Nicola Alpe is a Kiwi usually living in Los Angeles, navigating Americans, motherhood and bad traffic.
When was the last time you made a new friend? Not just an acquaintance, but real friendship with no judgement and implicit trust. Children's lives are sprinkled with friendship opportunities; airline lounges, trips to the park, even family date night at American restaurant institution The Cheesecake Factory had me swapping numbers for a playdate. But adult friendships?
Having moved to LA seven years ago, I was starting from scratch. We are not religious, so church was out. We are well out of college so that was out. A career is great to meet people, provided there is a wide mix of people with plenty of opportunities to socialise. We didn't have much of that either. We wanted to make friends with Americans, but you know the saying: Where the bloody hell were they?
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I made it my job to meet friends. We agreed, if we were invited, we'd go to the opening of a paper bag. I was flashing smiles all over the place, cracking jokes and on my best behaviour. It was exhausting and I'm sure I appeared, to be brutally honest, desperate. Did I really expect to "grab a coffee" with someone after a workout? In my 25 years of working out, did I ever swan around afterwards, sweaty and red-faced, socialising? Not once.
As a new mum I imagined myself a member of a power-walking, stroller-pushing team, chatting and toning as we wore active wear and pushed sleeping babies. I joined a breast-feeding support group when our daughter was five days old. I thought we'd sit around breastfeeding and having a right old gab fest. It was a shock to see the exhausted faces of women whose babies had decided to shun the boob at three months old. No one wanted to be friends with a woman whose milk came in two days earlier. They wanted an intervention.
Six months later and starved for adult interaction, I joined Mommy and Me, a group led by a psychologist with weekly topics related either to us or our baby's development. The start of a new session rolled around, and I joined an existing group. I turned up and thought everyone was lovely. Everyone thought I was lovely too – for the assistant. That's what you get when you turn up to Mommy and Me with no "Me". My daughter was sick, but I couldn't wait another week to meet people, so I went alone. Goodness knows how I managed to walk out of there with any friends at all after that first impression.
Making friends as an adult is hard. Making friends in LA is next level. "We must get together" actually means, "You're nice enough but not enough for me to make the effort". People come to make it and they disappear for months on end. They move home or even worse, they move east of the 101 and you know neither of you will brave the traffic to visit.
Like a parent finding capacity for more love when another child is born, the friends I have made in LA have found room for me and my family in their full and busy lives. I've never been so grateful for this as I am now, having been away for five months and with an uncertain road before our return. Speaking to them I feel their genuine friendship and I cannot wait to have them for dinner, see them at Back to School Night, share Friendsgiving, serve them pavlova, knit together, have the kids play. LA is what it is because of the friends we have made, and we are not ready to give it up yet. We should all be open to new friendships.