I never thought the act of finding friends was something I’d have to plan and execute. Why would I? In my experience, friends came to me.
In college, new friends came with the dorm. Marriage brought couple friends and work friends and eventually friends from having babies at the same time. I accumulated friends from Lamaze class, book clubs, church, neighborhood, carpool, PTA, swim team, and softball summers all the way through senior trip and the college application process. Then, like a gift with college tuition, there were our college-age kids’ parents, all ready to rally for orientation and football weekends.
I love my dear friends. Together we entered the phase of empty nesting, hosting weddings and then baby showers for our grown children. We cried together as we comforted those friends battling disease and debilitating losses. “My sistas,” were there through all of it, and we accumulated cabinets full of casserole dishes so well exchanged they didn’t need returning.
I didn’t grow up knowing how to be a friend. My childhood friendships were transient ones, and as a military brat, I developed survival instincts for friendship. When you are always the new girl, you can tackle friendship by either joining in or waiting until an includer pulls you in. I usually waited around to be scooped up, and if nobody came forward, there was always a ragtag group of misfits and leftovers who tended to have kinder hearts than the in-crowd. I’d fold myself into their fringes until my family was transferred to the next place.
That’s why, at mid-50 years old, after uprooting from our home of three decades and relocating to a big city where I didn’t know anyone, friendship-finding was not yet on my Google doc list of things to arrange. But soon it became clear that my husband’s new job didn’t come with couple friends like his old job did, and working from home isolated me.
Shortly after the move, our old dog died, thus breaking what was left of my heart and removing the casual contact with friendly dog people. My friends called, texted, and sent encouragement my way. But that didn’t translate into someone to go to lunch or a movie with. I’d take my laptop to the coffee shop and see women my age gathering over lattes, bursting into peals of laughter as they told their stories. I wanted to stand up and wave my arms. “Hello, I’m one of you! You just don’t know it!” And yet, I wondered, maybe good friends are like eggs: We get only an allotted amount for a lifetime.
Feeling my pain, my daughters launched Operation Find Carolyn Friends, and they texted with helpful hints — rescue a dog, join a Meetup.
Finally, slowly and painfully, I began to make inroads. I found a few dog people when I rescued a dog, a writer, a few readers, a historian, and the couple who rented our townhouse before us. Life felt a bit better.
Then, on a snowy day when the neighbors were shoveling out their cars, my allegorical Scrabble tiles landed on a triple wordplay. I met three new friends at once: Laura, the super includer/organizer; Sheri, a retired teacher and artist; and Jen, who also worked from home and was always up for a lunch date. They all came with compatible, interesting spouses, and soon, we were pulling out the good wine glasses.
In the words of Kenny Rogers, “You can’t make old friends, you either have them or you don’t.” But in the words of my mother, the military wife, you can put yourself in the path of potential new friends.
Once I started making new friends, I started noticing how different friendships are at this stage of life. Though we didn’t have the old stories, jokes, or memories to fuel conversations, there were new stories to tell, new books to discuss, and the latest Netflix release to critique. We arranged complicated adventures and tried out new restaurants. Though my old friendships hold the permanent record of my life, the new ones are full of potential. I learned that the old Girl Scouts song, “Make new friends, but keep the old, some are silver and the others gold,” is true.
I wear my sparkly silver and gold together, always pairing one with the other.
Here’s what I learned about making friends, which oddly enough, I am forced to put back into action, as my husband and I have just moved to another new city.
Even if you are like me and absolutely not a joiner, you have to suck it up and do it. I recommend Meetups.com because nobody joins Meetups if they have an established friend base. They do it because someone like me (or my daughters) tells them to at least try it. I chose Meetups based on interests such as reading, walking, history, movies, and writing. Some were excruciating; others were warm and open. I considered it casting a wide net. Some people say they met friends in church groups and newcomers clubs. I don’t think it matters where you go, just go somewhere and join something.
I didn’t meet any lasting friends from my playwriting class, but I heard some of them make plans to hang out after class. Good for them.
It’s not for everyone, but when you rescue a dog, you get a double win: the dog and the dog people.
I put notes out on social media that I would love to meet anyone’s friends in the area. I met a surprising quantity of people from that request, and my mother arranged the best one — the daughter of one of her friends who invited me to her book club of smart, interesting women.
Since we are now in the decades of life where we can be picky about our time, volunteer for something you care about. I checked out lots of options and found joy in choosing quirky, odd groups to do small good works. I even signed up to help with a “puppy party,” where we bring rescue pups to area events.