People travel in packs. This town is a very friendly and welcoming place, but most grown-ups have long-standing relationships and are not exactly foraging for new ones. Being the newbie is not easy. Making friends, real friends, takes time and cultivation. Something most of us at this age haven’t had to do in a long time, relying as we do on our own pack for the comfort of connection.
Shortly after I settled in Laguna Beach, I placed an ad at CraigsList for a middle-aged movie buddy. Strictly platonic. A like-kind responded immediately. A quintessential New Yorker, although she’d been in CA for 25 years, she had a big personality, an east coast sort of neurotic endearment, and an apparent interest in many things artsy. As she was single and perpetually on the prowl, she preferred meeting at big noisy theme restaurant bars that I hate, but I was determined to go with the flow and grateful for the company. We began to tell each other our stories and I found to my dismay that while she was a welcome cohort in those first lonely days, our values did not mesh. An awkward stumbling block. After all, one cannot be friends with the first or perhaps second or third person you meet. Friendships evolve and there must be common ground. But how do you reject a 50-something gal pal? I began to be busy and, in the end, she dismissed me as unfriendly. I suppose I deserved that.
Bit by bit, thanks in large part to a stint as Lois Lane at the local newspaper, I got to meet and interview many mostly interesting people. Thus, walking through town, I slowly discovered familiar faces and became less of a stranger. Still, making friends is hard. Friends, just like lovers, must be courted. You meet for coffee. You share stories. You make the call to go to a movie or shopping or to a local event. You invite each other to dinner with or without spouses/partners. You call now and then just to chew the rag, but not too often to appear intrusive. Finding friends is like finding a good job – it takes time and effort and a willingness to put yourself out there. And as important as friends are to me, I am too frequently content to curl up with a book or Netflix.
And then there are the friends you lose too soon. My first and best friend in Laguna, my next door neighbor Byron, moved to Hong Kong. The blessings of Skype keep us close but he is no longer the constant presence that made my relocation so much easier. Always just over the fence, we both worked at home and frequently ended the day with a dog walk and a glass of wine. Couldn't have scripted a more perfect union, but, alas, not to last. My other neighbor and walking buddy Joanne moved back East. Melony, a new friend but clearly a friend of another lifetime, moved north to a simpler lifestyle. Easy come, easy go. However, bit by bit, there are people in my California life I can call friend. Not the same as the forever friends, those with whom kids are raised, graduations rejoiced, disappoints and despair shared, weddings and now grandchildren celebrated, funerals mourned. However new friends are a different sort of blessing. One is truly oneself in middle age and unafraid to bare our personal truths. Unwilling to compromise who we are. This makes for more instant and honest friendships. And there are many ways to meet new people… Always a book club. Fundraising luncheons. Film programs. Yoga class. Talks at the local Business or Women’s Club. Friday night wine tastings where, at communal dining tables, you get to know the regulars and perhaps become one. And now there’s http://www.meetup.com/ where you can latch on to all kinds of shared-passions groups from hikers to diners to pug lovers – a gold mine for newbies. Volunteers are in need. Mah Jong is enjoying a Renaissance. There is always a garden club, if that’s your fancy, and always a class to take. And along the way, you discover more and more of who you are in the choice of friends, and in their reflection. There are good people everywhere. And, the more known, the less alone, and more at home.