Yesterday I met an interesting woman named Beatrice. We met for coffee at Panera with a new friend of mine, Toby. Beatrice was born in Germany and then immigrated to the United States as a young adult. She was talking about the differences between the two countries and one thing especially struck me. She said that in America a great deal of emphasis is placed on family. In Germany she said, after you grow up you replace your family with friends. Friends become your primary focus. I thought that was interesting. I don't think it is a universal rule here because not everyone is close to their families usually due to dysfunctions, but for the most part I think yes. I certainly know that is the case for me, both my family of origin and my children. I have put much less importance on friendship. The unfortunate part is that my family is scattered across the country and cannot meet my everyday needs of connection.
My father once told me that his biggest regret was not keeping the friends that had come into his life. When I think about the people who have passed though my life, the ones I remember and the ones I don't, I know exactly what he meant. Of all the thousands of people I have know, and the many I have counted as friends there are only 3 that I still have contact with and only one on a regular basis. The problem with not hanging on to friends is that you have to keep making new ones (if you want to have friends.)
In grade school, middle school and high school, making friends was easy. College was a little harder for me but still easier than real life. It turns out that there is a reason for that. You saw the same people every day and being in consistent close proximity fosters friendships. It is the same for the work place. When I think about it, I have had very few friends over my life time that were not in school with me or worked with me.
Part of my problem as and adult with making and keeping friends has been that I was looking for that same connection that I had had in grade school and high school. The intensity. The best friend. As a child and adolescent I talked to my friends on the phone at least once every day and usually more often. We spent the night together. We hung out at least several times a week and saw each other everyday at school. But when you get out of school, life is different. You have work and family and other obligations and it is easy for things to get in the way. You may see work friends every day but it is not the same. They have families and obligations of their own.
The first time I went to therapy, I was a young woman with young children. What I discovered rather early on in the therapy was that I was extremely lonely. My therapist asked me what I had to offer other people and I could not come up with the answer. She finally had to tell me that in friendships the only thing you have to offer is yourself. But that, that is enough. I think I understood that as a child, as an adult I forgot. As with most of life, remembering what we instinctively knew as children is important But we also have to make adult changes. I have had to learn how to accept friendships in what ever form or frequency they take.
It turns out that when you get older (and I am really talking about women here) you need to replace that one or two best friends with many friends. One person can no long satisfy all your needs. There isn't enough time. Some experts say you need five close friends and some say seven. But you need more than one.
I have been very lucky this past year in finding a girl friend, Charlotte, that I feel closer to than I have felt to anyone in a very long time. And because of that friendship I find myself wanting more. So I went looking.
First, I posted an ad on Craig's list. I got several responses, met a couple of women but didn't make a connection with either. And then I found a website called Girlfriendcircles.com. Shasta, the founder understands how hard it is for women to make quality friendships and she has done something about it.
Next blog: Girlfriendcircles and the science behind women friendships.