It’s hard to make friends out of other people, isn’t it? Growing up, you sort of do it without thinking about it, and as a child, most of my friendships happened incidentally; I was enrolled in a public school, given an assigned seat in each class, and naturally struck up conversation with the person directly in front of, behind, or beside me; sometimes, we clicked, and sometimes, we didn’t. But sometimes, we did.
Many of my other friendships were formed at church; not while sitting along the church pew during the main service, because talking in the sanctuary is disrespectful (eye roll), but while sticking around for potluck lunches, ambling into and out of early morning worship classes, and embarking on youth trips. I went caving, hiking, and backpacking with my old church youth group, and being a part of these events and participating in these activities helped boost my self confidence in social situations, at least a little bit. Come to think of it, church was where I met my best friend of eight years — Melissa — and my husband of five years, Christopher. Interesting to reflect on.
But outside of school and church congregations, work is the next best place to find and make friends — and after all three of these resources have been exhausted, well.. good luck.
I was enjoying my usual Saturday routine this morning when a stranger interrupted it. Wanna know more about it? Ohhhhhhhkay. I hate typing out lengthy, overly-detailed, and mundane blog entries, but..
I parked my car at Railroad Park this morning and then secured my bike to a pole so that I could wander off and read for a bit. The temperature was low and the wind was blowing, making things feel chilly; I grabbed a comforter out of the car, walked over to a sunny and secluded area, and then sprawled out on the ground with the eighth Harry Potter book (which a co-worker AND FRIEND graciously allowed me to borrow). I picked up where I had left off in the book and finished the novel within about 90 minutes. Rolling over and checking the time, I realized that I needed to continue on with my journey; that I still had antique shop and cafe visits left on the agenda.
I dropped the comforter, and the book, off at the car and then unchained my bike from the pole. On my way to the bike pole, I had smiled at everyone I’d seen, including a young gentleman who had been looking glum, sitting by himself on a bench. When I hopped onto my bike and began turning it around, I was startled to see the glum-looking fellow standing directly behind me, smiling shyly.
“Do you go to school at UAB?” he asked, out of nowhere.
He’s either going to ask me out or ask me for money, I prophesied, my mind racing.
“…no,” I answered, slowly and carefully. “I can’t afford attending UAB right now, but I’m saving up for it — maybe someday!” I threw in hopefully. “Do you attend UAB?”
He shook his head no. “I plan to,” he added, his answer basically mirroring mine.
“Ahhh.. okay.” I nodded, looking at him, feeling helpless, and begging the universe to nudge this guy into concluding the conversation.
“What is your name?” he asked (instead).
“Jace. And yours?”
He gave it, but I couldn’t understand him the first time he said it (he spoke with a heavy accent); he repeated his answer, and then I understood him. “Abraham.. great name!” I complimented.
“I would like to be your friend,” he stated, very openly. It completely took me off guard.
I nodded. “Awww, yeah! So you said you plan on attending UAB; did you just move here recently?”
He shared that he’d moved to Birmingham eight months ago, for school and work. I asked him where he had moved from; Chicago. I asked him where he worked now; the Coca Cola factory. I asked him if he’d found a circle of friends to hang with, locally.
“Trying to,” he answered simply, shrugging, smiling and looking down at the ground. He was precious. And I still didn’t know if he wanted to date or rob or kill me or actually just wanted to be my friend.
Because the last few times I’ve written letters to girls and claimed that I wanted to be friends with them, I also, not-so-entirely-secretly, hoped to someday date them. One of them, anyways.
There was an awkward silence simmering between us, Abraham and I. “Well we should hang out sometime,” I decided suddenly, out loud, and then wanted to punch myself in the throat.
“When?” he asked.
Damn it. “How about I get your phone number,” I suggested, reaching into my pocket and already feeling relieved by this solution. I’ll have his number and he won’t have mine and I’ll never ever text him.
“I am.. without phone right now..” yeah; he is totally going to rob me.
“Okay,” I began, slowly nodding up and down and reaching for another solution. “Well have you heard of Saturn?”
He didn’t understand me the first time I said it, so I repeated my question and explained that it was a coffee shop. He responded that he had heard of the place and that he was vaguely familiar with where it was located.
“Then how about we meet at Saturn sometime?” I offered.
I hoped that he would nod in a general “sounds good” kind of way, like I’ll just magically show up there and you’ll be there too and we’ll hang out then, but he asked – again: “When?”
I didn’t want to set a date that was too far off into the future, but I also didn’t want to drop my plans for Saturday (like they were hot — ever heard that one?), so I said: “I have a religious thing with a friend tomorrow,” (which was true), “but how about we shoot for 12?”
He nodded, looking happy.
“Now.. I will TRY to make it,” I assured him, “but if I don’t, you’ll still enjoy the place, anyways. It’s REALLY cool.”
We parted ways quickly after establishing the where and when and then I pedaled away at as discrete a fast pace as possible.
And immediately following our exchange, I spent 30 minutes interrogating myself: What are you really going to do, Jace? Do you actually plan on meeting up with this total stranger at your very favorite coffee shop? AND WHY in Hiro’s name DID YOU HAVE TO MENTION YOUR VERY FAVORITE ONE? You could have named some place you’d be okay with never visiting again so that, if you DO meet up with this guy and he turns out to be a creep-o, you won’t be afraid to go back.
I tried to reason with myself: The safe and responsible thing would be to NOT go. You don’t know this human being at all and you don’t owe him anything. You even warned him that you might not show up, so he should be expecting that you won’t.
But then I pictured this sad-looking guy sitting at a table by himself tomorrow afternoon; turning his head to look at the door every time he hears it open and, every time I don’t walk through it, feeling like a total loser; rejected, unimportant, and inconsequential. And I couldn’t bear doing that to someone — making anyone feel that way. I’d hate to feel that way, and I have before. How could you willingly subject somebody to something that you’ve experienced before and that you know is unpleasant?
Well if you’re going to go, AT LEAST bring somebody with you, I pleaded.
And this sounded like a good idea. A wise idea. I’ve yet to solicit anyone’s help, but if you happen to be reading this and you’re a local pal.. how about we grab coffees together at Saturn tomorrow? Say 12ish? I’ve actually got a new friend I’d love to introduce you to.. 🙂
In all seriousness, I do plan on going, simply because I know – personally – how difficult it is to make friends with new people and to sustain old friendships, and if you’re feeling really down and out, having one single friend who cares could be the difference between you staying here or leaving here. <That’s personal testimony, right there.
And I’ve tried to “make friends” over the course of the past year.
I knew, back in November ’15, that I needed a large and present support system to help me get through one of the strangest chapters of my existence, so I made it a point to reach out to people and to get out of the house, attending various social and work events and playing open mics and popping up ‘here and there’ when I wanted nothing more than to be curled up at home, sad and alone. Not only did some of my old friends show up — co-workers, old church pals, and school friends — but I was also able to forge and develop new friendships with artists, with members of the LGBTQ community, and with people who can’t really be classified. But three recent attempts at forming new friendships failed.
The first attempt failed because the person (who I hung out with on two separate occasions) seemed to enjoy – to an excessive degree – speaking on the topic of sex; I won’t go into detail (because ew), but our conversations made me very uncomfortable. It was honestly unfortunate that this person and I couldn’t become closer friends, because he was — other than being sex-obsessed — brilliant and creative and interesting. But I’ve realized that you shouldn’t compromise what you’re looking for in a friend (or partner) and that it’s okay to draw boundaries and to be selective about who you choose to associate with; try asking yourself: does this person bring me more joy than not? Do they cause me any discomfort or harm? Do they challenge and influence me to be a better person, or are they a discouraging and weighted presence in my life?
The second attempt at forging a new friendship failed because I gave my number to a person who asked for it, told them that I’d like to hang out “sometime in the future” (they wanted to teach me how to play chess, which sounded fun) and that I preferred texting to calling, and then they called me – twice – the following day. I texted that I was at work and that, afterwards, I was heading to a bike meet, and then they called me again. I knew, right off the bat, that this would be a friendship that I would not be able to sustain, and that that was okay. Our conversations naturally fizzled out as he wouldn’t text me back and I refused to call him.
And the third attempt basically crash-landed before it had lifted itself all of the way off of the ground. I asked the person if they wanted to get coffee together and, after us having a mature and candid conversation together regarding the nature of our date (I wanted us to keep things friendly; their intention was more so to see if we’d be good dating material), we decided to postpone the meet-up and it just never ended up happening at all.
I’ve thought of creating a “Platonic Pals Friends Club” for Birmingham locals, but I know that it would just go to shit anyways, because one “friend” would decide to date another “friend” and then it would just become a pseudo-named dating/hook-up club that wasn’t platonic at all. And that just isn’t what I’m going for.
So I’m going to give Abraham a chance tomorrow, because maybe flagging down and announcing to a complete stranger that you want to befriend them isn’t actually so incredibly weird. I’ll keep you all posted on what happens — if I can, anyways; if I don’t show up at work on Monday, well.. it’s been really interesting and I’ve enjoyed every single minute of this life. Even the saddest and loneliest and darkest ones. I mean that.
Still here (for today, anyways),
Before you go, I’d like to pose a friendship challenge: What’s your most interesting friendship story? How it began, or why it ended? If you don’t mind sharing, I’d love to read about it — just post a comment below.