Wanna Play? Making New Friends as Adults

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.


17 thoughts on “Wanna Play? Making New Friends as Adults

  1. Hilarious and so true. Every. Two. Years. And even worse, do you ever initiate a friendship and later figure out you really don’t like the person even though they seem to like you? Or the other way around? Much easier to stay in the house and call your old tried and true buddies who already know where you’re from and that you don’t knit, and you ride horses and like Michigan and beer. On the other hand, at the end of every two years, I usually seem to have accumulated at least one or two more friends that make the move into the “tried and true” category. And I guess that is what makes it worth it! Bravo on the post Jodi; well done. Miss you.

    • I unfortunately have had to use the “Phoebe Phase Out” a time or two in my life. I have met a few women who I thought were great at first only to find out later that their crazy far surpasses my crazy. But I will continue to take the risk. The scary crazies make for great stories and the good friends I’ve met along the way sustain me in more ways than I can say. Thank you so much for reading. BTW, I gave up knitting as well when I realized I did not have the attention span to sit still and knit for long periods of time. Thanks again!

    • Thank you, Kasie! I’m really enjoying getting to know you and thrilled I didn’t have to ask you to be my friend. I must admit, though, handing you my card at our second meeting took every bit of courage I have!

  2. Jodie everything you said is so true.
    I am glad I do not have to make new friends every two years.
    There is two sides to this, one you get to leave people you do not want as long time friends and you get to make new friends.
    Remember the Golden Rule ” Make new friends, but keep the Old, one silver, but the other is Gold.”
    You have always been good at this, that’s why I always said you had wings and would not be happy with staying at home, you had to go, make new friends, new adventures, new places. And YOU do it well!
    Love you, miss you,
    Mom

    • Thank you, Mom! I wrote this post first because I know so many women, military spouse or not, who have made the same remarks: that making new friendships as adults is so difficult, but the need for friendships is so great. What many people do not know about me is that I have a very reserved, shy side, which makes social functions with a bunch of strangers exhausting. Thank goodness you always encouraged me to speak up for myself and put myself out there or I would not have the courage to introduce myself to new friends over and over again. Love you!

  3. I totally get it! I am always thinking by initiating a conversation that I am intruding on them, and there’s that whole “you have to know me to love me” issue I have, too. And if I could get past both those things, I’d still be worried that they’d be crazy and I’d never be able to escape them like fb stalkers. lol.

    • Absolutely! I have made some critical errors in judgment over the years, and then I have to figure out how to get rid of the psychos. But, I am an eternal optimist, so I will keep meeting people and hoping for the best. The other assumption I make that inhibits my ability to reach out to others is that I assume many of the women I meet have incredibly full lives leaving little room for new friendships. Why should I assume that? Shouldn’t I assume instead that the women I meet are also wanting new experiences? I should just say, “hello,” leave open the door to friendship and see what happens. Thank you so much for reading!

  4. Air force institute of technology new spouse orientation today. A room full of AF lutenient wives. Quickly found the two other army wives and hid in a corner. Loved your post.

    • Thank you for reading! Isn’t it funny how we may all be military spouses, but we still seek out our own kind! I just left an AF Base, and while I met some great AF wives, I still sought out my Army sisters!

  5. Why does Casie have a card? Your card, what kind of card….I don’t have one of your cards or your new address either….HAHA LOL but I still love you and I most definitely want a play date with you and your handsome husband!!!!!

  6. For teachers, this happens every August. And the crop of new potential adult friends gets younger every year. I try to be open and friendly to each fresh from college face and the transfers from elsewhere–teaching equivalent of a pre-owned vehicle–but it seems that I always get stuck sharing a lunch wave or bus duty with a “lemon.” And the bat-shit crazy ones always end up with tenure. Remember our “rush” training? I can smile and nod and fake interest for days. It’s the one skill I learned in college that I use daily.
    On the bright side, some of my favorite people were once new teachers at my school, and we are now close friends.

    • Kim, thank you for the comment! Yes, I do believe this is a problem faced by all adults, no matter if they are in the military or not, no matter their gender. And the question of making new friendships as adults has so many layers. Like all “pre-owned” vehicles, we never know exactly what condition the person is in when we meet them. Has the person been in so many “accidents” that you have to wonder if the driver is sane? What problems are hiding under the hood that are sure to lead to a breakdown, the loud and smokey kind. Has his or her mileage surpassed road-worthiness? I love your metaphor to pre-owned vehicles! And what skills do I still use from my college days? My acting lessons, rush skills, and how to tap a keg!

    • Laura, thank you so much for visiting and reading my blog! Yes, many people don’t know it, but I am actually rather shy. Until Kindergarten, I spoke only to my sisters and in some sort of strange code. Fortunately, through studying storytelling and acting I have learned great coping skills that help me communicate openly and take wonderful risks.

      And, of course you will see me Monday. I wouldn’t miss it!

  7. I found your blog scrolling through other bloggers in South Carolina on Blog Sisters. This post resonated with me so much! I am not an army wife, but I have moved states for college, my job and then again for my husband’s job, leaving a lot of friends behind in each place. It does seem to get harder and harder to make friends. As a kid all it takes is a common interest in playing, as a college student you have clubs/greek life/sports/parties, etc. to bring you close to people, but as a true adult it’s really hard to find your place. A lot of moms I know seem to bond because of that, but I don’t have or really want kids. A lot of people make friends at work, but I work alone. It can be really frustrating! I recently asked a girl that I had dealt with a few times through work if she wanted to go to happy hour and I was wayyy more nervous than I ever was dating! Where in South Carolina do you live?

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