When I was four years old, sitting in the tree house of my first childhood home, I looked over the fence and saw a little girl of four in her own backyard playing on an old metal swing set. A tiny, strong voice, already thick with Alabama twang, called to me, “Hey! Wanna play?” From that simple question my first friendship immediately formed. Two summers later, my family moved forty-five miles away, leaving Angela and her swing set behind.
Now, as an Army Spouse, the devastation of moving occurs nearly every two years. Jay and I recently unpacked the boxes from our latest move, and I feel a nasty case of Friendless Loser Syndrome coming on. After so many moves, I still have the desire to walk out my new front door and ask the first woman I see if she wants to play. However, I have never had the courage Angela had when she was four.
So, I ask you, why is it difficult for adults to make new friends? At what age did the idea of approaching a stranger and requesting friendship become bat-shit crazy?
My friend and fellow Army Wife Christina recently posted on Facebook, “The scariest part of moving: just texted (a) random woman from the park to see if she and her daughter will be our friends.” As Christina explained, her husband met a family at the park. The children got along well with each other. So, the fathers exchanged phone numbers, but not their own, they exchanged their wives’ phone numbers. The husbands hoped a friendship would spark between their wives because even adults need a playmate.
Many of us have taken the risk that Christina took, essentially allowing our husbands to set us up on a play date with a possible new BFF. We send a text to the potential-great-gal-pal-maybe-serial-killer-freak, set up a coffee date, and hope for the best.
Others, especially myself, wait for social invitations. I wait for dinner invitations from neighbors. I wait for the typical Army social functions: family meetings, Hail and Farewells, unit picnics, etc. And, pathetically, while attending these functions, I allow my insecure inner child to dictate my actions. More often than I would like to admit, this is what my inner child is thinking as I scan the room, eyes fixed on a potential new friend:
What about her? Maybe she’s nice or funny. Maybe she’s had a rotten day and that’s why she looks like she’s given up on life. Maybe she honestly didn’t have time to brush her hair before coming to the event with, how many is that, FIVE children? Holy crap. What would we talk about? I have no interest in little Timmy’s soccer team. And she’ll want to know why I don’t have children and when I plan to correct that social faux pas. Never mind.
O.K. It is entirely possible that my inner child is a little bitchy.
So maybe my Friendless Loser Syndrome still plagues me because of Judgy McJudgerson living in my head. A simple swing set just won’t cut it anymore. Befriending Angela over thirty years ago was so easy. I didn’t have a laundry list of compatibility markers for her to meet. I didn’t worry that she may be nuts. I certainly didn’t worry that she might not like me. All we needed to become friends was a mutual love for swing sets and the kind, innocent words “wanna play?”
So, this morning, I told myself, “Buck up, Sissy Pants!” Enough waiting. I brushed my hair, swiped on a little mascara and lip-gloss, and walked to my neighbor’s front door. I decided that today I would initiate a new friendship, even though the idea terrifies me.
Standing on her stoop, I had to ignore the nagging voice in my head reminding me of how rude it is to stop by a friend’s house without calling first. “Shut up. I don’t have her number,” I told myself, “I can’t call.”
After much consideration, I rang her doorbell, having decided that the doorbell was less offensive than knocking. Then, I waited. No answer. Seconds dragged on. “Should I ring the bell again?” I thought, “Maybe she didn’t hear it. Maybe she’s in the shower. Maybe she looked through the peephole and thought ‘Oh, Hell no! I’m not opening the door to her!’”
So, maybe my inner child needs therapy.
Just as I was leaving, full of both defeat and relief, my neighbor walked around the exterior of our building. She smiled and invited me in for coffee. After a few minutes of small talk, I mustered up the courage to ask her if she and her husband would like to join my husband and me for dinner and drinks, an adult play date.
I didn’t ask her, “Wanna play?” (Because let’s face it, that would be creepy.) I didn’t say, “Will you be my friend?” But I might as well have. And it turns out; I didn’t die from taking the risk. I wasn’t embarrassed, rejected, or ignored. Maybe my neighbor has been looking for a playmate as well.
What prevents you from asking someone to be your friend? Why, as adults, does the invitation seem so crazy, nearly certifiable? What is your go-to move when trying to make new friends? Share your thoughts in the comment section below.