Listen to this story
Sitcoms have led us to believe that it’s easy to pick up a group of 5 or 6 close friends to spend all of our free time with in our 30s, and yet it’s not simple at all. We have this longing to connect, and yet what we do so much of the time isn’t connection at all. We simply collect a few basic facts over the course of a polite conversation. Then, we go our separate ways.
When we get to know other people, they ask where we’re from and what we do for a living, but what they’re really asking is what’s your story. That’s the big question. Who we are. Where we’re from. How we got to be living this particular life. The ones who are genuinely trying to connect just want to know what we’re about and where our lives have taken us.
The others? The ones who ask just to be polite? Well, we know those people, too. We give them the normal answers, the polite ones we keep for strangers. I am a 36-year-old single mom of 2. I’m a writer. Yes, that’s an actual job. No, I don’t have any books published yet. The short and sweet version of who I am is passed out as easily as a business card and with as little feeling.
But who am I really? Where did I come from, and how did I get here? That story I save for the people who are aching for connection as much as I am, the ones whose eyes show gentleness and lack of judgment and speak with genuine interest. To those people, the answer isn’t the polite business card version but a raw unfurling of my history- the start of an exchange where I show them my scars and they’ll show me theirs. Too much information isn’t a thing in this sort of interaction because they’re seeking true connection as much as we are, not the filtered, prettied up version.
Our stories aren’t as simple as our occupations or our birth places. They aren’t a neat, linear progression from one choice to the next. Oftentimes, we are catapulted from one circumstance to the next, driven by changes we couldn’t have foreseen or somehow overlooked. It’s how we might be married for over a decade and beginning a family and then settling into our late 30s, divorced, with children and a new career. It’s the route of obtaining a degree and years later doing something entirely different. These are the real stories, and they’re the ones that we don’t just hand out to every stranger. We don’t just spread our cards out on the table and say these are my disappointments, and these are the unexpected joys of my life.
The people who will mean the most to us do get these stories. We sit down with them and share the deep, gritty stories of our journeys. One will tell how her marriage started as sex and a lie and ended with one too many disappointments. Another will outline how her relationship floundered and almost didn’t make it but was saved by hard work more than grace, but how it feels every day like grace. Yet another will talk about her journey through life on her own and all the adventures she’s enjoyed along the way, as well as the heartrending moments of despair.
And I will sit down and unfold the story of the relationship that tried to erase me, the unrequited love that followed its end, and how these painful endings pushed me toward the only life I’ve ever wanted. I’ll open up a heart that’s known what it is to be vulnerable and share how I never expected to be divorced at all or a single parent. I never thought my life would look the way it does now, and yet I love my life. Even with all the heartache I’ve known, I love my life. We pass these stories around, knowing that they are safe and understood. Knowing that we are safe, and understood.
We begin to look for the signs of those yearning for true connection. We open up just a little and see that look of judgment flit across a face and realize that this isn’t going to be a new friend. But we speak to someone else and see how our small honesty is rewarded with theirs and know that this could be, to quote Casablanca, the beginning of a beautiful friendship.
But we’ll never make those connections if we don’t get out of our homes and get involved. We can join a community organization or get involved in local politics. We can look for a book club or simply go out to social events. We can stop turning down social invitations and looking at interactions as obligations. Even in the last week, I’ve had opportunities to make new friends. I went out to an art gallery opening near my home and was introduced to new people. I met with a new writer’s group I joined and encountered new people at the local coffee shop where we meet. I had breakfast with a friend I had met at a literary event I attended and enjoyed the most wonderful conversation. I was invited to go hear a musical performance with a friend and have accepted that invitation. Even though I’m a single mother with children, I try to remember that it’s impossible to have close friendships when we don’t invest in them.
Beyond social opportunities, I try to invest my time in my friends who live at a distance. I send emails and instant messages to check in regularly. I text. I make phone calls to friends who live further away. In a given day, I have conversations with a variety of friends who I consider true, genuine friends. I’ve surrounded myself with the kind of support some people might call goals. And yet I don’t stop trying to get out there and make more friends.
Millennials talk about squad goals, and this is it: women sitting around a table or talking over the phone, sharing their real stories with open hearts. It’s being fully supportive of our choices while also being completely honest about the red flags we may see that they don’t. Squad goals aren’t just about being honest but being raw and vulnerable and accountable for the lives we’re living. It’s about growing together and sharing that journey in a way that we can’t in other relationships. It’s speaking our truth and owning it. It’s being real in a way that we can’t always be when we’re mixing and mingling at yet another school event for our children or another work function.
It’s recognizing each other, right from the start and knowing that when she asks what do you do for a living, she’s really asking: what’s your story? And you tell her. That’s how it begins.