Wednesday, June 28, 2006


Beware: This is a monster post.

In my Declining Friendship post, I was quite pleased to note the number of good friends we have in our life. After more thought, I realized that this was not always the case. Before my marriage and in the first few years of marriage, I had very few close friends. I averaged one or two intimate friends and only a few casual ones. After reading the comments posted on Dr. Helen's blog, it all came back to me. So, I had to ask myself, what changed.

So here is what changed.

1) Effort: When I transitioned from high school to college, from one college to another college, and moved to get a job, I didn't do anything to maintain the friendships from that time in my life. Each year at college, I would make a new set of friends dependent on class schedule and roommate assignment. I had some magical thinking about the people I cared about. I imaged that I would somehow (magically) just bump into them on the street one day, even if I was now living in another state. I admit that I still think about many of these people today, but have no way of contacting them. Some, I don't even remember their full names. I secretly hoped that somehow they would find me.

2) Networking: I married an over-socialized-introvert, according to his therapist. Henry collects people. He keeps track of their phone numbers and addresses. The year before we got married, Henry sent out over 200 Christmas cards. The joke in my family was that even if I didn't marry him, my parents would still receive a Christmas card from Henry for the rest of their lives. Each year before Christmas, he gets on the phone to old friends to confirm their current address or to ask a mutual friend for contact information. Mostly, it is a pretext to call and chat. Many of us would like to get reacquainted with old friends, but feel awkward and need a reason to call. Christmas cards were a great connector.

However, Henry's network of friends was very hard for me at first. We couldn't go anywhere without bumping in to someone Henry knew. I'm an introvert who takes a little time to warm up to people. Suddenly, I had people who socialized with me because I was "Henry's wife." They already had a history together and I felt like a third wheel. In addition, Henry's extended family is very well connected with each other. It takes time to build a history with your spouse's relatives.

The first year of our marriage was the loneliest in many ways. When we married, I moved into the house that Henry already owned. While it was not far from my old apartment and friends, it was far enough that I had to make an effort to see them, something I wasn't in the habit of doing. My old friends were all single and marriage changed things. Most of Henry's friends were already married with children, so I didn't have much in common with them either.

Back then Henry had "friendship" problems too. He had many, many associations with other people, but few he could call intimate. While he could find a job easily through his connections, he still lacked good friends he could talk to about important things. I believe this is especially true for most men. In recent years, Henry's network of close friends is much wider. This is due to his increased maturity since getting married and becoming a father, and from the time he has spent working closely with other men at church.

3. Staying Home full time: Before we had children, I worked full time. Most of the friendships I have today began when I stopped working. Before I had children, I never talked to my neighbors. I worked, read books and occasionally did things with my room mates and later my husband. I think I must have watched TV back then because I literally can't remember what I did. I didn't really even do much housework either. We were both gone all day so the house didn't get very dirty. I think I was married over a year before I washed the kitchen floor.

As luck would have it, both my neighbor next door and the neighbor across the street had babies about the same time as I did. I noticed my next door neighbor walking her baby in stroller every morning at 9:30 am. So, I started doing the same. I would casually bump into her and then we would continue on together. Soon, we were doing more and more things together. It also helped that all of our children were born a few months apart, so we were at the same stage and the same time.

Another change I noticed after having children and staying home full time was that the relationship with my sister improved. She already had three children by the time I got married. My sister also ran a business. When I stopped working and she sold the business, we all of a sudden had time for each other. We now talk on the phone 3 or more times a week.

The relationship with my brother also improved when we were both married. Women are the connectors in my family. When women are too busy outside the family to connect, the family stays disconnected.

4. Children and The Nursing Mothers' Lounge. And now for the secret of friendship, hang out in the nursing mothers' lounge at church. (Gentlemen, sorry you're on your own here.) At our church, they have a small room on the back of the ladies' bathroom. It has a couch and a rocking chair. As needed, women can go there for a quiet place to nurse their babies and talk. Most of my early parenting information I gained there.

Children are great connectors to other people. I now have many friends through my children. These friendships began casually. Now after almost almost 12 years, I have many good friends. I find that a "good" friendship takes a few years to develop. You need a history with someone.

Now back to that socialization thing. I think many parents worry about pulling their kids out of school because that is where most of the parents' friendships start. I was worried when all my current friends' children went off to kindergarten. It did take effort on my part to continue those relationships when our life styles were so different. Only a few made that transition. It also took effort to go out and make new friends. Most of my child initiated friendships are now with other homeschoolers.

5. Service: Serving in a church or community organizations is a great way to make friends. Even spontaneous acts of service can build a friendship.

I gained one of my first new friends after getting married by watching our for a particular diaper bag and sitting next to it. When we got married, we began attending the church close to Henry's house. While Henry already knew some of the people there, I knew no one. One Sunday, I noticed a woman sitting alone with three young children who were having trouble sitting still. Her husband was leading the service and sat on the stand, so she had to handle the kids by herself. Early into the service she suddenly got up and walked out with all three kids. Curious, I followed to see where she was going. The woman walked out of the building, put her kids in the car and drove away. The next week we made a point of sitting beside her so that we could help out with the kids. We knew where to sit by looking for her diaper bag. She would use it to save a bench for her family while their kids played in the hall before the service started. After a few weeks of helping out, we invited the whole family over for dinner. This was the beginning of a wonderful friendship.


Today, we make more of an effort to connect more closely to others. I will just make up an excuse to call an old friend or distant cousin. When we travel, we make a point of looking up old friends and distant relatives.

Henry now has his jogging buddies. These men have the opportunity to talk while they exercise. Henry also gets together with a variety of friends about twice a month for lunch. It is a different mix each time. For example, Henry is having lunch today someone he used to work with over 10 years ago. Henry and this friend no longer move in the same circles, even though his old friend still lives and works in the area. Henry would never see this friend and many like him without making the effort to set up these lunch meetings.

I no longer have only 2 or 3 close friends. I have church friends, people I've worked with in service organizations, neighborhood friends, homeschool friends, family, one friend I made on the internet while doing research and one friend from high school/college.

[There's a funny story about my internet friend, Alden. When we first made contact and exchanged research information over email, I thought she was an older man. She later made a comment in an email about going to the movies with her girl friends. That got me wondering, so I sent an email introducing myself with a little information about my family. She responded in kind. We discovered that she was my age with two children about the same age as mine. On a resent trip, we met in person for the first time at the museum where she works. We got together a few times to visit and so the kids could play. It is the beginning of a wonderful friendship.]

Many people count their "online" connections as friends. I think that online contacts are potential friends, but need face-to-face meetings to develop. On the internet people are not always what the seem.

Close friendship takes time, effort and maturity. As a parent, I can help my children by teaching them the skills they need to interact with others on a mature level. Again, I don't think you can get that easily when you send your kids to school. At school, children might have a higher quantity of interactions with others, but a lower quality with a lower likelihood of success. I can give my children the opportunity to interact with others in constructive ways, such as doing service for others or in wholesome activies. I can make sure that my children have time to interact with a variety of people by not warehousing them all day in a room with only children their own age or filling up their evenings with homework.

In the end, maybe people are right. Socialization is what we should talk about when discussing homeschooling.

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Queen of Carrots said...

I really appreciate this post. My husband and I are in a very similar stage to what you describe in your early marriage--plus I'm on the other side of the country from all my former friends. We really want to have and be good friends, but we haven't yet had the chance to do it. This gives me hope that it will be worth the effort, even if it takes awhile for relationships to develop.

Janine Cate said...

Keep trying and good luck. It took me about two years of consistent effort before I felt like I had a real friend.

Something else we do that I forgot to mention is we regularly invite old and new friends to our home for dinner.