She was a few minutes late, and the server who filled two glasses with water seemed to know I was on a date. My eyes darted to the door whenever it opened. Is that her? Not her. Is that her? Maybe her. And on it went until it was her and she waved, presumably because she recognized me from my Facebook photos.
This wasn’t a romantic date. I’d met this new friend in a Facebook group for writers. After discovering that we both live in Portland, I suggested we meet up for a drink.
But it sure felt a lot like a date. Turns out, friend-dates bring out similar insecurities, nerves and excitement that I experience on dates with prospective partners.
Which is a good thing. Feeling vulnerable, excited and a little nervous means I’m putting myself out there. That’s what I’m committed to doing this new year — opening myself up to the possibility of new friends.
The trouble started when I was 8. My family moved cross-country to California and I had to attend a school full of strangers in a place where it was bizarrely warm year-round. That was the first move of many. And each time, rather than improving at making new friends in new schools, I became better at being alone.
I continued to bounce from place to place into adulthood. I remember when I moved to Chicago in 2008. My new roommate, a stranger I’d met on Craigslist, got sick as soon as I arrived and went to her mom’s house in the south suburbs. For days, I enjoyed my new apartment, all on my own. I wandered around the city alone, treating myself to meals at new restaurants, reading in coffee shops for hours, soaking up the city. It was just me and the sidewalks and subways of Chicago, testing each other out. I loved this excess of alone time . . . until I didn’t.
One morning I woke up and wished I had someone to talk to. By that evening, I felt desperate to get out and be social. I drove to a new neighborhood with a concert ticket and hopes that the intimate venue might allow for some conversation with strangers. But I hadn’t considered that parking would be expensive, and I was broke from all those coffee shop cappuccinos. I ended up crying, driving home and skipping the show.
That’s been my trouble with being good at being alone. I’ll revel in the silence and the freedom. But while I’m enjoying it, loneliness is likely sneaking up behind me. I don’t know it’s there until I’m suddenly paralyzed by isolation.
I now live in Portland, Ore., and for almost a year, many of my nights were spent on Tinder dates. When things didn’t work out, often I’d suggest that we remain friends. Sometimes, we did.
After several rounds of this unusual friend-making process, it struck me that if I were to throw a party with all my “friends,” things could get awkward.
Eventually, I did meet people outside of dating apps. A woman moved in across the hall, and after offering no more than friendly “hello’s” in the hallway for months, I built up the courage to ask her if she wanted to get coffee sometime.
I met another friend in an acrobatic class. She was also new to the city and we were able to laugh at how hard it was to find friends as newbies.
Then I got comfortable. With just a handful of friends, I felt like I was all set. But friends come and go. People move. They take on new jobs or become absorbed by new relationships and suddenly it’s Friday and the three people who might join you for happy hour are all out of town or busy.
I spent a lot of time dating to find that special someone in 2016. And it felt like a big waste of time. The more I want to find that person, the more disappointing it is when sparks fail to fly, or texts go unanswered. Friend-dating is different. There’s room for lots of friends in my life. And when dating doesn’t go well, it’s friends who show us that our lives can be full of love, even when we’re single.
As this year draws to a close, I’ve decided that the energy I spend on romantic dating would be more efficiently channeled by looking for more friends instead. I’ve started being more deliberate about asking people, like this woman I’d met in a Facebook group, if they want to hang out sometime.
Last week I threw a holiday party at the house I bought on my own this year. As my dining room filled with more people than I had seating for, I felt my heart swell with gratitude for these friends — even if I met them on Facebook or still don’t know them that well. (And I’d only met one of them on Tinder!)
New friends introduce us to new experiences; they teach us more about ourselves. And they continue to come and go like all relationships, as long as we’re willing to open ourselves up to them.
I was grateful when people started to leave that night and my house grew quiet. But I’ll see them all again soon. It’s a date.