In the Methodist preschool at the bottom of my street, sitting at a round table near a bright window, approximately 100 years ago, I made my first best friend. I honestly can’t remember if I went up to her, pony tail swinging, or if she came up to me, but I do remember that the conversation went about like this:
“Want to be friends?”
We quickly discovered that we both liked ballet and that was that. We were best friends until I moved away just before the fifth grade. We were in every class together, we played all the time, and I even visited her a few times after we moved when we were in town seeing my grandparents.
Circa 100 years ago. Who wouldn't be friends with a cutie like this?
It’s a singular time when making a friend is just that easy. There’s no fear of rejection, no worrying that you’ve said the wrong thing, no wondering if you should call or if she should call, no hurt feelings if you see her out with someone else. That all comes later.
When you’re a military family, not only do you move all the time, but you make friends all the time. Unlike moving, which is pretty easy for me to grasp and organize and become fairly efficient at, making friends remains more challenging. I’m an introvert by nature. The thought of going to mixers and socials on my own, while not terrifying, is not appealing. Likewise, starting conversations with random women while getting my nails done or waiting in line to pick up kids. It’s not something that comes natural to me.
At a time in life when I feel like most people live near their closest friends—the ones they made in preschool—I am getting ready to move again. Having only just started to feel somewhat settled in Illinois, we are off to Kansas and what’s more, we’re off to Army life for a year.
The one bonus to so much moving is that after a few years you tend to know someone or at least have a mutual friend with someone in the place you’re going. In fact, one of the other Air Force families that will be stationed in Kansas is best friends with one of my friends from another base. Instant friend, right? I always hope so. But what I have learned is that all those other people know other people too. It’s no longer the case that it’s your first base and everyone is new and it’s a super-intense bonding time. And I’ll tell you, I’m still friends with those girls, and I know any one of them would have my back today. No, the further you go in life, the harder it is to become enmeshed in the web of true, long-term friendship. There are prior friendships, school obligations, and life obligations that often make it hard to form those deep bonds.
All I really want is to live in the same town as my parents and my awesome sibilings-in-law and one of my oldest middle school friends and let my kids grow up in a space where there are all these grownups that love them the way we do and where there are all these cousins that can be their forever friends. It kind of kills me that I can’t provide that for approximately 10 years.
This is the first move too, when H will be in elementary school. From here on out, it’s just going to get harder on her. I wince because I know that we have some rapid fire years coming where we may bounce around a bit. For my very introverted girl this could be an opportunity for serious growth or an impetus to hide in her inner world. That means I have to set the example.
I don’t love the idea of starting over AGAIN. Of worrying that I’ll say the wrong thing or make friends with someone who turns out to be false or feel like I’ve failed to find that close friend in a new place. But if I don’t try, how can I expect H to? And if I don’t show her over and over that we can go out and be friends and make ourselves vulnerable, how can I honestly support and understand when it doesn’t work, as it sometimes doesn’t?
I yearn for the times when a mutual love of ballet could cement years of friendship. It seems so easy. But I’m not a kid and there’s more to life than the smooth precision and easy joy of dance class. There’s struggle, and grief, and grace, and joy to fill life out in ways I couldn’t imagine as a child. And as sorely as I wish that I could stay safe in my circle of already friends, who know my wrinkles, I also have to remember how much those friends have made me grow by challenging me in ways I never expected. Who’s to say this next friend might not be one I’ll cherish forever? How could I miss that chance?
So, want to be my friend?