Adulting Is Hard: Making New Friends

I’m sick of handshakes. And I’ll explain why in a little while.

They tell you when you’re young that it is easy to make new friends if you’re nice and you just ‘be yourself’. And to a large extent, that’s true — children make friends and bond over the simplest things.

What they don’t tell you is that making friends when you’re older is far more difficult and intimidating. Especially when you’re no longer in school, where you are practically handed friends on a silver platter. I mean, in high school or college, everyone is there for a semi-common purpose and you are all facing relatively similar obstacles and triumphs. In university, freshmen or first years generally live in dorms or uni housing, giving them access to people of comparable ages and interests, which usually include exploring how much cheap vodka they can stomach in one night and still make it to a 9am lecture. Or if you don’t click with anyone you might live in proximity to, there are vast networks of clubs and groups to find like-minded people. It’s hard not to make friends in environments like that.

A drawback of making friends in high school or university is that after a certain limited number of years, you are bound to go your various separate ways, and keeping in touch over long distances and timezones is difficult. And as you move on physically, you also grow-up in new and different ways, changing as individuals. You might out-grow each other, which is perfectly natural, if a bit melancholy to contemplate.

I mention all this because it is currently happening to me, on a more painful, stark level than what I had previously experienced. Fortunately, I have not ‘out-grown’ my closest friends, nor do I want to…I can say with certainty that if I could never make any new friends ever again, I would be content with the ones I have for the rest of my life. Unfortunately, my geographically-closest, closest friend lives approximately 340 miles away. It’s the curse of meeting your best buddies when you live/go to grad school abroad. You all have to return to your country of origin eventually, whether you want to or not. (I’m distinctly in the ‘not’ category.) It’s a forced separation that is bridged by that wonderful invention, the internet. But it’s not quite the same as being able to have movie nights and going for drinks and cooking together and…hugs.

I miss hugs.

I’m sick of handshakes because that means that you are meeting someone new. Which is not necessarily a bad thing. But there is no warmth or affection in a handshake. No familiarity. I have shaken a lot of hands in the last couple of months. Met a lot of perfectly nice new people. I have coworkers and acquaintances in the form of my roommate’s friends. I am nice (relatively speaking, most of the time, after I’ve had coffee) and while I am a cautious person with my affection and my trust, I am generally pretty ‘myself’ with new people.

So why is it so hard to make new friends as an adult? One of the biggest obstacles to making new friends —  at least in my case —  is that I have painfully little in common with my new coworkers or acquaintances. We are either at completely different stages of our lives or we just have very different goals and outlooks. Which is all well and good for coworkers and acquaintances (it certainly makes for an interesting work environment)…but in my experience, not exactly a great foundation for lasting friendships. Another big obstacle is that I am spending most of my time working, with little opportunity to find a local book club or something social that would allow me to meet new people I might have things in common with. I also have very little intention of staying in this suburb longer than I have to; so any friendships I form will have to face my inevitable departure and I’m not sure I want to go through the forced separation again. Is it worth it? I don’t know.

And how do I get passed the ‘coworkers’ and ‘friend of a friend’ stage if I decide it is indeed worth the effort? I don’t know that either. Like I said, most of my best friendships have been the result of being in an environment where you make friends because you have to…you’re all thrown together at Ustinov College or the PACE program at Kennedy High School or in Olmeca 3 dorms and you don’t really have any choice but to make friends. But in a work or social situation where you don’t need to see/talk/hang out together outside of certain times, how do you even breach that distance between you and another person? Especially if you don’t seem to have much common ground. Ask to get a drink after work? Accept a movie night invitation from an acquaintance? I’ve done both, so we shall have to see how it goes from here.

Being an adult is hard work. And they don’t tell you about things like this…about trying to keep your head up when you send out 30 applications and don’t even get one interview or about figuring out the best repayment plan for your student loans or about making new friends when you’re not even sure you want to do so but a typed ‘xoxo’ can only go so far and you’re tired of shaking hands when really all you want is a freezing group hug at 1am.



I Finally Met a Donald Trump Supporter

Yes, in real life.

This particular Trump supporter is an otherwise perfectly-reasonable, perfectly-likeable woman. She is generally very nice and hard-working (she designed the interior of the restaurant I work in). A middle-class, self-employed, married-with-children white lady from the Philadelphia area.

I guess maybe I should back up a bit, provide a little context. So, I’ve been working during the day over the past week while the restaurant gets its final touches, and naturally I ended up meeting the designer. We’ll call her Jane — because I’ve given you just enough context clues about what she does and where she does it for you to figure out who she really is if I used her actual name, and I’d like to respect her privacy at least a little. Anyway, Jane asked me what my story was, so I told her, and it turns out that her daughter is studying similar subjects to what I did at university. We got to chatting, and she asked me who I was voting for. I have no shame in admitting that I am voting for Sanders in the primaries, and will work from there if it ends up that he is not nominated.

We keep talking, and throughout the conversation I gather that a) she definitely leans to the right-wing; b) she’s not thrilled with Obama, specifically Obamacare; c) she likes that Bernie is shaking up the establishment but doesn’t like his ideas in general or that he “seems to think that it’s his way or the highway, which is dangerous”; d) she thinks that Trump would be a good president because he’s an outsider who tells it like it is and wants to save the middle class and is just dumb enough to be swayed by better minds who hopefully wouldn’t let him destroy too much of the country; and lastly, that e) the “world order” is screwing up my generation’s prospects and we need to wake up and realise that a select few people control what goes on across the world (she used the example of the Bush and Clinton families).

I’m not even going to touch on subject (e). Who runs the world could take up at least three posts itself.

Anyway, you can imagine my shock when I am having this conversation with this woman I generally like and respect and end up realising halfway through it that while Jane is more intelligent and reasonable than the average Trump supporter, a Trump supporter she is nonetheless. Now I’m not saying that my respect for her went down just because of this conversation and its revelations, but if I’m perfectly honest, it made me look at her differently.

I won’t go into detail about why such a disturbingly large section of the country supports Trump. I know the spectrum of people who support Donald Trump is wide and varied and that many of these people are motivated by fear — fear of the way the economy is going, fear of supposed-terrorists and immigrants, fear of losing their privileged place in the fabric of American society. Others respond to what is seen as his ability to basically say “fuck off” to political correctness.

But I (and so many others) would argue that the last-mentioned quality is not one the United States needs in its president. His rhetoric does nothing productive and instead incites people to verbal and physical violence against those who dare to protest it, as we saw demonstrated in small isolated events earlier this year and then in larger scale yesterday in Chicago. Anti-establishment is good, if it were coming from a place of equality and progress (#FeelTheBern). But in Trump’s case, with the vitriol he spews at immigrants, refugees, peaceful opposition, even his GOP rivals…it clearly isn’t.

I also don’t want to get into why so many of his political campaign promises would be either be absolutely catastrophic or completely unworkable, or both. (Although during my conversation with Jane, the IR nerd in me was yelling to be let loose on how illegal it would be to follow through on his stance of “going after the terrorists’ families”. Not to mention how ridiculous he would look standing next to, say, Vladimir Putin, let alone getting Russia to agree on anything.)

In conclusion, this post has been 700 words of me trying to work through the fact that I actually met a Donald Trump supporter and that I survived the encounter without yelling at anyone or feeling like I needed to take a scalding hot shower to scrub off the racism and bigotry that might have rubbed off on me.

For your entertainment, I will leave you with John Oliver’s video, because he always has “the best words”.