I was born during a record-worthy winter in Chicago, but spent my life in Central Florida residing within a thirty-mile radius of the same place my family moved to when I was 19 months old. A personal geographic history like that causes one to take certain things for granted. Like having friends.
When I moved away from my home state over a year ago, I was confronted with the reality of trying to squiggle into existing tribes of people. Thankfully, the tribes of Memphis are a friendly sort, and I squiggled just fine. This isn’t always the norm and some people don’t feel at home for a really long time after they’ve moved. Part of that has to do with the total awkwardness that comes with forming new friendships as an adult.
If you just moved somewhere new and you feel like you’re not quite fitting in, here’s a little secret: this is perfectly normal. It’s okay. It’s, dare I say, typical. Making new friends as a grown up isn’t an accidental affair like it is for children. New friendships form in the adult world in spite of a need for predictability, so making friends can seem like it should be counted among one’s skill set along with things like embroidery. It’s not just about the awkwardness of the new, though.
When I take leave of my senses, I watch one of the Real Housewives shows on Bravo and I think to myself, “If you ladies hate each other so much, why do you hang out with each other?” Aside from the fact that they’re probably getting compensated to do so and that I used the word “think” in that last sentence loosely, it’s because the devil you don’t know is worse than the NeNe you do. It’s just easier to hang out with people you already know than to actively take the mental steps needed to branch out.
Children haven’t figured out that sometimes people aren’t who they say they are. They haven’t been weathered and beaten down through a journey that ends with sincere, kind and beautiful people that allow you to breathe easy and say, “I finally found you — you are my real friends.” Everyone is a 4-year-old’s real friend. Children illustrate that being adult is a bit of tragedy in this specific way. Small children make friends easily because they are unafraid and unfiltered. I offer into evidence a moment last week in a Cracker Barrel in rural Georgia when our 3-year-old son held up apple juice, which he normally doesn’t drink, and loudly asked the whole restaurant, “This isn’t going to give me diarreah, ijjit?!”
As caregivers, I suspect we’re internally hardwired to have social filters — like an evolutionary mechanism. Maybe sticking together with people like you protects you and your children from getting eaten by predators. How far could you and I run from a saber tooth tiger if we got caught up in arguing about universal healthcare? Or judging each other for homeschooling or not having a SUV? Basically, I’m saying we tend to find other people who are safe to be around intellectually, economically and emotionally, so we don’t get eaten. We stick with what we know because it makes us feel safe, but trying to feel safe can often contradict trying feel connected to others.
When we moved to Memphis from Central Florida, I had to start a new journey. I put myself out there and pushed back the fear of being judged or being wrong for this or that group. Furthermore, I pushed aside a few filters I didn’t know I had. I guess I realized we don’t live in a modern world that’s free of predatory saber tooth tigers. As an adult, moving away from home required starting over for sure, but it reminded me that the relationships forged back home were the result of skill and the desire to be a friend. In truth, making friends had little to do with location and a lot to do with perseverance and courage.
As we make a big move, we often reassure our children that they’ll be fine. They made friends once and they can do it again. We tell them that the awkward moments with new faces will eventually fade into comfortable laughter and shared moments. We remind them to let go of the fear of the new and the filters we picked up that safeguarded what we once had. As in all parenting, of course, the wisest lessons we teach our children are the ones that ring true not just for them, but for ourselves, as well.
Don’t run from tigers.
You’ll be fine, too.
photo credit: Photo Dean
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More on diversity, dialogue and multiculturalism in America at Faiqa’s Blog at Native Born or her co-produced interfaith podcast at Hey! That’s My Hummus! For mostly relevant updates, you can also follow her on Facebook and Twitter.