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If there’s one thing I envy my children it’s their ability to make friends as if it’s the easiest thing in the world. I see the process happen every day and it’s fascinating to watch: they see another kid, like the cut of their jib and wander straight over to open the conversation.
“Hi, what’s your name?” they say. “How old are you?”.
Those are literally the only two bits of information required to strike up a relationship, and after the questions are asked and answered the children happily trot off to play together for as long as their mothers (who are awkwardly wondering whether or not to speak to each other) let them. It’s amazing and I am jealous they find it so easy to strike up easy conversation and identify mutual interests.
I’ve often thought I might be able to apply the same logic to forging new adult friendships. I would give it a go, if only in the name of research for my blog, but when I imagine strutting up to a stranger I might like to befriend and enquire to their age and name, in the supermarket or Costa, perhaps, I go all hot and bothered with embarrassment. Speaking to strangers for the explicit reason that we want to befriend them – it’s not really the done thing, is it?
It’s one thing to realise you bear yourself and your soul when entering into a romantic relationship, but revealing your vulnerabilities to other women feels like something else entirely.
It’s only quite recently that I’ve began to see how absolutely vital the concept of adult friendship is. When I was married my female friendships weren’t a priority; I had the close friendship of my husband and I didn’t really feel like I needed anything outside of that.
How wrong I was.
In the last five years my female friends – all of whom I’ve grown mega close to since the divorce – have been my backbones. They’re the first people I turn to when it comes to work woes, love life issues, child-rearing questions: anything. It’s unfathomable to me now to think there was a time where they weren’t such a constant in my life. These brilliant women have come to me in a few different ways, and none of them involved strutting up to them in a public place to ask what their names were.
I met both Néva and Bryony on Twitter (remember? That Social Network we all used before Instagram came along?), Carlie is an ex-work colleague as is Caoimhe, and Sarah I met once through a friend before re-connecting online, with Claire and Hayley coming from the aforementioned Instagram. So basically, if it wasn’t for the apps in my phone I would be really thin on the ground when it comes to pals right now.
But our friendships haven’t been as effortless as I always assumed they might be. Friendships take work and endeavour: effort I’m always really happy to make, but effort that has put me out of my comfort zone on one occasion. It’s one thing to realise you bear yourself and your soul when entering into a romantic relationship, but revealing your vulnerabilities to other women feels like something else entirely. And I guess that, as much as we might want to make friends in our adult years, that thought can feel terrifying when contemplating the woman next to you in the Costa queue whose shoes you are admiring.
I made a friend earlier on this week, when at the gym waiting to work out. I’d just bought a coffee and she was sat next to her son at a six-person table: with seats thin on the ground I asked if she’d mind me perching on the end. “Of course!” she said, smiling at me. I returned her grin and sat down.
I had no idea what the next step might be when it came to forging a friendship. Should I ask her name? Get her phone number?
She looked at me again, telling me she and her son had just been discussing the potential name of the new Prince. We entered into a fun and enthusiastic 15 minute chat about royal baby names, Meghan Markle, the public’s expectation of modern royals… it was great. I liked her a lot.
But once she gave in to her son tugging on her sleeve and begging to go swimming, I had no idea what the next step might be when it came to forging a friendship. Should I ask her name? Get her phone number? See when she might be next at the gym? I did none of these things, instead waving her off with an “it was so lovely chatting to you”.
Why was I so scared to take it any further?
I can’t work it out. Fear of rejection, perhaps. Worry that by me asking to be in contact again, I will have revealed a vulnerability or desperation to her, one that, if snubbed, would hurt.
Even just thinking about this concept of making friends as an adult this week I feel has changed the way I approach people. I smile bigger, make more eye contact, enter into small talk with abandon. I haven’t been as scared to enter rooms of people – seeing everyone as a potential friend is much more positive than seeing everyone as a potential stranger – and I feel slightly more confident for it.
I might not be ready to ask the age of the woman I’m exchanging excited Monarchy and Markle-related small talk with, but I’m OK to enquire where she got her shoes. And maybe, just maybe, I can invite her for a more grown-up-appropriate coffee.