The email perplexed me:
Joanne, Sorry to sound pathetic, but have I done something to offend you? — Michelle*
There was no clue, no context. Really, was I on my own here to deconstruct what the hell Michelle, a college buddy from 12 years back, was referring to? How could she have done anything offensive when we hadn’t spoken in more than a few months?
This discovery came on a recent Saturday morning; while mulling over my response, I poured myself a second cup of coffee and settled into the couch again with my laptop for another weekend ritual, catching up on Facebook, where Michelle’s status update, I suspected, was designed for my eyes: “Is it still possible to remain friends with someone whom you have very little in common? I thought it was.” Double-whammy. WTF? A pang of panicked remembrance and then guilt hit me in the gut. Michelle had given birth to her second child three months ago – I knew it was a girl, Rose*, because of an emailed birth announcement and text. Even though I vaguely thought I had, I now realized that I had done nothing to congratulate Michelle. No phone call, no Facebook wall note, no card, not even a text. Yikes. And Michelle had definitely noticed.
Then it dawned on me that my college roommate living in L.A. had just given birth to her second child and a good friend in Connecticut had just had baby number two recently as well, and I had similarly done exactly zilch to commemorate those births. For these college friends’ first babies, I was on it – I promptly mailed out an ironic onesie tied up in blue or pink ribbon right after the birth.
How could this have happened? Admittedly, I had gone kind of MIA in the past six months with all my “old,” pre-NYC-life friends. I had been busy sorting out a new routine since transitioning from freelancing to a new full-time job over the summer, and had been focusing on building a new life in a relatively new city. (I’ve only lived in NYC for two years.) I called Michelle later that day to apologize, saying I had just been so busy this fall. She said she understood and it wasn’t a big deal, that she was just genuinely worried I was upset with her for some reason. Then we talked about Rose: She was so adorable and teeny, Michelle cooed. She was in love. I couldn’t wait to meet her, I said. Crisis averted.
But had I been honest with her? Had I really been too busy? I mean, really, who’s too busy for a text message? I wasn’t too busy to check in with a handful of other girlfriends (um, without kids); I wasn’t too busy to go out once a week until 2 a.m. with my husband and other coupled-up friends; I wasn’t too busy for yoga class. Actually, I was indulging in lots of outright mind-numbing time sucks — Hello, trashy Bravo reality TV marathons!
My mother once warned me that friendships would change with age, that a lot of friendships would drift away in my 30s. Now that I’m 34, I see that she’s right. Is this change an inevitable by-product of aging, of moving around and not being able to always “make new friends and keep the old”? Likely. But with my friends with kids it’s different – even when we do manage to get on the phone, there’s not much to talk about and it can feel awkward.
These conversations revolve around the pregnancy, the childbirth, the baby, the development of the kid – all milestones to get excited about! Though, in turn, I feel like I don’t have news that can compete with all this newness.
More confusing to navigate are the tedious details surrounding these events. Nursing problems, stroller contraptions, applying to pre-schools, dealing with napping “schedules,” interviewing babysitters – there’s really no material for discussion there for me. Could we gab about Taylor Swift’s horrendous performance at the Grammys, boys, or our career angst instead? I have no doubt that my life – long work days, freelance projects, wine-fueled date nights out with my husband, concerts, weekend getaways – is equally foreign to them these days. To top it off, our schedules are at odds: they’re more available during the day while I’m freer late-night.
After the rollercoaster 20s, when we were trying to discover ourselves, it feels like, for the sake of convenience, social cliques are once again pronounced for 30-somethings, like they were in high school. Though, instead of the punks, farmers, hippies and nerds that typecast us as teenagers, now life is divided among the singles, the coupled-ups/marrieds, the marrieds with kids, and the singles with kids. I would like to be wrong here, but I don’t think I am.
My subconscious refusal to connect to my now twice-babied friends, I think, is my selfish and convenient acceptance of this social shift. It says a lot about Michelle that she won’t let me get off the hook so easily, that she doesn’t want us to fade away. She, of course, cut to the heart of the matter in her Facebook status question: “Is it still possible to remain friends with someone whom you have very little in common?” I didn’t comment, though I’d like the answer to be yes.
Yet I’m still wondering if that doesn’t sound like an oxymoron: a friend with whom you have little in common.