“So. Um. Would you wanna…hang out…sometime?” I take a drink of the brown lager in front of me, feigning interest at college football showing on the screen above the bar. It’s my attempt at playing it cool and calm even though my insides are frazzled. I’m trying to make a friend – something I’m not so good at doing.
“For sure!” He’s smiling through his response. Kevin. That’s his name. We work together.
“We could, you know, see a movie, I love movies. I see movies all the time.” I sense his interest is fading. “But we could do so many other things…like hike!”
“Hike?” He takes a drink of his whiskey, the ice clinking as he sips. His eyes are squinting at me, seeing right through my suggestion. Perhaps because my pear-shaped body doesn’t really align with the idea.
“I’m kidding. Ha. Ha. I have no idea why I said that.”
“You’re alright, dude.” He smiles and laughs. “Actually, a buddy of mine…”
My mind drifts off. I’ve been in Chicago for five months and don’t have any friends. I’m totally fine with being alone and doing things on my own. Dinners, movies, having a drink, all of it by myself. But it’s getting boring. So, here I sit at a bar trying to navigate how to make this colleague a friend. And it’s unwieldy. And I’m aware of my idiosyncrasies. For instance, offering absurd propositions like hiking, which I’m lukewarm about at best. I rub my sweaty hands on the top of my thighs, and I drink more beer to calm my insides.
“…so you wanna go?”
“Sure! Would love to…er…that’d be sweet…nice, and stuff, yeah.” God, I’m making this awkward. And I have no idea what he just said, but I recognized an invitation. I wave to the bartender for another round. I notice Kevin reach for his wallet so I amateurishly say, with an overly planned grin, “Put your money away. It’s on me.”
I moved to Detroit a few months ago. When I arrived, I saw strange roads, foreign buildings, different neighborhoods. Now, there’s familiarity. The Lodge is a highway. I live on 6 Mile. Great Lakes Coffee makes a good cup of joe. And I’m – slowly – calling this place home. But, lately I’ve been overwhelmed with loneliness.
Alone, I am not. I’m surrounded by many wonderful and loving people. Yet, at my favorite coffeeshop, I notice people talking and laughing with each other. I’ve been in Detroit for almost five months, and I realize I’m at that same point I was back in Chicago. It’s time to surround myself with affable faces now that the roads and buildings are comfortable.
Then I remember all those times I’ve had to work at making friends. Like Kevin. The uneasy effort of trying to be laidback and nonchalant makes me feel nauseous. The thought of making friends feels daunting and ignites my anxiety. It’s like I’m the new kid at recess with no one wants to play with, except I’m an adult. And, adults aren’t always ready to let new people join in.
My desire for quality friendships outweighs quantity. I’m selective at who I let into my life. I’m no longer interested in casual acquaintances, but rather friendships that have depth and meaning. If I’m honest, I’m also aware that I can disappoint, frustrate, and hurt people, and I don’t want to do that. Sometimes, that self-awareness gets in the way of taking those first steps towards friendship. But, most of the time, I’m cognizant of the fact that I no longer need friends the way I did when I was 18 or 25. I desire friends, yes, just differently. Navigating adulthood to include new friendships is beautiful when it happens. Identifying people who will be those friends takes time.
My grandfather said, “Friendship is an extension of God’s loving hand on Earth.” I am blessed to have an intimate inner circle of friends who remind me of those words. It’s a small inner circle but a strong one, and I thank God for them everyday. But, I also know the importance of friendship in proximity of my daily life. And it’s a life I want to share with people who won’t mind the uneven schedule of my commitments, and the offbeat quirkiness of my personality.
Maybe it’s simpler than all of this. Maybe it’s remembering that all those years ago, Kevin didn’t run away from me. Maybe he wanted to be my friend too. Maybe there are others around me simply waiting for me to invite them into my life. Maybe they need friends as badly as I do. And then, all I have to do is say something I’ve said before: “Hi, I’m Damian – you wanna see a movie…or go hiking?”