Moving to the Bay Area has been a very socially humbling experience.
I always thought I was good at making friends, but it turns out I’ve relied heavily on my husband’s easygoing nature and the built-in friends that came with medical school and residency. The truth is that I am actually pretty shy and more concerned about what other people think of me than I want to admit. I can also be a bit lazy when it comes to initiating social gatherings. A big part of me just wanted to have good friends magically appear, bringing with them many common interests, same-aged children and identical parenting styles.
Back to reality… After I surfaced from the stress of moving with a baby and a toddler into a tiny house, I looked around and realized I was struggling in the social department. I was also spending a lot of time home with the kids. Social isolation plus speaking “toddler” all day led to a drastic increase in caffeine and wine consumption, some unhealthy Netflix binging, and frequent FaceTiming with my mom. I decided I needed to make some changes- and fast.
My first plan was heading to the playground. I felt surely I could meet some nice moms at the park who were also looking for someone to share their toddler woes and sleepless nights with. But it turns out, it is really hard to progress past small talk to the actual “Exchanging of Phone Numbers”. It felt kinda weird to ask for another woman’s digits. The playground began to feel a bit like the bar, reminiscent of my single days– I was back on the prowl, assessing my potential options, wondering who else might be looking for some company.
It took a lot of nerve to approach someone and try to engage in a meaningful conversation, and I chickened out multiple times. Finally, after a pep talk from my husband, I headed to the playground – pumped- and put on my happiest, perkiest smile. I was going to get a phone number if my life depended upon it!
I noticed a woman playing with similarly aged children, so I sidled on over and introduced myself. She was so nice! We got to talking, had a lot in common, and I started to get excited. My first new friend! I summoned up all my courage, and asked if she wanted to exchange numbers to meet up again sometime soon. That’s when she gave me a big grin and said, “Oh, are you in the Nanny Network too?”
I had picked up a nanny. I quickly looked around, panicked, to make sure no one thought I was trying to steal someone else’s nanny. This is a huge no-no in the playground world, FYI; you can literally be shunned from an entire community.
I slunk back home feeling silly and even more alone. It had never occurred to me that many of the women playing with these young children were not actually their mothers! Of course it makes sense now, but at the time I felt embarrassed.
Despite this setback, I did not give up. I signed up for an online mommy group, and was so excited for the first event. My husband teased me as I agonized over what to wear, trying to appear comfortable, yet stylish. As I attended several of these groups, I felt like I was dating again, worrying about my make-up, shoes and outfits. At one point I was running late for an event, shoving my daughter into an adorable tutu and leggings, both of us sweating, her screaming and me crying, and I stopped and thought, what am I doing? Why am I forcing my 1-year-old into an outfit she clearly doesn’t want to put on, for people I don’t even know that well? Who was I pretending to be?
But that’s what being friendless did to me- I found myself trying to fit into a mold that I didn’t quite understand. I was so worried about being judged for my chronic lateness, my laid back parenting style, or the highly processed Goldfish and granola bars I brought as snacks for my kids. Maybe if my children looked adorable, no one would notice.
During those first several months, I felt so full of doubt, so uncomfortable in my own skin. I missed my old friends dearly–in their presence, I never felt inadequate or out of place.
For several reasons, I ended up working more, put the kids in a great daycare, and made socializing less of a priority. I convinced myself that having “real” friends wasn’t that important in my 30s- I mean who’s got time for that anyway?! My crazy kids consume most of my time and energy, and the few moments I have left I save for my husband or to squeeze in an occasional workout.
But lately I’ve realized that I do need friends. Like, a lot.
I need women I can relate to, who don’t judge me for giving my kids melatonin when I just can’t handle another two-hour bedtime routine.
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(Originally published April 6, 2016)