The Evolution of Friendship I Didn’t Expect

I woke up to a beautifully perfect day — sunny, 72 degrees, holiday weekend, no responsibilities. This is the kind of day where I will see big gatherings all over town of family and friends laughing and having fun times at picnics in the park, barbecues in the forest preserve, parties in the backyard, and games on the ball field.

I’m not invited to any of it. I woke up this morning assessing how I got to the point in life where I have no close friend or family group that gathers for holidays or vacations.

Don’t get me wrong. I do have family and friends. Though my only sibling is out of state, I have a big group of cousins who gather for major events like weddings. But they are much older, so they are each busy with their own kids and grandkids on holidays. As for my friends, they are like favorite clothes in the back of my closet that I rarely wear anymore.

On days like this, I think of three different women who are each part of a different tightknit group of couples who get together regularly for parties, dinners, drinks, entertainment, boating, and more. I believe they met in their neighborhood, but I don’t know for sure because my husband and I aren’t part of those inner circles. We feel like outsiders, which is ironic because 20 years ago two of those women lamented to me that they felt isolated with their young kids and envied the ties I had built with my close friend group, a group that splintered over the past two decades.

I have close friends that I could call if I was upset and needed someone to talk to. But I don’t call them. They are the nine smiling ladies in the wedding picture of me and my bridesmaids that my daughter, at age 4, picked up and asked me who they were and how I knew each of them. At that time 14 years ago, those friendships were ropes tied to me by strong and sturdy fibers. But since then, those friendships became fragile threads as they frayed over time because I didn’t add more strands to them by spending time together, or at least talking on the phone. (Liking or commenting on social media posts only adds microscopic fibers to the thread.) Four of them I haven’t talked to in more than a couple years, so I wouldn’t know the details of their current lives. Two of them I just met for dinner after not seeing them for a few years. Two of them I talk to only when I take an annual family trip to another state where they happen to live. And one of them became an investor in my business, so I make a point to arrange time for me and my husband to visit her and her husband about once a year. But as a collective, they are not friends with each other. I know them from different parts of my life. They are all connected to me, but we are not a group.

The same is true of my Facebook friends. Those are hundreds people I’ve met over the years from school or work that I knew during a particular phase in life and now see their updates online occasionally, though I don’t actually see them.

The only true groups of close friends I had in life were from high school and from college. When I was a student, I had that proximity to peers and plenty of time to socialize and form bonds that I didn’t have after the obligations of adulthood set in. I suspect this may be true for lots of people, aside from those fortunate enough to become part of a tightknit neighborhood group or workplace group.

My college friend group scattered to different states after graduation. We got together to attend each other’s weddings and one reunion weekend many years later. But I didn’t talk to them regularly. We were no longer a group. We didn’t live in the same city where we could do things together.

My high school group mostly still lives in the Chicago area, so we could get together as a group. But we don’t, probably because I don’t make it happen. For years, I was the one who maintained the ties with everyone in the high school group back before social media, when you had to call every few months to keep up with any phone number or address changes, because it wasn’t easy to find people if you lost touch. I did this because I moved out of state, and whenever I would visit I would put in the effort to contact everyone in the group and make plans. I was always amazed when they hadn’t talked to each other since the last time I was in town. I made a point of coming back to visit at least twice a year specifically to maintain those friendships. It gave me a reason to reach out. When I moved back to the Chicago area to start my family, my husband knew no one in the area. We relied on my friend group for our socializing, and after kids came along our gatherings were no longer about partying. I would reach out to get our kids together to play, and that worked great while my kids were very young. But once my children got involved in sports and music, these friends and their families in other suburbs suddenly seemed so far away. My world got small and revolved around my kids’ activities in our town. I loved all those parenting experiences, but my high school friends living in different suburbs eventually seemed as spread apart as my college friends in different states. We no longer got together as a group and barely one on one.

My husband and I did meet many other couples through our kids activities over the past two decades, and we see some of those friends a few times a year during an annual Christmas party, an annual Valentine’s party, and an occasional girls night out. Those caring parents reached out to us when our daughter was missing and in crisis, and I’m grateful for their friendship. But I’m not part of their inner crowd whose kids spent years playing together and families spent years vacationing together.

While some people form close bonds with work colleagues, I worked more than an hour away in another city for 15 years while raising my kids. So the connections I formed with my co-workers didn’t generally extend to my personal life. Few of them ever met my husband or my kids more than once or twice. For the past six years as my kids got older, my husband and I have been running our own businesses mostly from home, which is not conducive for forming work friendships. I’ve employed some people and partnered with others who became like friends, but we rarely socialize outside of the work environment. During that time I have also been hosting trivia once or twice a week, and I’ve gotten to know some groups of friends who meet to play trivia. I always look forward to staying after my shift and hanging out with them, because sometimes it’s the only socializing I do all week. But these groups knew each other long before they started playing trivia, so I’m not invited to their housewarming parties and weekends away at the cabins. I only see them on trivia night. And the colleagues my husband knows from some of his business endeavors are occasional party friends, but not much more. Now that our kids are grown and gone, we could put in more effort to get together with this group, But we’ve been eschewing partying in favor of spending our time on achieving dreams we put aside during our parenting years: I want to inspire thousands of moms through the MomSub app I developed, and he wants to inspire thousands of music lovers through the Musicians Channel website he developed.

But life is about connection, not just work, no matter how much you are committed to your career. With my husband traveling more these days, I am home alone with the cat a lot. And when I see others who are connected to a lively and active group of friends, I am now the one who is envious.

What I would love to find is a group of like-minded friends, other women or couples who want to talk about all the ups and downs of business and family while socializing, getting active outdoors, and enjoying fun entertainment. So I’ve joined professional organizations and mentor groups in recent years seeking that. But the few times I’ve gotten together with any of those members outside of the group to socialize, it wasn’t some exciting and fun-filled time. It was something simple, like having a meal or shopping or attending an event. I realize now it takes dozens of these little experiences to add up to a collective connection with one person or group. That requires investment and commitment of time.

Do I want to put in that effort? I do if the activities I’m engaged in with those potential friends are meaningful to me, if we’re doing things that thrill me, because I’ve become more intentional about how I spend my time. The best way to ensure that I’m enjoying those moments is to form my own group and set the agenda. I want to attract women who enjoy the same things I do, and I hope that will form a spark that blossoms into a friendship and eventually a group.

So on this beautifully perfect day, I’m going to do the normal things I try to do every day because I enjoy them: bike ride through the forest, listen to an inspiring audio book, write, edit video, talk to my family. And I’m planning to add a new one to my list with the hope that it also becomes a daily habit: Reach out to others who might want to become part of MY inner circle that spends time together in activities that thrill me: learning from each other about business and life, taking time away to dance and hike, and maybe having a picnic in the park with games and laughter on a holiday.

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