I turned 35 about a week ago and had sought a few old friends to take a trip with me to South Africa. Long story short, I went alone. In seeking a travel companion, I ended up reaching out to about twelve old friends I hadn’t spoken to in anywhere from a year to about ten years. Not all were sought for travelling, mind you. I got caught up in the nostalgia. I am a human after all. It had been four or five years (depending on when you started counting) of going at it alone and I … I wanted to see if I had made the right choice.
Why I did it…
I can’t remember all of the reasons now as they fade in and out of saliency. I remember feeling de-prioritized. I remember feeling unimportant, unseen, unheard, cast aside. I remember for some that we had drifted apart with the other party making no real effort to bridge the gap. And in my mind, my efforts felt like a losing battle to carve out part of their time.
I remember feeling as it were, we could hardly be called friends. The current state of our friendships did not match what it once was. I started to feel like I was the problem. Why did I want them to care for me and nurture me so. One day I was not okay with being the sidekick in my own life. So, I called time of death on friendships that had flat-lined long before.
Reaching out again…
Basically, around Christmas 2018 and up to my 35th birthday (March 2019), I was feeling very nostalgic and sentimental and thought wouldn’t it be nice to have someone to celebrate this upcoming season of my life with even if just temporarily. I first reached out to two classmates from my degree program. We graduated in 2015 and had been in contact after graduation during our licensing exams. Then I sent out a slew of emails to friends from high school and undergrad. A couple each week. Usually on Sundays before the blue-greys settled in.
From my professional degree program, I met up with one old classmate (male) who lived close to an hour away. It was neutral. With another classmate (female who lives in the same place as the other) we exchanged a few short emails. Both confirming no changes as far as the big three (i.e.relationship status, career, family planning). She is already a “stepmom” to two kids of her longtime live-in boyfriend.
With my high school friend, we have tentative plans to meet up in Toronto. I’ll definitely be in Toronto, it’s just a matter of if she shows up. She couldn’t make the trip to South Africa due to busy work schedule. I saw her last right before her wedding five years ago.
A roommate from my professional degree program and I exchanged a couple long emails than graduated to Facetime and a few weekly calls. She even went so far as to refer me for a job at her company. She was not a fan of my low salary and limited sick time. Yes, we got to talking about FIRE! She lives six hours away. She was my most enthusiastic response. When I last knew her she was living in Texas with a new job and moving back in with her “boyfriend” after years apart. Now, she is in the middle of a divorce (turns out they were married this whole time); buying a house that’s closing at the end of this month; and has a not-quite two year old son. We got pretty close really quickly in this short amount of time and now haven’t really spoken for about two weeks. It was a bit intense and I may not be as ready for a close friendship as I thought. Plus, some of the petty competition that can arise when people are too similar started to seep through.
My roommate from undergrad and I exchanged a couple moderate length emails and one Facetime call; the last email took over a week to receive a response. In my absence, she has since graduated medical school, completed a couple residencies, moved to California (from Chicago), had some health struggles, and she and her husband are expecting their second child. I last saw and spoke to her at her wedding in 2011. If I recall correctly, she was my last intense burst of friendship. It was really good. I was twenty when we first met. Maybe twenties is the oldest you can be to really have a chance at that bosom friendship commonly experienced in childhood and early adolescence.
There was one 10 minute stilted FaceTime audio call to another friend from college. She was recently fired and is forcing herself to live her best life regardless.
How many did I contact? On last count, I reached out to about twelve (12) friends from my past over about two to three months, primarily through email as I have been sans phone for going on two years.
How many favorable responses? Hard to qualify favorable at this particular juncture, so I’ll just quantify anyone that responded to my email or picked up the FaceTime call. In total seven (7) people responded in one way or another at some point or another as of the date of this posting.
One email bounced back.
I learned one friend died, age 32. Quite realistically, she was my only single friend (although she was last known to be actively looking). Notice of her death led to two more emails to people I once knew and one more response. Bringing the total to 14 contact attempts and 8 responses, a 57% response rate.
Now that Christmas has come and gone and my 35th birthday has come and gone, the pull I was feeling for these lost friendships has quite certainly dissipated. Now what?
I’ve had these pullings for friendship before during my four years of solitude but for the most part did not act on them except for the occasional Google search. This time around I was just tired of seeing my four walls; I finally got bored; I just wanted to meet up with somebody and do what I have generally come to detest – just chit chat for an hour or two. Get out of my head, get out my bed; get out of the house. I wanted a quick lunch and a laugh. That didn’t even really happen.
If I’m so anxious to leave work, where exactly am I headed?
People are too busy and everyone’s life moved on without me. I did make it out of the house every weekend this month, though. I made that my new goal, friend or not. I went to the Grand Canyon, South Africa, walked a trail near my house, and have tickets booked for Toronto next weekend. In rechallenging my existence with interpersonal relationships, I incidentally rechallenged myself with travel and adventure. Blah, on both counts.
Having gone on these trips alone, I am glad I didn’t have to negotiate any other personalities. And that’s not just me looking on the bright side. I’ve travelled alone before in rebellion and found it pretty empowering. I think I have become quite comfortable in my solitude. That was a surprising result of this personal social experiment. I had originally hoped my time alone would help distill what I wanted in a friend and which friendships were worth pursuing. Unfortunately, I didn’t find any friendships worth actively pursuing. I really like myself.
The list of qualities I desire in a friend is not static, so it has been really hard to pin down. I want to feel heard and seen. I want to be considered valuable. As I’ve stated on this blog before, I really am interested in a community of single women who aren’t looking for a partner (or baby) to make their lives whole. There has to be more to womanhood than that right?
What I’ve learned is that those qualities are really hard to find and an honest genuine relationship is difficult to sustain. I don’t even know if I can offer what I seek to another person. Consequentially, it’s just easier to go at it alone. I know friendships are something you have to actively pursue and cultivate like any other relationship, and I’m not convinced I’m entirely ready or desiring to do my part.
In the aftermath, I did encounter two old friends that could probably use a friend right now, but I know they come from families where they have a lot of support. And even as it stands, it has been difficult to carve out time for the friendship (they are both working wives and mothers). By mid 30s, life has dealt us enough to naturally want to keep others a safe distance away. I see myself fading back into the background this time without wonder of what could have been.
The lioness and her pride…
Women in their 30s are fiercely protective of their lifestyle choices, myself included. It’s prime mating and child-rearing season, and I’m just the odd single girl. While I’ve suspected it for some time, it just took me this long to fully realize the extent of it. I wish someone had just told me, I would have saved quite a lot of mental energy and heartache. So I’m telling you, reader, it’s really hard to forge new female friendships at this stage (early twenties to seemingly mid-40s). The next stage is early empty-nesters and the dissolution of first marriages. There might be an opening there.