I can remember times in my much younger life when friends were everything. In college especially, they were basically family. You lived together, traveled together (and survived the night at many a cringe-worthy motel that would make your mama want to come through the phone and smack you), and kind of learned how to cook together. They saw you through bad hair and even worse boyfriends. From holding your hair at 2 a.m. in a dimly lit bathroom to holding your place in line in the dining hall, these girls had your back. You’d do anything for them, and they for you.
Friendships like these stand the test of time, too. It is quite possible that I could stub my toe in Columbia, South Carolina and several women over in Georgia would somehow feel it and come running across state lines with a box of band-aids and a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc. These are the same women I see once a year (if we’re lucky) and pick up right where we left off, singing Goodbye Earl and Strawberry Wine at the top of our lungs, still arguing over who would have to be Dorothy if we were actually the Golden Girls.
But I don’t see them everyday anymore. Naturally your priorities change when you become an adult those youthful friendships take a backseat to your growing family and/or career. Before you know it, several years pass, and as busy as you might be you look up one day and panic because you feel tribeless and alone.
Never is this more true than he early years of motherhood. At first you can’t quite identify the problem because how can someone who is surrounded by need 24 hours a day feel lonely? But ever so slowly your head begins to lift and you start to feel human again. You might even start to realize that you don’t necessarily need a “tribe” anymore. What you need, actually, might be right under your nose: a wonderful, diverse and somewhat ragtag band of imperfect females, simultaneously working on their chances at happiness.
There is pure joy in each one of these newfangled friendships:
1. The Paper Plate Friend: This friend does not care that you have four loads of laundry on your kitchen counter, a cadre of unmade beds, or that you are serving hotdogs for lunch (again). She’s a come-as-you-are sort, and when thirty minutes of chatting in the driveway while the kids whiz around on their scooters turns into “why don’t y’all stay for dinner” she is there, lovingly shoving laundry aside to cut up fruit and ordering a pizza online. You don’t need to set out fresh flowers or spend a hundred dollars on steaks to grill. You will have just as fulfilling a conversation over cut up fruit and pizza on paper plates.
2. The One-Grade-Up Mama: This mama is key because she and her child just went through what you and your child are about to encounter. She will give you all the hints about what you do (and don’t) need to pack for your child’s first year at summer camp. She has the ins outs on all the teachers in the next grade and will make sure you know that the your upcoming year includes a talent show, field trip to Barrier Island, and will require three hours of science homework a night. Preparedness is empowering (and comforting), y’all.
3. The Bleacher Bestie: You may not have that much else in common, but your kids have been on the same team since they could walk. Your conversations don’t have to be deep, but her older daughter is always sweet to walk your little one to the snack bar and on the rare occasion they are out of town for a game, it’s not nearly as much fun, but at least you have someone to swap snack duty with. You will share umpire-induced eyerolls and end-of-year superlative inside jokes for many years to come.
4: The Cubicle Cohort: If you are a work-outside-the-home mom, you know just how essential it is to have at least one other mom in the workplace. You can give each other sympathetic glances as one of you races out after a phone call about a sick child who needs to be picked up. She will listen (and not roll her eyes) while you break to tell the story about the hilarious thing your kid did while getting ready that morning. She might even unexpectedly place a cup of your favorite coffee on your desk after hearing you mention that you were up all night for one reason or another. It may just be coffee, but to you it’s like a soothing balm in a caustic world. Please don’t ever let her quit…
5. The Poolside Comedienne: You’re not sure how she’s always smiling and laughing, but you’ll take it because it sends your stress packing to spend an hour with her as you watch your kids jump off the diving board a hundred times. Maybe life is not so serious after all.
6. The Family Tie: Perhaps you are lucky enough to have a sister, a sister-in-law or a sister-like cousin. Bonus points for more than one. Who else can you fight with and know they will still love you tomorrow? They will comfort you at your worst, ground you when you get on your high horse and listen to you say the same thing over and over on the phone for exactly 72 minutes.
7. The Opposite: She could not be more different than you, or so you think. Whether it’s book club, supper club or Bible study, you are bound to find a soul sister of a different stripe here. Perhaps she’s in a totally different phase of life, or brings a whole new perspective to the game. Who says friends have to be exactly your age anyway? You will forever benefit from someone younger than you calling you on your inappropriate use of hashtag. And you will be just as fortunate to have someone on the other end of the spectrum reminding you to check your voice mail because sometimes people do still attempt to communicate with you in this way. And you can (gently) break the news to her that the poop emoji is actually not a chocolate chip.
If you look closely at these newfound friends you will likely see similarities and characteristics in each one that you loved collectively about your former tribe- just spread out a little (and minus the hair-holding). And just like mama says, if you look around and can’t friend a friend like that, well just go and be one!
Kelly Barbrey and her college friends are pictured above during their sophomore year Georgia-Florida football weekend at one of the aforementioned motels. They will not be returning to that establishment for their next reunion. 🙅🏼♀️