We had a nice, quiet Christmas, as is our usual custom. We pretty much just hang out all day and enjoy our presents and our good food, and watch a couple Christmas-themed movies. It’s a low-key way to enjoy the holiday.
After my son went to bed, and my husband and I continued our annual marathon of British period movies and TV shows (it’s all Regency-Victorian-Edwardian-1920s from the time Josh finishes grading finals until a new semester starts). It’s fun holiday tradition, and I can always count on Josh to kick things off by bringing out piles of Blu-rays. We save the best version of Pride and Prejudice (you know what I’m talking about) for last because well, you know. Although North & South is rapidly gaining ground.
Anyway, Josh frequently gets random texts from his friends, and other people who like him, and he received some Christmas texts. This got me thinking about friendship, and wondering how “normal” people make friends. Because this is something that is hard for me. I have very few “real” friends.
Make Friends Through Commonalities
Of course, most of us make friends through commonalities we have with other people. We find people through work, school, or civic activities that seem to resonate with us, and we build friendships. The Internet also provides us with chances to make connections with people with whom we have things in common. I’ve often noticed that the people I know virtually are people that understand me better than my own neighbors. I jokingly refer to some of them as my best friends. However, there is truth to this observation. I know, of course, that the people I see once or twice a year, and that I know via my work online have “real” friends that they go out and do things with. They have lunch and set up playdates for their kids and go out at night and have parties. They may be the best friends I have, but I am certainly not among the best friends they have.
My life is not “normal” in this way. When I’m having a tough time, I can’t go out to dinner with my girlfriends and drink too much wine. I don’t have girlfriends, and I follow the Word of Wisdom. Instead, I rant on Skype, and my online buddies (who are all male) show a little sympathy, chuckle because sometimes my rants are amusing, or just ignore it and move on.
I have a hard time in social settings with people I’m not comfortable with, and I don’t really do much outside the home; even my work takes place at home. Josh, on the other hand, knows how to make friends, and he makes friends in the real world. Hell, he makes friends that think about texting him on Christmas. I’m lucky if my family wants to Skype with me.
Most of the time this doesn’t bother me. But sometimes, I crave some “real” social interaction. As in normal interaction with regular people. When I’m questioning my place in the Church, and wondering what I’m doing when I have issues with the institution, I go to church because I’m sitting there with other people who, culturally, have the same background I do. Sometimes these people talk to me. I understand them, and where they are coming from, even if I am in a different place, and don’t always agree with them.
Church Membership and Built-In Friends
One of the reasons that it’s hard for many people with changing faith is that there are social interactions that grow up around religious observance. It’s not just the LDS Church, of course. Most faith traditions come with built-in friends. You hang out together, have parties together, and engage in other social interaction. But it’s all based on your belied system. If your belief system changes, it can be difficult to change things up because everyone you know is still steeped in it.
I’ve run into lots of people who point out that they don’t know how to make friends outside of the LDS Church because they have grown up their whole lives with the Church providing them with friends. Home teaching, visit teaching, ward parties, monthly/quarterly activities, and more all contribute to this built-in friendship. I don’t have a visit teaching assignment right now, but back in Utah, out of the nine years I lived there, I can count the number of months I missed ON ONE HAND. Because it was the closest thing to a “real” friendship I had. I didn’t have anything in common with anyone I visited, or even with most of the partners I had. But I liked everyone involved well enough, and it got me out of the house to interact with others.
Leaving that behind, for many people, is difficult. They have no idea how to make friends outside the Church circle; friends and social activities were always provided for them. I don’t have that issue so much, since I rarely attend social activities put on by any ward I’m in. But there is something about having someplace to go for a couple hours each week. A place where there are people and it’s not that hard to make friends. Or at least have the illusion that you can make friends.
Upon reflection, I realize that I have no idea how people normally make friends. All of the “friends” I have that aren’t a result of my online interactions are leftover from high school and college (thrown together by circumstance), or they emerge as people I can sit by at church.
I wonder if this is honestly the case for everyone. Do you just make friends with people you interact with regularly? And how do you move from hanging out in specific circumstances to actually doing something outside of the confines of a specific setting?