Saturday, April 26, 2014

Grown Up Friends

A few weekends ago I went to Palm Springs for a bachelorette party thrown in honor of a California girlfriend that I've known for a few years now. We’re kindred spirits, like-minded in many ways, and I value our friendship so much that I didn't think twice about attending her bachelorette party as an outsider among her childhood and college friends. Distracted by work quite a bit these days, the fact that I would be the stranger in the midst didn't even cross my mind until I was on the way to the airport.

I was relieved to find the bride’s friends were all as approachable, fun and quirky as she is. I also had the good fortune of seeing at least a few familiar faces; and thankfully being social and building relationships is not unnatural to me. Still I found myself feeling surprisingly insecure throughout the weekend. Self-critical thoughts like “stop talking so much” or “don’t talk about yourself” kept popping up. Even though I was having a good time and enjoying everyone’s company, I kept self-correcting and judging myself harshly.  I’d crack a well received joke and in the next breath think, “Ugh. You’re trying too hard to be funny.”

We arrived on Friday afternoon and by Saturday evening, the self-critical inner monologue was unsettling enough to me to break out the champagne and “college Liz.” I don’t drink much anymore and “college Liz” has been long dead and buried, but being the “new girl” among old friends stirred up a kind of insecurity that is relatively new to me. Sure I’m accustomed to hypercritical self-awareness when it comes to my performance at work or to my personal appearance, but I’m not used to it in the social space. Being engaging, funny, charming and conversational with new people-that’s supposed to be my sweet spot.

Making new friends as an adult makes me feel vulnerable in a way I don’t remember ever feeling before. After college, we’re deprived of the disarming experiences (like sharing dorm bathrooms or 8 years of math class) that serve as catalysts for lasting bonds. As grown-ups we’re faced with making new friends in stifling professional environments or places like bars and buses that are anything but conducive to making authentic personal connections. If you’re a transplant like I am, then you know that infiltrating a group of lifelong friends is a whole other complicated gauntlet. Still, I used to feel well equipped for these challenges. Why does it feel so much harder the older I get?

My childhood and college girlfriends have always been a great source of strength for me; I always had this feeling that if I could see myself the way they saw me I would be much better off. Those friendships have always made me feel loved, needed, wise, funny, smart – everything a good friendship should make you feel. But those friendships and those women are all very far away. The women I met over my first few years in San Francisco made me feel embraced, accepted and appreciated. Now that most of them have had children and/or left the city, I ’m facing my fourth cycle of making new friends. In the absence of all the women with whom I’ve built uplifting relationships over the years, an unfamiliar social self-consciousness fills the void left by the positive reinforcement of their laughter and energy. The quiet though, as uncomfortable as it is at times, has revealed a pressing need. I have to learn to love myself in the silence and the noise. I have to learn to draw my sense of self worth from within.

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