A mom’s group I attend announced a night out at an art studio. You choose a project and spend the evening sanding, painting and stenciling until you are holding a work of art you can take home or give as a gift. I had just moved to town and was hoping to cement some of the new connections I had made, so I decided to use up all my marital capital and ask my husband to serve dinner and put our four kids to bed alone so that I could attend this event.
As I drove home, reeling with emotion, I wondered what went wrong. Instead of leaving recharged, I was coming home from a mom’s night out feeling gutted and angry. I walked into a chaotic house and faced an overwhelmed husband who did his best to mask the stress he was feeling from flying solo that night. “How was it? Did you have fun? Tell me about it”.
I came to the event and was assigned a seat based on the project I chose. Instead of being in a big group, we were divided into small tables. I was assigned a seat with two women who were obviously good friends and as it turns out, neighbors. I did not know either woman very well but since I am an extremely extroverted person, I was not concerned. I might even make a new friend!
I know these women did not mean to leave me out intentionally. Their obvious friendship made it easy for them to enjoy fun chit chat and banter as I repeatedly tried to interject myself into their exchanges, asking thoughtful questions about what was happening in their lives. “How was your vacation”? “Tell me about the plans for your baby’s nursery!” I received polite, quick replies but they repeatedly went back to their conversation, never once engaging with the outsider at their table. I finally gave up and used that time to sit quietly and think about my to-do list, then politely excused myself as soon as my project was done.
I am never one to wallow in sadness too long; I would rather learn the lesson and move on. As I reflected on the evening, I realized that this was not done out of mean-spiritedness. An established friendship can make it easy to exclude others around you in social situations. The more I thought about it, I was reminded of an unspoken rule my friend Alison and I had.
Alison and I had a friendship that was one of the most intimate of my life, coming from the shared experience of living abroad, raising a large family and practicing the same faith. We met at a women’s group that met on a weekly basis and our friendship grew from there. Phone calls, meals out and coffee dates with her became an important part of my life as an ex-pat. She took my kids while I was in the hospital giving birth and helped me with marital problems. We read books together and discussed podcasts. She was a friend sent me during a long and often trying season of living in a foreign country.
Friendships that run deep are one of life’s greatest gifts but they can make you myopic in social situations, unable to see and ultimately, include the other people around you. Even though this intimate friendship gave us a familiarity that I have experienced with only a few other people, we had one tacit agreement: in social situations, we do not stick together and only talk with one another to the exclusion of others. Ex-pats often attend social functions, to help the trailing spouse create connections and friendships with other people in the same lot in life.
Group events were places where we would engage with everyone instead of pairing off and potentially making others feel unwelcome. If Alison and I wanted to spend time together with just the two of us, we would set up something for another time. I am so glad she set this tone early on in our friendship and taught me this important lesson.
Life has a way of making me re-learn the same lessons over and over again. I firmly believe that every difficult life experience is a part of my becoming. I hope that every day I become a kinder, more compassionate woman. When people are with me, do they feel seen? Do they feel heard?
Even though I was already aware of this rule, I am glad that I was reminded of this important social grace.
Leslie Fischer is a mom of four children and lives in southern California. She writes mostly about sleep, wellness and organic mattresses at Sustainable Slumber.