The Friendship Crisis

This week’s book is The Friendship Crisis: Finding, Making, And Keeping Friends When You’re Not A Kid Anymore, by Marla Paul.  Someone recommended it on one of my email lists a while back and the title hit a nerve for me.  I often find myself thinking longingly of my circle of friends from college.  When I used to watch Sex and the City, I was never jealous of the characters’ shoes or their dates, but I did drool over the idea of having a group of friends who met every week for long brunches.

Paul’s book isn’t profound, but it’s an easy-to-read discussion of the reasons that women (and the book is really directed to women, in spite of the gender-neutral title) find themselves short on friends, and how to overcome them.  She talks about the concerns of women who have moved, new mothers, divorced or widowed women, and women who have left their jobs, whether to be SAHMs or for retirement.  Her recommendations for how to meet new people are basically common sense — try new activities, go to support groups, introduce yourself to neighbors — but she’s open about how scary this can be.  I think most people have a notion that making friends is easy for everyone else in the world, so it’s reassuring to be told that it’s often hard work.

I hit my "friendship crisis" several years back, when I got hit with the double or triple whammy of four of my closest friends moving out of the DC area within a couple of years (one to Pennsylvania, one to Massachusetts, one to Israel and one to Senegal), having a baby (which severely limited the time I had available to socialize), and dropping several of the activities that I had been doing before (due to the same lack of time).  I was pretty depressed about it for a while.  Things are better now, but not what I’d like them to be.  That’s one of the reasons that we’re starting the Drop In Dinners.

In the last chapter, Paul talks a little about online friendships, and gives some examples, but I don’t think she really gets what makes them special, not just a second-rate substitute for "real life" friends. Ronni at Time Goes By wrote a terrific post about this last week.  She writes:

"In my early years of reading blogs, before I started TGB, I was often astonished at how personally revealing many bloggers are. Much more so, I think, to unknown readers than most of us would be in the first few meetings with a new in-person friend.

This might be an advantage to getting to know another better; sometimes it is easier to be honest at a remove from one another."

Exactly. I think in some ways my online friends (from email lists, conferencing systems, and blogs) have spoiled me for in-person friendships, at least in the early, awkward, getting to know you stage.  I don’t have the patience for the meaningless small talk.  I want people to talk about the things they’re passionate about, what rocked and what sucked about their day.  And people don’t generally talk about those things with people they’ve just met.  I guess I could just start doing it.

14 Responses to “The Friendship Crisis”

  1. landismom Says:

    Thanks for the recommendation–I just added it to my Powell’s wishlist. I know what you mean about envying the long brunches on SATC. I have only one friend right now that I can hang out and have those kinds of loooonnnnngggg conversations with, and she doesn’t have kids. On the one hand, that’s good, because I don’t really want to talk about my kids all the time. On the other hand, it makes it hard for her to give me advice about a big part of my life, which I think is part of the function of those looonnnngggg conversations.

  2. kenya Says:

    ah, this book will be added to my list. i talked about this very thing on my blog a few weeks ago (ah, if you want to check it out, i believe the post was called something like “laughing until you get a migrane” in late september)
    it is so true… on-line friends seem to be my main support group right now. (sigh.)

  3. Ronni Bennett Says:

    I think you’ve hit on an important aspect of online/blogging friendships I missed in my piece: that there is no small talk in getting to know one another. Almost always, when we first respond to others – in Comments or personal email – we are addressing a substantive conversation already in progress.
    Whether we are agreeing, disagreeing or adding a new thought sparked by a post, we have an area of common interest as a starting point. In contrast, when we meet a new person in the the “real world,” we fumble around about the weather or where we’re from or where we went to college, etc. and there seems to be a social taboo against anything substantive in the beginning whether it’s the intelligent design controversy, the CIA leak, or whatever is really on our minds today.
    Great observation.
    And thanks for the link.

  4. Laura Says:

    I sometimes do that when I meet people and it kind of shocks them. Oddly, it almost never elicits a similar response from them. Maybe the people I meet are really closed off and private. We’re running pretty low in the friendship area too. Maybe I’ll pick up the book to spur us along.

  5. Suzanne Says:

    Thanks for the recommendation. I also posted about this a few days ago; between some self-imposed isolation by staying at home and friends moving away, I am also feeling a bit solitary. If only all my blog friends lived close by!

  6. dave s Says:

    We had 3 kids in 5 years, so there was a period when we were mostly trying to keep head above water… Now our youngest is 4, so it’s better. Most of our new friendships since we had kids have come out of the kids’ day care friends’ parents (and more recently from their elementary school) and from our work. We have gradually drifted from some of our single friends – just have different concerns. We each have a few good workplace friends. And lots of email and phone to distant family. It seems to be enough.

  7. Cecily Says:

    Wow. Reading this made me realize how incredibly blessed I am.
    Bizarrely enough, being in recovery totally eliminates a lot of that whole small-talk thing with new people. If you are at a meeting, chances are extremely high that you’re a drunk too, so already we have a lot in common right off the bat, and we all know it. Sharing at group level is often just as intimate as what we read in blogs–and like blogs, it’s done with only knowing a person’s first name. I don’t know where they work, who they voted for, or anything like that.
    Of course, I don’t like all the people I meet in recovery, and of the ones I do like, there are very few that I care enough about to nuture a deep friendship.
    I’ve also been extraordinarily lucky with neighbors, of all things.
    But I do worry how much of this will change, if a child actually occurs from this pregnancy.

  8. Kai Jones Says:

    It’s not just that online friendships usually start in meaningful places, it’s also that you are both doing it in a place where you feel comfortable *already*. You’re at home, or at your desk at work, not negotiating territory in a neutral setting. You’re doing it at your own pace; there’s no need to make a space for the other person to interrupt in your conversation, or take turns. You get to say your whole piece, and wait for a response, and then reflect on it before replying.
    The asynchronous nature of online life is a huge benefit to most people, but especially to people who are introverts, and those who have average or below-average social skills.

  9. Mary Says:

    I’ve done what you’re thing of doing: opened up immediately upon meeting someone. I know I got this habit from blogging, where it’s accepted, welcomed, and encouraged.
    Not so IRL (In Real Life).
    It’s hard enough to meet moms on the playground or in playgroups or on play dates, which are all like various forms of blind dates anyway, but when I start talking about how I really feel about sleepless nights, housework, the state of the union, the government and Katrina victims, it’s almost guaranteed I’ll get a puzzled look and the woman will slowly start to back away clutching her offspring in one hand while making shooing notions with the other.
    I think being immediately honest and open is a litmus test of sorts. I just wished there were more people who passed and who wanted to be friends rather than just acquaintances.

  10. Jolie Says:

    I too mostly find getting to know people in real life tedious and sometimes difficult. We moved to a new house in June and met our next door neighbors shortly afterward. They’re perfectly nice people, but I wrote them off pretty quickly as “boring” and not probably not able to handle our freakiness (Wiccan, bi, progressive, and probably some other stuff I’m forgetting). Awhile later, it occurred to me that it’s entirely possible that they are even stranger than us, but are just afraid of letting us know it. After all, we’ve not clued them in to any of our eccentricities either. Since then I’ve been trying to be more open-minded about them and give them a better chance, but so far it’s mostly just meant a lot of small talk.
    Right now, she’s pregnant with their fourth, and the other three are all under five. I’m really curious to know how she feels about that, but I don’t feel like I can just ask. If I was reading her blog, I’d have a better sense of her perspective than I do living next door to her. That seems a little backwards somehow.

  11. amy Says:

    Yeah, I dunno. I’ve never been good at small talk (go figure), or interested, so I’ve usually just gone for the interesting stuff, meeting new people. Sometimes we hit a winner. There are plenty of visual cues, though, that can sort the crowd for you, and I’m sure everyone here does that anyway. I look for the ones who’re doing something interesting & have intelligent, watchful faces, clothing/grooming that doesn’t say “promote me” (or “wash me”), reasonably confident body language, no obvious signs of needing rescue from disaster lives (something-to-provewear, beaten/tragic look, gasping eagerness, etc.).
    I wonder, though, how much of a tendency to small talk is cultural. I was thinking about it yesterday at an early service/falafel dinner at my shul, where we’re still getting to know people, and I’ve yet to see people waste much time with small talk. Right away, it’s what do you do, and then non-bullshit questions related to it, or deeper general conversation. After dinner I followed my daughter into the sanctuary, saw another woman there feeding her baby, sat down to talk, and I don’t think it was five minutes before this near-stranger was telling me about the stillbirth she’d had before this baby and her interfaith marriage. Today at the kiddush the conversation at our table was copyright law (current debates, history), and later when we went for a Shabbos visit to someone with a new kitten, the talk went right to the tensions in an interfaith group our host was involved with & the difficulties in translating the Torah into English, which has a religious vocabulary that carries Christian connotations. We don’t know these people well, but they’re usually fairly frank about their daughter’s tribulations. There’s just not a lot of small talk.
    I think online’s easy because it collects so many like-minded people so well, and I’ve had some very nice friendships out of it — have been corresponding with one friend for over ten years, never met though we’ve occasionally had chances to do it. Seemed best to leave a good thing alone. For rl, though, it seems to me like the best way of making good friends is to have a job you’re really interested in at a place you like. Boring jobs — however you define boring — seem to come with boring co-workers and a handful of whining misfits. Cruel jobs seem to come with guard/prisoner co-workers. And, you know, you don’t want to be friends with any of those people, so of course you end up lonely. Go find a setup you like, and usually there’s people to go with it. I think all my good, lasting friendships that aren’t from college & grad school have come from favorite jobs. My marriage did, too. Oddly enough the friendships don’t really come from politicky organizations. Maybe because of the level of need people come to those things with.

  12. Jennifer Says:

    Well, but there’s a difference between having interesting conversations with a person and becoming her friend. When I lived overseas I had interesting conversations all the time; everyone I met was fascinating and shared Deep Thoughts; but (with one exception) we never really became friends.
    Friendship has a component of obligation. If you’re really a friend, you’ll provide help when it’s needed — whether that’s a ride to the airport, a sympathetic ear, or something more substantial, like being there at the birth of a baby. Personally I only have the energy for a few friendships at a time.
    Online friendships are easier because the obligation isn’t there. You can stop answering email, stop reading a person’s blog, and phew, you’re free.

  13. amy Says:

    True. But how often are you going to become friends with someone whose conversation you don’t enjoy?
    Dunno about the online/rl distinction, for me. I’ve been friends with some of these people through grad school, marriages, divorces, birth of children, career crises, illnesses. I suspect that if one of my close online friends asked a favor, I’d come through if I could.

  14. Tara Says:

    I found your site while searching for reviews on “The Friendship Crisis” book, which I just bought today. We moved here (DC/MD) almost two years ago, and I’ve definitely found that being a SAHM of two kids doesn’t afford me a lot of time or energy to pursue making good friends. Thus, I found the title of the book interesting. I enjoyed browsing your blog… :-)

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