A few years ago, one of those hipsterish Brooklyn bands released “Friend Crush.” Despite the song’s fairly innocent content, with “I want to be your friend” as the main sentiment, it has a distinctly creepy undertone. Innocent but creepy… like me when I’m trying to make friends.
You see, Mount Holyoke was my ideal friend-making environment. At the risk of idealizing my alma mater, I arrived in August and by October I had both a bestie and a friend group that more or less persisted all the way to graduation. As firsties, we were all terrified of ending up alone, so we glommed on to our hallmates or classmates and clung on for the ride. At least I did. The way my friend Addie tells it, I was so shy upon meeting her that I wouldn’t even make eye contact. I beg to differ, but it is true that it takes me a long time to get comfortable with anyone, with few exceptions. My friends steamed me out of my shell like a recalcitrant oyster.
Having a friend group, even a small one, means living in a sort of adopted family–a family with divisions, conflicts, and even the occasional estrangement–yeah, a real family. We didn’t share any blood, but what we had in common was that we were all uncommon women (or womyn if you’d rather).
Now that I’m out of the res hall, out of class–now that I’m in the adult(ish) world–I see that my friend situation those four years was unique. My instinct now is to try to aggregate a friend group in the Mount Holyoke model, a gaggle of diverse folks who all love each other and attend weekly brunch together. I do see some friend groups in the lunchroom here. There are the high school grads who clean or garden together; the orientation group that stuck together; the office staff in their mid to upper twenties.
Thus far, I have not received a formal invitation to join one of these groups. To take a page from Zora Neale Hurston, it astonishes me that anyone would want to deny themselves the pleasure of my company. I mean, I wear cool blazers.
So, too shy to gatecrash a preexisting group, I’m on the friend hunt. I don’t go about this in the normal way; I strategize like a bounty hunter. I locate my target, then attempt to construct our friendship regardless of their consent. First, we shall get lunch together; then, we must hang out outside of the workday; and finally, you will be mine. Normal people seem to do more of, “Hey, you seem cool, let’s chill,” and things progress naturally. They don’t have an endgame, but then again, they aren’t Layli.
When I say I’m on the friend hunt, that’s primarily a female friend hunt. The men… I mean…
Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Mohome anymore.
Basically what I mean is simply that there are men on campus. Gasp. See, you put me in conversation with any dude 18 to 30 years old, and I promise things will get awkward, stat.
For instance, there was the kid who generously explained his style of dress for me. He pulled out his phone and showed me a photo of him in skintight jeans (possibly jeggings?). “Back in Germany, I like to wear my pants this tight,” he informed me.
Or my friend who texted me, “Do u like roses?” This struck me as an odd question. Does anyone dislike roses? I take it as common ground with the rest of humanity that we all like roses. So, I replied in the affirmative and was delivered a somewhat flattened red rose. From his explanation, he had tried to press this rose in a book.
Or that poor fellow who worked up the nerve to leave his front row seat–at a talk on preparation for marriage, no less–to come sit next to me.
“What’s your name?” I said.
“Haven’t we met?” he said.
I racked my memory. Had we? I had no recollection of ever seeing this guy before. My bad. After we got through our (re)introductions, we had the most stilted small talk possible, then lapsed into silence. You ever come to a point in a conversation where you can think of absolutely nothing more to say? I was there. He must have caught sight of my feet and spotted a way to revive our moribund interaction. “I like your shoes,” he said. This was unexpected. I contemplated my feet, purply skin strapped into girly sandals with metallic weaving and big fake stones. “Oh…oh, thanks,” I replied, “yeah, they’re very…shiny.” I don’t remember if anything more passed between us, but I jumped out of my chair and ran away when the talk ended. Afterwards, I was kicking myself for my callousness.
I mean, I didn’t even think to look at his shoes.