After college, I packed up my scant belongings, crammed them into the backseat of my teal blue Ford Escort (to get the full picture, I ought to also tell you that the bumper was held up by duct tape), and headed eastward to Milwaukee; the land of dairy and promise that would put the training wheels on my career. At this time, the world had been forewarned and was holding its breath, waiting for the economy to be smashed to dust. People began losing homes and means and jobs just as I was voyaging out to try, very hard, to find a salary to cover some cheap rent, student loans, and maybe, if I was diligent about saving, a new bumper. Like many, I was my only fallback. Which is to say the panic and pressure of figuring out my livelihood didn’t allow much space for everyday practicalities like familiarity, friendships, or a social life.
So, I moved into a stale studio apartment with no furniture but a place to sleep. I started my grown-person job, where I was the least grown person by a few obvious decades. I packed my cheap little lunches. I showed up to the office early and stayed late. I spent a lot of time wondering how I had never thought about the fact that most people spend a lot of their lives just, sitting. And now I was one of those people just, sitting, in an upholstered wheelie chair that had seen better days. I went on walks. I listened to a lot of music, read a lot of books, and became dreadfully, dreadfully lonely.
The internet had boasted that Milwaukee was all abuzz with outdoor festivals and farmers’ markets and activities where people would drink beer and paint the allegiance of their sports teams on their chests. That sounded like something I could, with a few amendments, get behind. And wow did I try. I’d embarrassingly drag myself to a happy-looking bar with appetizer and drink specials in a noble quest to make small talk with someone, anyone, who could become an acquaintance. I’d will myself to concerts, examine the weekly events listed in the alternative news source, and try to wiggle my way into a book club. Funny, the internet never made mention of debilitating isolation. What a liar.
That experience did, though, make me hyperaware of just how weird and difficult it is to do something so seemingly simple as make a new friend as an adult. At exactly the time when we’ve all had plenty of practice.
All that trying got exhausting. And all that loneliness got intolerable. So, I eventually made my way back to Minneapolis—a place with familiar faces and stories. A spot where I didn’t only know people, but I knew people who were still trying to make sense of this place called the real world. With fellow humans who were often feeling as uncomfortable without the obligated warmth of community we might have taken for granted.
For a lot of reasons, I hold onto precisely no regret for not sticking it out. Whatever “sticking it out” means. That experience did, though, make me hyperaware of just how weird and difficult it is to do something so seemingly simple as make a new friend as an adult. At exactly the time when we’ve all had plenty of practice.
Is it because we’re all well-versed in the ancient art of re-re-rescheduling happy hours? (Guilty as charged.) Is it because we’re all too busy? Too tired? Do we already have “enough” friends? Does the clumsy tango of exchanging numbers with a newbie feel so ominous we end up with a tummy ache? Whatever it is, why do we so often let it hold the keys to what could become a very important, lovely relationship—one worth holding onto with a death grip well into the years ahead?
The more we step into adulthood, the more crowded life tends to get. There are demanding careers and nagging toddlers, Tinder profiles to peruse, and health insurance premiums to pay. Life gets busy and sometimes it feels tricky to maintain even our oldest, dearest relationships. Or our romantic relationships. As adults, the luxury of free time is folklore, so it doesn’t only seem inconvenient to put in the effort required to make and keep a new friend, but it’s adding more work to the existing slog. Talk about no thank you. So, we prioritize based on values, emotional and geographic proximity, like-mindedness, and effort reciprocated. Out of necessity.
I trust we all know now, more than ever, that meaningful time with other people we love and appreciate isn’t just a nice to have, it’s an absolutely have to have.
But you know what else is a necessity? Fellow humans. Friendships. In fact, does anyone else here vaguely remember the research from the American Psychological Association that concluded loneliness poses a greater threat to public health than the obvious culprits like car accidents or heart disease? I recall glancing at a headline that very scientifically equated feeling lonesome to smoking x many cigarettes per day and wondering what all those days crying in that sad little studio apartment may have done to my internal organs. And, friends, that research was from 2017—years before we even knew how unfathomably lonely our world could (and would) become. I trust we all know now, more than ever, that meaningful time with other people we love and appreciate isn’t just a nice to have, it’s an absolutely have to have.
So, I guess this is me saying that I’m going to try—even though I am very busy and very tired and a big, big fan of being in bed by 10 p.m.—a.) being a better and more present friend to the ones I have now and b.) reaching out to the people in the periphery in my life who give me true friend potential vibes. And perhaps you might consider the same? Even if it is, as it is sure to be and I am guaranteed to make it (apologies in advance, future friends), very weird. Maybe it’ll work out. Maybe it won’t. But hey, you’re never too old to make a new friend. And all the ones you have now, the very best ones—with the birth charts you’ve memorized and the last time they cried involuntarily logged in your cerebrum—they were once total strangers, too.
April (Swinson) Smasal spent her formative years in Wyoming, where her career options were limited to rodeo queen or writer. Foregoing the lure of an impressive belt buckle collection, she opted for the word thing. Now, she’s a copywriter and writer-writer living in St. Paul, Minnesota with her husband, Nick, baby boy, Hank Danger and very cute-slash-spoiled French Bulldog, Arnold E. Biscuits.