I just finished Michelle Obama’s Becoming. Michelle writes lovingly about lasting friends from childhood, college and her early jobs. (For example, Valerie Jarrett became a confidant when Michelle was working at Chicago City Hall.) Once Michelle was on the world’s stage, friends who knew her before she was FLOTUS grew to be even more valuable as the White House bubble limited her circle.
What Michelle describes, essentially the difficulty in developing new, intimate friendships in mid-life is common. Most of us in the middle of life are consumed by work, family and household obligations. We rely on past connections, if we spare any time at all for maintaining friendships. We give lip-service to the significance of friends, but for me, it wasn’t until major life events hit that I realized how continually I need a sisterhood.
Moving was a test for me on how to cultivate new relationships and add to my inner circle. In leaving home, I was giving up the proximity of loyal intimates at a time when I also knew that I would need even more people around me to hug. It’s been over a year and there are a growing number of women who I’m thrilled to get to know. Within this widening tribe, there are a special few who I feel particularly devoted to, friends I’ve been waiting my whole life for.
When our realtor first turned the corner into our neighborhood, before we even saw the house, I spotted a woman wearing a progressive T-shirt outside her house. Next to her porch was a ‘Hate Has No Home Here’ sign. I literally said, out loud, “I don’t know what the house is like, but I already love the neighbors.” It turned out both the house and the neighborhood were a perfect fit.
A few weeks after the move, I ran up to this new neighbor as she was piling into her car with her son, work bags and carrying a can of diet soda. “You don’t know me yet, but you’re the reason we moved here!” I sounded deranged, I am sure, but she hugged me without a word. The time we’ve spent together doesn’t justify how much I cherish her. With texts, gulps of shared time sprinkled between life’s demands, and little acts of kindness for each other, we pretty much adore each other. Shane joked recently that this friend and I were going to open a B&B in Vermont together. She and I decided we’d prefer Santa Barbara.
Two other friends came to me through Jack and I met both on the same day: August 4th. With both ladies, our friendships started out sharing parenting conundrums. But what draws me to these lovely souls is not solely our similar contexts as moms. They are each super supportive, candid in a way I need true friends to be, and welcoming to solicitations of time together. I know which snacks they hide from their kids. I am learning how they navigate marriage, work and meals. I’ve come to know them by walking, taking our kids on local adventures and asking if there are errands I can run for them. They usually say no, but I’ll keep asking. Accepting help is like a trust fall: can I admit to you when I need help,or accept yours when you offer? We all can do more of that: gifting to others that chance to help. The irony is when we accept little things, big things bloom and we turn new friends into family.
Midsummer, I got a text from a woman who was a ‘friend of a friend of a friend’ who had read my blog piece, ‘A Nice Place to Visit.’ Similarly forced to leave her beloved California because of her husband’s career, someone had sent her my contact info. At the time of our first chat, we cracked up as it was discovered NEITHER OF US knew the people who had supposedly connected us. I don’t believe in coincidences; I think that’s how God works.
What began as phone chats about moving anxiety (essentially my overbearing relocation advice) has grown into a true sisterhood. Of course we walk, but we’ve also grocery shopped and protested together. If you got the Johnson family Christmas card this year with Jack golfing in our living room, you’ve seen what an exceptional photographer she is. We are very different in some endearing ways and I think she’d agree that we are also similar in our mutual affection for each other.
There are other new-found confidants I could describe, but my message on nurturing relationships that can be as meaningful as those from our past is simple: make intimate friendships a priority. Find ways to spend time together, even if it’s just running errands or exercising together. Offer help when they don’t ask. Ask for help when you would have shied away from it before. Those of us who are managing to just barely endure life’s busiest era can appreciate what Michelle Obama herself had to learn: our sense of belonging in the world is secured by our inner circle.