I tend to find friends in unexpected places--and kind of like jobs or new opportunities, often when I’m not looking for them and am just going along living life. I’m writing about this today because I’m meeting a friend for lunch. I haven’t seen her since last fall, when I was in New York City for our annual pilgrimage. I got to finally meet her new baby girl, attend one of her lectures on sociology, and even go to see Jimmy Fallon with her and another friend (thanks to yet another friend!). It had been awhile since we had seen each other in person, but the time was good.
I often find that with unexpected friends, we meet in some casual way, like standing in the hallway waiting for a new class to start. Or sitting in the waiting room at the doctor’s office. Or even sharing the same mirror while shoe shopping. I’m not at those places to make friends or network, and because of that I’m probably more open to just chatting without expectation. I’m a firm believer that having unspoken expectations around relationships can be disappointing more often than not, especially if you are anything like me and live you life with high expectations for yourself. Such expectations for self tend to bleed into expectations of others or events. For example, networking events are full of expectations about who we might meet, what opportunities might arise, how we might seem to others. Unless you have those expectations in check, it’s not a great place for being authentically open–and thus, not such a great place to find an unexpected friend. I’m also not expecting that I’m going to connect in some real way with the person I’m chatting with at the shoe store –so when there is mutual interest, like faith or family, or even a personality click–it’s a surprise, the nice kind.
I juxtapose the unexpected friendship with maybe those that we might build based on a group that we belong to, the friends that we make because we are in the same sunday school class or the same mommies day out group or on the same committee for the women’s business organization. We make friends in those places and those moments because it seems natural, an extension of the activity we are involved in. Usually we expect there will be a few women we will be drawn toward. The friendship may never move out of a deeper level of acquaintanceship, and if it does move more into a friendship realm, such relationships are often fostered by more regular care and feeding–and may tend to falter without it.
What I love about the friend I’m meeting today is that our similarities are a foundation for our friendship, they were not the thing that we have focused on. It was like we knew we were similar in ways and that part was almost taken for granted–a known jumping off point for us to build something deeper–and often grounded in our differences. In fact, it is our differences that I find creates deeper conversations, ah-hah moments of learning that I take with me into other areas of my life. It’s been five years now that we’ve been friends and while she has moved twice since then in addition to a stint in Africa, I have been living in the same place. (I used to have the life like that, so find it fun that the other person I’m friends with has that life, now.) I have seen her so few times in the past 5 years–and tend to think that most “new” friendships wouldn’t survive that.
This is what I find about unexpected friends–they stick with us. They are the ones that seem the most unlikely to weather distance and change, and yet are often the most hardy.
They are also the friendships that I tend to keep investing in–letters, notes, book exchanges, tips, encouragement. Over time the investments make a difference–more of a difference than the face-to-face distance. The difference becomes additional, not subtractional. (yeah, I know it’s not a word.) Unexpected friendships are sometimes stronger because the initial connection points are stronger–and thus our desire to invest the energy in deepening the friendship beyond the surface happens naturally and often in short visits or through the dialogue letters or phone calls.
I find with unexpected friends I am more candid, less guarded because I don’t question the foundation of the friendship–it was mutually chosen and we are headed in the same direction in the friendship, if not our lives. My unexpected friends are often very independent people, with interesting lives and perspectives–and I’m comfortable with sharing my life with someone who has something of their own to bring to the table. I have to say that Facebook, for all it’s craziness, has allowed me to reconnect with people I knew when I was young–before we could be truly ourselves. And I’m finding unexpected friends there, too.
Today, my friend and I will go for a walk toward a lunch place, probably spend a couple hours total catching up. Not long, but long enough to renew the connection and breathe a bit of fresh autumn air into our ongoing conversation. She will then head back to New York and I will head back to my office and work. I will be thinking about the things that we talked about or the things that remained unsaid, but expressed.
So, I’m thankful to those friends who didn’t expect me in their lives, either. I’m thankful for the moment of reconnect with my unexpected friends–between flights or babies, over a good book or out of a heartache. Thanks for taking time to call or jot a note, encourage my work, call me out on crap or question the ways in which the problems of the world are being solved. You’re amazing, and you are valued.
Do you have friends in your life that you would consider “unexpected”? Let them know you value them today. Write a note in your gratitude journal about how they enrich your life. Heck, have a conversation with a stranger…you never know where your next unexpected friendship will come from.