I’m a female who needs other females. Although I’m blessed to have a husband who’s done a bang up job filling the role of best friend for more than two decades, he can’t (and shouldn’t, imo) fulfill every need I have for companionship, sociability, understanding, sympathy, or fun. Even Angeline Jolie — a “girl-who-isn’t-friends-with-other-girls” stereotype if I’ve ever seen one — seems to pine a little bit over her lack of female friends. Most women, in fact, don’t need scientific studies to validate what we know to be true deep in our bones: women need other women. Without them, we’re not as confident, healthy, happy, or successful as we would otherwise be.
But I’ve found myself in a time of life when my access to the energizing power of other women seems to be waning. I didn’t assume this would be the case when I was younger. When I had my first baby, I’d read a lot about the isolation that can occur when women decide to become full-time moms, an isolation that can be a real risk, especially for women who leave full-time work (and all their childless friends and co-workers) behind. But, for me, I entered into that time of my life actively determined not to be lonely. There were structures in place, through church or the community or even my own little cul-de-sac, that offered opportunities to make real friends: play groups, book clubs, loosely organized “let’s meet at the park” days once a month. I took advantage of those opportunities in my twenties and made some of the best friends I’ve ever had during those years. I even found myself accidentally making friends: when your kids are little, you go where they go, and the moms of all the other little kids go there too. You wind up spending three hours on a Wednesday afternoon sitting on a folding chair in the driveway with your across-the-street neighbor while the kids whack each other with light sabers on the lawn. And suddenly you know more than you ever thought you would about your across-the-street neighbor’s first marriage and terrible mother-in-law and, BOOM, just like that. You’re friends.
But now I don’t spend very much time sitting in lawn chairs on the driveway (although I do spend a ton of time driving up and down the driveway in my car, shuttling kids to rehearsals and practices and mutual and friends’ houses). I also don’t have a lot of time (or desire?) for the book clubs or writers’ groups or Relief Society Enrichment meetings that I yearned to flee to when my kids were little. Back then, nothing felt better than handing my husband the baby with the stinky diaper and disappearing out the door at 7:00 p.m., knowing that the kids would be tucked into bed by the time I returned at 9:30. But now? Now the hours between 7:00 and 10:00 are the craziest of all, with homework and kids’ extracurriculars and family scripture study spilling over into the time when all I want to do is put my head on my pillow and sleep. And during the day? Many of the moms from the cul-de-sac have returned to work, part-time or full. And it’s hard to find excuses to get together with those who haven’t. When kids were little, the kids were the reason: let’s take them to the zoo! Want to go with me to the park? But now, there’s not much to do with other stay-at-home moms of school-age kids besides go to lunch, which is lovely (don’t get me wrong, I LOVE a good lunch date), but is either too expensive or feels too self-indulgent to do on a regular basis.
And then there’s me. I’m tired. When I moved to Minnesota the first time, in my mid-twenties, I started two different book clubs, one in my ward and one in my neighborhood. I printed out invitations. I made schedules. I read the assigned novel for both clubs every single month. But now the thought of starting a book club doesn’t feel like an opportunity or an escape, but an obligation I’m not sure I could follow through on. I’ve also moved three times since my mid-twenties, and with each move, the energy that I have to put on my friendly face and charge out into the world of women, intent on winning at least a handful of strangers over with my scintillating personality, seems to have dribbled out, leaving me with the social energy of a half-inflated balloon. I’ve lived in my current home for over a year and I know my next-door neighbor’s first name (Christine), but the women inhabiting the two houses across the street and the one on the right? I know they told me their names, but I’ve since forgotten, and too much time has passed for me to ask again without outing myself as the half-hearted (I really should type another word after half, a word that’s NOT hearted, but this is an LDS blog) neighbor I’ve become.
I don’t want to make it sound like I don’t have any friends here in Minnesota. I’ve met some wonderful women, mostly through church, and I relish the rare opportunities we have to get together and connect. In fact, I’ve often wondered how other stay-at-home moms of school-age kids without a church community make lasting friendships at all, especially when they’re “new in town” like me. It would be so easy to hide inside your house and never come out. Nobody would be the wiser. I also don’t know what I’d do without my cyber-friends: my Segullah sisters, the folks on Facebook who play Words With Friends with me and like my status updates, my old friends from high school and my young motherhood years who maintain blogs as a way to stay in touch. These relationships keep me from feeling more isolated than I already do, and I’m grateful.
But, wow — it’s frighteningly easy to find yourself without a support system of other women as a 40 year old stay-at-home mom of school-age kids. If you remain outside the sociability inherent in the working world, but also find yourself without the little kids necessary to head to swimming lessons on a Tuesday afternoon and sit on the bench with the other moms and chat? Hours, days, weeks can go by, without a meaningful conversation with another adult besides your husband.
What is UP with that? And how do you deal with it? In fact, no matter your age or your time in life, the challenges of cultivating and maintaining female friendship is real. What are your experiences?