Friendships are hard to come by at any age, but especially right now. Some of my closest friends are the ones I have from college, a very small circle of people. The other group of friends I have are the ones I’ve acquired from various jobs over the years. Since becoming a parent, I’ve been very intentional about keeping a small friend circle — a group of people in my life who understand the intricacies of being a gay parent.
With COVID-19 promising to stick around for some time, maintaining my friendships is now accomplished mostly through text messages. And now, as we try to maintain some normalcy for our kids and help them keep up their friendships, I’m asking myself if it’s worth putting energy into trying to make new friends of my own, to befriend the parents of my kids’ friends. I don’t know, and I am far from figuring it out.
It’s exhausting to make new friends and even more time consuming to maintain said friendships. Parenthood can be a very lonely endeavor from conception. When my kids started daycare, I thought I’d perhaps make friends with the parents of their toddler friends as we crossed paths at drop-off or afternoon pick-up. For me, that never happened. There is a huge part of me that feels like I am putting undue pressure on myself to make new friends simply because of the isolation we’ve all been in — and then, there’s the fact that I am an introvert.
A simple internet search of “how to make friends with other parents” points to a helpful New York Times article that gives clear advice on how to make friends as a parent. The top three ways, according to this article, are: “start close to home,” “make the first conversational move,” and “find an online parenting group that’s right for you.” It reminds me of online dating, and how awkward it all feels at first until you find your groove or that person who you enjoy talking to. But COVID-19 makes that even more challenging.
Mom of one, Anrielle George, says she and her wife haven’t made any new parent friends since the pandemic began. “There is nowhere I feel safe enough to gather,” she told Scary Mommy. “Even at drop off or pick up at daycare, our daughter is taken at the exterior door and brought to us at the door. We have never seen inside the building, let alone the classroom. I think this plays a huge role; interaction with everyone is different and limited. Maybe gaydar isn’t as effective through masks?”
Perhaps Anrielle is onto something here; safety plays a role in how far we can push the possibility of making friends. Our “gaydar,” she reminded me, is less effective when we cannot see the entirety of someone’s face. Body language is interpreted differently, and we must find new ways to assess the intentions of strangers — the way that we, as gay people, keep ourselves safe and our kids safer by observing their behavior.
And then there’s step two — to initiate conversations and be the first to do so, which is hard enough in normal times. We must use our words (something we also teach our kids to do) to not only make friends, but to understand the kind of person we are dealing with. This can be nerve wracking for anyone, but it’s even more so if you’re gay; will they be a closed-minded bigot? Just as importantly, how will their kids react to yours? Add the pandemic into the mix, when social distancing is a necessity, and easing into a comfortable conversation is nearly impossible.
One of the pieces of advice in the New York Times article that stuck with me is to initiate conversations free of expectations. Melanie Dale, author of “Women Are Scary: The Totally Awkward Adventure of Finding Mom Friends” and mom of three, states in the article, “If another mom tells you she can’t hang out, she may just be busy or maybe she was burned from her last friendship and she’s nervous.” In other words, we shouldn’t try to predetermine where a potential new friendship is going to lead, so we won’t be disappointed (or take it personally) if the conversation ends up going nowhere.
I don’t have time to invest in others when they do not have time to invest in me. As a gay parent, I have high expectations for the people I let into my life. But perhaps if COVID-19 is teaching me anything, it’s that I should expect nothing and be more flexible not only with my expectations, but how I make friends — if I make friends.