We all know that social media can give us unrealistic expectations about vacations, friends, and life in general. Sure, on Instagram, I’m smiling confidently after finishing my morning run—but roughly 48 seconds prior to taking that picture, I was doubled over in the grass trying to catch my breath and not puke on my neighbor’s driveway, asking myself profanity-laced questions about why I’m not a better runner. This is the age of Real-Life vs. Instagram, and even though I know the two are almost never comparable, I’ll admit there was one area that still had me beguiled: the beautiful, supportive, wine-filled fever dream of the #MomTribe.
When you’re growing up, potential friends are just around. You meet them in your neighborhood, at school, at summer camp, in your college dorm, at your first truly terrible job—there is a magical window of time where people of a similar age are in a lot of the same places together. I assumed this would translate into adulthood/motherhood. Surely, after I had kids, I would automatically and effortlessly find and join a Golden Girls-esque group of women that would be each other’s village. Yeah, not exactly.
A little over a year after I had my first kiddo, I had two miscarriages and realized I needed to start finding mom friends I could talk to. I, of course, turned to the always super helpful internet for advice. Most of the suggestions fell squarely in the “Put yourself out there!” “Just be outgoing!” “Make the first move!” camp. I decided I was going to try it; I had nothing to lose. I packed up my kiddo and strolled her over to the park. Within 10 minutes, the following happened:
- I realized my daughter was too young to play on pretty much any of the equipment at the playground.
- A siren-sounding firetruck passed by, causing kiddo to break down into tears.
- I saw a group of mom friends straight out of an Instagram post, with their kids smiling and laughing together.
- I immediately got intimidated and decided to leave.
On my way out of the playground area, I saw a woman watching her three kids. She smiled at me and commented that her kids had hated sirens when they were little, too. (I will warn you right now: this woman and I don’t become friends, build our mom tribe, and live happily ever after.) Still emotionally rattled and on the brink of tears from what I considered a failed outing (and a personal failure, in general), I thanked her for saying that and tried to further the conversation. She was kind and patient, but I was sort of a mess and likely came across as unhinged. (If you’re reading this and remember me, sorry for being so weird!)
I got home and cried. I was a grown woman. I had a job, a family, a life of my own. Why was it that when I saw someone I might want to be friends with, I reverted to a middle school level of self-consciousness and anxiety? I had never considered myself an introvert, but maybe a year of trying to survive motherhood and loss had made me one.
The next year, we welcomed our second kiddo into the world. Oh, and also there was this whole global pandemic thing; you might have heard about it. With a new baby at home and a not-yet-understood virus terrorizing the world, I figured mom friends were just not in the cards for me. I had my family, and if we could all just live through Covid-19, that would be enough. Several months later, though, something very strange happened: I started to meet people and talk to them more openly and easily. I’m not cured or anything, I can still get crazy anxious and intimidated when cool moms are around, but a lot of things about my life and perspective have changed in the wake of Covid-19.
I sometimes write notes and advice to myself—things I want to keep in mind in the coming days. The following are excerpts pulled from the time period that I’m branding as my Post-Covid Vaccine Personal Renaissance™ (aka when I started feeling more comfortable talking to people). I wrote these notes to myself, but I invite you to try them on and see if they feel true to you.
- Most of us are in the same boat. Making friends is not like riding a bike. You can forget how to do it and we are all out of practice. Consider that you might not even be the one making a conversation weird. Maybe the other person is equally anxious and panicked. Cut yourself and everyone else some slack.
- Don’t try to be something you’re not. Ignore all the internet advice that tells you to “just be outgoing!” and “fake it ‘til you make it!” If you’re an introvert, don’t force yourself to try to be the Life Of The Party. Maybe even say to the person you’re talking to, “sorry if I’m coming across as awkward, I’m an introvert and spontaneous conversation with strangers is difficult for me.”
- Put your cards on the table. Dear Self, I know you think it’s really uncool to admit that you don’t already have a #momtribe, but think about the kind of friend you would want. If a woman walked up to you and said, “Hi, I’m _____. I’m trying to find mom friends and the process is awkward, stressful, and frequently throws me into existential crisis,” you would instantly love that person. Pretending you have it all figured out already doesn’t make you cool; being your authentic self does.
- No matter what, it’s a win. There really is no way to lose. Yes, vulnerability is terrifying. And, yes, you could potentially bare your soul and deepest needs to a Regina George-style sociopath who belittles you and laughs in your face. But, that’s not who you want to be friends with anyway, so even if that happens, it’s still a win.
If you’re struggling to find mom friends and wondering why you can’t achieve that smiley, subtly filtered #squadgoals status, all I can say is that you’re not alone. But I do think you can find something more real and more valuable. I no longer view #momsquad membership as the ultimate goal. I don’t care if I’m ever tagged in an Instagram picture of a color-coordinated #girlsnightout. I want connection, perspective, and camaraderie. I want women in my community to feel seen and heard.
By the time you become a mom, you’ve likely experienced some serious life stuff (we all know I mean another “s” word here, right?)—experiences and traumas that can cause you to turn inward, to be quieter, to doubt yourself. It’s a cruel irony that the same experiences that make it difficult to put yourself out there and meet new friends are the same experiences that can often make you a loyal, empathetic friend.
Like Dorothy Gale, Anne of Green Gables, or Odysseus (I’m certainly feeling myself today), my story ends with me coming home having learned a lot. We don’t post much on Instagram, but I do have a few close friends that I can laugh with, cry with, and, yes, even drink wine with. Here’s the thing, though: there’s always room for more.
I can’t promise I won’t be weird, but I’ll be your friend.