Summer is here, the pool is open. Time to unveil our pasty-white skin and stand before one another in our public underwear and bras (a.k.a. bathing suits). Perfect time to make new friends, don’t ya think?
First weekend back, I bumped into a friend, a pool-friend. We haven’t yet crossed that line from being friends-at-a-place to being friends-who-get-together. First base friends. For the past few summers, I’ve observed this confident, graceful mother of four, introduced myself and chatted when the opportunity arose, all the while hoping we might become friends. More than pool-friends. Real friends.
You know the type. The Good Friend. A friend who shares more than kid-stories, a friend who gives honest opinions and tells you when something is stuck in your teeth, a friend who challenges you to be a better person. Once in a while, you meet someone and just know you were meant to be good friends. So you find opportunities be around her, tossing out the occasional lure for deeper conversation, asking questions about her children, her life, trying to find that connection, the link.
We stood by the edge of the pool, keeping tabs on our littles and feeling exposed in our tankinis and swim skirts. I glanced jealously at her long, lean legs and flat belly, wishing for all the world I had stuck to my diet better this year. Do I cross my arms to hide my post-baby belly (Little One is a year now; can I even blame it on her anymore?) or hang my arms limply at the side, hoping to elongate my pear? Ugh. This time I didn’t have much choice. With one arm in a sling following shoulder surgery, I tried to look as svelte as possible by keeping my legs very still, willing them not to jiggle.
She asked, in a concerned voice, what happened to my arm. I explained the short answer, said it’ll heal soon enough, and put on my best life-is-good smile. Then she asked something completely unexpected: “How are you really feeling?” Wait, what? Did she just start a Real Conversation? These don’t happen everyday, not with pool-friends! I dipped my toe in very cautiously and shared some of my recent struggles. Oh so bravely, she dove right in. With a smile on her face that belied the true hurt, she talked about this difficult past year with a child who doesn’t sleep and her own health concerns. I was crushed. I am so shallow. All the envy I felt towards her had been misdirected. No wonder she is so trim – her health dictates it. And perhaps a house with four children isn’t as full of joy, laughter, and ease as my jealous eyes believed.
I reached out my hand to her, just as she reached out to me. We talked about how perfect we all seem on the outside, our “Facebook lives.” (No, my real life skin does NOT look like my profile picture!) She mentioned her envy at the perfect children with perfect dresses and perfect hairbows sitting in the church pews. How defeated we become by everyone else’s apparent perfection. We thanked one another for being real and promised to catch up more. (Okay, truth. First I apologized for whining about my arm and sharing too much.) But my true self, my somewhat broken self wasn’t a burden to her; she appreciated my honesty, my sincerity. And I realized that’s the very quality that drew me to her (and likely to you, friend): sincerity.
If we would all shed our perfect veneers, let the wrinkles and scars show a bit, we would find connection, build real relationships based on our truest selves. Friendships to last a lifetime because they are imperfect, not photo-album-ready. Don’t worry, that doesn’t mean I’m going to cry in your coffee next time I see you or call you with every ache and pain (only my mom suffers that honor). But I do
encourage beg you to answer honestly when I ask “How are you?” Because, unlike the expectation in our status-updating, bathing-suit-coverup world, I want to know how you are really doing, friend.
And in return, I promise not to hug you while wearing my damp tankini and sweaty sling, though that’s just what I wanted to do to my new Friend.