The nerve-wracking and empowering process of making a new friend after 30
My mother tells me it happens when you wait at the school bus stop with your child. There, I will find a smattering of mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, and the like. At the bus stop, people talk, she says. They joke and speak to you about things you've only been discussing with yourself in your own head. But my son is just 2 years old; we've got awhile before he takes the bus.
In the meantime, there are mom groups. Oh, I'm not a part of them—I just know a lot of women benefit from them. But, one time, I was invited by a neighbor who gets together with a lot of moms. She told me to come by and meet some of her friends, and then I plucked one of her friends to be my friend. I'm a friend plucker. We started talking while I was crouching beside a stable of goats at the local farm. My neighbor had organized a group playdate there with about five other moms and our six kids.
I'd first seen my new friend earlier that day when I was strolling my son down the narrowly paved walkway at the farm. She was helping her own son get a snack when we locked eyes. During those two seconds that we exchanged smiles, I could see that her child was about the same age as my son, that she had an approachable demeanor, and that she possessed a stylish understanding of leggings (pairing hers with a lengthy tunic and wedge sandals). Later, by the goat stable, my neighbor introduced us while a crowd of running, dancing, and frolicking children made noise in the background. I learned that my new friend was a frequent mom group participant, and I was impressed. Also intimidated.
This was my first time at the rodeo…farm. For the first year of my son's life, I was either alone or with family, so I was nervous to speak to a sociable veteran of the mom group. But in those few seconds between providing sippy cups and Goldfish to our kids, we managed to have a legitimate conversation. It turned out that we had a lot in common. Despite her mom group expertise and my natural introversion, we got along quite well. We talked about pregnancy, our husbands, our old jobs, our houses. And at the end of the playdate, she told me that we should get together and put her number in my phone.
I didn't realize it could be so easy.
Until that moment, my general experience was that it is super difficult to make new friends after you turn 28.
By that age, our personalities have mostly solidified and it's a tough gig to put yourself out there as you are. This is strange for me to type, but truthfully, it takes me almost a year to warm up to somebody now. I mean, I won't be a cold jerk, but you won't hear me crack a joke or tell you a personal story either. Not until about eight months in. As I approached 30, this was frustrating for some folks. That's probably why I don't have many friends.
I remember forming my friend group in high school. We were all in the same place, we were all girls, and we were all nerdy. It was only a matter of time before we meshed. In the real world, though, friends are optional. You don't have to be friends just because you're in the same place. And in our mid-20s, if we haven't dealt with some childhood issues already, those traits will probably pop up as we enter our third decade: I do a fantastic job projecting my problems onto other people. Stephanie isn't secure without a boyfriend. Jeff needs to get blackout drunk every weekend.
Adult friendship isn't always easy to navigate with the baggage we carry
This new friend and I had a few get togethers at public locations, like parks and a local play place. Then she and I both gently suggested that, maybe, we could go to each other's houses. When I first visited her home, our previously choppy conversations could blossom in an environment where there were toys and doors allowing us some alone time, away from our kids.
I even started to think that this could be a weekly thing. Maybe I could have a steady mom friend. A friend.
Soon we traveled back and forth to each other's houses and texted outside of the visits. There were even memes and gifs involved! That definitely means something! I'm pretty sure, through all of this, my plucked friend and I just became actual friends. We even went out without our kids—that's a huge step. We went to lunch and then to the mall. Like, she asked me to go to the mall after we had lunch together. A real friend move.
It's almost like dating, but without the awkward moment of the potential kiss at the end. But I do wonder if I should hug her. I don't think she's a hugger, so I've pretended as if I am also not a hugger. I do think hugs will be in order soon, but I don't want to scare her. This is very much like dating.
We had been seeing each other and our sons for about nine months. We introduced our husbands, had barbecues, and created a friendship rhythm of our own. Things were going smoothly. I felt as if my guard was coming down and I no longer needed to portray a perfect mom in a parenting magazine. I could just be the mom I am—one who sometimes lets her son watch too much TV or doesn't do the laundry for three weeks. The mom who truly misses, sometimes hungers, for her old life.
On one of our trips to the mall, my new friend and I went to Sephora. In the store, we would separate, then come together, checking out perfumes and chit-chatting about dry shampoo. It was exactly the sort of floaty, light conversation I want at Sephora. Lunch is for the heavy-hitting topics, like when she didn't seem disturbed by my hard-to-begin conversation about not wanting another child. As an only child myself, I've been told that I will traumatize my son should he not have a playmate, that he will be burdened as my sole caretaker when I am old and dying. It's really a very stressful and difficult topic for me to bring up, but she was miraculously non-judgmental in a world full of mommy shamers.
In Sephora after our heavy lunch conversation, we browsed the aisles of cucumber moisturizer, rose-tinted lip balm, and egg-shaped sponges. I have never been a makeup person, but after losing pregnancy weight, breast pumping, and strengthening my arms by holding my newborn, I felt an urge to be pretty. But when I saw the very beautiful and perfectly made-up women who worked there, I wondered if I'd missed the class on femininity.
Back in high school, my friends and I used to go to Sephora, look at those same products, and wonder why we weren't as pretty as the ladies working there. "All it takes is makeup, right?" We wanted so badly to mask our youth, our inexperience, our flaws. The thicker the makeup, the harder it would be to find us. We didn't realize that our beauty began before the eyeliner, the lip stain, and the mousse. Our pockets never had enough allowance or babysitting cash to even buy a wand of lip gloss, but we wandered the store, looking for our future selves in palettes of shimmering eyeshadows and tubes of foundation. What kind of woman would I grow up to become? The earthy, simple makeup gal? The glammed-up beauty queen? It turns out I'm the makeup-on-sale-at-Target gal, but my past self doesn't need to know that.
In Sephora with my new friend that day, though, something told me that I should give into my fantasies of fully dressing up because I want to, even if it's just for my 2-year old-son while we mold Play-Doh on his bedroom floor. I kind of like that feeling. I need to remember that it's okay to feel pretty. That I am a member of society. That I did become the person I hoped to be when I was younger, at least in a few ways.
That life goes on after 30: I have a new friend and it's okay to still be looking for my future self among the shelves of creamy lipsticks.
Someone likes me, and I'm thinking I like myself these days, too.