February 15, 2016

Hunting Friendship (and Not Just on Facebook).

Alena Navarro-Whyte/Flickr

Friendship is the Holy Grail of our human existence.

As tribal people, we crave interaction with each other. But for all the want and need for a real connection, from grade school, to last man standing, it isn’t easy finding friends.

It is said that children make friendships easily. From my experience, that’s bullsh*t we want to believe as true. The schoolyard wreaks havoc on budding relationships. Most criteria is based on the cool quotient or who threw up in the hallway between classes. My son did this the first couple of weeks of 6th grade. Aside from making a great story at the dinner table, it didn’t bring friends home to roost.

As we age, adulthood duties limit free time down to weekends. This leaves us to multitask friendships by making nice with the parents of our children’s friends (most always a horror show) and the forced tolerate-ships of the boss’s spouse (a bathroom silent scream-fest every time).

Other than that, we hope the library offers a book club, where the friend angel will toss us someone who’s roughly our age and we’ll magically become besties. If that option hasn’t been made into a movie, it’s probably never going to happen. It’s the unicorn of friendships.

We delude ourselves that the number of people who like our posts, comment on our blogs and tweet “way to go” on a win, means we’re connected. We’re not.

New best friends cannot be found on social media.

It’s a place to catch up with old acquaintances and get into a verbal slugfest with strangers over Donald Trump. Facebook is a way to connect people who are disconnected and in this, it has been mostly successful. What it doesn’t do is make it any easier to make new friends.

Sure there are friend requests that pop up from locations all over the world, but most of them are deleted on the spot because the picture attached is a guy leering suggestively next to a horse or spam masters named Bess July with boobs to their eyeballs. These aren’t potential friends, but just an avalanche of irritation with an overused delete button.

The reality is that we’re connected to the illusion of connection.

The people we’re networking with won’t be standing vigil at our death bed or even invited to the end of summer BBQ.

When I hit 40, I began purging the forced extension relationships of marriage and motherhood, hunting like a blood hound for kindred spirits. I undertook yoga, even though bending sounded like breaking, stalked former high school friends on Facebook, and recently talked (what?!), to a stranger in line at Starbucks.

It is this last, unlikely-to-amount-to-anything-other-than-a-banal-encounter occurrence that sprouted a friendship garden in my barren suburban terrain.

Queued up four people back from the register, I was gazing with envious gluttony at the chocolate croissants, when a woman tapped my arm to ask if I know where she can get a sticker for her license plates.

In the time it took for the barista to handle customers, restock the inventory and wander off to the backroom for a nap, I replied with the location of the Currency Exchange, learned she has moved here from Seattle, hasn’t made any friends and misses her grandchild terribly.

I think that people tell strangers raw details of themselves because they believe the information will be lost, the instant it is released.

In the logjam of drink ordering and pick-up, we were uncoupled and I wound up in my car thinking about a lost opportunity. Halfway home, I reversed direction. When I tracked the woman down and shouted her name from the parking lot of the Currency Exchange, she looked up like a hunted animal. She still seemed a little uncertain when I give her my cell number, along with the date and time to meet up with a few local people.

That afternoon, I posted on Facebook about the encounter with the woman from Seattle and an open invitation to welcome her to the area. A few weeks later, 11 people of varying ages and backgrounds, some of whom I’ve never met show up, but the guest of honor cancels. The group suggests that if I am lonely, it is unnecessary to come up with such an elaborate plan.

Several weeks later, we reconvened as 13 people—a mixture of first-timers and repeaters gather—including the woman I met in line at Starbucks. There were artists, yoga instructors, a massage therapist, retirees, a reflexologist, a writer, those with children or grandchildren, those without human appendages, several who go to church, others who don’t, hair with sprinkles of grey, faces that have yet to be lined and one common denominator.

We are all human.

What I discovered in the process of introducing myself face-to-face with a stranger, is that we’re all longing for real connections. The kind that can happen, when instead of an emoji smiling back at something I’ve said, it’s a live person laughing and snorting coffee up their nose.

In the months since this enterprise started, the flat faces on Facebook have taken on life. I see smiles behind the computer screen and the human beings emitting them. For me, it has made Facebook, 3D.

We created a Facebook Page called Meet a Random New Friend Club. You’re all invited to like the idea and start it in your neighborhood.


Author: Deb Lecos

Editor: Caitlin Oriel

Image: Alena Navarro-Whyte/Flickr

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