Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Getting turned down

When you move to a foreign city, all of your friends try to put you in touch with their friends, and friends of friends, and friends of friends of old colleagues’ little sisters’ friends who also live in that city. You end up going on a lot of friend-dates. And, just like regular dating (if memory serves me correctly, cough, cough), the patterns are predictable. The first date is generally easy and breezy—you swap your life histories and ask a lot of questions. On the second date, the finer points of your bios come out—the whys behind the previously disclosed who/what/when and where—and you trade horror stories and commiserate.

But the second date is also when you scrutinize the person across from you a little more closely, trying to determine if you’ll get along. If they’ll get the same enjoyment out of chevre chaud salads, for example, and experience the same longing when passing before a patisserie window; if they’ll also love talking about restaurants and food (ad nauseam) and movies and books and fashion and travel; if they’ll giggle at the same jokes and find the same absurdities in life. In other words, do they make the cut? Is this person worthy of your time? Are they going to get a third date?

Not everyone is for everyone. I was reminded of this recently when I reached out to a friend of a friend for the second time and was—I now understand—rejected.

This woman and I had two friend-dates this summer. I knew it wasn’t love—there wasn’t a super easy rapport; we didn’t laugh much; we weren’t “omigod…” finishing each other’s sentences. But she’s interesting. She’s smart and talented and has been in Paris for a few years. I figured we could see each other occasionally and get an American fix and that maybe I would learn a thing or two from her.

So I emailed her in August and threw out a couple suggestion-invitations. They went unanswered. Back from New York, I decided to give her the benefit of the doubt—maybe she had been traveling or was buried in work—and reach out to her again. I emailed to see if she wanted to get together. She immediately wrote back and acknowledged that she felt horribly for never having responded to my previous email, blithely agreed we should do something soon, but, once again, has ignored my subsequent specific invitation to do something.

At first I was completely annoyed. How dare she! Screw her! Doesn’t she know how valuable my time is? What did I see in her anyway?!

But, you know what? C’est la vie. Thinking about it objectively, I know that’s the way it goes sometimes. We’ve all been guilty of doing the exact same thing she’s doing—trying to politely say, Really, I think I’m going to take a pass. She’s just not that into me. That is that, and that is okay. We can’t be friends with everyone we meet.

I think we all feel compelled to be good friends… to everyone… even to people we barely know. To these new friends-of-friends who we don’t really click with. To old friends who are too needy or too demanding. We even feel compelled to befriend or remain friends with people whom we really don’t like. But one of the freedoms of getting older should be not feeling badly when things don’t work out. To bid adieu and move on. Even before things have properly started.

When I first got to Paris, I decided that I only needed three friends and wasn’t going to try to cultivate any friendships beyond that. I earnestly explained this to Julie on the phone one night—that three friends was the perfect number and would completely fulfill my needs and once I hit that quota, I would be done with friend-hunting and save myself time and potential headaches. We still crack up about it.

Within a couple weeks of that declaration, I realized how inane it was. What was I thinking? Why would I limit the number of my friendships? Would having four or five friends diminish the quality of the first three relationships? Were life and my emotional really needs so neat and easy as to be able to quantify the number of sufficient friendships? For better or worse, no.

In recent days, I’ve had several interesting conversations about female friendships. And after seeing so many friends in New York, it’s made me appreciate those old bonds and what they mean to me more than ever.

But I’ve also realized how lucky we are when we find new friends, to be able to build new friendships. How wonderful is it that, our whole lives, we can look forward to finding strangers in the world who we never knew before, but we like and want to spend time with. Or—as the case may be—not having to spend time with people who don’t like or appreciate us.

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