Growing up, I don’t remember a time in my life when I wasn’t surrounded by friends. My brother, sister, and I lived in a house on the lake with our mom. My grandparents lived next door, and they had a pool — with a slide and a diving board, y’all. It was a big deal to a bunch of kids.
People would pile into the cars of whomever they could convince to bring them by, and we’d all spend long days sunning at the sand bar or swimming until our fingers and toes were squishy, shriveled prunes. At the end of the day, we’d head back to the house, go upstairs to my room, and collapse in a tangle of tan legs on my bed to gossip half the night away.
Some nights, we’d sneak out and go night swimming or sit on the rickety weathered boards of the boat house and drop a line in the water while we talked. I remember how luminous and beautiful the water looked in the dock light, as though we were at some emerald-springed beach and not a swampy corner of Lake Marion.
When I graduated high school, I threw caution to the wind and moved from our sleepy Southern town to Hawaii for college. At the time, my parents couldn’t take me over for orientation, so my then-boyfriend-now-husband Jay volunteered to fly over with me. (See? Total keeper.)
In the months leading up to the big move, people constantly asked if I was scared or nervous. My answer was always a resolute “no.” Because I wasn’t either of those things. But on the night before our flight left, I left my bedroom in the middle of the night and crept into the guest room in which Jay was sleeping.
I squeezed into the tiny twin bed he was sleeping on, quickly but inadvertently waking him. There, I hugged his neck tight . . . and I cried. For an hour, probably, until I fell asleep. Not a soul in the world has ever heard this story until this very moment.
I didn’t cry because I was afraid of the unknown that I was headed toward — I cried for the world I was leaving behind. My friends. Because then, at that point in my life, those people propped up my universe.
The next morning I crept back into my room before my mom woke up, and Jay nor I have ever mentioned it again. I think he always just understood I needed the room to feel what I was feeling in that moment. To grieve, and to get on with it. Which is precisely what I did.
Arriving in Hawaii, the air was sticky and sweet and I never could have predicted how difficult and wonderful the following months would be. After Jay left, I knew no one. And in such a large university, meeting people in class proved more difficult than I’d imagined, too.
Soon enough, though, I did make friends — friends that I’m fortunate to still keep in touch with today. My memories of my time in Hawaii are dotted with days skipping class to go to Waikiki Beach, midnight walks to Jack in the Box, hitting the 7-11 for slushies and mana pua, taking the bus to Ala Moana Mall and, mostly, laughter.
Over the years, I would move several more times. I married a military man, and our life became very mobile. For a time, it felt like a grand adventure: trying on different cities as though they were coats I wanted to test the fit of. Along the way, we made friends and created unforgettable memories — backyard BBQs, watching A Christmas Carol at the historic Hartford Stage Company, listening to NFL’er LaDainian Tomlinson speak at a sunrise service in Oceanside.
When Jay got out of the military, we moved back to the Charleston area, and I took a job working at a local magazine. There, I met my tribe. The women who, for the next nearly six years of my life, I would spend every day with and tell all my stories to. Some came and went, but we always kept in touch.
I think it was the birth of our daughter when that slightly imperceptible shift occurred that happens in parenthood. Our priorities changed, and we decided to give living out in the country near my family a try. Once again, we were on the precipice of leaving behind a life we’d built and that we loved. And we did. We made the leap.
A few years and another baby later, upon realizing in all certainty we were not cut out for country life, we headed back to Charleston. And while it was still the same beautiful city we’d left it, some things were different. We had been away, and life had continued rolling along at an ever-quickening pace.
I no longer worked in the office with the girls whom I loved so much, and my life was now consumed with other work. And with the work of motherhood.
We’ve been back for several years now and find that building up meaningful friendships simply isn’t as easy and instantaneous as it was in our youth. When you are younger, friendships are so effortless. Striking up a conversation is like striking a match — just like that, a friendship is sparked.
But it’s a tricky thing, isn’t it? Making friends as an adult.
The addition of so many tiny humans in the mix only complicates this delicate matrix and, more often than not, I find myself having to cancel plans to get together with old friends. Or I find myself feeling unsure about making a “date” with a new friend. Because that’s what forging friendship in this phase of life is like, right? A perpetual first date.
So often, I long for the thoughtless ease of childhood, when making friends was merely a matter of existing in the same space as another person. Now there are so many considerations that factor into a friendship, like distance, and politics, and religion. As children, we lived in a vacuum.
I don’t have any easy answers to this conundrum, as I don’t think there are any. I think you have to work harder to form friendships as you get older. The hope is, though, that by forming these friendships with such intention you will find a touchstone for your soul in another person.
As my husband likes to say, if it was easy, everyone would be doing it. Being hard is what makes makes the having of something so rewarding. If that reward is awkwardly fumbling through conversations with 100 new faces to find one that I can bare my authentic self to, the juice will have all been worth the squeeze.
It’ll feel like coming home.