How I found (and keep) friends as an adult
I’m watching The Sopranos for the first time. I’ve been meaning to watch it for a couple of years but I keep forgetting about it. I secretly think that I have been saving it for myself. Because you can only watch an amazing, drama television series for the first time once. I have rewatched The Wire four times but it never compares to the first time. And right now I am on episode four the first season of The Sopranos, and I realize that I’m having that fun feeling. I am getting to know the characters. Falling in love with them. Following their lives.
I’m watching The Sopranos, simultaneously reading every wiki article on the Italian mob, the Irish mob, and organized crime on the East Coast. I have always been fascinated with Italian/Irish cultures, especially in big cities like NYC, Boston, Chicago. I like movies and books about Irish and Italian immigrant culture. I’ve noticed there’s a lot of overlap in the two, Irish and Italian. I love their pride. I love their traditions. How protective they are of their families, their people.
This history and culture are definitely alive in Chicago, where I lived for a while, but I did not get the full gamut until I moved to Cleveland. Every Irish-American that I know in Cleveland, their parents or grandparents were born in Ireland. Many of their family members still live there. All the girls' Irish dance. Several as adults. I say I’m Irish but not like these people. They come from families with four, five, or eight kids. And they have dozens of cousins. And they all know each other. It’s a tight-knit community.
I’ve also felt this way about:
Judaism, the Jewish tribe
Blue collared workers in steel factories, docks, in east coast/Midwest
Historically Black College Universities, and Black Greek Life (Divine Nine)
Boarding school, summer camp
And so much more. There’s not a lot of rhyme or reason to this list. It does feel like I have an affinity for sub cultures in early to mid 20th century in big American cities. More than that, I look at this list and what stands out to me is how much I want to belong to something. Something bigger than me. How much I want to have a community.
I’ve always said I don’t have a hometown. Throughout my life, I have moved around a lot. Throughout my whole life. I think it’s something like 25 apartments/houses, spread throughout 10 cities, five states, and two countries. I never went to school with the same group of kids for more than three years. I spent most of my childhood in Michigan, but I never really identified with the state. Probably because my dad still lived in Portland, and half of my extended family lived around U.S.
I went to college in Chicago, and I don’t think I ever went back to my mom’s house in Michigan for more than 2 weeks at a time after I started school. But I lived there for 7 years and have always thought it was the closest thing I have had to a hometown.
I worked at Teach For America, and we did a lot of reflective activities and meetings. One of these activities was sharing your identities. Sharing who you are with your team. Here is an example of what someone could share:
Their familial roles, i.e. Mother, Wife, Sister, and daughter
Race or ethnic group
Member of the LGBT community
College and/or affiliated frat or sorority
First generation college student
It can be anything you identify with
I always struggled with this exercise. I am a single, childless, straight, white, cisgender woman, not close to my family (at the time I was not as close with my brother), who went to an urban college without a football team (needless to say, not a lot of pride or alum community, it’s not something you identify with), without a hometown.
I am not writing that out to complain. The things on that list are not inherently bad. But what I personally struggled with is that there’s not a lot to celebrate there. The items I listed out are not my point of prides, they are just facts about me. Other than being a woman, which I am very proud of. I also tended to include the fact that I am a sexual assault survivor, which is a big part of my identity and I think is worth calling out and celebrating.
But other than that, eh, I don’t know. Who am I? I remember after one of these meetings where we shared our identities (and TFA staff are a group of amazing and diverse people who have a lot of identities), I thought to myself, “my identity is a lack of identities”. And it was the loneliest realization ever.
I have a tattoo on my left forearm, “born not belonging”. I read it once in a book but it’s a quote from another book by Salaman Rushdie that I never read.
The full quote:
In every generation there are a few souls, call them lucky or cursed, who are simply born not belonging, who come into the world semi-detached, if you like, without strong affiliation to family or location or nation or race; that there may even be millions, billions of such souls, as many non-belongers as belongers, perhaps; that, in sum, the phenomenon may be as “natural” a manifestation of human nature as its opposite, but one that has been mostly frustrated, throughout human history, by lack of opportunity. And not only by that: for those who value stability, who fear transience, uncertainly, change, have erected a powerful system of stigmas and taboos against rootlessness, that disruptive, anti-social force, so that we mostly conform, we pretend to be motivated by loyalties and solidarities we do not really feel, we hide our secret identities beneath the false skins of those identities which bear the belongers’ seal of approval.
Another thing to note, I don’t have a group of friends from college or high school. Again, I’m not complaining about this, or looking for affirmation but I’ve tended to have an aversion to groups of close friends, instead having close friendships with individuals from all over. I also tend to lose touch with people easily. When you don’t have the glue of a group, it’s easier to lose touch. I also purposely ended a lot of friendships in the past, because I was angry and thought everyone was against me. So I left them.
Now I am not angry. And living in Cleveland has changed the way I think of community. It feels like home. But now, I don’t have a job, and my unemployment income is coming to end soon, and I haven’t found a new job yet. I am not in a rush to get into another job with a shitty culture so I’m being pretty picky. I’m also in a lot of debt from graduate school. My new financial position makes me feel like I need to move into my mom’s, which I’ve never done before. Not even for summers in college.
The last few months I’ve been strongly considering this idea. It makes sense. Financially. But also, I feel like I have just a few close friends in Cleveland right now. It used to feel like a lot more but if the attendance of my birthday party and grad party were any indication, I’ve lost touch with a lot of people. Thinking about my friendships in Cleveland, it felt okay to leave. Even though I love Cleveland, I don’t have a lot of relationships holding me down here. And I won’t bore you with more reasons on why it is hard to find a boyfriend here. So, I’ve been thinking, “Why the fuck not move home?”
If I leave Cleveland, surely my relationships will not last, save one or two, but definitely the relationships I’ve already felt deteriorate. If I leave Cleveland, and I’m back at my mom’s, I will point to Cleveland on a map and reminisce about my times here, just like the other two dozen cities I’ve lived in (well I don’t have memories of a third of those). I will see my Cleveland friends on Instagram and feel an emotion that is equal parts yearning and resentment. Resentful because our friendship did not last. Again, I’ve lost friends and am out of a community.
In this scenario, I leave Cleveland, not on my own terms, I am leaving out of fear. I am scared to be lonely. I am lonely. AF. Right now. But I don’t want to be anymore lonely. If I leave, I can say “Fuck you Cleveland and friends, you guys didn’t like me anyway, I’m leaving and I’m starting a new life.”
What if I didn’t move though? What if my financial problems were just excuses I was using to run away from a place I was feeling lonely? What if I was moving, not because of mine, but because I’ve always been on the run?
My first big move was when I was six months old. We moved from Metro Detroit to Boise. Years later, I was living in Metro Detroit again, with my mom and brother. We had been in the same house for about five years. And I felt this restlessness. I wanted to move. In eighth grade, I convinced my parents to send me to the nearby all-girl Catholic school for high school, even though I went to the public middle school. I wanted change. I wanted to change. Eighth grade was hard for me, I lost a lot of friends. The “cool kids” kicked me out of their group. I wanted to start in a new school system where I could reinvent myself and everyone would like me. I did this again for college, and when I moved to Cleveland. I’ve always been running. From connection.
What if I didn’t give up on these friendships? Or my life in Cleveland? What if I didn’t throw away four years of community because I’m having a hard time right now? What if I stayed and fucked up my finances to feel at home?
If I haven’t made it clear yet in this essay, my mom’s home is not my home. There’s nothing wrong with it, it’s just not my home. It never was. Moving home to save money will not make me feel whole or happy. It will surely make me stressed and miserable. I will have left to escape a moment of loneliness and a moment of embarrassment that comes with being unemployed. I will regret leaving Cleveland.
People often ask how I like living in Cleveland, once they find out I’m a transplant. I always reply with the same answer, “I love it. Absolutely love it. But I don’t know if I’ll die here.” The response makes a lot of people uncomfortable, thinking of mine and their own mortality. But it’s true. I love it here. I don’t know if I will live here for the rest of my life. I know that I don’t want to leave right now and I think I’m going to find a way to make it work - because I love my community here.
P.S. No Promises. This plan might change at any given mood swing.
Stephanie DeLacy unapologetically shares what it’s like to navigate the world as 20-something white girl, with humor, profanity, and raw vulnerability. Stephanie recounts stories of her travel, mental health, and the journey to loving her body. Her descriptions of dating are bawdy but incredibly relatable. She courageously describes her dysfunctional childhood, healing from trauma, and how she’s evolved as a survivor of sexual assault. At times, heart wrenching, her stories will evoke raw emotion and connect to you on the most guttural level. She hopes to inspire authentic living and human connection. Stephanie lives in Cleveland with her dog and two cats.