Nearly every day I sit in cafés and people-watch those around me. Groups of mothers with their babies, tables of older women gathering to gossip, and business folks catching up before work; they all convene to chat over croissants and coffee. And I wonder how they met. Were they university pals who stayed in touch? Have they known each other since childhood? Were they connected by one person whom neither of them speak to anymore? I’m curious about the ins and outs of their friendships, because friendships are something I’ve always struggled with.
Researchers at Oxford University say by the time you hit 25 years old you’ve made the most friends you’ll ever have in your life. After that age, statistically, you should start to lose friends because of things like marriage, parenthood, and work. Sitting here at 26 years old, I can safely say I agree with their findings. Marriage and work have affected the degree to which I see and stay in touch with people. But the thing that has had the single biggest impact on my friendships has been relocating, whether my own or others.
Just after high school one of my closest friends moved to New York and I felt a huge sense of loss. We said we’d stay in touch, and to be fair we have to a certain degree. She’s the one person that I know I could call during any crisis or meltdown at any time of day and she’ll do whatever she can for me. Our friendship is like a comfy old sweater. You slip into it every once in a while, feel safe, and think about all the good times you’ve had while wearing this sweater. You sit there thinking, damn, why don’t I wear this more often?, just to let it get lost in the back of your closet again. But in spite of the unconditional love that’s there, we sadly did grow apart and developed separate lives.
When I was in my early twenties, I made new groups of friends, whether through work or school, but yet again because of my constant moving it was hard to maintain these friendships. And now here I am at 26 still feeling like a tourist in a new country, with no close emotional attachments to speak of other than the one I share with my husband.
So how does one make friends when statistically I’m past my sell by date? Well, you go on 'friend dates'. What is a friend date, you might ask? Exactly what it sounds like. A hang out with a person or people you potentially want to be friends with. Maybe you met at a party and after a night of good conversation, you’ve decided that person seems really cool and you’d like to see them again. Ask them out on a friend date! I’ve been on numerous friend dates since moving to the UK and they genuinely all feel like actual dates. You get all dressed up and totally freak out about whether they’re going to like you. You walk up to the agreed upon meeting place with butterflies in your stomach, and then proceed to try to maintain interesting conversation while mentally stressing about how you’re coming across. You hug and say, 'we should do this again!', but then in some cases never do it again.
Actually, in spite of all the friend dates I’ve been on, none have actually spawned into anything of substance. But yet again, just like with romantic dating, you’re not always going to find 'your person' on your first attempt. I’ve been on friend dates where we had nothing to talk about, and where the other person kept making unsettling comments about being such a 'fan' of mine. But nevertheless, you have to be willing to keep putting yourself out there even though it can be strange, uncomfortable, and awkward.
If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again...