Discover more from Where the Map Ends by Kyra Evans
A letter about other people (for all of us with trust issues)
This week I find myself thinking about other people.
You know, that confusing species of human that is not yourself, but whose attention, acceptance, and (occasionally) company we tend to crave so deeply.
As I’ve mentioned here in these letters, we’ve recently moved across the country (my 4th big move since 2006). Here I am yet again, trying to meet new people and make new connections.
When I land in a new place, everywhere I look I see friend groups already formed. Friends out for coffee. Laughing over dinner. Deep in conversation during early morning walks.
It feels a bit like everyone else is jumping double dutch; their ropes looping as they chant a rhyme I don’t yet know. It’s awkward trying to find the right time to hop in. I fear the slap of the rope on my shins.
I’m an extremely sensitive introvert, and so the topic of other people tends to be contentious to begin with. I long to connect but am also easily overwhelmed.
My favourite band, “The National” has a line that describes me perfectly:
I have only two emotions
Careful fear and dead devotion
I can’t get the balance right
With all my marbles in the fight
It’s a big part of why I tend to have only 1 or 2 close friends at any given time. I find it hard to float on the surface with people – I need depth; someone with the capacity to be patient with my fear, receive my devotion, and hopefully provide theirs in return.
For all these reasons, inevitably when I move to a new place I find myself asking:
Do I even need more friends?
Do I have time for friends right now?
And is anyone else here even looking for new friends anyway?
Since I’m an overthinker, I turned to the data.
(Listen, some people eat their feelings. I research mine. We all have our vices.)
As it turns out, the majority of adults are “actively looking for more friends – and in particular – close friends.”
This is heartening to know. But here’s the rub:
Science tells us that it takes an average of 34 hours to shift from an acquaintanceship to a deep friendship.
Further, in order to get there, those 34 hours need to be comprised of interactions that last 3 hours or longer.
This is why it’s so easy to make friends at summer camp, in the military, or even at the office: Your time together is already built-in.
By contrast, within most contexts of adult life, making friends means:
Going out places where these potential friends might be located (yikes).
Scheduling time away from family and work to nurture new relationships (3 hours at a time!).
Remembering to text with check-ins, and on important dates (in addition to the countless other details you need to remember about your own life).
It’s a lot.
And that’s if you can find people you like enough to invest the time in.
In my experience, that tends to be the hardest part.
Solely Seeking Kindred Spirits
I’d honestly rather be alone with a book than go out for coffee with someone who wants to talk endlessly about the fixtures in their renovated bathroom, rambling on about an unrealistically rosy representation of their life.
I want to hear about their childhood. Their most recent argument with their spouse. What they’re learning about themselves in therapy.
I want the opportunity to learn more about the world, about myself, by listening to another deep thinker talk about their own experiences.
If someone isn’t willing to “go there” with me then my own company seems a more appealing alternative.
Since I’m only interested in deep connections, kindred spirits, I understand that it takes longer to find new friendships. I’m looking for other old souls in a world where we are a rare breed.
I’ve done this since I was a child, although I didn’t understand what was happening at the time. It meant that I only met my first true friend at the ripe old age of 13. I spent the years prior to that watching other people have friends, and generally feeling confused about why I didn’t find socializing to be as fulfilling as the other people around me.
It felt to me like I was failing at enjoying something essential to human nature, and that it was entirely my fault.
In reality, I just hadn’t met anyone I connected with yet. I just needed time.
I now know that my kind of friend only comes along rarely, like a bus following a route that no one else uses.
Making Friends as an Adult
When Juniper was little, I found it suddenly easy to make friends; it was the first time in my life when I always had a lead-in, a wingman, a mutual topic of interest with which to make inroads with other women.
Some of my best friends to this day are other moms I met at playgroups and playgrounds. I remember so clearly meeting one mom (a true soul level friend) who quickly slipped me her phone number on her way out of a crowded gymnasium, dodging fisher price ride-on cars and piles of plastic bricks to ensure we’d remain connected after only a couple minutes chatting.
Later, I remember asking her how she’d found the courage to “pick me up” like a nightclub crawler, even though we’d only spoken so briefly.
“When you move around a lot,” she told me, “You learn not to let the good ones get away. It’s rare to meet people you connect with.”
I was so grateful she’d taken the risk. Our connection sustained us during the hairy first 18 months of motherhood when nothing in your life seems to fit together anymore.
Today, Juniper is 14 and things are different. Last week, I attended a school science fair prior to which I was given explicit instruction not to “look too excited or proud” and to approach as few people as possible.
I’m an awkward person who often embarrasses myself and so I recognize the very real social risk that I represent for a teenager.
You Can’t Rush Connection
In years past, I’ve attempted to speed up the intimacy building process by doing what Brené Brown calls “hotwiring a connection”; alternately
1) Oversharing intimate details about my life before someone else had demonstrated their ability to receive them in a responsible fashion, and
2) Repeatedly misinterpreting a stranger’s willingness to instantly share their deepest trauma as a sign that we are destined to become best friends.
I’ve learned that unfortunately, quick and easy intimacy is almost always false.
These are the friendships that have cut me most deeply; the people with whom I thought I was nestled safe inside the trust tree, only to find myself thrown out of the nest when the wind changed.
It’s those misadventures with friendship that have made me the most hesitant to try again. It’s tempting to just seal up one’s heart and resign to just being alone – especially as an introvert who only really needs about one social interaction a month to feel fulfilled.
An Acquired Taste
I’ve learned over time that the answer isn’t to cut myself off from others, or to “protect myself” by remaining at the surface level with everyone new; exclusively discussing backsplash tiling and rainwater showerheads for the rest of my life (thank god).
Instead the answer lies in telling myself that I can allow nature to run its course. In allowing myself to just let things be.
I’ve learned that it’s not my job to inject intimacy or extract connection in order to “make the most” of an interaction, as I previously thought.
My job is to give connections the time they need to naturally reveal whether they’ll have the depth, respect, and alignment I’m looking for.
When I was 8-years-old and struggling with the social aspect of school, I famously told my mother, “I am an acquired taste”. People need time to warm up to me, to understand who I am, and to see the value I can add to their lives. It’s often not apparent to them at first blush.
Today as an adult, I recognize that it’s similarly okay for me to take the time I need to acquire a taste for others. Rather than gorging on those early first interactions, I can take small bites, allow myself time to digest, and return if my body reacts well.
This is another thing I’m learning: Since I’m often overwhelmed in social interactions, the truest indication of whether someone is good for me is how I feel after we get together.
In years past, if I left a conversation and found myself spinning out, wondering if someone liked me, endlessly replaying every word I spoke, I blamed myself for being awkward or failing to create a positive experience with the person.
Today I know this is not at all a sign of what I did poorly or neglected to do correctly. It’s instead a sign that the person is not someone with whom I feel safe.
Conversely, when I leave an interaction feeling calm, not giving the conversation a second thought unless it’s to smile about a particularly enjoyable moment, that is a sign that I spent time with a safe person with whom I should continue to seek connection.
It flies against the prevailing narrative that all good connection is characterized by fireworks.
I’m learning instead that good connections, or the connections I like best anyway, are characterized by a feeling of calm, ease, and inner quiet.
These friendships don’t make me feel like I’m on a thrilling adventure, but instead like I’m settled firmly into place.
When I give connections the time they need to form at a natural pace, the bonus is that I also protect my heart in the process.
Since I’m not rushing to share my deepest, darkest secrets anymore, if someone later proves themselves unworthy of my confidence, I haven’t lost much yet.
I am learning that most of adult life is like this, for me anyway. The most meaningful and sustainable surprises are not the ones that happen overnight and knock me over with excitement. They’re the ones that bloom slowly and steadily, without my needing to push and poke.
What have you learned about friendship as an adult? Are you on the hunt for new friends too? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below.
Sending you so, so much love.
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