About ten years ago, I had a conversation with a woman I like about making new friends. She said, without hesitation or affectation, that she had enough friends and that she really didn’t have room for any more. She wasn’t saying that she didn’t want to become acquainted with new people but that she simply didn’t have the bandwidth to sustain any more close friendships due to the time and commitment involved in keeping strong the ones she already had.
At the time, her comments shocked me, even as I, too, felt as though one more person of significance in my life might just put me over sanity’s edge. Our children were young and needy; our friends, most of them also parents, were strung out and needy; our spouses/significant others were stressed out and needy; and our parents, often neglected by us, also were needy.
My shock, I think, came from this fear that if I didn’t keep building on what I already had, I might one day find myself alone. The odd thing about this is that I am somebody who needs my alone time more than most people. Some people turn to social situations to replenish themselves when they are worn down; I’m someone who replenishes myself in solitude. Yet, I deeply need to be around people too, in particular people whom I am in a reciprocal relationship with, whether they are family or friend. I’m what you might call an introverted extrovert. Or an extroverted introvert. I don’t know which one.
My friend was right, though. At that point in time, I wasn’t seeking new relationships probably because I didn’t have the room for them. I wasn’t looking back to old friends either. I spent my limited free time with the people whom I could reach out and touch, mostly those who lived within a ten-mile radius of my home.
A lot changes in ten years. The biggest change is that my kids are more self-sufficient and by choice, spend more time away from home. This means I have more time to pursue my passions and to spend with friends. Each year, I find myself reaching out further and wider to people with whom I can share some part of me that has surfaced or resurfaced as I’ve had more time to explore myself, my world and to address some of the existential questions that grow out of such exploration.
I feel as though my world has expanded in so many good ways through both new friendships and renewed ones. There is nothing as uplifting as laughing with somebody you’ve known since you were five nor as soulful as talking for hours with somebody you’ve recently gotten to know. And there is the intense feeling of your life coming together when a staid friendship blossoms into something deep and connected. Having the room to make these things happen fills me with a sense of joy about the rest of my life, the second act, so to speak, which I hope will be at least as long as the first act.
Though as I open myself up to new people, I frequently find that I have moments of shyness, that fear that somebody who interests me, whom I want to know better often for reasons I can’t pinpoint, couldn’t care less whether or not I come into their lives. If I reach out to somebody and they seem surprised or thrown off-balance by my desire to spend time with them, I can’t help but feel a little bit rejected, even when I know that my perceptions may be wrong or their reactions may be the result of their own insecurities or issues that have nothing to do with me.
Anais Nin says that “each friend represents a world in us, a world possibly not born until they arrive, and it is only by this meeting that a new world is born.”
I love the idea that we are each made up of so many worlds that we don’t even know exist until somebody enters our life and gives him or herself over to us at the same time as we give ourselves over to her or him.
How about you? What does friendship mean to you and how has it changed over time? Do you like the idea that we draw out of others new worlds when we get to know them better? Please share your thoughts in the comments section.
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