The crucial ingredient for adult friendship? Self acceptance
Making new friends in adulthood is often considered lamentably hard, if not impossible, yet I’ve made several during a pandemic lockdown. Is it because they’re imaginary and I’m writing this piece on a wall with a broken crayon? I don’t think so.
I think it’s because I’m completely emotionally unguarded. I’ll talk to anyone – until recently I was a big hugger – and I’m quick to tell people I love them, because I’m even quicker to do so. I take people at face value, I assume the best in everyone and I’m not afraid of hearing their saddest stories.
It leads to heartbreak sometimes, for sure. Not everyone should be taken at face value, but it takes a while to figure that out. If I went around being careful and guarded and closed off to everyone, just so I didn’t end up hurt by a friend who turned out to not be a friend at all, I’d have missed out on heaps of good ones and just spared myself that one rotter. What a shame that would be – and anyway, we learn a lot from rotters, as much as we’d like to avoid them.
It also leads to incredible revelations. You’d be amazed by the lights hiding under bushels in your vicinity. They may just need permission, a little quirky coaxing – unguardedness – to shine bright enough for you to see them in a whole new light. As a friend, rather than a person you’ve known for years.Advertisement
I haven’t always been this way. It was a decision. It was influenced by observing others I admired and also by considering how I wanted others to feel when they were with me. It’s not about wanting to be liked by everyone, but rather, it’s about wanting everyone I’ve seen to know I have seen them, and everyone I’ve spoken to, to know they’ve been heard. That’s all any of us is asking, isn’t it?
I decided to not talk about myself most of the time. That helped. I don’t necessarily strike up a friendship with everyone I meet – not everyone wants to be friends with me, for a start. It is easier to find that chemistry, though, when you’re walking around open, and saying to people in lots of ways, “I’m seeing and hearing you, friend.”
I won’t pretend I’m the best friend going around, though. I’m vague, I forget birthdays, and I expect to pick up exactly where we left off, even if we left off a decade ago. I have more than 800 unlistened-to voicemail messages on my phone right now. I was actually un-friended in real life not so long ago by someone who said I hadn’t put enough into our relationship. It hurt, I’m not gonna lie, but upon reflection I had to concede he was right.
I probably had let my children and dying father prevent me from hanging out in bars with my cool, young, single friend way too many times.
I’m being sarcastic, of course, and more than a bit of a snarky old bitch, because I won’t pretend to be above that, either. That sad story brings me to an important caveat about adult friendship, which is that a crucial ingredient is acceptance of self.
One of the happiest days of my life was the Monday after our last lockdown when my children returned to school. Not only had I, like every other Melbourne mum, been dreaming of a couple of hours of solitude and not feeding or cleaning up after anyone for 15 weeks, but I also got to see the shining eyes of all the other mums from our school. The tears of joy streaming into our masks as we refrained from hugging were just magical. I’d missed them more than words could ever say. These friends I’ve made in adulthood.
We’d parked just a little way down the street, but it took us 15 minutes to reach the gate. My son said to me as we finally got there: “Are you friends with everyone in our neighbourhood, Mum?”
“Yes, baby, I am,” I said, sniffling inside my mask.
Now we’re even allowed to meet for coffee again after school drop-offs. Thanks to the hellscape that has been 2020, we are more grateful for that than we ever were for our Bali holidays. We’re still not allowed to hug, but at least we can admit to each other that it’s worth it if we never have to be locked in our houses with our children again. Because that’s what friends are for.