When I moved to rural Tennessee back in June, I left behind my entire social network. My friends who knew my insides and out. The friends I turned to when I was feeling stressed and needed a Goddess card to get me through my day.
It was an emotional month of goodbyes as I drove away from all the people who knew me best.
Making friends as an adult is somehow exponentially harder.
You know who you are. And you know who you want to surround yourself with. So, when someone doesn’t fit the mold, we tend to move on. Gone are those college days when you could bond with anyone over a keg of beer and the late night curly fries.
So, when we moved here, I knew I’d have to put in a little effort. I knew I needed friends to get me through the next four years. And I knew I needed company to help me survive in a rural town – something I had never done before.
I attended orientation with Ankur – in an attempt to find someone I could connect with. And, when the Student Advocate Association planned a brunch, I was one of the first ones there – eager to meet my (hopefully) soon-to-be friends.
Somewhere along the line, I stumbled upon these three ladies.
When we first bonded – over mosquito repellent, margaritas, and cheesy tots – I was elated. I made friends who enjoyed tequila as much as I did. And they were equally anxious about our rural town experience. Initially, we bonded over that. Time and time again. We’d come together and vent and gripe and say, “Gahhhhhhh. I can’t believe we live here.”
But, over time, I got to know them more intimately.
We, surprisingly, weren’t as alike as I had initially thought.
Nicole and I are both from California. We are both Special Education teachers and both grew up playing tennis. We have a few similarities, but when it comes to the “bigger things,” we are very different.
Nicole grew up a Catholic. I grew up in a Hindu household but am much more spiritual than I am “religious.”
Nicole got married at the age of 22. I was 29 when Ankur and I married and enjoyed every bit of my 20s as a free bird. I was always confused by those who wanted to settle down so quickly.
When social issues get brought up, Nicole and I disagree on many things.
Yet, somehow, this friendship persists.
Last week, Nicole and I made a spontaneous trip to Morristown. On the drive over, we had one of the best, most memorable conversations. We talked about a variety of things and then I turned to her and said, “I’m so grateful that circumstances brought us together.”
We both openly talked about how if we had remained in our old towns living our regular, pre-medical-school lives, and we somehow happened to stumble upon each other, neither of us would CHOOSE to pursue a friendship with the other.
Many of our differences would have had us both running in the opposite direction.
I used to hear the word “religious” and cringe. Anyone who invited me to a Bible Study was flagged as someone that I knew I wouldn’t want to grow too close to. And, if someone disagreed with my social beliefs, I would bite their head off and would probably assume they never had anything valuable to offer my life (or this world).
Yet, somehow, all of this changed when our circumstances changed and we were both in need of some company.
I couldn’t pass over Nicole and look for the “next best thing.” I couldn’t give her up and try to find someone I’d get along with better. Out here, these girls are all I had. So I had to make it work.
And it worked.
In the best possible way.
We are so different. Yet we have opened each other up in a way that nobody has ever done before. I have become more patient and open-minded. I’ve realized that people who may think drastically differently than I do aren’t bad people. And they’re not wrong simply because they may have a different opinion than I do.
In fact, Nicole has allowed me to ask questions and learn more information about her culture and religion in a way that doesn’t make me feel like I’m stupid or ignorant. She has made the communication so much easier. Which has led to a better understanding of why she believes the things she does.
This friendship is no longer a matter of survival. It’s not about having the company for a few years and then peacing out of the relationship – never to be seen again.
It’s a lifelong friendship. One that I cherish so deeply. Because it helped me develop into a better, more understanding human being.
In a nation where our people are so divided, it comes down to this one simple thing. We surround ourselves with people who are the same as us and we loathe the people that think differently.
Try to step outside your comfort zone.
Try to develop friendships with people you would otherwise avoid.
You’ll be surprised by what may come of it.