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Why Is Adult Friend-Making So Creepy and Awkward?

Posted by Kara Baskin  April 15, 2012 08:00 PM

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I have a theory about finding decent men. Basically, a good guy should be like a good purse: Stylish, well-built, and able to handle your baggage. If only finding good friends were so simple.

Making friends as an adult mom is complex. First of all, the qualities that we want in friends are varied. No individual friend is going to suit each of, or even most of, your needs (and if you find a friend who does, perhaps you should consider marrying her). Moreover, affirming that you’ve found an instant-click adult friend is hard—and awkward. What self-respecting adult wants to say to somebody: “Hi! You’re smart and funny and awesome. I really, really like you! And I sense that you feel the same way! Can we take this to the next level? Will you be my friend?” (In the past, this kind of thing was communicated via subliminal messages implanted in mix tapes. No more.)

Speaking of the past: As teenagers, social life was well-defined. You were basically friends with people who had the same number of zits and dental apparatus. Oh, and you knew someone liked you if they let you sit at their lunch table. In college, the shared experience of enduring vile bathing facilities and odd food in close quarters pretty much forced you into some kind of friendship, or at least fellow servitude, with whomever lived nearby. Do you remember all of the people in your “1997! Spring Break!” photo album? I don’t either. Especially the girl in the Steve Madden chunky heel penny loafers and tight black hooch pants. Who was she? But, ignorant in my bliss, I thought it would last forever. Because she lived next door and drunkenly slipped me a much-needed tampon under the bathroom-stall door one night at 2 a.m. We were soul mates, you see.

Adults have it tougher. Making a new friend is like going on a date. Worse, really: You’re not even going to have sex at the end. Just the same, you want to make a good impression; yet you don’t want to put yourself on the line. You need to protect your flank—seem interested, but not too interested. Eager to make future plans, but not clingy. Really: What do you say after having a dreamy time with a potential pal? Do you send a courtesy follow-up email? Call three days later to make a future plan? “Like” just enough of her Facebook statuses so that you weave yourself into her life without appearing like a complete and utter stalker? There are no boundaries, no parameters, no organic sense of togetherness.

Adult friendship is nuanced and undefined. Don’t get me wrong: Adults can be sheer jerks. But adults’ way of showing they dislike someone—or, excuse me, don’t want to “get to know” someone better—is passive-aggressive and cuttingly dignified. An adult won’t shun you in the cafeteria. Instead, she’ll concoct repeated excuses to keep you at bay. “I wish we could get together, but I’m booked til July! Work is crazy!” (Meanwhile, she doesn’t work.) “I would LOVE to meet up, but poor Madison/Hector/Fauntleroy has such an insane nap schedule because of his new vegan diet! Never know if we can meet ‘til day of! Can we let you know?” (Inevitably, Madison/Hector/Fauntleroy will be in a coma the day of your rendezvous.)

When this happens—when you are subtly, perkily dumped—there are stages of grief, much like dealing with the death of a loved one. There is denial (you reply to the email with some convoluted plan of meeting up “soon!”, even though it will never happen); anger (“What!? This bored, vegetable-obsessed mother of Fauntleroy doesn’t want to be my friend? Is it because I don’t feed my kid vegan cardboard? $%^ you, Vegan Mom of Fauntleroy!”); and paranoia (“Is there something wrong with me? Do I give off a desperate odor?”) until you finally just let it go with a breezy, passive “No worries; hope to see you soon!” email. Easy come, easy go.

My advice: Do not chase these people. They’re not worth your time. You have plenty of friends, or at the very least, a kid who has no choice but to like you. One of the benefits of being an adult mother is that you do not need to grovel. There is always Something More Important going on that saves you from looking like a loner, home playing Words With Friends on a Saturday night. On the other hand, when you do want to pursue a friendship—and you suspect that the other party does, too—what’s a girl to do? Wouldn’t it be great if adults were issued cards, like Social Security or insurance IDs? They would say: I WANT TO BE YOUR FRIEND. And on the other side, in fine print: Don’t worry! I am totally normal!

You wouldn’t have the awkward end-of-drinks “let’s do this again soon!” hug. You wouldn’t have to send the follow-up email. Your new-friend euphoria wouldn’t be tempered by aw-shucks first-date nervousness. All of your cards would be on the table, so to speak.

Until then, maybe we can take the creepiness out of being candid. What could be more adult and grown-up than doing just what we teach our kids to do: Saying, Hi! I’d like to be your friend! If any of you know how to do this without looking like a 16-year-old prowling for a Prom date, please let me know. In the meantime, I’ll be right here, playing Words With Friends. With people I actually know!

This blog is not written or edited by Boston.com or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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About the author

Kara Baskin (@kcbaskin) is a Boston-based writer, editor, and mom to Andy. She thinks Sriracha and garlic make everything tastier. She loves Steely Dan and "Murder, She Wrote." Her More »

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