Wednesday, 5 June 2013

Befriending Families

I've written before about how migratory Americans and Canadians are (and always have been) compared to Europeans until very recently. We seem to have this feeling that we can just pick up and leave Chicago for New York or Toronto for Montreal, and everything will be fine. However, the older we get, the more difficult it is for many of us to make friends. Real friends, that is. Naturally we have colleagues at work, but those don't always turn into friends.  (The test is whether you still get together after you have left the job.)

The Poles, incidentally, have at least two words for friends, differentiating between best friends and everyone else. I admire their hard-headed ability to reserve przyjaciel (m.)/przyjaciólka (f.) for the few and apply kolega/koleżanka to the many. I would not be surprised if there were further gradations, e.g. kumpel/kumpelka. I bet there are further gradations in Germany, too. Central Europeans are simultaneously blunt and sentimental. How they survive social life in the UK, having to cope with the Anglo-Saxon conversational stream of polite nothings, is a question.

Anyway, most of the people we native English-speakers call our friends are really just our colleagues or our acquaintances, and there is nothing wrong with that. What is wrong is to take our friends, first class (przyjaciel/przyjacióka class), for granted, and to assume we can make new friends in a new town right away.

Since I migrated to Scotland, I have made two attempts to have a social life outside of my husband's circle of friends and acquaintances. There was my writing circle, in which virulent anti-Catholics unintentionally made me extremely uncomfortable, so I quit, and there is now my Polish class. Besides Polish class, I have church, writing, travel and occasional forays into the Edinburgh art scene. Thus, I feel a bit isolated. At least there are more under-50 women at church now. There were very few when I arrived.

My hometown friend Lily suggested that I go to a local Novus Ordo Mass to meet more women, but I am such a Usus Antiquor junkie, I really didn't think I could bear that. Also, Catholic women my age (39++) tend to have complete social circles already. Women who don't move from town to town settle in among their relations, their grade school friends, their high school friends or their university friends, get married or get a partner, and divide most of their time between their place of work and their home. Many have children who take almost all the emotional energy the women have to give. And happy the partnered woman who does not spend 7 out of 7 nights keeping her man company in front of the telly.

After some dithering and feeling sorry for myself, I decided that I would stay put and see who God sent, and every once in a while God sends the parish somebody new and disposed to find new friends.Thank heavens for coffee hour. Every parish should have coffee hour, so it doesn't have to dread one day hearing, "I was a stranger, and you didn't welcome Me."

And those six paragraphs lead to my advice to the Single woman who wants to befriend families: give up your dream of meeting families and accept the friends God sees fit to send you. The truth is, I cannot imagine why a busy family with small children would go out of their way to befriend complete strangers, unless the parents of the family were unusually gregarious souls. Couples with children are emotionally stretched, sometimes to the breaking point, and if a mother of babies has any time to herself, she wants it for herself, or for girl-time with old friends.

I could be wrong, of course. But I honestly don't think a married woman with kids is going to bond with a new single woman just because the single woman seems to like her kids. There has to be something else to bond over. If the married woman is a keen tennis-player, and the new single woman is also a keen tennis-player, then that would be something, especially if the married woman has been stuck for some time for someone with whom to play tennis. However, only in chatting with a married woman can Single you find out if you have such interests in common, so by all means strike up conversations with married women with children after Mass or wherever else.

Birds of a feather flock together. With one hometown exception, my friends with children were my friends before they had their children. I have babysat for only two young families because only two young families here know me well enough to ask. Most of the people I socialize with are childless, like me. Most of them are Single. Most were not born in Edinburgh. We share the same interests and the same basic lifestyle. Orphaned by geography, I turn to two older friends for motherly advice, and childless by accident, I mother younger friends when called upon to do so. And maybe sometimes when not. And if sometimes I feel isolated and lonely, that's the price most migrants pay for migration.


Anonymous said...

Thank you for answering my question! You’re totally right that we should never take our close friends for granted. My friends are wonderful and I am truly blessed to have them. And though I’d love to get to know good Catholic families up close, it’s not that important right now. I’m going to follow your advice to focus on my current friends and see who God places upon my path!
Oh, and I’d like to point out that I wasn’t talking about befriending complete strangers, but about several families that I’ve known for years (being a scout leader for their kids, teaching Sunday School classes, helping them out etc). I’m not that socially awkward. ;-)

MaryJane said...

Very interesting. As I was reading, I was thinking, "but I am friends with several married women, yet we have very little in common outside the faith" - but then I realized, we were friends in our youth and have remained so, thankfully. We knew each other long before things like college majors and jobs and husbands and children were in the picture. I wonder, if I met them today, if we would become friends? I bet in some cases, not, which is a shame. However, it makes me grateful that we've continued a friendship throughout these changes!

Pearlmusic said...

Yes, you're right! We Poles distinct these classes for friends. Here they are:
1) przyjaciel/przyjaciółka - close friend (first class, you said) whom you know for ages, trust and depend on during hard times
2) kolega/koleżanka - loose friend or sometimes a colleague at work, fun to hang out with and much in common, but not ascertained as a friend-in-need
3) znajomy/znajoma - this stands for rather loose acquaintances but also Facebook friends if you know what I mean.

You also mentioned kumpel/kumpelka which is rather informal and can be applied to each class, depending on a social circle etc.

Hope this was helpful a bit :)

Seraphic said...

Tak, to bardzo przydatny! Dzieki, PearlMusic.

Will Cubbedge said...

Interesting, and probably spot on for most. However, I am a married gal with a give year old and a six month old in a newish town (I moved to the Deep American South three years ago). I have one friend, who, oddly enough, moved here a week after I did. Nearly all the women I talk to regularly are considerably older, have teenaged children and never (really, never) want to get together for a drink or a book club. The younger (and really, I'm 31 and the set I'm talking about is about six years younger) set has lots going on but I feel like I'd be an intruder. Do the unmarried really want to hang out with the young marrieds? I just don't know. I know, though, that it's quite lonely being a young married mother with no one in her generational bracket to have fun with (other than the husband, who is terrific fun).

Lydia Cubbedge said...

And, oh, dear, I seem to have forgotten to sign out of aforementioned husband's account. The above comment is, in fact, from me.

Seraphic said...

Well, I'm not even that young a married, and some young (and not so young) Singles enjoy hanging out with me, so I don't see why not. Invite them all to a dinner party at your place.

Jam said...

In a previous parish I attended (in Chicago), another late-20-something and myself decided to organize monthly young adult brunches. We had three young married couples show up and they were all very much "core" members of our group (the rest of the core was me, three other single women, one single guy, and an engaged couple). Within the first 3-4 months of the brunches all three married couples announced a forthcoming baby; I was invited to the two baptisms that were held locally which was an enormous honor and pleasure for me (gotta love a sacrament). The brunches only lasted about two years and then sort of dissolved, partly because myself and two of the other single women got involved with other things and/or moved away for long or short terms.

I really liked all three of those married women. Their husbands were fun guys too. Myself, two other single women, and the couples had a big table at the parish 'gala' together (babies at home with sitters) and it was great fun. We would congregate after mass, and I think each couple had us over for dinner once, with the husbands finishing up the cooking while mama and baby entertained the guests. It was partly those friendships that made me sad to move away.

Looking back, although it's true that the babies were not (publicly) in the picture when I met those couples, really I didn't get to know them at all until after they had announced their pregnancies. I think one thing that really helped in making those friendships happen was that one of the married women and one of the single women (not me) were very outgoing people. There was never a hint that maybe it was strange or incompatible that we'd all become friends.

If I had to come up with a point to all this (ahem) I would say: I don't know if Single People as a category want to hang out with Married People as a category. But I'm always pleased to be invited to dinner, or asked if I'm going to that talk, or greeted after mass. And (to descend into egotism) I'm always interested in people who think I'm interesting. I think I would have been friends with those women regardless of their marital status -- actually, their being married might have helped things along, because none of us single girls were in a position to entertain at home the way the married women were.

Anonymous said...

I'm in a parish where my age groups (under 30) is seriously under-represented, so most of the people in my parish are married couples who have children. However, since they are not really in my age group and are leading quite different lives, it hasn't really bothered me that I'm not friends with any of them, although I wouldn't feel negative about friendships with them.

What is more of a problem for me personally is that there are so few people my own age. In the past year, I have made more of an effort to meet other Catholics my age, and have made some very good friends. In a roundabout way I met them through my university, which is a tad ironic since it's a large, public, secular university.

Since I'm in my early twenties, very few of my friends and acquaintances are actually married, but many of them are in de facto relationships or 'long-term' sexual dating relationships. Seraphic, you've mentioned your surprise that women my age read your blog. I'd suggest that it's because in English-speaking countries (I'm in Australia) it seems to be reasonably common for young unmarried couples to either 'live together', or 'date' for years on end since the age of eighteen. So while us young girls are not alone in being unmarried, we can feel alone in not being 'coupled-up'. Although I'm sure all of this has occurred to you already.

I think this might be a relatively recent phenomenon. My father attended university in the 1970s and he is often surprised at just how 'attached' uni students are these days. He says it wasn't quite like that in the 1970s (although I do realise that by that point the Sexual Revolution had taken hold, so I'd highly doubt that uni students in the '70s were virtuous, Seraphic Singles).

By and large I like spending time with the couples I know, though. My friends have boyfriends/girlfriends/de factos who I get along with really well, and I don't feel like they see my single status as something odd. Yet.

- Julia

Seraphic said...

I think the older I get, the more angry I get on behalf of girls who don't want to have their (maybe, not really sure) wedding night years before they actually get married.

I don't blame mainstream Protestants and agnostics, et alia, but I really do blame fellow Catholics, who should know better, because even if they aren't betraying themselves, and even if they do actually marry the people they are committing mortal sins with, strangely sure they won't be run over by a bus before they get to confession, they are betraying chaste Catholics who find themselves facing the Enemy increasingly alone.

It's like all those priests who ran off to get married, but still keep the glamour of having been a Jesuit (or whatever) squarely in their biographies, while the men who remained faithful to the priesthood struggle and break under the workload.

As a married woman, I feel pretty baleful about it all. I found the right guy (after a looooong wait and a lot of false alleys), we got engaged, we waited, we got married in eight months, the wedding was tiny and inexpensive, we're married.

Okay, so we were in our thirties, so we had a lot of self-knowledge people in their twenties do not have. Also we lived a whole ocean apart, so the temptations were not there. But still. It's not like waiting until you're married is bizarre. It's what almost all Catholics everywhere did before the 1960s.

Anyway, I wish people would realize how much influence their own behaviour has on other people. Can you imagine the damage I might inflict on my friends and readers by, say, leaving my husband? Or if he left me? As much as we said, "Oh, we just want each other to be happy, no matter what", it would still be a victory for the Enemy and another defeat for fellow Catholics trying to be good.

End of rant.

Anonymous said...

Hmm. I am familiar with the feeling of disappointment that comes from finding out something about a friend who you thought you shared certain moral beliefs with. In my case, though, mostly those friends have not been seriously religious, so I guess it was always just wishful thinking on my part that we shared the exact same values. The disillusionment can still hurt though. These days I am likely to assume that someone who calls himself 'Catholic' or 'Christian' is describing his family's residual religious affiliations rather than expressing any specific personal belief in anything.

So basically I realise I have a few friends who I can be confident share my beliefs (and I can thankfully include family members in this group), other friends who share some of my beliefs, and a very large third group of acquaintances who would quite possibly be stunned to know that I'm a practising Catholic because they are urbane and well-educated and could not believe that one of their associates could be So Backwards.

Having said that, I do enjoy the company of the third group - mostly we just 'talk shop' anyway.

- Julia