Andrei and I got together with some old friends recently and shared our mutual nostalgia for our friendships in our 20s, and current lack of adult friendships.
At first I was thinking it was some sort of parent-life thing. But one couple at the table hasn't had children and is having the same issue. We were all (except for the husband from Moscow) in a small group together about 10 years ago, led by Andrei. Of course we remember it as a Golden Age. Was it? I'll have to peek at old blog posts and see if I alluded to anything. I do think it was a fruitful period of Christian fellowship and spiritual growth, as well as liking to hang out socially. Something about the combination of regular meetings+openness+many of us not married yet, seemed to foster deep relationships. Okay, they weren't perfect, but even just going around the circle sharing honest prayer requests, and following through...that was something we could count on at the time.
But attending a small group now? Although our current church has a small group, we aren't able to commute during the week at this point. You'd think we'd be hosting, like we did before kids...but after the church conflict, it's been hard to find the emotional energy to make those kinds of commitments.
"I don't want to go and waste my free time listening to everyone talk about something that isn't interesting to me," was one person's comment. It sounds cynical, considering we are talking about Christian fellowship! But when you take away the relationship, that might be a good point. I can think of many Bible study discussions where several people went off on their own tangents and in the end it felt like we talked about...nothing. So if I were a newcomer, I don't know if it would make me want to come back. But when it's a regular thing and you really want to be there, you don't look for perfection.
If we're forced to let go of past configurations, we have to find a new format. But making new friends is so...tedious. Why is it harder as an adult?
I catch glimpses on social media of friends attending Bible studies or other gatherings of friends. So clearly, some of my peers still have the hang of it. Or...are they just keeping up friendships from long ago? Or forming connections naturally with colleagues, neighbors, or fellow parents at their kids' schools? Does it ever happen easily?
Also, there is the big city dynamic. I'm sure I've touched on it before, but traveling an hour each way to attend Bible study or a mid-week meeting isn't always feasible. Yes, we did it in our 20s. Now we don't. We COULD do it. But we don't. Should we? Does it make more sense to seek out friends in our neighborhood? I honestly hate putting conditions on a friendship like that, makes it feel so forced! Some of my closest friends have lived on opposite ends of the city, even outside the city.
We were sitting there complaining about the social scene, even though right then we were having a pretty good time. It is wonderful to have old friends that you can see once in a while and share candid conversation with, but is it enough?
When I think about it, I do have a lot of dear friends that pop up here and there, making my life brighter. Life is probably too short to wait for them to move closer or be free for regular meetings. I think partly the plan-making and anticipation itself takes all the energy out of me, but in the end some connections are there.
I also wanted to clarify that my friends don't all attend church. Some may not be Christians, some are going through church conflict like we have experienced. Obviously I came to be a light to non-believers, but I also just enjoy my friendships that have developed over the years, whether it dates from a long-ago meeting at camp, or getting to know each other through other mutual interests. Andrei has some good non-church friends too, from his university days.
Andrei thinks it's a fallacy to depend on church for social activity. I certainly wouldn't put my expectations that way, but I do think that you have to kind of trust the process, spending time with people that you don't have much in common with at first besides faith. Friendship seems to follow in many cases...the jury's still out on that. ;)
I'm actually blessed to be expecting visits from a few "girlfriends" this week, as well as my in-laws. So we're really not all that isolated, it's just a different phase of life.
When I think about deeper fellowship, Dietrich Bonhoeffer's "Life Together" comes to my mind, with his description of practices such as confessing our sins to one another. Do you have friends like that? Is there anyone whom I could really trust with matters of the heart? What if someone gave me a call and asked me what I'm currently dealing with? Sometimes it feels like we are picky in friendship, and yet there is so much room for improvement, that at the same time I would like to keep hoping for something more in the future.