Want to Be My Friend?
Lessons Learned On Making & Maintaining Adult Friendships
My bday is fast approaching and as much as I love my birthday (I’m one of those people who gets hype about their birthday and celebrates it all month long) it also gives me a lot of anxiety. I think about how I’m going to celebrate and more importantly, who will be there to help me celebrate? I constantly worry about the state of my friendships and I’m always asking myself this question; “who will show up for me?”
Growing up, it was always hard to make friends because my family and I moved constantly. I learned that people and places were temporary. By the third grade I’d already attended five different elementary schools during the years when building social skills were optimal. Not to mention the fact that I come from a Caribbean household where I was told, “your friends aren’t your friends, they’re acquaintances. Your family are your friends.” My family were my friends. Thankfully I had two older brothers and a handful of cousins who were all close in age that I hung out with. When other kids were going to house parties, I was playing flip cup with my family. It's not to say that I didn’t have friends, but I wasn’t necessarily set up for success when making friends in adulthood, which is something that everyone struggles with.
Forty-five percent of adults say they find it difficult to make new friends according to a 2019 survey commissioned by Evite. Participants cited introversion and shyness, growing adult and family obligations, and antisocial attitudes being the reasons for the difficulty in forming new friendships. Truthfully making friends in NYC hasn’t been easy. Even when I would go out to events or bars, I felt like everyone already had their “crew.” Why would they want to add another member? Feeling defeated, my weeknights and weekends became a routine of hopping from streaming service to streaming service.
Eventually I did make friends in my new city. I reconnected with Krysta, a good friend from grad school that lived in Brooklyn. One night we went out to a networking happy hour where I met Camille, who works in the same field as me and has a shared hobby of blogging.Camille introduced me to Yolanda and we became a regular trio hitting up bars and day parties whenever we could. I would be remiss not to mention Shakivla who was introduced to me by my current boss. I found Shakivla at an opportune time when our lives were running parallel courses and we were able to lean on each other for ideas, solace, a quick drink, and good laughs.
So I had my crew assembled, but I still felt at a loss.I do have a best friend, Monica, who I met at freshman orientation at Uconn. I would say she is my timeless friend; we've been best friends for fourteen years and she holds the title of my longest relationship ever! Monica lives in New Orleans and I'm lucky if we come face-to-face even once a year. Fellow friends from college came and went and I chucked up the deuces immediately after high school graduation. I felt that everyone was able to form these deep timeless bonds that somehow has escaped me.
Last month Shakivla celebrated her birthday and invited me to a party she was hosting. Unsurprisingly her apartment was filled with people that represented all facets of Shakivla’s life and everybody mingled effortlessly; I stayed glued to the couch conversing with the only person I knew there outside of Shakivla. Her friends were thoughtful enough to buy her a cake which they lit and sang happy birthday and afterwards everyone went around and shared a fond memory or sentiment about her. I left the party feeling dejected and again pondering the state of my friendships. This experience isn’t only limited to birthday celebrations. Two years ago I had surgery and when filling out my paperwork, I realized that my brother was my emergency contact. My older brother...who lives in Connecticut. I had to designate someone who would bring me to my operation and pick me up after, and instead of asking my friends, I asked my cousin who lives in Harlem.
To answer the question of, “who will show up for me?” I had to evaluate how I was showing up in my relationships. Dr. Serena Chen, a professor of Psychology at the University of California, Berkeley, stated in an article for The New York Times that, “ A key to close friendship is intimacy, and a big part of intimacy is being able to be fully yourself and be seen and understood by others. When people close to us don’t ‘get’ us, it’s undermining to intimacy.”
I wasn’t showing up as my true self in my friendships so how could I expect to form intimate relationships? My childhood taught me to distance myself from people, to hide the unflattering parts, and not to trust anyone who wasn’t family. What I was taught in childhood wasn’t serving me in adulthood when I was looking to form true bonds with people.
I was also ascribing to this myth that friendships just happen. No, friendships take work just like romantic relationships; but we never talk about or give the care and attention to our platonic relationships like we do romantic relationships. I would find myself sitting at home watching my friends out on Instagram wondering why I didn’t get an invite without stopping to ask why I didn’t hit them up first. Part of friendships is asking for what you need, no one is a mind reader. The other part of friendships is reciprocation. I am notoriously flaky and I blame my introversion; introverts want the invitation to come out without the commitment of leaving the house. I’ve been called out multiple times on this and I’m committing in 2020 to do better.
With this new outlook on friendships I've been intentional in the friendships I pursue. I share more about myself when people ask, "hows it going?" And I show up, even if its taking hour long trips to Brooklyn. I also recognize that part of what I needed in terms of my friendships was not only to put in more work but to change the narrative in my head. I walked around thinking I didn’t have people who would show up for me and I wasn’t giving credit to the people that do.
When I moved to NYC, I didn’t fall in love with the city as many people do. I thought that I could leave because no place is worth setting down roots in. That was a lie that I told myself that manifested from my childhood conditioning.I’m ready now, to set roots. I’m ready to stop packing and unpacking. I’m ready to be vulnerable with people, to trust people enough with my baggage, to have a safe space to land. I’m ready for deep belly laughs, girls trips, fights and make-ups, contemplative conversations, quiet moments, and birthdays; a permanent birthday guest list of people who will always show up for me.