A few years before I married, I moved a couple hours away from what had always been "home." I started scoping out the new turf in the most logical locale: the mall. One day, while walking down the main drag at a pretty good clip, I popped my purse-sized lotion out and started thumping the bottle so I could take care of my dry hands while still mapping out the lay of the mall. Thump, thump, thump.. nothing. More thumps. Still nothing. I examined the bottle and found that bothersome circular piece of cardboard stuck over the opening. (Can anyone tell me what that's for?)
I figured a little squeeze would loosen it, but it didn't. So I gave it a big squeeze. The bottle blew the cardboard off like a baby bazooka! Giant lotion bombs were lobbed all over my face, hanging from my lashes, globbing my hair -- not my favorite Kodak moment.
The worst of it was there was no one there with whom to laugh, no friend to make fun of me. Laughing with a friend over a lotion explosion is a hoot. Laughing alone with lotion dripping out your nose causes other shoppers to move swiftly to the other side of the mall. I needed a bud.
That's when it hit me. I was face to lotion-covered face with a friendship famine. I don't know when I've felt more lonely. Soft, but lonely.
Young or "mature," single or married, we all face times in our life when we hunger for a friend. Life's changing circumstances can result in lean friendship times. A job change, a new location, a marriage, a divorce, a death—even a difference of opinions or faith—can throttle a relationship and launch an anxious time of relational famine. What can we do when we find ourselves starving for a friend?
Pity or Party?
Even popular author and speaker Patsy Clairmont has felt friendship-starved. It's tough to imagine an upbeat people-magnet such as Patsy ever feeling lonely. But in her book Sportin' a 'Tude, she describes her loneliness as "a dull ache, a sadness, a feeling of being forgotten." She states that when she's feeling neglected, she becomes a prime candidate for self-pity to visit.
Clairmont warns that self-pity can be poisonous. Instead of responding in an appropriate way, "we indulge our loneliness until it becomes a melancholy mindset, a distorted way of thinking, seeing, and feeling. At times we entertain our sadness and become dependent on our despondency to extend to us a sick sort of comfort." Instead, Patsy shows us that just as a famine can lead to a more intense search for food, loneliness has the exciting potential to guide us to a new friend. She makes the circumstance sound like an adventure. Move over, Indiana Jones! We're on a friendship quest!
Relocating and Refriending
Laura Jones was accustomed to friend and family feasts. But she experienced a heartfelt loneliness when she left her family and friends in Texas and headed to her new job in St. Louis without knowing a soul.
Laura was listening to a local call-in radio show one evening and heard a caller talking about the church she attended. It takes real guts to step into a new place, but Laura stepped out of her comfort zone and into this new church the next Sunday. She didn't go to church just for the friends, but she didn't let the awkward feeling of not knowing anyone keep her from going.
Through the church's singles' class, she's made some great friends her age who share her beliefs and goals. Laura started attending every singles' gathering available and introducing herself to people there. She in-vested time in getting to know them—and now she's even investing time in helping to plan some class events. Her investments have paid off in some close friendship dividends.
Laura realized a bud might not just pop up like a toaster tart. She was ready to do the work to search out a friend. While Laura found hers at church, a reading group, a craft class, or some other gathering of people with like interests might also be great places to meet a new pal.
I've recently discovered there's a season of life that unfolds entirely in the car. When my five children became old enough to have "lives," mine seemed to disappear into my minivan. "Living" in my car can make for some scant friendship times. When every minute is in-vested in the kids' schedules, there's no time left for lunch with a friend or even a chat on the phone.
But I met Cindy at my son's junior-high basketball game. I'd been busy delivering my kids in 14 different directions. So had Cindy. We found we had a lot in common.
Even though my schedule leaves little room for socializing, finding other moms with the same busyness, the same interests, and the same "bleacher-bun syndrome" has provided a great way to keep my schedule without leaving out companionship. I've seen other moms running in similar circles who've found understanding friends at ballet recitals, baseball games, band concerts, and play groups.
While many of us struggle when our kids require every moment of free time, others struggle when work devours every spare minute. And many of us grapple with both. During those busy times, we often zip through the drive-thru for some fast food. In the same way, when we don't have time for the most intimate friendship moments, there's always time to squeeze in a nice exchange along the way, just as Cindy and I did. But we have to be on the lookout for those opportunities and snarf them up. It can be as energizing as a burger and fries -- and without the fat!
Battle of the Blues
Gina Waits has a toddler and two school-aged children. When she found herself so wrapped up in kids and babies that she was talking baby-talk to her husband, she experienced a real craving for a bud. But with the little ones requiring so much of her time and energy, searching one out has been a problem. No matter how she's tried to find the time, she's found it too tough to build real friendships in this season of life. She's been tempted to sink into some friendship blues.
To fend off the melancholies, Gina keeps a stash of photos of friends. On lonely days, she pulls them out. They help her remember she's had some great friendships in the past, just in case she's tempted to think her friendship famine's somehow about her and not her situation. The photos encourage her to keep looking ahead.
When the kids are a little older and there are fewer demands, Gina will be able to call an acquaintance from PTA to meet her at the mall. She'll have the chance to serve on some of those committees and make the uninterrupted calls that just aren't happening while she has little ones. Just knowing she'll be able to do those things in the future gives her a good dose of hope while she endures her lean friendship time now.
I noticed a lady eating alone in a restaurant not long ago. She didn't have anyone with her to tell her she had that spinach-in-the-teeth thing happening. I wanted to tell her, but that's really not the kind of thing you tell a perfect stranger. When I saw her head for the ladies' room, I was sure she'd take care of it while she was there. She did -- but now she had toilet paper trailing be-hind one shoe!
I tried to get to her. I'm not sure what I was going to say: "Hi, my name's Rhonda and you've got toilet paper on your shoe." Probably not the most impressive social contact. But she was too fast for me anyway. Before I could get there, she was out the door, toilet paper fluttering after her. I would've had to tackle her in the parking lot to befriend her. The real puzzler was that she left without even having dessert, and the special was fudgecake! Now that's sad.
I think the woman needed a friend that day. Maybe she needed to stick around long enough to allow for a friendship to develop.
The next time you're starved for a friend, remember to look toward the friendship opportunity that may be ready to tackle you. Don't give up on finding a bud. Hanging in there is like sticking around for dessert. And good friends are better than fudgecake.
Rhonda Rhea, a speaker and freelance writer, lives in Missouri. Visit her at www.RhondaRhea.net.
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