The Satiating Power of Friendship

I tend to be a creature of habit. At restaurants, I find what I like, and always order it, reluctant to try anything new or different.  I can be like this with friends too, waiting to find someone I click with, usually someone a lot like me. But time and experience have taught me that some of the best friends need not be soul mates.  In fact, difference can truly make a friendship sweet.

I first learned this about 15 years ago when I moved to Arizona and there was not a soul mate in sight.  I felt like a freak in my ward because I had a degree and no kids. Who knew that would make me an outcast! So for a while I refused to order and went hungry. Eventually I realized I need to try another “item on the menu” and decided to make friends with someone at work that had just graduated from high school and was recovering from a colonoscopy.  She had no colon, I had no friends and EmilyCC and I saved each other from loneliness.   I continued to branch out and found myself becoming close to the woman I visit taught, a single mom who supported herself as an “exotic dancer.”  I may have left Arizona feeling like no one “got me,” but I certainly had a lot of women who had my back.

The move to Boston in 1996 was easier but still took time.  I was pregnant with my first and felt like all the women my age were part of some exclusive Mommy Club that I couldn’t join until the baby crowned.  Yet I love to look back on my first month here and realize that it was two Exponent women that reached out to me.  Judy Dushku was my first friend.  She called to interview me for some RS New Sister Newsletter and we talked and laughed and said scandalous things (and have been ever since).  The wonderful Linda Kimball showed up next, taking me on Boston adventures and initiating me into the world of Exponent II.

I loved these women, but once my son was born, I realized I had to make friends with other moms my age. So I turned to that trusty friend making institution once again, visiting teaching.  I got a new assignment, a woman with a baby a few months younger than my son and made a decision: “She will be my friend.”  I stalked her.  Seriously. She had no choice but to be my friend.  Now in many ways Becky and I were not a natural fit, but in figuring out those first years of mothering together, we formed a deep bond.  I came to enjoy our differences as much as I embraced the places we overlapped.

In the 14 years I’ve been here, I have made the best friends of my life. Some of us are the “separated at birth” variety, but even more are really different creatures all together. Here’s something that’s so obvious that was a big insight to me:  we are more than we appear to be. We have all heard President Kimball’s remark about how any devoted LDS man and woman could make a successful marriage. I don’t believe that, but I am convinced that any two LDS women could make a successful friendship if they give each other a real chance.  For example, another unlikely friendship I formed is with the BFF of my husband’s ex-girlfriend. Who he dumped. For me. Seriously, we HATED each other at BYU and now we stay at hotels together so we can read important literature like Harry Potter and Twilight.

I love that among my friends are octogenarians and fifth graders, Southern Belles and @#!*% ’s Angels, strippers and Relief Society presidents (who sometimes are the same person—you know who you are!), Tibetan pacifists and George Bush loving Republicans.  I am enriched by them all.

When it comes to ordering food, I’m a meat and potatoes gal. But when it comes to people, whether by choice, opportunity, or necessity, I have learned to branch out and cultivate all different kinds of friendships.  So if you’re hungry for a friend, try something new. You may be surprised at how satisfying the friendship can be.

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12 Responses

  1. Caroline says:

    Heather, what a lovely post!

    Some of my most enriching friendships have been with those who are markedly different from me. I adore my Mexican American Catholic friend from college who grew up in an abusive family situation. On the surface our differences were stark, but underneath we were soul mates.

    Your post inspires me to reach out to other women and see what comes of it.

  2. SilverRain says:

    Thanks for this post. It’s something I need to hear.

    I think I’ll have to wait to apply it, however, until I get past the “one more thing to spend energy on, and I’ll implode” phase.

    Until then, I’ll be fasting.

  3. Aimee says:

    Thank you for this soul-satisfying read, Heather! It’s given me a moment to reflect on my unlikely and friendships–the ones I almost didn’t let happen because I had decided ahead of time how deep they could go but are now among my most cherished. Thanks for being one of those instant soul-sister’s to me, dear. When I think of the Exponent women–both online and from Boston days, I feel particularly blessed.

  4. Aimee says:

    And I know I’m going to be reading this in church someday–wouldn’t this post be a wonderful way to pump up the energy for Visiting Teaching?

  5. Stacey P says:

    I smiled as I read through this, knowing you, knowing the people and hanging on everyword.

    Thank you for sharing!
    Hugs,
    S

  6. Corktree says:

    This is a beautiful post Heather. It was fun to read how you formed some amazing connections. And it got me thinking to the times in my life that I actually felt truly connected to people and that I had friends and not just acquaintances.

    The funny part is, Boston has been one of my best place for having real friends as well. I worked at NEMC and was exposed to colleagues of all different races, ages, religions and interests. And somehow, without even really trying, I formed some of the best relationships I’ve ever had. I don’t know if it was the commonality of our shared work, but those wonderful people (men and women) were so instantly accepting and supportive of me and we celebrated our differences. We didn’t try to pretend that they didn’t exist, but we actually used them to strengthen our connections somehow.

    I’ve contrasted that with my social attempts since then. In New Hampshire, where church became my only source for friends, it worked because we had to rely on each other as family (since none of us had relatives in the area), and we were forced to give each other opportunities to show our true selves because we didn’t have multitudes to pick our friends from. I think this helped to push us toward people that we would have assumed we had nothing in common with or that we wouldn’t be “soul mates” with. I was grateful for that.

    But in other places, where my background and religion and race and age and gender hardly make me unique or people have family to turn to for support, I have found that it’s a real struggle to connect. I can’t move beyond the surface no matter how hard I try or put myself out there. I’ve come to understand that this is sadly quite common where I live – and the reason that we have a 5 year plan to move back to the Boston area 🙂

  7. Lacy says:

    This is such a good call. I probably starve myself much more often than I need to. (and I’m still pudgy!) 😉

  8. Rebecca says:

    I like that you put the onus for building friendships on yourself, rather than waiting around for someone to friend you. I laughed out loud at your description of “stalking” this woman who you wanted to be friends with. Too often we wait around for someone to choose us.

    I loved this post. I agree that “difference can truly make a friendship sweet.” Some of my dearest friends differ from me in politics, religion, and background. It makes life a lot more interesting.

  9. EmilyCC says:

    Oh, this post made me cry a little bit. If I ever doubt that God doesn’t send special friends, I think of bate-stamping that fall with you.

    A great reminder about expanding horizons when it comes to making friends.

  10. I think you meant “colectomy” instead of “colonoscopy,” because if it means what you think it means, I would have no colon. Twice. Ha ha.

    But anyway, I know what you mean. When I decide to be someone’s friend, it happens. But if something has already turned me off from that person, then I don’t even try. My best friend is also someone I stalked. We both laugh about it now, but if someone were to just hear the things I did, they would be creeped out. Maybe. I’ve found that visiting teaching for me lately has been about me being their friend more than about them being my friend. I am there for them but I don’t open myself up to them. Is that cheating? I just don’t feel up to it . . .

  11. Jessawhy says:

    What an awesome post! I love it even more because I met you at the Exponent retreat. 🙂

    Honestly, like Emily (and I have no excuse b/c I’m not pregnant) this post makes me want to cry. I love thinking about how many friends I’ve made through Exponent. I’m really glad that we have a way to connect to each other.
    (And for those of you reading who want to turn online reading into real life friendships, just keep commenting and join us for the Exponent retreat! In fact, we’re hoping to start a database at LDS WAVE to get Mormon Feminist groups started around the country. Stay tuned.)

    As far as finding unlikely friends, I’ve had a few recently. One friend had a lot of different opinions on life, church, and politics, but we both loved to analyze, laugh, talk, and hang out while our kids played. Most of all, we were both spontaneous. We’d go rollerblading, to the park, to the library, to the pool, all the time. Almost every day one of us would call, “Hey, I’m headed here, wanna come?” And we almost always did. This friend moved away in May and now I hardly ever go out (also it was summer and we hardly every go out during the summer). I know I need to reach out and find a new friend like her. But I’ve had a hard time finding someone who is equally spontaneous and laid-back.

  12. aerin says:

    Great post! I have found as I didn’t expect friends to each be a best, close friend, the better it has been. I have different friends for different times.

    And I don’t expect everyone to agree with everything that I did. I have a couple of close friends (now) whom I disagree with on both religion and the role of medication/traditional health care. We are able to find friendship despite our disagreements.

    Also, some friends are much older than I am, and when I was younger, that would have been a big deal for me.

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