It’s not easy making new friends; that is, it is not easy for me, and I suspect the same can be said of others. I remember a story my friend, Nancy, told me a while ago. She was new in town and was attempting to make friends. One person she reached out to was a fellow hospice volunteer. Here is her story: “One day I asked her if she would like to meet for a casual supper, and she seemed pleased to be asked. We set a date. I congratulated myself for taking the initiative, reaching out, stretching. ... We met at a deli-kind of place where we ordered at the counter and then selected a table. … I asked her about her day, but instead of answering me, she announced without any warning, ‘I just want you to know I don't have room in my life for more friends.’”
OH. MY. GOD. Is that not the most painful story you have ever heard?
That is exactly what I fear when I think of making a new friend. I tell myself that that person already has her dance card filled, and surely does not wish to add anymore.
This past winter, I volunteered at a tax clinic for low-income families, a gig that only lasted a few months. On my first day, a beautiful and oh-so-enthusiastic young woman bounded in, proclaiming, “Hi, I’m Carrie. I’m your supervisor, and I’m super-excited to be working with you!” From that day on, her phrases were filled with animated declarations, proclaiming that I was awesome, that she loved me, that she loved all my clever insights. I was smitten. I mean that, smitten, almost like falling in love. This Carrie was so warm, and so interesting, and so fun, I wanted her to be my …. friend.
That night I told my husband, John, about my new “crush”. A woman, young enough to be my daughter, who was so appealing to me. John said, “Well, why don’t you ask her out for coffee?” My reply: “She already has enough friends. I can tell.” John shook his head in disbelief. The idea that friendship is a limited quantity that can only fit in a certain size bottle, which when full, could carry no more, seemed senseless.
Yes, I was too shy and perhaps filled with low self-esteem to even try.
Then, on our last day of working together, with a shy smile and downcast eyes, Carrie said, “I have loved working with you. And I am going to miss you… and, [wait for it…] would you like to meet for coffee some time?” With a twist of my head to make sure she wasn’t talking to the young person behind me, I beamed. Yes! She wanted to be my friend. I then I admitted that I had wanted to be her friend, that my husband had encouraged me to “ask her out”, and I was too shy. We laughed and set a date.
Two weeks later, we were having coffee, catching up on all the stories we had missed during out time apart.
Then … she told me that she was moving away. Literally, moving away; to California. It was time to start a new life in a new place. I told her I was happy for her, but honestly, I was so sad, and I told her so. My new friend was leaving. We continued to meet for coffee and conversation a few more times after that.
This past week, Carrie and I met for a good-bye dinner. She showed me her planned route to San Diego, shared her excitement and her fear. I told her she was incredibly brave, which, indeed I think she is. She told me I was a “bad-ass mom”, in fact, just “bad-ass” (who can argue with that?), and that I had been such a good support to her. We hugged. We took a selfie. I cried. She told me she loved me, and I told her the same.
It turns out that Nancy’s dreadful experience in making a new friend did not deter her; she continued to reach out to others in her quest for friendship. And I so admire that.
And how about me? I accepted the challenge of making a new friend, and it paid off, if only for a short while. I found a lovely new pal, and I learned that not everyone has a limited container for friends. At least, that is what I am trying to take from this experience.
Will this give me nerve to reach out again? I certainly hope so.