I was at the zoo yesterday with a friend and our two kids, and we had an interesting conversation about friendship in this city. And it made me think, so here we go.
First off, I think I need to explain some things about Calgary. It’s a city of a million people, but it’s also a very, VERY small town. Facebook has made it clear that six degrees of separation might be a few degrees too many. Just last week David noticed that my second cousin and his engineering classmate’s husband worked together at a restaurant 10 years ago and stayed friends. One of my best friend’s little brother’s wife (hi Rochelle!) is good friends with one of my friends from my high school competitive swimming years. These are just two recent examples – it’s rarely that much work to connect people. And that’s just friendship. One of the new engineers in my group used to work at my husband’s company, and is good friends with one of David’s best friends. I work in the oil industry, and it’s important to never, ever burn a bridge because it’s practically inevitable that you will eventually end up working with them again.
The jokes about Canadian politeness aren’t too far off the mark, but any jokes about Canadian friendliness are, at least on the this part of the prairies. Or maybe that’s the wrong way of putting it. People are (transit aside) generally polite, kind and helpful to lost looking tourists. But that has nothing to do with making friends, something I do believe is pretty hard to do here. L, the woman I went to the zoo with yesterday, told me about a girl she had class with at university. They sat beside each other every day and chatted in class, and after a few months, L asked if she wanted to go for lunch. The woman declined, saying “I already have friends.” Which, COLD. But also not surprising in any way at all. I didn’t really make any long term friends at university either, not ones that didn’t come attached to someone else already. Your friend dates this guy, and you start hanging out with his friends, and maybe you make friends through that. Actually, that’s how I met my best friend E – my boyfriend was high school friends with her boyfriend. Since then, I left that guy, she married and divorced her guy, and we’re BFFs. (In true Calgary style, E went to the same elementary school as my ex, and once was at a sleepover at his house when she was friends with the ex’s little sister. She had also been in marching band with the guy my sister was dating at the time we met.) We’ve been friends for 7 years, and I still consider her a ‘new friend’. My other best friend T and I have been friends for 15 years – we met in high school. My friend who is babysitting Jess this weekend is someone I’ve known for 19 years – and who, incidentally, turned out to be one of David’s second cousins. (I swear I’m not making any of these stories up. It’s how this city is, if you’re local.)
So this is a city of close knit people, incredibly connected. But it’s also a city of immigration. We’re a Have province, with a good economy, and most of Saskatchewan and all of Newfoundland has moved here for work. (Joke!) And the thing about people who come out here for work is that many of them leave when they have a chance, and if you are a Calgary lifer, you have to wonder if it’s worth making friend with people who are just going to leave in a second. I’m completely exaggerating something that I don’t think anyone consciously thinks, but I suspect it may be at the root of why it’s SO tough to make friends in this city.
I figured that having a baby would be perfect for making friends. I mean, you’re suddenly exposed to so many new people who you have something in common with and, this being Canada, a year’s mat leave to give you free time to hang out. And yet.
It’s not that I’ve not put myself out there. I did 2 trimesters worth of prenatal yoga, and I’m now taking postnatal. We did a 10 week Birth and Babies class, and while the group is meeting once very month or two, I’ve only met up with one of the moms out side of it. (And to be fair, C and I get along well, and we had dinner at their place on Sunday. She did mention that they have zero friends with kids, and that probably explains why they are more sociable that others.) But that’s one social connection of the four or five dozen people I’ve met.
But I do get it. On the one hand, more friends with babies yay please! But on the other? I have a large social network, most of who have known for years, and keeping up with it at times seems overwhelming. (I still have friends in the city who haven’t met Jess.) And I think this is exactly the same thought process everyone else must have.
I used to think that maybe I was just not a friend-able person, but I’m pretty sure it’s the norm around here, not the exception. I could be wrong, but I think I may be on to something here. Not that like, changes anything, but it’s interesting to me none the less.