Growing up, I never had a huge group of friends. I have many good friends. Cherished friends. But generally, even as a little girl, my friends were not all friends with each other. The biggest group I was ever part of was maybe three or four girls. Groups of friends in elementary school formed pretty naturally driven by activities or geography or moms.
But by middle school I had narrowed the field quite a bit. I think I almost preferred it that way. I’m a secret introvert and even now if I go to a party where I know I have to make small talk with 30 people, I feel a little nauseous. I want to grab one person and hold their face in my hands and discuss their complex relationship with their mother at length. I know. Now you won’t invite me for coffee. It’s ok. I just generally suck at making ‘light conversation.’
In late high school when we were technically women making friends with other women, I had one ‘best friend’ and we floated between groups of other friends and hung out with a group of boys as a dynamic duo. This totally worked for me. The guys were a blissful counterweight to any drama she and I might attempt to stir up.
College was similar. Again, I had lots of women I spent time with but not a sorority atmosphere certainly. I have several friends from those four years-but they aren’t friends with one another.
I found my future maid of honor in college. We disliked each other a great deal the first few weeks of freshman year. She found me bold and over-confident. I found her shy and irritatingly not wanting to be the center of attention. Plus, she wore mysteriously preppy rugby shirts and I was trying out my REI meets goth look with all black clothing, dark red lipstick and hiking boots. We must have pushed past all that since now she is the executor of my will.
Then I made “couple friends” and anyone who is over 14 knows how difficult that is to navigate. The odds of both people in one pair really enjoying both people in the other pair are well…let’s just say even match.com or Tinder wouldn’t dare try to code that algorithm. And then large groups of couples who all enjoy hanging out together? Even more tricky. (note: three of my favorite couples to hang out with in our 20’s…all divorced now-maybe it was me?)
Graduate school. In two years of seeing the same people every.single.freaking.day, I made a few friends. And one BFF, before BFF’s were even a thing. We were like hecklers at a comedy club except we were in Psych class. I’m not sure everyone appreciated our bond. We thought all of the same people were exactly the same kind and same amount of crazy.
Work. Various settings. Various people. I have yet to find an adult who relishes attending their own company party let alone hang out with their co-workers every weekend. Worlds colliding. It rarely works out ideally.
Church. Surely church is filled with a lot of nice women. I never did find 6 that all wanted to hang out together though. Never. Acquaintances yes. Cohesive friend group? Nope. Not for me.
Neighborhood. No. We live on a street that ranges from newly married to retired couples. There are no block parties. No progressive dinners. No pool parties. Last year we had 0 trick or treaters. One banner year we had five. They must have gotten lost. My closest neighborhood friend lives next door and I surely couldn’t have survived the last 20 years without her but we have our differences. She is 71.
Health Club. Nope. I don’t go often enough to meet anyone. I’ve heard of people going there regularly. I’m not one of them.
So-over the years when I see on social media photos of 8, 10, 12, 15! women together on trips or dinners or book clubs or scrapbooking weekends or reunions or 5k’s or wine tastings or etc…I always think…really? How? How did I never end up having a group of friends?
And then I realized I have one now…my first friend group. I am in my late 40’s. Sheesh. Took long enough. I have finally found my sorority. I will call us the Delta Chai Lattes! Accidentally. It’s my ‘mom friends‘. The extensive group of women (and even a couple of dads!) who surround raising their children alongside me are my tribe.
Phenomenal, intelligent, strong women. They know me. They know each other. We have a lot in common and the kids bond us together even though some of our kids are different ages and don’t even hang out with one another. Doesn’t matter anymore.
We are so tight now we don’t even care if the kids like each other. They are women who work outside the home and women who work inside the home. They have one child, they have four children. One has six children, enough for her own volley ball team. They are single, married, widowed, divorced.
They are estranged from their parents, have ailing parents, have dead parents, have under-involved parents, have over-involved parents, all while parenting their own kids. A few are over the top optimistic and a couple are intensely sarcastic and a couple are wicked smart and a couple are wild procrastinators. One in particular is astonishingly organized but I still like her.
They are volunteers and coaches, community organizers and entrepreneurs, piano teachers and writers and religious and not religious. Some are great cooks and some are ultra-crafty, some exercise and some talk about exercising but never actually do and some are loud and outgoing and some aren’t. I value and cherish them all for their unique gifts and their challenges and their grit.
These women make my life so much better. My circle of trust. They make the grind of life tolerable. They are my ‘go to’ when I have a question about what the heck is wrong with my kid(s) or when something goes well with my kid(s). They celebrate my successes and lament with me when it all goes to shit. Some of them I see in person 3 times a year, others I see weekly.
We go on mom field trips and do important ‘doughnut research.’ It is my first experience of having a large number of women who make me feel “we are in this together.” I have 20+ women who would drop everything and pick up my son if I needed it. I would do the same for them. They are my emergency contacts.
I have cried with them in Target, right there next to the light bulbs and laundry detergent and bananas. That is friendship. It is an intricate but strong and supportive web of friendship that holds me together some days during these intense parenting years.
These women…they teach me. They educate me on camps to look into, where to buy something for less, why a particular teacher is so valuable, what to open my eyes to and when to shut my ears. They assure me NO KID REALLY NEEDS TO BE 6 YEARS AHEAD IN MATH. They know stuff.
They recommend books and doctors and websites and restaurants. They gently explain the reality of why I could never actually survive being a hockey mom for the long haul and how most things are likely going to turn out just fine and probably don’t need my micro-management.
They point me in the right direction when I need to get whipped up about something and present convincing arguments for when I really need to calm the hell down. (It’s almost always the second one).
This photo was taken on my birthday last year. Not even nearly everybody who is important to me is in the photo (obviously)…and I didn’t even have a chance to talk to everyone this day and hold their face and delve into their inner soul. But it’s ok. They know I care what happens to them. I’ve got their backs. I’ll catch up with them at school or on the soccer field or in the church parking lot or over lunch or maybe at Target.
We will cry at Target. Together. Sisterhood.
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Jen Fortner lives in Minnesota with her husband, three children and the best dog on earth. She has a MSW degree that never gets used other than to diagnose family members at holiday gatherings. She has a blog at mymildlifecrisis.com where she tells stories about her family that they never read.