In August 2008, I went to Boston for a training conference. I was one of 200 young progressives to be trained to canvass for a non-profit who believed that President Obama was the candidate to move the country in a liberal direction. The days in Boston were spent training. We role-played managerial scenarios, we learned about how to manage an office budget, how to train people to communicate with potential voters effectively. The nights were spent drinking, often to excess.
Aurelia and I were roommates. I liked Aurelia. I liked the way she dressed, the attitude she took, the fact that she took the training seriously but not too seriously. I wanted to be her friend.
But she already had a friend. Aurelia and Paul had come from training in the same office in Illinois, and were best buddies. They had inside jokes, they had nicknames, they made plans to find bars after training with each other.I didn’t want to get in the way. I didn’t want to be the third wheel that they rolled their eyes at, the exasperating and unwelcome hanger-on. So if they invited me along, I celebrated in my head.
One night in the Boston Commons, as Paul and Aurelia and I all stood around talking drinking-loud about recreating the Boston Tea party, I blurted out, “Guys, I know this makes me sound like I’m five, but will you be my friends? I am really bad at making friends.”
“Of course!” opined Aurelia. “You’re cool. Let’s be friends. I’m really bad at making friends too.” I am not sure how to convey the subtleties of drunken reassurances, but believe me when I say that Aurelia managed to show that she was serious about her insecurities while still reassuring me.
“Yeah,” said Paul. “You’re not drinking the kool-aid, and you want to recreate the Boston Tea Party, how can we not be friends?”
“I don’t know,” I said, encouraged, but still insecure. “You guys are obviously such good friends, I didn’t want to be, you know, in the way.”
“You got to be unflappable, Kate!” said Paul. “Now, which way to the Harbor?!”
We eventually did recreate the Boston Tea Party in the Boston Harbor by throwing tea bags off of a foot bridge, but not that night. That night we got drunkenly lost and soaking wet as we walked towards water as found by Paul’s Blackberry and Aurelia’s iPhone. We found a hotel who called us a cab to get back to our own hotel, and did one last shot of the evening in the found-hotel’s bar.
Aurelia and Paul stuck with me through the drama of the election — both political and personal. I think it is this friendship that helped us make it through. If I had never asked, I probably would have just assumed that after we were sent to the far flung corners of swing states (separately), that we were no use to each other. If I hadn’t asked, I would have had no one to practice recruitment speeches with, no one to express my frustration to.
The context of the election is over, and my relationship with Aurelia and Paul is gone: Aurelia is off at law school, and Paul is organizing labor in Mexico. But the context that I do have — a husband, an apartment, an AmeriCorps position — seems strangely without community. I have friends, sure. There are friends from college. Caitlyn, my roommate, who is also married. Bridget, my other roommate, who is also an AmeriCorps member. Jeff, an undergraduate classmate, who is a really good listener. Friends (I hope) from NaNoWriMo. I have friends through Tim, his fraternity brothers, some of whom are married with children, others who are fankids like myself, people whom I like and respect.
But it still seems lonely. Something isn’t meshing together.
I had a lovely lunch on Thursday with a classmate-turned-coworker-in-industry today. We talked about our jobs, briefly, but more importantly we connected on the topics of life, relationships, and shared a tasty lunch. I invited Katie and her fiance to our first anniversary party, a casual event we’re throwing to eat freezer burned cake, and fresh cake, and an excuse to have a potluck.
That seems more like it. I think we’re getting closer. Tim and I want to build a community around our friends — we want to have people to lean on, to share our interests, people who can depend on us too. Maybe what it takes is reaching out and asking people to be our friends — with phone calls, lunch dates, and potluck dinners.