I’ve had a big social circle before, and I know its sounds, its feel: the chorus of hello’s when you walk into a room; the space on the couch made for you already warmed by someone else; the brush of children’s heads under your hands as you get up to go to the kitchen, the kitchen where you know how to find the spoons. The crying babies passed like a child’s game of hot potato, the knowledge your kids will be fed though you forgot the snacks. The good-natured arguments, ringing belly laughter that leaves stomachs hurting and children looking on, confused. The tears, sometimes. The endless text threads.
I have been part of a social circle. I miss it desperately.
Once, I was in a friend group so tight that my son dumped the bones of the beloved household pet on the living room floor and proudly proclaimed, “Look! I dig-ded up a dead cat!” And all we could do was howl with laughter (even the owner of said deceased kitty), pounding the couch arms and waking the babies, my son bemused at our reaction, while we did clutched our bellies in helpless, ringing, what-the-hell-else-can-you-do laughter.
This is a social circle. This is togetherness, this is community.
I had it once, but then I didn’t have it anymore.
It was a slow fade, like a fire winnowing to embers then to dust. You could say I outgrew all the moms with toddling babies, or grew up into homeschooling older kids, or just outgrew, period, the essential oils crowd and La Leche League feel of it all. But I woke up a year later and wasn’t a part of any social circle. Friends had moved. Scattered.
When you don’t have a social circle, when your friends are dispersed, you don’t have a safety net. And a mom without a network is like a nomad alone on the steppe. You must be completely self-reliant. There is no fallback, no extra hands, no default. You might have a friend or two you could holler at to help, but there’s no guarantee of casseroles when the family has the flu. No one’s going to take your kids when you’re too sick to get out of bed.
True story: when my chronic health issues used to get bad, I’d show up at a friend’s house with my kids and sleep while they parented. Without a social circle, it’s hire a sitter or power through.
And there’s more than the lack of meal trains, the rainy days of mommy playdates while everyone ignores the kids upstairs. There’s an emptiness there. There are no shared text threads. You can ask a friend to a playdate, but if she decides not to show, you’re stuck — not like having a whole social circle, where when one person decides not to come, it doesn’t matter, because five others do appear, with snacks and listening ears and their own stories of the war that parenting can sometimes become.
You are each other’s bulwark against the loneliness of motherhood. And every person, every family, is adds to its strength. There is always someone to call. There is always someone to text. They are always a phone call away: to watch the kids or trash TV, to hit up Target or the park.
You can call your isolated friends. But there is no guarantee they’ll be available. And if they are, you’re lucky. And if you try to get them together, it will be awkward. They do not know each other. The lady who kayaks will not talk much to the women who keeps praying mantises, who will not talk much to the Junior Leaguer you’ve loved since college. Who, in turn, will not have much to say to the only dad, a cat-loving English professor. Oh, they will make small talk. They will even like each other, find pleasure in each other’s company. But they will never form the social circle you crave, the network you need. They will never love each other like you love them.
You will feel, no matter how much fun people have, as if the gathering is a failure. Like a pudding that’s failed to gel. Like a fallen souffle, or a cake whose center never bakes all the way through.
Your heart will hurt in some indefinable way. You will go hunting for friends, becoming almost desperate in your need. You will chat up random moms. If you find friends, again, that seem like they could possibly maybe form a group, you will rejoice. You will do everything you can to get them together, to promote cohesion, to make friends with everyone and do things together, all as a group, all at once, together together together. Because you need it.
You need a social circle. You need that group of friends. You need that midnight text thread, those shared jokes, the belly laughter, the cat bones on the living room floor. You need the heads of children not your own to pass under your hands. You need to take kids for someone else’s doctor’s appointment, to disrupt your life in small ways for others.
You need a social circle. You need a friend group. You need your people. And you will feel alone until you find them.