By Stella Orange
I’m looking for friends. I’m not talking about acquaintances, associates, or neighbors. I’m talking about the sorts of people who you don’t have to put a bra on for before they come over. I’m talking people who like to have meandering conversations on the couch. I’m talking about people with whom I can share meals, vacations, and other schemes.
When I was first out of college, I lived in a Japanese village in a small house with woven straw mat floors, a five-minute walk from the middle school where I taught English. I was befriended by a middle-aged man named Ikari who’d studied agriculture and rode his motorcycle around the western U.S. before returning to start his life and family back in Japan. When I met him, he worked at the Honda factory.
Ikari was a student in my adult English class on Thursday nights at the community center. Every few months, he’d organize a dinner or barbeque for our group. When I left Japan to move back to the States, he started calling me every month for a quick three-minute conversation to check in and invite me back to Japan. That was more than twenty years ago, and since then, he’s continued to call to keep in touch. We also went on a multi-day bike camping trip in Yellowstone, and he helped me stage several bike tours with friends in Japan over the years. Last year, when my husband and I went back to Japan, Ikari gathered a few of my old adult English class students for a reunion meal.
When I was in my twenties and single in Seattle, I used to go over to my friend Annie’s apartment for Sunday dinner. She’d cook and I’d eat. Sometimes she’d invite other guests over to join in, but it was often just the two of us. We’d been roommates in college, so we were used to sharing space and breaking bread together. It was a comforting ritual, to pop two floors down in our shared apartment building in Seattle, to close the weekend together and catch each other up.
Then I moved to Montana, and fell in with a few different friend groups. I worked at an art center doing fundraising and community building, and so I knew a bunch of artists and creative folks. There were house parties, bonfires, gallery openings. I was also writing for the theater, and eventually auditioned for and performed with an improv troupe. I convened a few of my writer friends periodically to read each other’s work and give notes to one another at kitchen tables and in my backyard. And I was part of another sporty crew who skied, ran trails, rode bikes, and hiked together. We also drank beer and potlucked as if our lives depended on it.
I left Montana to move to Miami to see about a guy. I knew it was going to be a rough move. I sensed it would be a ridiculous, even nonsensical, place to live. Although I was raised to see the good in things, the best thing about spending five years in South Florida was leaving. Those were the lost years, friend-wise. I made an earnest effort to find my people there, and failed. Our friends were all my now-husband’s friends from grad school. We hosted Thanksgiving dinners and gathered groups to play games. I accepted invitations for girls’ night out. But I never quite found my friend groove there.
To compensate, I sourced my friendships elsewhere. I’d started my advertising copywriting business in Florida, and went to New York City every quarter for work. So I made friends there. And I went back to Montana for a month every year, renting an apartment and hanging out with my friends there. I considered it an investment in my mental health, a kind of life support system. I wasn’t wrong.
Fast forward to now. We’ve been living in upstate New York for almost three years. Ikari just called last week; he’s about to plant potatoes. Annie and I text each other all the time; her daughter just sent me a video asking me to sponsor an upcoming run she’s doing. And our Montana friends just came for a visit this past winter, where they cooked us breakfast and let our dog sleep in bed with them.
All this is quite wonderful. And I’m looking for friends who live here, in the same city. To me, it’s the ultimate luxury: having friends you like enough to let in the house, when the rest of the world is not invited.
I’m starting to have those friends here. My friend Abby, who lives a few blocks away, just had a baby. The next weekend, she texted me, inviting me over to meet her daughter. I texted back that I was about to make eggs. She replied that she was about to make pancakes. Which gave me the great and efficient idea of inviting myself over to her house for pancakes. Instead of finding this intrusive or rude, Abby thought this was a great idea, too. This is how I know we’re going to be good friends.
Side bar: in my quest for friends, I’ve decided to skip the part where I wait for an invitation, and cut right to the part where I invite myself over. This feels more efficient. If my potential friend ends up being put off by me inviting myself over, they probably aren’t going to enjoy the rest of my personality, either.
So a few weeks ago, I’d invited two women over for a last-minute brunch. My partner was out of town, and I was in a social mood. One woman declined; her kids are in high school and they were cleaning the house together. But the other one said yes, and offered to bring breakfast dessert. I didn’t invite Abby because she just had a kid, and it just seems like people with three-week-olds probably aren’t up for socializing.
Then I get a text from Abby, telling me that her house was filled with helpers who needed more help than they’re giving. Her dad was binge-watching MSNBC while marching in place to get his daily exercise. And her aunt had a dog who didn’t like being left alone all day, and was feeling lonely. Would my dog, Abby wondered, be interested in a doggie play date?
Fifteen minutes later, Abby, her husband, her daughter, her aunt, and her aunt’s golden retriever showed up on our doorstep. Apparently, it wasn’t just the dog that needed a change of scene. We let the dogs out to muddy themselves in the backyard, and I served them water and tea. You know, the fancy stuff.
After an hour together, I happened to mention that our other friend was coming over for brunch the next day. “I’ll come, too,” Abby said. “I’ll make a cauliflower frittata. Gives me an excuse to cook.” She’d been on bed rest for months prior to giving birth, and her helpers had been cooking for her ever since they’d gotten home from the hospital.
So the next day, my two new friends came over, supplying food for our brunch. I made a salad, coffee, and tea. And we talked of many things — the cities we’ve loved, the places we’ve been, our plans for the future. How we, and many of the women we know and love, were so shook by the Kavanaugh hearings. And how pants have gotten so more stretchy and comfortable, so at least that’s one thing that’s getting better.
And although I was wearing a bra, I didn’t need to be. These are those kind of friends.
Stella Orange is a copywriter and co-founder of Las Peregrinas, a business advising and marketing service company. Find out more about her work at www.lasperegrinas.org