet coke sitting in a parking lot. After my life collapsed a few years ago, and I ran back to my hometown to survive, I spent hours in the backseat of a black SUV with Jenny and my other sweet special friend Cindy, sobbing and telling all the truths I could get out. These two ladies helped me keep my sanity and my dignity. I will love them forever.
I have a lifetime of making strong friendships in my resume of life. I know how to make friends and I know how to keep them.
Except in California.
I’m way out of my league over here.
A few months after I arrived in the Golden State, I brunched with a woman for almost two hours. As we were chatting in the parking lot afterward, I invited her family over for a cookout in our backyard. She replied with, “Thank you, but we are very choosy regarding those we invest our discretionary time.” There was a very long pregnant pause before I could graciously rescind the invitation and walk toward my vehicle. I sat in the parking lot stunned for a few moments before I drove my bruised ego home.
Last year, I met a neighbor who was chasing a very active dog all over the neighborhood. He was a friendly dog and when I walked outside, he came right up to me with a wagging tail. I stood on the sidewalk in front of my house for over an hour and a half talking to her while she told me (gossiped) about the whole neighborhood. She told me which ones were crazy and which ones were mean. She talked about the woman who used to live in my house, how she was still angry at her for moving away without enough notice and then asked me if I had anything to share. (I did not.) She ended the conversation by saying, “Hey, we should get a coffee or do lunch soon. It will be nice having a friend across the street.” That woman stopped waving at me, she stopped acknowledging me when our vehicles would meet on the street and she refused to answer her door when I brought baked goods to her husband as a thank you. I think she just offered a twig of potential friendship to get out of the conversation. Ouch.
A few months ago, I went to a women’s Bible study at our church. There are hundreds of women that attend the bi-monthly event and I had great hopes that someone there would be a potential BFF. The Bible study is led by our pastor’s wife and after she spoke, everyone broke up into their small groups which were varying sizes of chair groupings. Some groups had over 15 chairs and some only had 6 or 7. Someone announced that first timers should stay seated so a group leader could come get you. The room stood up, quite a few people stayed in their seats and one by one the newbies were snatched up and moved to their new circle. I sat there, smiling, and as one of the last to remain in my seat, decided I wasn’t staying. I am way too old to sit through the antiquated practice of grade school team choosing. My ego wouldn’t allow me to remain there any longer. I stood up and walked straight out the door.
Believe it or not, I went back two weeks later.
My husband dropped me off at the front door to the church and drove himself around back where the men’s Bible study was held. This time when I walked in, there was a table set up and one of the church staff was there greeting new people. She was making sure everyone had an assigned circle of chairs before the evening started. This perky woman in her mid 20’s started looking for the perfect group for me. She didn’t know me and since she wasn’t asking me questions about who I was, my age, or how old my kids were….stage of life kind of thing, I asked, “How do you determine which group to choose for me? Life stage?” She shook her head and said (…and if I’m lying I’m dying…), “No. Nothing like that. I just wait for God to discern it for me.” I stood there thinking, “Did I really just hear that?” I replied, “Weeellll, okay! You just let him do His job then…in the next ten seconds.” She smiled but I think the tiny bit of sarcastic tone escaped her. I might have been slightly offended at the verbal glibness that God would, in moments, impart wisdom on this lady not much older than my own kids, and one whose brain probably had stopped growing just that very morning. (Don’t get me wrong, I do believe that God can and will orchestrate those tiny things but this entire conversation was ridiculous.) As she popped her head up with jubilant certainty, she said, “OKAY! When the main session is over, look for group #13.”
Interestingly enough, the pastor’s wife talked about friendships and finding those lifetime people who will lift you up, talk sternly when you need it and about finding true sisters of the heart. I had high spirits going into the small group time.
There were six women in ten chairs. I was number seven. I’m not sure why I was assigned to Group 13 but I can tell you 13 was not my lucky number on this day. I think they were shocked to see someone new. I was shocked that most of them looked like they took hours and hours getting ready for their day. I barely get mascara on and if I wear lip color it’s smeared. The women in my group were:
- Ms Group-Leader was in her mid-50’s. She was very fashionable, with long dark hair and an adorable 5'2" body. She was wearing 5 inch stilettos and crimson red lips.
- Ms Instagram-OOTD was a carbon copy of the group leader but in her late 20’s. She passed around tiny bags of Trader Joe’s organic chocolate so everyone could indulge without “feeling guilty”.
- Ms My-Life-is-Happy was in her early 50’s and had taken care of her external shell pretty well. She had the toned body of an aerobic instructor and a very plumped mouth that appeared to have been recently enhanced. She smiled a lot. I think.
- Ms Cranky-Pants was in her mid to late 50’s and she obviously hadn’t bought into the need for plastic surgery. She had those deep lines that give a face character as well as keeping one from looking plastic. She appeared to have just gotten off work, still in her slacks, sensible shoes and very structured jacket.
- Ms I’m-The-Best-Friend-Evvvverrr was on my left. She was in her late 40’s or early 50’s wearing upscale mom clothes. She appeared to have the look of every adult woman I knew from the Midwest. She looked like a PTA mom, a soccer mom, the mom of teens or college students. She brought gluten free carob cookies to share.
- Ms Plexus, on my right, had on leggings and a warm workout top. Her sun-kissed blonde hair was pulled back in a tight ponytail. She was very fresh faced and didn’t appear to have one drop of makeup on. Her shirt was Plexus. Her pen was Plexus. Her bag was Plexus. Total guess but I think she sold Plexus.
The discussion went as you would imagine. Some were talkers, some were not but most were quiet. Since I was the new one, I really didn’t anticipate having to participate but to be more of an observer. I mean, that’s how this kind of thing has always gone in the past. The new ones are supposed to get a pass. Not tonight. Finally semi exasperated no one would engage with her, Ms Group Leader asked a question informing the group everyone was to respond. “What is your view on gaining and maintaining friendships?” The answers proved to be to be doozies.
- She never answered her own question. That’s the beauty of being the leader.
- “Well I’m new to Southern California and I’m just happy to be here! I’m so BLESSED to have met Ms Group Leader! I feel like I’ve known her my whole life. She’s been such a BLESSING to my life and I feel like she’s my sister! I wish all of you could know the woman I know! She’s so much fun and we love to shop and eat together.” (Rant: First, I loathe hearing the word ‘blessed’. People, especially Christians, seem to say it when they mean they feel like God favored them in some way. “I have a blessed life.” “I’m so thankful for how God has blessed my life.” Maybe God did send favor your way. Maybe. Second, I feel the need to tell you to stop trying to seem humble and ‘blessed’. Let me let you in on something, when you say that word, in that way, a lot of people want to pull all your hair out. You are fortunate. Say that instead. To say you are blessed with a nice life insinuates that everyone else who isn’t at your socioeconomic level, everyone who doesn’t have a family, anyone who isn’t going on vacation where you are hasn’t been blessed. Stop making other people feel like their life is less than all God meant for them. You are not God’s favorite. Rant over.)
- “I have a lot of friendships and I just think people are always welcome. We love people. Anyone is welcome and we would be happy to have them.”
- “Well, honestly I don’t really feel like answering this. I work a lot and when I go home I don’t need friends. I don’t like to be bothered. (Cranky smile) I have a couple of friends from another time and place and if I want to talk to someone I go to them. I don’t like most people. I can easily live without friends especially new ones.” (What? Who says this…?!)
- (She looked uncomfortable when all our attention turned to her.) “Well, honestly, I just don’t have time to invest in any new friends. I’m not looking for anyone new. I spend a lot of energy in my friendships and I’m an incredible friend but I would be doing a disservice to my current group by adding anyone else. (She looked physically uncomfortable after she said this.) I wish I had time but I don’t.” At this point, #3 interrupted her and said, “I’m one of her close close friends and I can vouch for her. She is an amazing friend. Always giving gifts, and having dinner parties, and taking care of anyone who needs help. It’s unfortunate if you aren’t her friend because she ROCKS!” #5 says, “I really don’t have time for anyone new. Sorry. I just don’t.”(What in the heck?? Who says THIS?!?)
- I really don’t remember what she said. I was kind of in shock at the other answers.
They all looked at me. It was my turn and I think I said something about how I’m not sure I would say I ever have enough friends and that I was always open to new people entering my life. I do remember saying something to the effect I wasn’t sure I could ever close the door on anyone who crossed my path. Group 13 ended their small group time earlier than anyone else. Shocker. I looked at my phone and it was only 8:30pm. I knew my husband wasn’t out of his group time and I had no clue where to even start looking for his car. I sat in the lobby, watching women group together, hug and say how beautiful each other looked. They talked about meeting up for coffee. They talked but it was all so seemingly shallow. I don’t know how to do shallow. Living in the middle of the country my whole life has made me appreciate the nerdy, the quirky, the outcast as well as the pretty people. (I wish I could just go to the men’s Bible Study but that’s a whole different story for another time.)
I’m sitting over here on the West Coast with no friend tribe or girl gang but I’m learning to be okay with it. There’s no one to call for coffee or for a mom lunch. There are no people around to hang out with on Saturday afternoons. There is no one to use the two extra U2 tickets I’m holding. I know this sounds crazy but for some reason, I’m content until the funny, irreverent, weird people show up.
I’m waiting on the people who will forgive me if my very comfortable home has some dishes in the sink or dust under the television. Some one will show up out here someday and I’ll be ready with a pie or something to welcome them to the neighborhood.
Friendship pie is a thing, right?