“Susan,” my sister said to me on the phone, “I don’t have any girlfriends.”
I wasn’t surprised to hear this from my older sister, Carolyn, in Connecticut. I have four sisters in three different states, and I’d heard it before, from every one of them. None of us has a lot of friends — any kind of friends, and definitely not best friends. I imagine this is partly due to our upbringing: we moved often, so we didn’t forge many friendships, knowing they were temporary.
There was no email or Facebook when we were growing up, so once we moved to another town, the only way to keep in touch with people was by phone, but — before voice over IP — long-distance phone calls were very expensive. You could write a letter or a postcard, but then you had to buy a stamp. You needed money for that, and a ride to the post office. People usually didn’t write back, either. After you moved, they moved on, and soon you had nothing in common to write about. So we just didn’t start many meaningful, lasting friendships, or work to maintain the few we had.
Here in the 21st century, with its texting, Skype, unlimited phone minutes and social media, there’s no excuse for letting friendships die, but my sisters and I seem to hang onto our childhood habits: don’t keep up old friendships or bother making any new ones. I was guilty of the habit, and so was my sister.
“It’s funny you say that you don’t have any girlfriends,” I said to her, “because I have the same problem, but being an introvert, I guess it doesn’t bother me because I really enjoy being alone.” Of course, there’s a fine line between introversion and reclusiveness, and I cross that line regularly. I could go for days without speaking to another person. That’s probably not healthy, so I make a point of walking into the bank to deposit checks, talking to the mail lady at the mailboxes in the afternoon or going to the grocery store when I don’t need anything, so I can make eye contact with a person and say hello at least once a week. I’m good with that — it satisfies my social needs. But I wanted to help my sister.
“Have you tried a Meetup group?” I asked. She didn’t know what that was, so I stepped her through the meetup.com site. In case you’re not familiar with Meetup, it’s a site where people who have common interests set up groups, and then have in-person meetups and social events. There are Meetup groups for just about everything. I think I belong to at least a dozen of them here in the Springs, and one of these days I’m going to attend an event.
My sister got on the site, plugged in her zip code, and got a list of meetup groups in her area.
“The closest meetup group is called Girls Without Friends,” she laughed.
“Great,” I said, “and it’s probably a bunch of miserable, middle-aged women who moved a lot when they were kids. Sounds like a blast!” We both laughed at that.
I had to try again.
“Don’t you have any friends from high school? College? Past jobs? Isn’t there anyone you haven’t seen in a long time, but when you think about that person, you remember really enjoying their company?”
There was someone, but she hadn’t talked to her in years.
“She used to call and stop by all the time,” she said.
“So what happened,” I asked, “Did she move? Why did she stop coming by?”
“I don’t know ... well, actually I remember now that she had a gallery opening, so she was really busy. She invited me but I couldn’t make it. Then she had this other thing, and couldn’t go to that either. I think she left me a voicemail last year ... ”
“Call her!” I said, “Hang up and call her right now!”
“But we haven’t talked in years. I told you, she stopped calling.”
“No, Carolyn, she didn’t stop calling. You stopped calling her back.”
“Oh,” she said.
A couple of weeks later, my sister called me again. She had called and called that friend, and gotten no response, so she went by her house. They spent two hours catching up. As it turned out, they had both gotten busy. Their friendship hadn’t ended; it had just lapsed, and all it took was for one of them to take that first step to revive it. My sister was happy. She had her friend back.
I hung up the phone and thought about that for a while. Then I contacted a few women I hadn’t seen in years. One of them went on a hike in Lost Creek Wilderness with me. Two others, who live minutes away in Mountain Shadows and Manitou Springs, invited me out for drinks. We had great conversations. They reminded me that friendships, in small doses, felt good.
I called my sister to tell her about it. She laughed at me for following my own advice after all these years, and I hung up, smiling.
I think that’s when it clicked with me. I do have a best friend, and so does my sister, Carolyn.
Susan Joy Paul is an author, editor and freelance writer. She has lived in Colorado’s northwest side for 20 years. Contact Susan with comments and suggestions at firstname.lastname@example.org.