My Strange Friendship Problem


I was asking myself the other day whether I was lonely. Was I? Was I starving for human companionship that didn’t require me cleaning up half-chewed banana from the table? Was I pining for human conversation that didn’t involve one person screaming bloody murder for ten minutes straight while the other person played a rapid-fire 20 Questions (Is it an injury? An illness? An emotion? Do you need a third banana??)?

Yes, a change of pace is always welcome, but I don’t feel lonely. I don’t feel socially deprived. I am a low energy, introverted mother who wants a nap more than a night out.

Besides, I have friends. I have many amazing friends, some collected and kept from as far back as my high school days. I knew that if I truly needed someone to talk to, I could text any one of them and they’d say, “I can’t tonight, but after I get through this week of overtime and move to a new house and give birth to this baby and raise him to adulthood, we should totally get together!”

No, I truly do have amazing friends who would indeed drop things to at least call me if I really needed them.

I don’t ever really need them, though, because they are busy, and I am busy, and I have learned to live life without being able to pick people’s brains in real time — thus resulting in a strange adult friendship problem that I will share with you now.

When I was in college, the longest I might have to wait for a friend to be available to talk was…not long. If I could just survive classes, I could crash in a cafeteria booth and spill everything. If I couldn’t survive that long, I could text after class and get at least a little bit of human interaction as they walked into their class.

Adult life obligations do not come in block schedule form. They are never-ending, with too few and too short breaks. Counsel and encouragement are often a day, a week, a month away. Obviously I can’t wait that long to solve a pressing issue. And so, I have had to learn to deal with my crises on my own. I have had to learn to self-soothe. I have had to learn to sit and think through things by myself (or post them to a sympathetic Facebook group and hope a helpful person responds with something more substantial than, “No advice, but solidarity” *heart emoji*).

These are all excellent adult skills to have, and I don’t resent the emotional growing up I did while learning to solve my own problems without hand-holding. It feels good to feel competent and self-sufficient, rather than a co-dependent puddle.

But connecting with others is a still a basic human need that doesn’t go away when emotional maturity blossoms. (And if it does, I don’t want to grow up anymore.) Even though I might not need someone sorting life out with me 24/7, even if I can wait until after work hours, I still would like to process things with somebody rather than monologue the half hour round trip to and from work. I don’t need to reach meltdown mode to justify wanting a friend.

The thing is, now that FRANTIC AND IMMEDIATE NEED is not driving my get-togethers, it’s easy for me to say, “Sure, go ahead and raise your child to adulthood — I can wait until you’re free.” And I can. I can. I’m proud of myself that I can.

Here’s the problem.

I am tired, brain dead, low energy introvert. I do not want nor can I muster up much energy to have conversations about things I don’t find interesting. And I’m finding that I’m really only interested in crises and questions and thoughts as they happen in real time, rather than relaying them all in retrospect at a predetermined date. Texting my husband about how the toddler is screaming for ten minutes straight is a far more relevant and interesting conversation when the toddler is doing the screaming…but if I’ve already dealt with it, and had my ten minutes of screaming, and moved on, it takes more energy than I want to give to recap all those exhausting emotions and thought processes. I don’t need him to know about the toddler screaming. I need him when the toddler is screaming.

Same with friends. The days and weeks and months pass, and by that time, I have usually come to a solid, if not entirely satisfactory conclusion or course of action. Since it’s not bearing down on me, mom amnesia and exhaustion set in, and I find that I don’t really have anything interesting to say about my life.

I’m focusing on the negative things because this week has mowed me over, but this is true for happy things too, like vacations and funny memes and sweet anecdotes. I don’t care much about them a couple months after they occur, and even if I do, I probably don’t remember them. I have been trying for a month to remember to tell my husband about the cute elderly couple who ride their electric scooters to the duck pond on Green Bay St. every single evening, holding hands on the park bench and throwing bread crumbs to the duck with the huge cyst on his eyelid. If I can’t even remember to tell the man I see five minutes after I pass that scene, how am I supposed to remember and/or bring it up naturally in conversation with someone I only see once a month? (I did remember to tell him about the duck.)

So when a friend texts, “I’m so sorry to do this to you again, but something came up. Can we try next Monday instead?!”, I say, “Of course!!” Because I have learned to talk to myself in the car.

This has resulted in me not speaking to friends for a shamefully long time, which has resulted in me wondering if I’m lonely. I still don’t think I am — the simple existence of people I love and people who love me is buffer against that — but I do need and want to spend more of my life, the crises and the play time, with friends, instead of scheduling coffee dates a few times a year to catch up on all the things that are no longer a source of much frustration, joy, and thus, interest, in our lives.

Maybe I could just call people on my way home from work and talk to them instead of texting them after work to schedule a time to talk. But that’s weird, right? And requires that I get over my deal with talking on the phone.

Ah, well, no worries. I’m sure I’ll figure it out soon in one of those heart-to-hearts with the bathroom mirror.

6 thoughts on “My Strange Friendship Problem

  1. Abigail

    This is something I’ve thought about a lot, because even though I’m not married and don’t have kids, I know that my cultural experiences in parenthood would inevitably be very different from my mother’s. She spent a lot of my childhood on the phone with her best friends (both named Lisa!), and my sister and I would try to predict who was calling based on the early stages of a conversation, since we didn’t get caller ID until I was about ten.

    Mom and her friends would always begin the question with, “Is this a good time for you?” If it wasn’t, they would arrange to call back later, and if it was, then in they would go into discussing their lives, issues with spouses, relatives, children, church, any whatever else was on their minds. Mom took confidential conversations to her room, but I learned A LOT about adulthood, relationships, and life from overhearing other conversations in the kitchen, and Mom and her friends had the automatic outlet of a phone call to work through issues.

    Texting just doesn’t cut it. You can know someone is thinking about you and get a little bit of support, but there’s no space to process things in real time, and you have to keep tending to your phone. Now, when one of Mom’s friends is texting her, she has to take her dish-washing gloves off every two minutes to respond to another text, instead of just doing chores while talking on the phone. She has had recent phone conversations with one of the Lisas, who has been through a lot of tragic things lately and needs a full conversation, but with everyone else of her generation and younger, people want to text.

    This bring us to yet another difficulty. Even when the rare Millennial doesn’t have telephone anxiety, they know that other people do, and that it is socially unacceptable to call them. A call is considered so intrusive, undesirable, and even inconsiderate that there are popular memes about this, and I see them and think, “Then what am I going to do if I have kids??” I remember how mom would sometimes lament that an unexpected phone call had distracted her and taken away time for her list of things to do, but she would always say that it was worth it, and that God ordains our interruptions, and that she was glad she could be there for the other person and build the relationship. Now, this is culturally foreign.

    So, I guess I’m over here like, “No advice, but solidarity! <3" If I did give advice, I would encourage you to put out feelers among your friends and see if anyone is interested in committing to semi-regular phone calls. Maybe no one is, but you might find someone with space in their schedule (like a commute, or waiting for their kid while they're in dance class) who could commit to conversations or at least to being available for a call. Or maybe you could FaceTime? I don't like phone calls because of the absence of visual cues for reactions or who is opening their mouth to talk, but when I was in high school, I used Gmail video chat with my best friend all the time, in very similar ways to my mom's phone conversations.

    Wow. This is a long comment. XD I didn't intend to write a whole essay, but this is something I've thought about a lot, and almost no one ever talks about it. I appreciate you bringing it up and sharing your thoughts, especially since they're so open-ended and unresolved. I love blogs where people are willing to process life instead of feeling like they can only share resolved lessons tied up in a bow. It's a good conversation-starter.


    • Bailey Steger

      I absolutely love this anecdote of your mom’s friendships via phone call. I didn’t even think about all the life lessons we can teach our kids from openly talking to friends on the phone.

      You’re so right about our culture being radically foreign from the previous generations’ with the advent of texting. I guess I DO see phone calls as intrusive and unwanted (I’ve been hiding from even listening to a voicemail because I don’t want to call them back), and I worry that other friends view them the same way….even though I remember a time when I would talk for hours on the phone with people and would kill for a phone conversation over a text conversation. Strange how quickly, powerfully, and subtly the social tides change….


  2. villemezbrown

    I am also extremely introverted and not motivated to seek out social interaction. So the fact that I ended up having toddler play dates tells you how important the need is. Not all the time, not every day, but regularly. The kids don’t have to play with each other. They can play next to each other. Parallel play is very beneficial and the moms can TALK. Real adult conversation sometimes, and sometimes just having someone right there at the time when your child is screaming for ten minutes. Just a thought. :)


    • Bailey Steger

      I would totally do toddler playdates! Currently all my close mom friends work full-time, but we do go to toddler storytimes at the library regularly. Not quite the same thing, but better than sitting alone at home!


  3. Sharon

    I have the same problem! Thank God for Skype and texting, but of course there is something to be said for friends who are walking with you through life *as it happens.* There’s just no replacement for that.


  4. Steph E

    A friend and I have started exchanging voice notes to process mom-stress/learning/whatever. I really like it because it’s not like a random voice mail from a stranger (PANIC INDUCING! WHAT DO THEY WANT FROM ME?) but because I know it’s from Rachel, I know it’s just her telling me some story about her day or something she wants to process or some motherhood question and I can listen to it when I get a chance, and then record my answer when I get a chance.
    I do this with my sister, too. It’s not the “in the moment” 2 way conversation, but it is the “in the moment” processing side, and then so nice getting a response like a hour or a day or a week later and feeling so validated. I think in the US people use voxer for this, we use Whatsapp in South Africa.

    The other thing is this is one of the main reasons we live and go to a church in walking distance. There are many things I really don’t like about this community, and stress all the time we are living in the wrong place/being super selfish & privileged and whatever… but the upside is that there are 5 other moms in walking distance. Some work, some don’t. But we have a group chat where someone will just post, “Getting kids in the stroller anyone able to join?” and you can see a human in 5 minutes.

    EVEN with that, I will say there is still the “ugh, people are too busy to bother” mentality and/or, “i don’t have the emotional energy to reach out, I just want someone to materialize right now” scenario that you describe So WELL.


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