Adapted from a recent online discussion.
Dear Carolyn: I’m a 30-something married woman with a toddler. I very much need one or two new friends, yet I can’t seem to get past the acquaintance stage. The little one makes it tough for me to join co-workers for most happy hours, but even when I do, I feel shy and don’t really tell them anything personal, which inhibits friendship. The other day-care moms and dads seem to have established relationships that I can’t find my way into. No time to take up a new hobby or go to meetups or anything.
I just want someone, other than my husband, I can text funny things to and gossip with after the meeting/party. How do I find this person?
Carolyn says: You’re not alone in feeling alone. Your stage of life is just very isolating if you don’t happen to have ideal social conditions.
That also means, though, that your problem might resolve itself eventually — so don’t feel you have to contort yourself to fix it, and don’t get too upset/frustrated when your efforts aren’t productive. When you lack time, energy or availability to nurture deep connections, it’s OK to rely on half-measures that help you get by — such as those happy hours.
You can also multi-task your socializing and child care with baby-and-me-type programs on weekends. They might not yield lifelong friendships, but can add variety to your half-measures — and at least give you a shot at more. Especially if you push past your shyness and take some emotional risks.
And don’t be so tough on yourself. When I was in your place, an old friend assured me it’s easier to make “mom friends” when kids get to grade school. She was right, and trusting that kept me from getting discouraged.
Little kids are just so consuming that interactions beyond work and home tend to be glancing, distracted, rushed, tired. Those conditions just don’t allow glue to cure properly, for lack of a better analogy.
From readers, who agree this isn’t unusual:
• Toddlers are tricky. When my daughter hit 4 and started wanting to have so-and-so over, that’s when I hit my groove with other parents. If you can find it in you to say, “Susie talks about Jimmy at home. Want to meet at the park Saturday?” I bet you’ll make progress.
• Start looking for other people on the fringes who may also be looking for a way to connect.
•A little self-deprecation helps. Share something stupid and funny you did and laugh about it. I use it to break the ice.
• I didn’t invite one mom to a thing, but invited all of them to the playground after the mom-and-me class and all the kids to my kid’s third birthday, throwing my friendship into a giant pack of people in hopes of some sticking around afterward. It required a lot less of me, an introvert, than the first-date-like awkwardness.
Carolyn says: Thanks! And now, advice to the advisers:
If you are someone who has an established group of a parent friends, it never hurts to invite someone new to play group or game night or whatever.
E-mail Carolyn Hax at firstname.lastname@example.org, or chat with her at 11 a.m. Friday at washingtonpost.com.