Friendships, Etc

When my friend Esta and her daughter Eden came out to the coast with me for my birthday, I was surprised by how many people commented (both in person and on social media) about how awesome it is that we remain close friends despite the fact that I’m single and she’s married with two children.

I think it struck people because friendships tend to shift and buckle as people move away, gain different interests and values, get married or stay single, have children or don’t, go to college, have a career, and ultimately deal with their own personal issues. Many times, friendships break apart amid the changes, and I think people like to see one that hasn’t.

For me, the hardest thing about friendship in adulthood has been the lack of a close-knit friend group of people like me. Oregon is not just swimming in single college-educated Mennonites in their upper 20s.

And so, I’ve accepted the fact that I can’t be the Rat or the Mole or the Badger or the Toad in any one friendship group, and I’ve chosen to become the Otter in many friendship groups.

If you’ve ever read The Wind in the Willows you’ll know that it concerns four friends, Mole, Rat, Toad, and Badger, and their various adventures.


However, every once in a while a fifth character appears and has an adventure with one or more of the core four. That character is Otter.



Otter, the 5’th character, is there in the middle at the bottom, popping out of the water.

I don’t know why Otter is not part of the core group, but I assume it’s because, unlike the others, he has a wife and family. Since he’s in a different life stage, he’s sometimes on hand for adventures, but sometimes not.

When it comes to friendship groups, I am Otter.

Take yesterday, for example. My cousin Stephy, who was one of my closest friends growing up but got married and moved to Ohio, came back to Oregon for a visit. She texted me and said “do you want to go to the coast on Tuesday?”

“Yes,” I said.

But I really did not know anything about who was going along or what would be involved.

This was the group that went:


Shout-out to Shelley for sending me this picture (because I forgot to take any), and to the kind stranger who snapped it for us.

That is Stephy, her husband Chris, her sister Jessie, her sister-in-law Shelley, and eight of her nieces and nephews. And me.

Hanging out meant snotty noses and whining for candy and listening to seven and eight-year-olds philosophically discuss what would have happened if Satan had never disobeyed God. It meant pausing conversations while moms chased down their toddlers.

All next week these people will hang out together, without me, because they are a family and I am the random cousin. I am the otter, popping in for one adventure. But it certainly was a lovely one, with long conversations about friendship (which inspired this blog post), and sunshine, and sand, and endearing children, and people I like to hang out with.

I wonder if it sounds a little sad and/or pathetic to be the otter.

To be part of a youth group where you’re six to twelve years older than the other members.

To be part of a church ladies’ group, even though they’d much rather talk about giving birth than discussing big theoretical ideas.

To be part of the Christian Grad Fellowship at a college where you no longer attend and were never actually a grad student.

But the glorious upside to such a life is that I’ve learned to be friends with people who are unlike me. And ironically, that’s how I discovered the people who actually are like me, deep down in the places that go beyond demographics.

Like my friend Yasmeen, who’s from an entirely different cultural and religious background, but who shares my deep fascination with cross-cultural nuances.

Or my friend Javen, who came to Oregon last year, barely out of high school, to sing with Gospel Echoes. He looked like the kind of young chap who only ever thinks about spikeball tournaments and keeping his hair just curly enough to impress the girls, but we ended up connecting over our love of writing, literature, and complex ideas.

Or Simone, who is married to my Dad’s first cousin and is a generation older than me, but knows about hard times like no one else I’ve ever met. She understands grief, and depression, and the power of the Holy Spirit, and we can talk for hours. My friendship with her has been extremely healing and beautiful in so many ways.

Of course that’s only scratching the surface of the meaningful friendships in my life, but what I mean to say is, if I only looked for friendships among people who are like me, I wouldn’t have very many friends, and even fewer close friends.

And that would be incredibly sad.

13 responses to “Friendships, Etc

  1. The otter analogy is perfect. Thanks for putting this into words!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Truth. And I so needed to hear it!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I don’t know you, but this isn’t the first time one of your posts has popped up on my newsfeed thanks to my cousin Rachel Horst “liking” them. 🙂 I started writing this comment and it seems to have turned into a novel, so I shall post it here instead!

    I’ve given this topic much thought over the years and it is so interesting to me how much things shift and change once we are adults. I moved from Pennsylvania to Alabama a few years ago and it has been extremely difficult to make those sincere, close friendships that I was used to. It’s so much easier to carry a friendship with someone you’ve known since you were 12 than to start fresh with someone at age 27.

    I am married with no kids. While I connect well with the few people in my community who are “like me” (also married, no kids), I have found that my otter identity (haha) comes from hanging out with single girls and older women. And it’s within those relationships that I find myself the most enriched. Older women are awesome! They have so much wisdom to share! And the single girls who invite me to tag along on a shopping trip bring so much refreshment when the conversation can be about life and what we’re learning from it. No husbands or last night’s supper to compare!

    I literally laughed out loud when I read the line: “To be part of a church ladies’ group, even though they’d much rather talk about giving birth than discussing big theoretical ideas.”…I’ve been a captive audience on those conversations so many times I want to scream! But that also means I’m able to be the otter with the young mothers from my church, even if I don’t have a birth story to share (and frankly, do they really need to be shared??) or a toddler to chase down. Those women bring a perspective to the table that I can benefit from, even if I can’t totally relate to it at this point in my life.

    Basically, what I’ve learned about myself and friendships in this stage of life is that they can be hard yet rewarding if I’m willing to put myself out there and connect with someone who isn’t a copy of myself. After all, that is what makes a healthy relationship work: balance!

    There are my ramblings on the topic!


  4. As a Mennonite who was raised in a Wesleyan Methodist church, and who now attends a Christian Missionary and Alliance church, the only other Mennonites I come in contact with are the few who wander into my work during the week. The bulk of my friends come from my Chamber Orchestra, and since I started the violin relatively late in life, at the old age of 12, they are all younger than me, some by an age gap of 7 years. They are remarkably mature Christians, great friends, and they accept my Mennoniteness without question. We have many things in common– the basic tenants of our faith, a love and dedication for music, similar senses of humor. But for details of theology– the veiling, divorce and remarriage, non-resistance, etc– we have different beliefs. None of my friends–that is, the friends I stay in contact with and see on a regular basis, though there are several Menno’s that I get along with well on the rare occasions I see them– are Mennonite, or even “plain”. And that’s okay. I am blessed to have so many different people from different walks of life to hang out with–from the mothers in my knitting group who have toddlers and moody teenagers and parents in failing health, to my best friend of so many years that neither of us can remember, who is in that short stage of life right before getting married and haveing six or seven kids. I just hope that someday I can count an “odder otter” amongst my friends as well.


  5. I’m freshly married, swimming in a new community away from anthing familiar and trying to figure out where my place is. It’s been weird and difficult. So I kind of really needed to read this. Thanks so much!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Oh Emily, thank you for those sweet words. You bless my heart.
    i just found out that my friend, who is a single, college educated Mennonite lady in her mid 20’s accepted a job in Eugene and is moving back to the area! i am super excited, and i was just thinking that maybe i could connect the two of you. What do you think?

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I snickered over the “giving birth vs. theological ideas.” Oh how I hear you!

    Since we moved to an area devoid of Mennonites a few years ago, this thing called friendship has been challenged and redefined for me. People who I thought were my friends forgot me long before I forgot them. And I’m learning to make all sorts of strange friends who think I’m a little strange too, but we find ways to connect and I am much richer for it.


  8. I have such mixed feelings about this. I feel so frustrated by how many of my friends have gotten married, had kids and are never there for me now. I’ve spent hundreds of dollars on shower gifts for people who can’t even answer a text message. I’ve completely lost them; we live on different planets. I feel like I have to constantly search for new, available friends to replace the old ones. It’s demoralizing. Just makes me long for the New Jerusalem even more…

    I’m about ready to start an Anabaptist convent so I can have some sisterly commitment in my life, but so far, no one is interested.

    But it’s great that you’ve found some meaning in your relationships despite the changes.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Pingback: 7 Ways To Maintain Friendships in Adulthood (ABC Day 11) | The Girl in the Red Rubber Boots

  10. I love the otter analogy. This post really got my attention. Thanks for sharing, Emily!


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