Lately, I’ve been meeting a lot of new people. I mean a lot. People who don’t know my story. People who see a warm, vivacious woman who engages willingly and happily with those around her instead of woman who pulls the covers over her head and spends days eating ice cream and watching HGTV to keep the world at bay, preventing her intense emotions from turning people off.
For 15 years, I met new people through my job as a teacher and my participation as an elder at my church. I developed relationships based proximity and the need to reach common goals: teaching children how to read, enduring carpool duty on a 100 degree afternoon in Houston, deciding what color carpet to install in the new church dining room. (Green! No, blue! No, grey with green and blue flecks!)
People at church knew my story, and I was heralded for everything I did to strengthen the church’s mission within and without the walls of our particular congregation. (“Your dad would be so proud of you.”)
People at school knew (some of) my story, and I was praised for everything I did to ensure the academic success of each child in my class. Church and school were the twin towers of my life, and I was proud of their gleaming stature and perceived indestructibility.
But almost two years ago, I made some decisions that changed my life, and now – inexplicably – I am meeting people who are neither teachers nor Presbyterians! Instead of spending too. damn. much. time deciding on the color of the carpet or refusing to compromise my beliefs about how reading should be taught, I’m going to jewelry conferences and business networking events and talking to people who have never heard of the Book of Order or Fountas and Pinnell. (Note to Presby readers: the other day, I found myself explaining the fidelity and chastity amendment to a Jewish friend. Oy!)
SInce the people I’m meeting are just regular people, we don’t have pre-ordained topics for discussion. We aren’t debating Presbyterian polity or the merits of Everyday Math (there aren’t any.) We have to, gulp, talk about ourselves. But I don’t want to scare off my new friends with all of my issues, and at 43, I’ve got plenty of ’em. So I tell my story as gently as possible, warning people of distressing parts to come. It goes something like this:
New friend: So, tell me about you – where did you grow up? Where did you go to college?
Me: Well, I’m a native Houstonian, and I went to college in San Antonio.
New friend: What about your parents?
Me: They were both native Houstonians. I have a sister who lives in Seattle with her husband and two children. My mom and I are going to visit them next week for my nephew’s birthday.
New friend: Where’s your dad? Is he still alive?
Me: He died when I was in high school.
New friend: Oh, I’m so sorry. What happened?
Me: You’d better take a big sip of that sangarita you’re drinking. I’ll wait. Deep breath. He committed suicide my senior year of high school.
And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. The thing is, I’m having trouble walking the fine line between getting-to-know-you and over sharing. What is appropriate conversation for a first friend-date? How much should I reveal to a new friend with whom I am experiencing a series of “OMG – you, too?” moments?
Making friends has never been easy for me. I may be intelligent, witty, and charming, but I’m also selfish, rigid, and uncompromising. I relate well to this scene from When Harry Met Sally (my absolute favorite movie):
Will my new friends still like me once they really get to know me? What happens when this shiny new penny starts to tarnish? Thankfully, I still have time to make a good impression.
For now, I’m going with “presentable, but authentic.”
I hope it works!