Musings

On Balancing Friendships.

By: Jen Shoop

I was reflecting the other day on friendships new and old, and wondering whether I have been doing my best at nurturing the relationships that matter most to me. Since leaving New York, I have been focused on building out my network here in the D.C. area: rekindling old friendships, getting to know my neighbors (especially the ones with young children), spending quality time with local family, and integrating my children and I into the communities at their school and assorted extracurriculars. This has necessarily meant less time for my New York friends, and Chicago friends, and select UVA friends who did not settle in the D.C. area. When Mr. Magpie tested positive for COVID and went into isolation, I initially leant most heavily on my immediate, local network — neighbors who generously dropped off puzzles and meals, local friends with young children with whom I was already in frequent, vibrant text exchanges and who generously commiserated and checked on me, and my parents and in-laws, who dropped by with deliveries of wine and fruit and diversions for the children. But within days, my longtime friends — my UVA girls, my New York crew — were coming to my aid, too. “OMG” was the prominent message, followed by “Hang in there” and often an Amazon delivery with a surprise for the children. (Now, less than a month later, no one at all would be shocked — I feel nearly all of us have had some permutation of isolation and quarantine in our households. But at the time, in late November, it felt out of the blue, after two years of avoiding the damn thing.)

Two days after Mr. Magpie came out of isolation, just after we’d restarted quarantine because micro had tested positive, he asked me: “How did you do this by yourself?” But the truth was — I hadn’t. I’d been totally carried by friendship and micro-maneuvers recommended by friends that enabled me to give myself the grace I needed to make it through.

I sat down one afternoon and wrote thank you notes to the flock of friends who had lifted me during those eighteen long days at home. There were notes to girlfriends who shared cheap apartments and decrepit houses with me in Charlottesville, Virginia right alongside notes to neighbors who have sat with me on the cul de sac in front of my suburban home watching our young children scoot and bike and chase one another over the past six months. Notes to friends who have seen me at my absolute worst — crying in fraternity bathrooms over unimportant things — and notes to friends who have seen only the surface of me, the filtered version we all present when making acquaintances. To the latter, I might be Jen-whose-children-wear-bows-and-jon-jons or Jen-who-likes-to-give-out-holiday-treats-with-personalized-tags or, I hope, Jen-who-lent-me-something-when-I-needed-it. These are tender-footed relationships that might slowly bronze into longtime friendships that involve vacationing together and sitting on the porch talking into the cicada song and sticky heat of D.C. at night, or that might trickle into occasional run-ins at birthday parties and friendly waves while running through the neighborhood. It is hard to know how to mete out the appropriate amount of energy when I am blessed by friends who have already traveled so far with me, who have given me sidelong looks, and enormous, silent hugs, and sometimes a squeeze of the hand when I have needed those things and God! Aren’t we lucky to have girlfriends?! To lend us tissues and “going out tops” and shoulders to cry on and covers to borrow and snarky memes when we need them and eye rolls at the idiocies of ex-boyfriends when we need those, too, and big, long pockets of silence into which to pour our hearts.

I think sometimes those intimacies will be hard to find in new relationships. I have such deep roots and long-tailed, shared histories with my older friends and so I feel it is natural and comfortable to turn to them without worrying about how I might be “coming off” to a newer acquaintance. And yet — so interesting the way proximity has played into the way I spend my friendship time these days. Pre-omicron, I was having coffee dates and lunches and dinners with newer or rekindled friendships, and often those stretches absorbed the time I might otherwise dedicate to calling or emailing or texting girlfriends to catch up. It has been thrilling to connect with new women in a similar life stage with similar points of reference but who come from all different backgrounds and histories and points of view — to bond, to exclaim, to commiserate, to see myself anew. At the same time, it has occasionally felt as though I am cheating my longtime friends of my friendship. And it is strange, too, that my ring of newer friends and especially my neighbors tend to know more about what’s happening with us than my close, longtime friends, simply by virtue of logistics — i.e., we had to alert our local friends to the possibility of exposure to COVID, and to explain why our children couldn’t play with theirs or why were absent from various functions, and so on.

How do you balance these forces? How do you honor the friends that have been there while staying open to the good fortune of meeting good people in your 30s and 40s? How much of yourself do you keep open? How much do you reserve? I am such an enormous believer in providence that I feel many of the people that appear in my life are there for a reason, and I owe them my attention. As an example, I have spent some time with a childhood friend of my brother’s and he has for various coincidental reasons brought my deceased girlfriend Elizabeth back into my life in a meaningful way. I am profoundly grateful for that path-crossing. I cannot help but feel God’s hand in it.

As with many of these queries, the answer is probably fluid. We might devise some rubrics to help — i.e., who do I feel my best around? — but we might give more of ourselves to new friends today and more to our old ones tomorrow, and that’s OK.

Post-Scripts.

+On female friendships and the things that matter.

+Hosting girlfriends at home.

+The art of the handwritten note.

+On recognizing the effort.

+Building friendships through motherhood.

+I miss my girlfriend Elizabeth so much.

+Attention is a form of love.

Shopping Break.

+This $36 feather-trim robe is beyond fabulous. Zsa Zsa Gabor vibes.

+This colorblocked puffer is SO chic — be the most fun mom in the school pick-up line. The color palette reminds me of these amazing NBs.

+FUN, dramatic date night top in the black. Prefer it tucked in so it’s not too voluminous.

+This popular striped midi dress is now on sale for under $160. Love! Would look great with suede boots.

+Have seen these DL1961 jeans on a lot of chic people lately. Also come in a great ecru color for a winter white moment.

+I went back for a second helping of J. Crew sale finds for little ones (round one here) and bought micro some more everyday clothes. He starts school (!) next week and was feeling like we needed some extra clothes to send him into school with (see aforementioned toilet training) and some fresh duds in general since he’s suddenly way too tall for his size 2 wardrobe. I bought a couple of these tees and henleys (around $11 with code BIGSALE), these lined dock pants, and these sweats in the gray to pair with his rugby shirts and LS polos.

+Also bought him another rugby, some cord joggers, and a few pairs of socks at J&J while on sale!

+These weathertight bins are the absolute best — we have them in all different shapes and sizes — but I found them at a great deal for a pack of 6. These can be used in basements, garages, etc, as they seal closed and keep things dry and secure. I mainly use mine for things like holiday decorations, tabletop, ribbons/bows, etc.

+Such a great idea for a young man or lady — a daily gratitude journal calibrated to children under 10.

+Ridiculously chic Veronica Beard finds for 40% off — yes pls and yes pretty pls.

+Scalloped rash guard if you’re lucky enough to be packing for a winter getaway. More finds along these lines here.

+Even though I’m going nowhere, I keep finding myself drawn to warm weather clothes: this dress, these sandals.

+I’ve written about this elsewhere, but these bandaids are not only cute but really adhesive. Great for little ones, since they actually stay put!

+Gorgeous jeweled cardigan at a fab price.

+Everyone’s favorite fleece in the prettiest shade of ice blue.

+Handful of classic Hunter boots for littles on sale here.

+Zimmermann on sale, and an extra 25% off with code EXTRA25.

+A step stool for those of us in the throes of toilet training.

+These swan statement earrings are beyond amazing —

+As is this anorak. Wow.

+Getting better about sharing all my latest finds here, in one stream.

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17 thoughts on “On Balancing Friendships.

  1. Another brilliant post, with so much relatable stuff in here.
    I became a mother halfway through 2020 and whilst my new mum’s group has been a lifeline, I’m starting to feel a bit disconnected from these new friends. I think it’s as the older my son gets, the more glaringly obvious our differences in beliefs are.

    I’m so lucky to have a core group of three best friends from high school though. As of last week we’re all mothers to boys! Although the difference in ages is noticeable now (1 week old through to 3.5 years), I long for the day that our kids run around together!

    1. Hi Leigh! So glad this post resonated. I’m excited for you because as your boys age, the gap between your children and those of your friends will seem to shrink! It’s been really fun watching my children become friends with cousins and neighbors who are slightly older — nowadays, my 4 year old is always playing with the six and eight year olds next door! So interesting what you and others are hinting at: that sometimes the “similar lifestage friends” don’t stick. xx

  2. Goodness this post hits close to home! I love that I can connect with friends on social media but it’s so hard to stay on top of it. Especially when you throw in distance, kids, life, etc! ❤️❤️

    1. Solidarity! It is really hard to keep up with friends during this busy phase. I am finding I need to be really intentional about it!!

      xx

  3. My kids are older now (16 and 13) and just the other day my daughter and I were chatting about friendships and how they change over time. My best friends are still the ones that I had growing up. We go years without seeing each other in person but I know that I only would have to make one call for them to hop a flight and be here if needed. Many of the friends I made when my kids were small were more situational… we were friends because we were in the same baby/toddler/pre-school boat but once the kids grew up and went to different schools, took up different sports/activities, we just drifted apart as much of our shared experience just did not age well I guess. Some I still am in contact with but most have just gone their own way. In my late 40s, I find that I tend to be friends with people more for who they are as opposed to what they are.. mother of young kids/someone who shares the same workplace etc. My recommendation is always the same though which is that you have to put yourself out there to meet new people.

    1. Hi Sharon! Thank you for sharing your perspective — I have been thinking a lot about your observation that your friends now tend to be based on who people are vs. a shared experience/lifestage kind of thing. So interesting. I know that there is a quote along the lines of: “you can have a friend for a season, a reason, or a lifetime.” I think one thing that has startled me is that sometimes friends who seem to wander into my life for a season boomerang back around to become a long hauler, and vice versa. I had a very close friendship in my late teens and early twenties that is sadly no longer and I still can’t quite believe it. I had imagined we’d be bosom buddies until the grave. I keep thinking maybe things will change eventually but perhaps she was actually more of a season friend.

      Anyway, nothing big or interesting to offer here but just thanks for the prompt to think further!

      xx

  4. This post is so timely for me! I am a new Momma to a 1-year-old through adoption after a long journey of infertility. That alone was isolating in its own right and I was anticipating that might be so. What I was not prepared for, however, was the metamorphosis of friendships in (new) Motherhood. And, of course, add to that the isolation of Covid times that has thrown the proverbial monkey wrench into all our lives in large and small ways. Over the last year, old acquaintances seldom seen have re-emerged in ways I did not expect to over support as I navigate my new role as a mother. Other friendships, some more akin to family, have sadly dissipated.
    So my question to you and our fellow Magpies, if you have pearls of wisdom to share, is this- how does a new, 1st-time Mother, nearing age 45, make new friends? And how do we navigate that process given the limitations we are now faced with due to Covid and as Omicron shepherds us into a new year?
    I would so appreciate the advice!
    Thanks as always, Jen, for your lovely writing and thoughtful words! I frequently find they plant little seeds of thought in my mornings when I generally check your blog that stay with me through my day.

    1. Hi Rebecca — no advice necessarily, but wanted to send a hug your way. Infertility was incredibly isolating for me, and then welcoming a baby during the pandemic only seemed to compound it. I don’t have many tips, but we did sign up for an outdoor music class last spring when my daughter was nearly one and plan to do so again this year. I wasn’t proactive about asking parents to get together outside of class but I’m hoping to do better this time around.

    2. Hi Rebecca – First, thank you so much for the generous note. I’m so glad some of these writings have resonated! Second, wow! What an isolating stretch of time for you. I so feel for those of you who have become mothers in the times of COVID — it doesn’t feel fair or right! Babies should be welcomed into circles of loving arms and it is hard when we have to be separate and careful all the time. I don’t have anything really practical to offer by way of advice, except to push yourself to make introductions and strike up conversations as much as possible. It is so much easier to be approached than to approach, and almost everyone feels uncomfortable doing the approaching. So sometimes you have to be the one doing the initial legwork. I have been pretty forward in suggesting play dates and coffees with new friends, and simply saying “YES!” when invited somewhere. It is trickier now with omicron, but you can still go for socially-distanced walks with two prams next to one another. I’ve been doing that with some of my girlfriends here. It’s such a low-risk ask — who doesn’t like a little walkabout, especially with a cup of coffee? You can put the babies in strollers and stretch the old legs.

      xx

  5. Friendship is a thing I pray for a lot. I have long-standing friendships from elementary school and college, but everyone lives too far to get together often. Add in toddlers and covid, and even the most carefully planned gatherings are easily canceled. We had a baby and moved over the last year and a half so it’s been hard to feel lonely in all that. One of my goals for the new year is to pull over and introduce myself to the moms I see waiting at the bus stop at the bottom of our street. They stand out long after the bus has left with their coffee mugs, and I have gotten tearful thinking about how lovely that must be.

    1. Oh Tricia! This has been such a trying time of isolation for so many, especially those of us with young children, and I can’t imagine adding moving to a new place on top of it all. I so feel for you. I love the idea of going out of your way to chat with the moms at the end of the street. I find mom circles tend to be so understanding of how isolating and lonely motherhood can occasionally be! I hope you find your circle, or a circle, or a few circles, this year. It is always much easier to be approached than to approach someone, so it will take some work to get out there but I know you can do it. I am thinking of you.

      And we are all here for you, too!!! Sending you lots of love.

      xx

  6. Thank you for writing about this. It’s something I contemplate often with my husband as we settle into our Nashville community. Neither of us is from here but we have rich community with college and post-grad friends. But – am I leaving my heart open to new friendships? And not just, “see you at church on Sunday friends.” I always think about my mom who is fortunate enough to have 3 best friends in her mid-sixties (like actually they’re BFFs and she talks to one of them everyday. It’s so cute). I am comforted by the fact that they all met when their first borns were toddlers and in their mid-30s!

    1. Yes, the “see you at church friends”! I can never seem to get past that point, but it’s something I’m hoping to work on. I often assume people already have their groups or are too busy, but maybe they’re just feeling like me too?

      1. Hi Tricia! I know exactly what you mean having recently relocated and having had lots of moments wondering whether I’m being too pushy asking for a playdate with a mom I’ve met at a music group or whatever. I have found that most moms are SO open to new friendships (for themselves and their kids). xx

    2. Hi Sarah! I love the anecdote about your mom — that makes me want to lean into some of my newer friendships all the more. Thanks for sharing that. xx

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