Friending 101: The Grown-Up Edition
I’ve been thinking a lot about friends of late. Of how they come and go, are formed and then unmade again. I remember when I was a child and I’d look at my mum and think it odd because I thought she was so wonderful (still do) and yet she seemed to have no friends. She never had people over or went out for dinner with chums or spoke for hours on the phone.
Of course I realise now that it was likely less a case of no friends than it was a case of no time. This hypothesis is supported by the fact that my mum’s social calendar now – post both kids flying the nest - is fuller than mine or my nineteen year old sister’s.
When you have a child the question of friends seems to arise once more. You are encouraged to lean on them, to ask them to deliver you meals, to clean your house and excuse the state of it should they visit. You are chivvied not to forget them, to make time to do the activities you used to (difficult if this was drink tequila and dance on tables till dawn) and above all else to ensure that they know you have not forsaken them for the wormhole of parenthood. (Spoiler alert: you have. You likely don’t mean to but the attractions of tequila or indeed anything other than sleeping under a table are as shot-to-pieces as your post-partum body.)
If, like me, you are ahead of the procreation bell curve of your peers, you’re also encouraged to make ‘mum friends’ – pals you can turn to, covered in vomit, and chat to about cracked nipples and broken bodies; the things that make most adults turn a fetching shade of light green.
For me the friend situation is compounded by my move, two years ago, from my home of twenty-six years to my current home in our nation’s great capital. This move created three distinct groupings of friends – Sydney friends, Art School friends and Other Canberra friends.
Sydney friends are to my social diet what chocolate is in the nutritional pyramid - occasional sweet treats. If I am honest with myself, and it stings to be so, a large number of my Sydney friendships have been somewhat unwoven by the passing of time.
In my experience, absence only occasionally makes the heart grow fonder. Mostly it makes the heart forget.
My Art School friends are wonderful and fun and Oh So Young (all capitals necessary). They’re remarkably mature and, well, settled - in co-habiting pairs – given that they’re universally half a decade younger, or more. They are however, and I hope they’re not offended by this, in a different life phase from myself – one where you still drink for the pleasure of getting drunk (because hangovers have not yet taken on a form which more than cancels out this fleeting joy), make friends with abandon (because more the merrier) and consider a week with only two social occasions one of house arrest (rather than one of extreme social activity).
My Other Canberra friends are motley crew of Sydney friends who moved here, legit friends I somehow made through early forays in Canberra socialising before I shacked up with a hermit and folk I used to work with… but now don’t.
My most regular social interaction involves two such friends, one a close Sydney friend and ex-flatmate and the other a match-made friend (we were set up by a mutual Sydney friend) when we both first moved to the territory. Together, the three of us watch bad television and eat good cake and because of them Monday night is a solid highlight (and sometimes the only highlight) of my week.
Of course even with them one night and uni one day every week, I still have four days with no set social interaction at all. Indeed it is entirely possible for me not to speak to anyone other than my partner (said hermit) for days at a time.
Enough I said, I’ll make friends. I’ll be one of those women who pushes her pram around the lake and (through that) one of those women who fits her pre-pregnancy jeans.
Given this, I find myself strangely and uncharacteristically resistant to new social connection. My first foray into ‘mum friends’, Parent Group came, and went. As at last count I’d missed three scheduled social events (excluding the weekly private hospital fitness classes that are a non-official group activity and to which, as a lowly public hospital peasant, I am not invited). I also had 36 unread messages on the WhatsApp group thread.
Moreover I find it surprisingly difficult to unpack my reasons for resisting this interaction (and the guilt triggered by this avoidance).
“They’re not your people” was how the girl sitting across from me calmly (and bluntly) put it as she swirled a straw through her soy-iced latte. Tall and leggy with a sharp black bob that looked like it was drawn on with sharpie, she sported big silver hoops that pulled at her earlobes and made them bleed a little.
We’d commented on some of the same posts in an online mothers group and she’d seemed less tightly wound than some of the other mothers so, when she messaged and asked if I’d like to get coffee, I’d said yes. Admittedly with levels of reservation typically reserved for first dates. Which it essentially was. It took weeks to organise – her baby was sick, mine had an off day, hers hadn’t slept properly, I clean forgot. The understanding-level of new mothers becomes both a strength and a weakness, as you’re both so understanding of the situational matrix but you’re also not really able to give more since you’re already stretched so thin.
(By contrast, kind-but-childless friends of mine, when I cancel plans for being buried beneath baby, will offer to come over and make tea instead. This is often quite nice since I get the socialisation aspect without the need for putting on shoes. Of course it would have also been weird to invite a perfect stranger over for tea.)
Still, a month goes by. We finally manage to meet for coffee and it’s going quite well. Being a student herself, this girl is far closer to my current living situation than the two-jobs-one-mortgage-sensible-shoes end of my Parent Group experience. Yet she seems so young. She is. She’s 24. She’s also Canberra born and bred and, from what I can discern, hasn’t really left the capital a great deal. So we talk about dumplings and their births and, as I say, its all going quite well until I mention that what I disliked most about Parent Group was the constant insistence on talking about our offspring. True, I have a peculiar obsession with maintaining an illusion of myself as an independent being. But the slightly awkward silence makes it clear that this obsession is not shared. Which is perfectly logical since she, growing up in Canberra, has plenty of friends with whom to share her non-baby aspects of self.
Coffee finishes with an exchange of platitudes and expressions of a desire for a ‘next time’ but I can’t help comparing the whole thing to some a first date that hasn’t been good enough to qualify for a second nor bad enough to warrant expression of why. We will, I feel, let each other drift into the ether.
My phone pings. 37 unread messages.
Maybe I have no people. Maybe I should give Parent Group another go. Maybe I’m just an asshole.
Maybe it is less about ‘people’ than it is about me. Possibly my reservation about new friends stems not just from slight constant exhaustion but from the niggling voice that notes that every hour I give over to coffees or play dates is one I cannot give to my practice, to growing and nurturing the creative. Possibly that makes me sound like a hideous wanker but the sad truth is that the weeks when I do not make are also those in which I snap at my partner and cry at my baby (it shocks him so). It is a truth I have realised that I need to carve time to create not just for me but to keep myself sane enough to be the mother and partner that I want to be.
I’m not altogether sure where this leaves me but I suspect for me the answer lies less in Parent Group and more in paint. Here’s hoping baby likes craft.