Last November my closest friend here in Lincoln moved to Connecticut. Even now, nearly three months later, the impact of Deidra’s move still reverberates. I feel a quiet pang when I spot a car that looks like hers pass by. I notice my stubborn avoidance of the street where she and Harry lived, my reluctance to revisit one of our favorite lunch spots.
I miss the favorite sweater kind of easiness and comfort of my in-person friendship with Deidra. When my husband and I wanted to invite someone over for dinner or drinks on the patio, Deidra and Harry were our go-to couple. Our friendship had grown to a place where we didn’t have to work so hard at it. They were like family, without the baggage.
Back when our kids were preschoolers, Brad and I hosted dinner parties and gatherings with lots of different friends at our house pretty regularly. Without family nearby, we didn’t have easy babysitting options, so we did the next best thing: we invited friends to hang out with us in our home.
We were part of a supper club with two other couples who also had young children. We invited Brad’s colleagues or mine over for summer barbeques and winter potlucks. We belonged to a small group with members of our church, and even when we weren’t meeting weekly as part of a Bible study, we got together with our group for fun. We socialized with other parents of young children – women I had met in a local Mom’s Club and their husbands and kids.
As the years passed and our kids got older, Brad and I gradually stopped hosting dinner gatherings. For a long time I didn’t even notice the shift. It happened organically as our kids and our friends’ kids enrolled in different schools and pursued different interests.
Some of our core communities and friendships shifted into new spaces. Others gradually faded away altogether.
New friendships were forged along the sidelines of the soccer field or on the sidewalk at the periphery of the elementary school as we waited for the dismissal bell. Though we liked these new friends and enjoyed the opportunities we had to connect, most of these relationships didn’t grow beyond the sidelines or the sidewalks. When soccer season ended or school let out for the summer, months passed before I crossed paths with most of these women again.
I guess what I am saying is that I miss the friendships and connections that go deeper than small talk on the sidelines. I miss the rich scent of a home-cooked meal wafting into the cold night air when we open the door to greet our guests. I miss gathering around the table, candles flickering. I miss retiring to the living room after the meal, dessert plates balanced on our knees. I miss rich conversation and laughing until my stomach hurts.
On one hand, this is the season of life we are in right now – shuttling older kids to tennis lessons and cross country meets and math tutoring. Attending orchestra concerts, cheering on sidelines, proofreading English essays, dropping a carload of boys off at the movies.
Life is full. Life is busy.
At the same time, though, I think “this season,” “this busyness,” might also be an excuse I’ve allowed myself. In the same way I’ve become complacent about chasing curiosity, I’ve also grown complacent in pursuing rich, meaningful friendships.
This kind of relationship-building takes work. True community requires intentionality. Authentic connection that goes beyond sideline small talk requires time, trust, and a willingness of be vulnerable.
Inviting someone into your home to sit around your table invites intimacy on a deeper level – even more so, perhaps than meeting in a restaurant or another public space.Sometimes I think I choose sideline small talk because it’s easy, non-threatening, and doesn’t take much work.
I am lucky to have had (and still have) true friendship with Deidra. But that relationship and its shift into new territory these last couple of months has taught me something important. Life is full and busy, to be sure. But it’s neither too full nor too busy to pursue deeper, more fulfilling friendships that go beyond sideline small talk.
This year, I’m going to get back into the habit of practicing hospitality – of inviting new friends and old into my home and around my table. It’s a small step in the journey toward forming and growing authentic relationships, but it’s an important one – one I’ve neglected for far too long. And as a friend wisely noted, it might turn out that my two themes for the year — curiosity and hospitality — will go quite nicely together, each complementing the other.
This post is Part 2 in my two-part Themes for 2018 series. Two weeks ago I wrote about the Year of Curiosity, which you can read here.