The Business of Making Friends

By Verna Kale

There’s no pressure to buy anything, the invitation always promises. It’s just a fun ladies’ night with drinks and snacks. Sometimes the drinks and snacks are virtual, the “party” a series of games designed to thwart whatever algorithm Facebook is employing this week to keep users from actually viewing content they’ve “liked.” I get invited to a lot of these pop up parties, and often these invitations are a prickly reminder of how hard it is to make friends as a grownup.

Now, I’m not going to complain that internet friends can’t be real friends. I’ve been making friends online since Mark Zuckerberg was in high school. I was an active member of several message boards in the early aughts, one devoted to travel and the other to trivia, and both inspired meetups in real life long before such a thing was socially acceptable.  (One of those friends even came to my wedding.)

I cultivate my online relationships and I enjoy the daily banter that takes place via PM’s, DM’s, comments, emojis, and memes. I’m in a moms’ Facebook group and I really depend on this village: from advice about that suspicious rash to a long running joke about pineapples and 1970s-era key parties (don’t ask), they offer support in a crisis or a much-needed laugh when I’m stuck waiting in line at the DMV.  However, living in a relatively new exurb full of transplants like myself and commuting 100 miles round trip each workday, I’m finding that making friends locally is a real challenge.

It’s not because I never take my eyes of the screen either. As my young children’s worlds are expanding—my daughter is in third grade and my son in Kindergarten—I’ve been interacting with people I wouldn’t otherwise meet. And, y’all, I’m trying so hard. I’ve joined moms’ groups that meet weekly at a local church (never mind that I’m not even religious), I volunteer my editorial services to a nonprofit raising awareness for a diagnosis that my son’s pediatrician has since ruled out, and I’m a card-carrying member of the PTA. I go to birthday parties the way people in their early twenties go to clubs: looking ferosh (or, at least, wearing makeup) and hoping to get numbers.

At the playground or in the bleachers I’ve reached out, hoping these promising acquaintances won’t think I’m some creeper. I click “Add Friend” with the same trepidation you might have felt back in the day when scoping the cafeteria on the first day at a new school. People usually accept the add, but so far I’ve struggled to grow these relationships into something more meaningful.

As friendly as my interactions with other local moms on social media and in the kids’ extracurriculars have been, I find myself staring in from the outside as “squads” form among my general acquaintance. Of course, social media also lets me in on everything I miss: mothers’ morning out brunches, movie dates, concerts, camping (ugh, OK, I’m actually pretty fine with not going camping). You get the picture. And so do I. Lots of pictures, actually, streaming across my feed, making me feel left out.

But that’s not really the problem—or, it’s my problem, not yours. People like who they like, and you don’t have to want to be my friend. Except. I do get invited to multi-level-marketing parties. I’m not going to hate on these pop ups. They’re a real source of income for many work-at-home moms. I happen to love comfy leggings with whimsical prints. I might be interested in treating my headaches with essential oils. Statement jewelry and monogrammed bags make great gifts for that hard-to-buy-for mother-in-law. And, most importantly, I do like drinks and snacks!

I’d love to come, actually.

But if the only time you invite me to join the squad is for a MLM party, that feels worse than not being invited to anything at all. Because then I have to grapple with the (increasingly humiliating) desire of still wanting to belong but suspecting, deep down, that I’ve been invited for the host points my courtesy purchase will bring (because, yes, guests really should buy something). Who knows, it might be fun, or it might be an evening of paying $25 plus tax for the privilege of trying to follow a conversation about that hilarious thing that happened at the last get together—the one without a catalog that I wasn’t invited to.

So, to you lucky moms out there who have been blessed with a crew of BFFs, please, before you invite your B-list to drink sangria and watch wax melt, make sure you’ve reached out to those people in other ways first: playdates, Zumba, paint night—whatever. Who knows, there might be room in your squad for a few more folks—and I’m sure I can make room in my pantry for that egg cooker.

Verna Kale is a documentary editor and the author of a biography of Ernest Hemingway, and she has contributed articles about the joys, frustrations, and sorrows of parenting to River Teeth, Richmond Family Magazine, and Out of Sequence.

Editor’s note: skirt! magazine publishes selected essay submissions each month as part of our mission to amplify women’s voices and issues women care about.