Making girl friends was so simple when I was a kid. Because my dad was in the Air Force, we moved around a lot, and I had my friend-making routine down pat. Find some girls in the neighborhood who were playing outside, walk up to them and say “Hi, what’s your name? Do you want to jump rope or build a fort?” And that was pretty much it. Friendship cemented. It had to happen quickly, because you never knew when somebody’s parent’s tour was going to be up; limited time meant you capitalized on every chance to build community.
High school was similar, except the activities changed to baking and movie-watching and hiking. College was even easier. I lived on a whole hall full of girls who were smart, funny, and had interests similar to mine. Friendship required almost no effort; it just required not having a radically anti-social personality (and even those people usually found friends too).
Once my career took off, being friends with other women got exponentially more complicated, mostly because I didn’t have the time. Suddenly working 50+ hours a week, I wanted to spend most of my free time with my husband. Any time left over went to necessaries like housework and grocery shopping, and female friendships got pushed to the back burner. I know it can be even more challenging for moms who devote their days to staying at home and caring for young children.
But full schedules aren’t the only reason why many women are finding it hard to make and keep friends as adults. Modern habits and technological tools don’t help the situation. You’d think that all our social networks and instant availability of friends through texting would make community-building easier. Paradoxically, the digital tools that were meant to help us connect to each other have left us more isolated than ever.
The American Spectator cites a recent study that the National Science Foundation conducted regarding human loneliness. The study reveals that 25% of us have no one to talk to about the major successes and failures we encounter in life. If you take away immediate family members, that percentage doubles. We are busy, we are digitally connected, and we are lonely. Why is this the case, particularly for women?
Part of the problem stems from idolizing independence. Ralph Waldo Emerson’s influential essay “Self Reliance,” a manifesto of the prevailing American spirit, upheld the “great man” as the one who “in the midst of the crowd keeps with perfect sweetness the independence of solitude.” Following this Emersonian ideal, we sometimes construct huge houses in the suburbs and buy huge cars not because we need the space for family or ministry, but as a means of expressing our autonomy and maintaining compromise-free zones. For some of us, modern habits and nuclear living arrangements help us live out the mantra, “My kingdom come, my will be done.” Living to build our own kingdoms orients us inward to ourselves rather than outward to each other.
We’re embarrassed by our hunger for connection, because it is a proclamation to the world that we are not wholly autonomous. There’s a vulnerability that comes with saying “I need relationships.” Forging deep bonds means opening ourselves up to the possibility of rejection and heartbreak. Women can become wary of trusting people once we get hurt.
Our self-reliant culture tells us that community is acceptable insofar as it remains a sort of accessory. Women are encouraged to seek friends and partners who are chic and photogenic, like designer handbags–accents to a sophisticated lifestyle. We are prone to judge and prone to compare, two things that are toxic to healthy relationships. Admitting how deeply we need other people equals admitting that we are broken, messy, incomplete. Brokenness isn’t chic. Messiness isn’t photogenic. Pouring out your life into someone else’s life doesn’t immediately and obviously enhance your existence.
But this is true community: experiencing deep communion and fellowship with our Creator, and then living out grace to our fellow creatures. Forfeiting some of our own wants and needs for the benefit of others, knowing the ultimate sacrifice has already been made on our behalf. Speaking the gospel to each other and living out its implications in our day-to-day lives. We were never meant to live in isolated worlds of busy loneliness. We were created for community.