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.
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:
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.