This past spring I had three different opportunities to see women with whom I’ve been friends for more than twenty years. The first was a chance to reconnect with one of my closest friends and colleagues, when our professional lives brought us back together. The second was a weekend spent with a group of mutual friends that had bonded over the past 25 years. The third was a spontaneous evening spent with a longtime friend when I happened to be in her city. In each instance, I hadn’t seen these friends in years, but within moments we were laughing at old inside jokes and catching each other up on all the happenings in our lives. We were able to, as the saying goes, ‘pick up where we left off.’ No backstory or context required. Just a deep dive into the good stuff during the time we had together.
I came down from each friendship high soon after returning home, wondering:
Have I already made all the good friends I’m ever going to have?
If none of them live down the street, would I have to settle for those few and far-between reunions to feel like I’m with my squad, as the kids are calling it these days?
When I was in my mid-thirties, I moved away from my friends and family to go to graduate school in the Midwest. Now, more than a decade later, I’ve gone from being a single grad student to becoming a partner and mother, finishing school and building my professional career along the way. I’ve developed some wonderful friendships here, but I’m guilty of not taking the time to really nurture and develop a core group. Most of my time these days is spent either working or spending time with my family. I feel exhausted just thinking about the energy it would take to build up all that girlfriend history again.
More often than not, I say no to new things that would connect me with great potential girlfriends in my own community. Truth is, maybe I’m also a little bit scared.
What if I can’t make friends? What if all the women already have their people? Maybe girlfriends are like eggs and we only have a finite supply and then that’s it.
I had subconsciously given up on building a new network of friends in my new community. Maybe those three girlfriend reunions had happened for a reason. I needed to be reminded of what I was missing by not nurturing my friendships both old and new.
Maybe there were even other moms out there like me–other women who have moved away from their old posse, wrestled with their new identity as mom in a new place, and are struggling to find friends, too.
Lucky for me, I know someone who is an expert at building and maintaining friendships: My mom. My mom has lived in the same town for over 40 years, but when she arrived in what would become my hometown as a young mother, she didn’t know anyone except my dad and her in-laws. Today, she has a rock-solid network of girlfriends, many of whom are from the core group of women that she found during her days of being a young mother looking to make connections in a new place. How did she do it?
She did it, she told me, by showing up, being brave, and believing that there is a friend out there for anyone willing to intentionally seek her out.
She started out going to various clubs, church meetings, even classes at the Ag Extension office. The first lesson she learned was that in order to find a good core group of women, she had to get out. When she was invited somewhere, she always said yes; she would try anything once. She says it’s no accident that her friends include women from different socioeconomic statuses, education, ages, faith traditions, cultures, and parenting styles. This doesn’t mean that you have to become best friends with every acquaintance you meet. Some friendships are never meant to flourish and that’s ok—the lesson here is to cast a wide friendship net, and some are bound to be keepers.
Some friendships are never meant to flourish and that’s ok—the lesson here is to cast a wide friendship net, and some are bound to be keepers.
Over time, a core group formed and they got together regularly for what they called “study group”—probably the precursor to today’s Book Club. They would listen to a book on tape or read an article and then discuss while the kids ran around and ate PB & J. How brilliant, really, to include something to discuss as the ultimate ice-breaker!
These days, all of the girlfriends’ kids are grown so they get together for Tai Chi, trips to the Coast, political rallies, and birthday lunches. My mom says she is a better mother because of the wide range of wisdom she surrounded herself with when she was raising me and my sisters. I took notes—this was all good stuff! I also wanted to know how she nurtures her friendships. What are the keys to keeping and maintaining girlfriends? She told me it all comes down to three things:
3 Keys to Maintaining Friendships
Trust and be trustworthy
My mom and her friends have decades of secrets among them. They resist gossip in favor of more meaningful connections. They always extend this same trust to anyone who joins their group. Trusting in others and being trustworthy has helped her to expand her perspectives and to feel strength in crisis. With this as a foundation, each person knows that they have confidants at the ready for when they need to vent, mourn, rage, or process.
My mom’s friends listen to one another without judgment. They are always listening to what the others say, and don’t say. Because they could trust one another, they could share their most vulnerable side and know that they would not be judged. This key was especially crucial as everyone’s kids came of age. When one mother’s child experienced heartbreak or loss, made bad choices, or just struggled to find his or her way, she knew that there was at least one other mother out there who would love them and stick up for them like one of her own.
Don’t keep score
With all the pressure in our lives, allow your friendships to be the place where you don’t have to keep score. If you are the one who always does the inviting, it may be that your gift is getting people together. Don’t wait for the next person to do it because it’s her turn. If you are good about taking time to actually pick up the phone, don’t stop doing it if you hear radio silence on the other end. They just might need it most when they don’t respond. Once you become a group, don’t ever leave a mom behind because she’s not meeting your expectations. No matter how big or little her contribution may be, she’s your friend and that’s enough.
Maybe you are reading this as you settle into a new community and miss your friends so much you want to cry. Maybe you’ve lived in a “new” place for years now, but just never got your girlfriend groove back. If this is the case, know that you are not alone. Consider jumping in and saying yes to invites, seeking out an event or group nearby, or even chatting with the other solo mom at the park. Go on, your new mom squad awaits!
What are your secrets to building and maintaining a mom squad?