I fell in love with a girl in the desert. Actually, I fell in love with three. Three years ago my husband, cat and I moved to Albuquerque, New Mexico where we knew exactly no one. We left behind New York City, jobs in office buildings, food that came right to our door, and a community of friends we loved. It never occurred to me that it would be difficult to make new friends. I had done it all my life, growing up in a family of divorced parents, moving from home to home and state to state—a habit that I apparently hadn’t grown out of. During my twenties I lived in California, Oregon, New York and New Mexico, never staying in one place longer than a couple of years.
For me, the hardest part about moving to a new place is finding a community—a feeling of belonging. In my early twenties it was easy to meet new people, either in class or at work, who were likeminded and interesting. But as I got older, my time became more precious, and my friendships became fewer. The relationships that I did hold on to were intense and intimate, but also didn’t require a lot of hands on maintenance. I’ve never been very good on the phone and I tend to require a lot of time to simply sit and think or read, so my lasting friendships are with those people who are okay with the fact that I can, at times, be MIA.
Yet, despite my need for alone time, each time we moved to a new city my husband and I felt the loss of our former community of friends profoundly. Although, never as acutely as when we moved to New Mexico where the skies are big, the chile is green or red or Christmas, and we had no family or friends to speak of. I especially missed my girlfriends and dreaded the inevitable desperate longing to fit in with a new group of ladies.
What I didn’t anticipate was that when you start getting older the number of opportunities to meet new people shrinks. Especially when your husband works from home, you are in grad school and are wary of spending all your free time with your colleagues, and the idea of things like “meet ups” is sort of terrifying. We spent months waffling between casual get-togethers with people from school and nights alone cuddling our cat and new puppy and one another. Despite being busy with school and trying to keep in touch with some of my best girlfriends scattered across the country, I knew that I needed some time with girlfriends in real life. And just when I was really starting to despair, one night, it happened. I was taking a seminar on Contemporary American Novels and the woman I was sitting next to who I knew but wasn’t close to invited me to dinner with her at a friend’s house.
And thus, a love story began. It is impossible to pinpoint what attracts one person to another, or what makes friendships lasting, or why some people fall in love while others drift apart, but that night, in a small apartment near campus in Albuquerque, while the sun set over the Sandias, I knew I’d met three soul mates.
There is one advantage to making new friends when you’re in your thirties—you know who you are a lot better than you did in your twenties. You have a better idea of what you want to do with your life, when you’ve had enough to drink, and you’ve finally unsubscribed from Urban Outfitters emails. On that first night, the first of over a hundred of what we’d come to refer to as “Girl’s Night,” over spaghetti and fake meatballs (because one of us is vegan) with a three year old boy running around in a t-shirt and only a t-shirt (because one of us is a mom), I found that I wasn’t the shy, desperate to fit in person of my past. Instead, I fell right into the rhythm of the conversation and I blurted out opinions and laughed out loud and drank a gallon of wine and smiled with all of my teeth because I knew I had found something real and necessary and too often discounted as flippant or melodramatic or silly. That night I found female friendships.
And now, as I have just moved (again!) back to California, I feel a great sense of loss. But also, I know that my time with those three loves of my life taught me something invaluable—female friendships are essential, intensely intimate, and often more fulfilling and much longer lasting than romantic relationships. I’ve come to rely on my girlfriends more and more as I’ve gotten older. Perhaps this is because as you get older you are more likely to shed your “cool girl” skin and finally tell the men in your life “no” for a change; or maybe you have found women who can make you laugh and cry and think all over the course of a bottle of wine; or, most likely, it is because as you get older you really do get wiser and you realize that sometimes what you need more than anything is to sit down and share a meal with your very best girlfriends.
Jill Dehnert is a writer originally from Oregon. She is passionate about reading, learning how to frame photos of food correctly on Instagram, and has a love-hate relationship with jumping lunges. Currently living in San Diego, she is working on a YA novel about female friendship, evangelical Christianity, and the shifting tectonic plates of Southern California. Find out more on her website and follow her on twitter.
[Image via HBO]