We met at a birthday party that neither of us was specifically invited to. In a local mom’s Facebook, a woman posted about her son’s sad birthday party that none of his classmates or friends showed up to.
Having experienced that heart-wrenching feeling before, we came from our different parts of town to show support.
There at a backyard bash, we met. Our tween sons navigated the bouncy house, and we bonded over our odd observations and strong convictions. This immediate connection blossomed into a friendship between our sons.
From then on, Friday nights meant holing up in their mid-century modern home with a glass of white wine while our preteen boys negotiated which video game to play for hours. We talked.
To say we became fast friends was an understatement. Then, they moved. Four years after that fateful day, her family relocated four hours away. Suddenly there was a new void in my life.
I began “courting” other moms. This was going to be the year I became more involved with the parent groups for my son’s activities. I arrived at registration night to sign my son up for theater auditions. Some moms smiled in that way to acknowledge my presence as they shuffled on to find their established friend groups, and some barely glanced at me on their way to greet my son by name. My work was cut out for me.
Unlike my son, the social scene was never my thing. It takes a lot of work and energy for me, a self-proclaimed introvert, to cultivate friendships. As the invites for him came in for hangouts, lunches, and birthday parties, I tagged along. I had very little in common with these moms.
My son quickly made another good friend, and I invited his mom to coffee. She arrived 20 minutes late, frazzled, and spent 30 minutes complaining about her kids. Needless to say, that didn’t work out.
Either I needed to make it work or I needed to untangle myself from my son’s social circle. It was a complicated dynamic, but I had gotten us into this mess. I was the one who inserted myself and my need for mom friends instead of letting his friendships be about him and his relationships. I was mourning, though. I was grieving the loss of an important friendship.
“Losing a friend is hard,” my son said. “It is,” I sighed in agreement. A moment later, I realized he was talking about himself. He had just lost a best friend. We had both just lost our best friends. This, though, wasn’t about me.
I freed us both from the messy situation of me needing to approve of his friends’ moms. It didn’t matter if I agreed with their politics and beliefs. This was his tribe, not mine.
In the meantime, as I set out to find my own crew, I tell myself the advice I always give him when he has gathered up the courage to venture out into a new social adventure: “Not everyone’s going to be your friend, and that’s OK. Focus on the people who make you feel like you can be yourself. Those are your people.”