Am I the only 31 year old who feels stressed about having a birthday party? And I don't mean that I get stressed in the two weeks before the big day- I feel vaguely concerned about the concept all year long. Here's what worries me about having a birthday party - or any sort of party for that matter : I'm not sure if I have enough friends.
Then again, how many friends am I supposed to have at this point in my life? Do you ever see a photo online of some merry gathering going on around a wood-stove, everyone wearing wool and flannel, and do you ever ask yourself how in the world does this person have all those friends? How did they all meet? And how did they all organize themselves to be sitting in front of that wood stove all at the same time? How is it that half of them didn't bail because they were too tired after work?
Even more troubling is when I see the Merry Gathering happening in person. I swear the West End Bakery hires people to sit in large groups, share muffins, and laugh. How else could those people all be gathering and enjoying themselves in such large numbers on a Tuesday afternoon?
Here's my social life history, in a nutshell. I lived in Seattle for eleven years, age 17-28. I went to college for 5 years and I stayed. I had boatloads of friends. It was ridiculous. I had friends from my college ultimate team and Riot and five year's worth of city league teams, and friends from the climbing gym, I had my crew on the boat as we were thick as thieves, I had my lifelong college friends and I had friends who kayaked, skied, and hiked, I even had a handful of high school friends who had drifted out West over the years, and I had my best friend, Lisa.
Finding it all a bit overwhelming (also, I was priced out of that city, a different story) I moved to Asheville, North Carolina when I was 28. I knew one person, my old friend Yonton, a true champion in my life. I started seeing Dave my second night in town. I was thrilled to have a real boyfriend, until then I'd only had quasi-boyfriends. Having grown up and gone to college in North Carolina (and gone to camp nearby- we all know how important camp can be) Dave had lots of friends. Some of them became my friends. But they are always his friends first- that's just how it goes.
So I had Yonton, and I had my boyfriend, and we had Dave's old friend Erich. Erich became my very best friend (with the exception of Lisa.) We spent all day together working and studying, and when Dave finished his work day he'd join us and we'd hang out for the rest of the evening. Erich is sardonic and dark and very, very smart. We got along so well, and that along with living in the happy haze of dating Dave and living with Yonton meant I never really wanted for anybody else.
Then Dave and I moved in together and got married, Erich had the gall to leave us for medical school, and I got very sick. I got so sick in fact that some people did not want to spend time with me. I was skinny, my teeth chattered, and I scared them. I could no longer run around and go mountain biking or drink beer afterwards, which is all the things I used to do with my friends. And those who did stick by me had to put up with a lot of my canceling at the last moment. That wears on a friendship, regardless of the circumstances.
I didn't have much to talk about in the last year. I was a little bit depressing, I can own up to that. 2016 really took a toll on my social life. However, as I start to bounce back, I'm realizing that making friends in your early 30s is hard, and keeping friends is complicated- chronic illness or not. Some days I feel really lonely. Other days I'll feel perfectly satisfied and connected. Some evenings I want to go out with a friend more than anything else in the world, and the next day I'm praying the phone does not ring. If I make plans on a Monday to hang out on Friday, I'll spend the whole week wondering why in hell I made plans! Then Friday comes along, I drag myself out of the house, and end up always having a really good time. None of it makes a lot of sense.
In some ways, Dave and I are still very social. People are always coming to visit and staying in our extra room, which is technically my bedroom. My husband and I each have our own bedrooms, which I would recommend to anybody, but that's a different story.
I'm always changing the sheets and preparing that room for another visitor. But to be honest, they are mostly David's camp friends who are visiting Asheville on the way to somewhere else. I can't count on them to be in town for my purely hypothetical and much-dreaded birthday party.
I spend a lot of time by myself, as I've mentioned here many times. I choose to have it that way. But sometimes, after sun set on a Thursday or Friday night when I'm cooking dinner and listening to the radio, the question falls from the ceiling and lands on my brain:
Oh my God. Do I have any Friends at all??
Of course. The answer is yes. But let me rephrase that question.
Do I have any friends who live nearby, who would absolutely definitely attend my birthday party if I were to plan it two weeks from today? One or two, yes- but a whole birthday party's amount?
That is a stickier question. It seems as if the entire business of making and keeping friends in this stage of life- adulthood, post-college, late 20s, thirties- is a whole lot tricker than it used to be. The very concept of having a friendship, what you want to get out of it, what you're able to put into it, has become more of a challenge. Sometimes I wonder- and I'm not proud of this, but I wonder if I even want to have many friends. It feels easier sometimes to just go about things alone. I think that's a deceptive feeling, but it's there.
I mentioned this topic on Instagram yesterday and the response was quick. Here are a few of the forty-odd comments I received :
@Jennikawatson : SO TRICKY! The more life experiences we have, the harder it is to find people we have stuff in common with who are in similar mindset/stage of life (I think??)
@Snider.love : Ughhh it's so true. I also find it being so exhausting. I love my friends from college...even if they live a million miles away. And yes I know I should have local friends. But ohhh the effort alone sounds yuck!
@hello_rebekah : It's so tough! For me I think it's actually been a period of redefining what friendship is - and what it is not. You know, what I expect from friendships (not much it turns out) and what expectations I am not willing to have others place on me. Also I've spent the last decade or so moving around like a nomad so that adds an interesting layer.
@jesgearing : Totally just got waaaay out of my comfort zone this week and asked an acquaintance out on a friend-date. I mean, I didn't word ti that way, but that's how it felt. She came over, we drank kombucha & made cauliflower steaks, and we chatted it up for hours. Turns out we're both feeling alone &unsure in this town. Asking was so hard...but totally worth it.
@midbynorthwest : so awkward! And getting into new friend circles is the worse.
@lissmiss : Really hard, you have to be so much more intentional with your relationships, and there aren't natural places (like school!) where friendships are so easy they're taken for granted. I'm also increasingly more picky about the people I spend time with, which further complicates things.
@ashley_mersereau : it's sooo hard! Like people have mentioned above, it kind of feels like dating.
To my great relief, I'm learning that it's not just me who has been grappling with this for the last few years. I used to wonder if my blog readers had picked up on my dwindling social life, but I was too scared to bring it up. For the record, I do have people here in town with whom I've grown extremely close (I almost titled this post 'Thank God for Whitney') - it's just that I have less of them than I ever have. And despite some evidence to the contrary (I won't say all evidence) those Saturday evenings when I'm cooking and listening to the radio and generally enjoying myself, this one ghastly thought will often come barreling into the kitchen and ruin the whole evening:
Oh my God. Am I a complete loser?
Loser. That's a terrible word. I would never use that word about anybody else, except for myself during particularly vulnerable moments.
And then I'll think- But how could that be true, how could I be a loser when I feel very satisfied and content most of the time? Sure, I have the normal frustrations and failures and non-starters (actually, probably more of those than average lately, although it's hard to gauge since nobody talks about it) but generally- I'm doing alright....right?
I've been thinking like this for quite a while now. I never had the guts to bring it up before, because I always figured my blog was my brand and my brand was me, and if I opened up about my insecurities over my social life everyone would run screaming from my general direction and it would become a whopping self fulfilling prophecy.
I guess now we'll see if that's true. There is a lot to say on this topic, as was made clear on the instagram comments. Consider this the introduction post in a small series. If you'd like to join to conversation then leave your thoughts in the comments, and we'll discuss them in the next post, just a few days from now.
Until then, take care of each other, keep warm, and remember : listening to the radio and cooking up a little something for dinner is a perfectly respectable way to spend an evening. Especially in the winter.