Unexpected friendships are, to me, something of an adult phenomenon. As kids, we see potential friendships everywhere – from people both real and imaginary. It’s only as we start getting older that we realize we might fit in with one group better than another.
The divide usually begins somewhere around middle school and then intensifies in our high school years. People splinter into various cliques and groups, usually with similar interests. In her movie Mean Girls, Tina Fey savagely breaks down the high school cafeteria into tribes. (As usual, she nails it.)
College often blurs the lines between some of those tribes, mostly through the anticipated and sometimes loathed freshman roommate lottery. Throw together a varsity football player and a computer programming geek, and you could end up with an unexpected friendship. You could also end up with a disaster.
Either way, college is a time when you choose your friends. You’re surrounded by hundreds, sometimes thousands, of people your own age who are all going through the same experience as you. Potential friends abound, and you can seek out the ones to whom you feel a true connection.
But after college, you enter the real world. And in the real world, you often don’t have the luxury of choosing your friends. Your job may land you in a city where you don’t know anyone. You may move to a new location for your children. Or you may work in a field where you travel all the time.
In those cases, you often become friends with people out of circumstance – the parents of your kids’ friends, your coworkers, your business associates. The jock and the computer geek may find that they both have kids who want to be in the marching band. The fashionista and the outdoorsy activist may find they have the same crazypants boss.
In my book, my protagonist, Hannah, explains how her best friend in Washington, Rachel Cohen, is the last person with whom she would have expected to become friends:
Over the past three years, in what is as much a surprise to me as anyone else, she has become, in addition to my best friend at work, my best friend in all of DC. Had we met at a different stage of life, I’m not sure that would be true. My college friends and I were kindred spirits, homebodies who preferred sweatpants to high fashion, a night watching old movies to a night on the town. But those friends are spread across the country, in Boston and Seattle and New York, and now Rachel is the one who knows the intimate details of my daily life—Rachel, the woman everyone notices when she walks into a room, who can make sweatpants look like high fashion, in a way I never could. … None of my other friends are like her, and yet some days I feel closer to her than I do to them, for the simple reason that she’s here and they’re not.
I’ve definitely experienced this in my adult life. What about you? Have you found yourself befriending people you may not have befriended in your youth? How much of a role has circumstance played?
(Oh, and by the way? I have been surprised and delighted by the writer friends I’ve made online — especially my fellow Debs on this site.)