A few weeks ago, I asked someone on a date. She’s my age. She works in the same building I do. She speaks the same first language I do (always a plus). I made a passing comment in the hallway about needing a bottle of wine this Friday and she said, ‘I’m game if you are.’
I am, I am, I am! Want to go now? I’m ready, let me just get my bag!
Naturally I played it cool and we did that laughing-in-tandem-as-we-go-our-separate-ways thing. But a few hours later, back at home, I mulled over the exchange. Then bit the bullet. I sent her an email – ‘I was serious about that bottle of wine.’ Hitting send, I felt bold. I felt brazen. And I felt pretty damn vulnerable. But when you’re new in town – in a foreign country, no less – and your best friend is the cashier at the bookshop you visit daily – and has an unpleasant demeanour to boot – you need to be bold, otherwise you’re looking at a lot of cosy nights in with the latest paperback. And a huge glass of wine for one. And a cheese platter that should probably be for two but is clearly going to be for one.
There are numerous occasions, in life, when we need to throw ourselves at the mercy of the masses, swallow our nerves and/or pride and say ‘can I play too?’ Starting school is one of them, or indeed having to build a new group after your year 8 clique decides they don’t want you any more. Starting a new job is another. Moving to a new town, a new country is a big one. Having just moved to a new city in Germany, my third in as many years, I find myself, once more, in the generally nervous, uncomfortable position of having to make friends. Of having to enter, with either stealth or flat out asking for mercy, pre-existing social clusters. And it’s not easy. In fact, making friends is hard work, particularly at an age at which you have friends, you have brilliant, smart, funny, like-minded friends that form part of a group you have spent a lifetime cultivating. Particularly at an age when asking ‘can I play too’ doesn’t come as naturally, for various reasons, as it does when you’re six. Particularly when you can’t help but feel, wearily, been there done that, that you have friends, they’re just not here.
But, like with most grown up things, you need to suck it up. When you are firmly ensconced in a social network that is a known quantity, that routinely meets, that can be called upon at a moment’s notice, that can communicate on the same level in the same language – both literally and metaphorically – making additional friends is unnecessary fun. Adding the new girl in the office who seems like a bit of a laugh to your Friday nights drink group – and perhaps, perhaps, Sunday brunch – is a luxury, and a relatively inconsequential one. If it works, it works, if it doesn’t, the group just snaps back to its original size. But when it’s just you and nights spent streaming Game of Thrones, friends aren’t just for fun, nor is the new colleague who seems like a bit of a laugh, a luxury. Friends are for survival, for the maintenance of mental health. That girl who seems like a bit of a laugh is to be snaffled, she is a date to be scheduled. She is an important connection to be made, even if it’s just for one coffee. She is someone who is going to prevent your perspective from narrowing, provide conversation, affirmation, understanding, perhaps even a little avenue for venting. She is going to save you from existing purely online and then entirely in your head and then in a bubble of egocentric pity.
Of course, at this age, making friends is a different kettle of fish. You have an idea, a firm idea of both what you want and expect from other human beings you want to be friends with. We aren’t particularly malleable any more. We are, perhaps to a fault, picky and a little more judgmental than our six year old selves, a little less forgiving than our sixteen year old selves who could certainly hold a grudge but only until the next, more interesting one bumped it out of the way. But, on the flip side, we also aren’t as invested in our friendships as we were when they were, quite literally, our world. At this age we have busy jobs, relationships, kids, pre-existing social networks, hobbies we partake in alone and far more need for personal space and, as they say, ‘me time.’ So we don’t need to make the type of intense friends we did at school, we simply need to reach out and make a connection. If that connection deepens and follows you through life, then fantastic. If it doesn’t, if it just covers a few coffees and a few laughs until you move again, that’s also fantastic. Social interaction is a fundamental, necessary therapy.
So we did meet for a bottle of wine, in fact we met for dinner and there were four of us. Four of us, plenty of wine and entirely necessary connections. And it was great.