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Why I Can't — And Won't — Make Any More Friends

The acquaintance relationship has been vastly underrated.

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illustration of two friends with keys and another with a keyhole friendship
Monica Garwood
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When I was in high school, I never thought I could have enough friends. It was the pre-Facebook era when calling someone your friend meant you had actually met the person and spent time with them. Naive and shallow, I pined for popularity and collecting as many BFFs as I could.

Then I grew up. I realized that popularity was a superficial and stupid goal. Quality of friendships outranked quantity any day and in every way. I learned to cultivate and nurture my friendships, devoting time and opening my heart.

In each stage of my life, from high school to college to work to motherhood, I’ve been fortunate to meet and connect with amazing women, many of whom have become my close friends. I rely on them to keep my secrets, give advice, make me laugh, stop me from losing my shit and make sure I never leave a public restroom with toilet paper sticking out of my pants (which happens more often to me than you would think). And I do the same for them without hesitation.

It is because I love and treasure my close friends that I have decided that I can’t make any new ones. However, I am open to making as many acquaintances as will have me.

Please don't think I am rude, insensitive, or snippy; I am just realistic. I continue to meet people that I would be honored to call my friends. It's just that being a true friend in middle age in a lot of work.

When you are younger, a close friend remembers your birthday. When you are older, a close friend remembers your birthday, your anniversary, your husband’s birthday and your kids’ birthdays. A close friend also remembers your parents’ names, what’s going on at your office, when you have a doctor’s appointment, that you aren’t eating gluten this month, etc. It’s freaking exhausting!

Close friends understand that you can talk on the phone only in brief snippets. They take it in stride when I abruptly hang up because it’s my turn at the deli counter, and I am unfazed when they cut me off mid-sentence because their lunatic boss just walked in.

With my close friends, I have a well-oiled shorthand, cultivated through our many years together. We get each other's quirks. I am not sure I have the energy to explain any of my stories from the beginning to someone new. I like starting in the middle with someone who doesn’t have to ask, “So Joe is your sister-in-law’s cousin once removed?” They just know who Joe is — and what a jerk he has been over the years.

But while I feel like I am probably at capacity when it comes to close friends, I am definitely on the lookout for new acquaintances. I genuinely enjoy meeting and spending time with new people, especially ones who share common interests.

The acquaintance relationship has been underrated. It can be fun, light and mutually beneficial. We agree in advance not to bombard each other with our “stuff.” If we are out for lunch we can talk about television shows or the restaurants in town, instead of dissecting why your daughter can’t get along with her roommate or whether my mother should get a second opinion before having knee surgery.

I’m not advocating for being “fake.” It's just that sometimes I need a break from “real” — especially as I get older and the real stuff becomes more overwhelming. With acquaintances, they can ask, “How’s it going?” and I say “Fine.” They won’t pry because they won’t see right through that answer and know I am not really fine.

Last spring, I met several women in a writing group. I looked forward to our Tuesday afternoons together. We didn’t become close friends, à la “What should we do for your birthday? … Did your son’s in-laws pony up for the rehearsal dinner? … Let me know when you get the results of your colonoscopy.” Instead, we remained perfect acquaintances. We enjoyed each other’s talents but didn’t worry about each other after the class bell rang. I found it relaxing, and these relationships genuinely added something I craved to my life in a different way that close friendships do.

The old song about friends mandates, “Winter, spring, summer or fall, all you got to do is call” — and whoa, that is a big commitment. Instead, how about, “Yoga, movie or lunch; all you got to do is text. If I can, I'd love to join you and if not — please, no hard feelings.” That’s what the lyrics are to my song, “You've Got an Acquaintance." And if that sounds like a tune you want to sing along, I would love to hang out.