94 hours to go - #97
This is about making friends.
In the next town over, there’s a creek that runs along the edge of town. There’s a quaint path that runs alongside it, an easy way to amble through town without being on the streets. It has several charming bridges across it, and every time I’m in town I take it. Earlier this weekend the local radio station held their annual Rubber Duck Race in the creek. Ducks are deposited into the creek with numbers on the bottom of them, and prizes are doled out based on which ducks cross the finish line further down the creek.
While it’s endlessly charming to see a fleet of rubber ducks cascading down a rushing creek, the best part is the end. Two humans trail the ducks, bedecked in waders and sun hats, carrying a hiking pole each to dislodge any ducks caught in the grasses or rocks. You can lose this race, but no one DNFs. There’s no child at the end looking up at their parent while sad music plays saying, “but what about my duck?” All the ducks cross.
What I would give to be gently prodded downstream by a sun-conscious local in waders so I did not feel left out. But alas, we’ve only just concluded Year 2 of the seemingly mandatory three years it takes to make friends. There’s a study from 2018 that all the trend sites like to quote from the peer-reviewed Journal of Social and Personal Relationships regarding how long it takes to actually become friends with someone, and it is intimidating. The study says it takes 94 hours to turn acquaintances into friends, 164 hours to transition into good friends, and 219 hours to become best friends. To hit even 94 hours with one person here, I’d need to go on a walk with them twice a week for almost a year before we were actually friends.
No wonder it’s so much easier to make friends in school and at work. You’re just ticking off training hours. And I am friends with the one coworker I meet with a few times a week, but she lives in New York and that doesn’t help me.
Summer here is lonely. In the winter, even though everyone else is skiing bigger and badder lines than you, they’re still just skiing. They’re here, and they’re skiing. You’ll see them on the lift and you’ll go “snow is shit today,” and they’ll go, “oh man did you get out yesterday?” and you’ll go, “oh my god, perfect conditions,” regardless of whether you did in fact ‘get out’, and then you’ll both get off the lift and go different directions while they ski something that would make you pee yourself and you ski with the tourists.
In the summer though, it feels like everyone is at a party you’re not at.
I came out onto the front stoop earlier this week, hearing voices. Our neighbor was walking by with her dog and Ben was outside talking to her. I stepped outside to join them. They were mid-conversation, talking about summer plans. She’d just returned from a river trip and was preparing to head to Europe while her partner prepared for a bikepacking trip in Kyrgyzstan, a country I had to look up on the map. She asked what Ben was up to. He was working on food dehydration recipes for his trek through the Sangre de Cristos where he and his cousin would scale several of the 14,000ft peaks — a nice warm up for another trip to scale Wham Ridge later this summer.
Then she turned to me.
“What are you up to?”
“Oh, I’m around. Just, enjoying summer.” I gave a tight-lipped smile, suddenly aware of my trad-wife maxi dress while I announced that I was the most boring person alive.
Even as I recounted the horsepacking trip to a new friend, telling her about the varied company, she said, “yeah I’ve done one of those tourist things before and the groups are always a little weird.”
One of those tourist things.
I shed my skin like a snake and slithered into the bushes, a part of me permanently dead. It’s a comment I would not normally take so personally, but my self-esteem has been hemorrhaging from my body lately, and nearly every interaction seems to make it worse. While I feel like I belong here, in this place, I do not feel like I belong. Instead, I feel like every joke I make falls flat, every conversation I’m in is one people wrap up as soon as they can, and everyone is always doing something unbearably cool while I am at a computer.
I’m marginally comforted by the reality that a bulk of humans feel this way when trying to establish themselves in a social scene, or when looking at Instagram, or when considering their everyday lives. But only marginally.
There is, somewhat pointedly, an advice column from February of this year in Outside Magazine that I promise I did not submit to, titled I Haven’t Made a Single Friend in My New Outdoorsy Town. The advice is simple and obvious: one, “get involved in existing activities, so you can connect with people over shared interests” and two, “go out and have a new experience at least once or twice a week.” But I have made friends. Some of them read this newsletter! Some of them write newsletters! And I am out there. I attended a library event called Tea & Tarot where I got the instructor’s number, I went to a Navajo cooking class at the culinary/art school when I reintroduced myself to the woman who organized it, I met up with friends for a concert in the park, and I went to see Barbie with a friend I met at the river walk last month.
(In true small town fashion, my Barbie friend and I went on a hike and when our ages came up, she said, “I thought you were 30” and I said, “I thought you were 30,” and we were both quite wrong, but then we carried on being friends because your age does not matter in a small town simply because it can’t. Do you know how many people I’ve met that are actually my exact age? One. And I met her in LA first.)
It’s not that I don’t have friends or things to do. I do! It’s that I can feel the connectivity of years-long friendships all around me, the ease of which they stop by and hang out with one another, the impenetrable force of inside jokes while they huddle together at parties and I stand in the kitchen with the dogs, and I am simply jealous, impatient, lonely, and insecure. Who wouldn’t want to be friends with that!
I’m also not doing my fair share. I cannot escape the truth that when it comes to asking people to do things with me, I am bad at it. I said to a neighbor the other week, “let’s go for a run soon,” and she said, “yeah I run like, every day, so just tell me when.” I felt it. The pang of “I’ve actually invited you to do the last several things, and it’s your turn to make the plan.” So I made the plan. We met in the street at 8am and went for a run/walk to talk about the Barbie movie. I had been so fixated on the “walk” part of that sentence, that I had delayed making running plans with her for weeks because I didn’t want to embarrass myself trying to run with someone who runs.
But making friends is always embarrassing. Every part of it is embarrassing. Admitting what you like is embarrassing. Admitting what you don’t like is embarrassing! Asking people to go to something is embarrassing. Showing up at things is embarrassing. Texting someone to invite them to do something and having them simply never reply is embarrassing. Texting someone to do something but they’re already doing something with other people that they could have invited you to but then still don’t is truly claw-your-eyes-out embarrassing. It’s all one constant, never-ending humiliation — until it isn’t. Until you’re not the newest dweeb in town, until you’re the one who’s busy, until you’ve tried enough times to turn embarrassment into an old friend. Out of the 94 hours necessary, surely I’ve logged some 80 simply being embarrassed. We’re deeply acquainted at this point, closing in on casual friends.
As much as I want the onus to be on the cool kids to have a reminder on their phone that says, “consider inviting strange new girl to events and then drag her around like a puppy in need of socialization,” that’s simply not their responsibility! Plus, when someone does all the work to absorb you fully into their friend group, the natural order is out of balance. Just look at Mean Girls, Jawbreaker, Twilight, Harry Potter, Matilda — someone always ends up betrayed, dead, or stuffed in a locker. Better to share the load and let things evolve naturally, at least according to cinema.
In regards to my own insecurities — not doing enough cool things, not being fast enough, not being good enough — at some point you have to come to grips with the reality of what makes you happy and more importantly, what makes you you. I invited someone to go to Tarot with me and she laughed. But I laughed when she asked me to play frisbee; both of us perfectly comfortable in who we are and able to extend the invite, say no, and then try something else.
This is maybe the third time I’ve written about making friends here, but the first time that I can say I have them, I just wish many of them were closer. I wish we were already at the point where I knew what annoyed them about their work, where drive-bys were welcome, where we didn’t have to ask what the other was up to this summer because we already knew. No one’s ever lauded me for my patience, though, and they certainly won’t now. I was practically foaming at the mouth listening to a friend tell me about their familial issues earlier this week — let me know you at the deepest level! Let us excavate our traumas for the sake of bonding!
But that is quite literally my profession. I am an essayist. I have written ninety-six personal essays in two years, forcing an entire audience into the mandatory hours to consider me a friend. It’s probably why I’ve fallen in friend-love with so many other Substacks — our work is to be known, and it’s in the knowing that we delight. In the real world, not every new friend wants to dive right into the murky heart of why the Barbie ending further promotes a cycle of commercial capitalism, ignores the meat of patriarchal issues, and presumes a woman’s ultimate goal is just to… feel feelings about it while accomplishing nothing? But in my small proddings, two friends did. Three friends also didn’t or couldn’t, but two out of five? I’ll take it!
I’m trying to avoid closing this essay with “all to say” or “point being” but we’ve reached an inevitable conclusion once again that putting yourself out there both sucks and is worth it. In the spirit of collective agony, if you are feeling lonely this week, I ask that you reach out to three friends or potential friends to do something. Maybe all three will say no. Maybe all three will say nothing because phones allow us that kind of casual cruelty. But maybe! Maybe they won’t.
And if they do, you can come to this comments section to lament. How else are we going to rack up our 219 best friend hours?
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