Before I made the move to Wales, I bought a couple of books written by American ex-pats living in the UK. They were chock-full of advice about how to live amongst the British and their unfamiliar ways. Every single one of them talked about how hard it would be to make friends, how the subtle and not-so subtle differences between Americans and Brits would keep an invisible wall of formality between us, and how I shouldn’t expect to make friends as easily as I would in the States.
I think I need to write a new book. And it will be titled “You Can Make British Friends, But They Probably Won’t Be Exactly Like the Friends You Had Before Because They’re Not.”
I’ve never really been shy. If you don’t count the protective layers of caution and doubt that are the natural result of surviving junior high, my self-esteem is just high enough to let me relax in unfamiliar social situations. In other words, I don’t really have a problem with making new friends in new places, a good thing considering how many big moves I’ve made in my life.
I wasn’t always good at it. Actually, I can pinpoint exactly when I started getting good at not being shy. It was the summer of 1997, the summer before my senior year of high school, when I spent two weeks at a performing arts “camp” (I use quotes because no tents were involved) in Georgia. Two days in, I was ready to walk back home to Florida because I didn’t know anyone and I had no idea how to turn any of those eclectic actors/dancers/artists into acquaintances, much less friends. I had been going to school with roughly the same group of people all my life; nothing had prepared me for that moment.
As much as I’d like to say I figured out how to overcome my shyness on my own, it was really a guy named Jared who played a major part in my transformation. After a few days of watching me smile and say nothing in class and in the cafeteria, he got me on my own and, in a totally non-judgmental way, asked me why I wanted to be an actor if I wasn’t willing to even take the risk of talking to other people. Okay, maybe he didn’t use those exact words (although I wouldn’t put it past him because he’s a great writer), but that was the general message. And I took it to heart. By the end of those two weeks, I was on stage during Improv Night, bringing down the house with a brilliant impromptu sketch about the cafeteria’s ubiquitous grilled cheese sandwiches. Also, Jared and I were putting on our best “Danny and Sandy’s Summer Lovin'” act in every dark corner we could find.
I saw Jared for the first time since that summer a few years back, when we both happened to be in Las Vegas at the same time. (It would be a much better story if we’d just happened to lock eyes over the roulette wheel, but we arranged things on Facebook.) Since he was with his wife and clearly very happy, I couldn’t really express to him how much my time with him, brief though it was, changed my life.
This has been a much longer lead-in than I’d intended, but some history is necessary. I am good at making friends. I made friends at Florida State whom I still count amongst the closest I will ever have. I made friends in Los Angeles whom I miss so much it hurt sometimes. When I accepted Paul’s marriage proposal and realized I would be undertaking the biggest move of my life thus far, I wasn’t worried about making friends. Not only do I have practice with it, I knew I would have a group of friends waiting for me. Paul’s friends would become my friends.
And before I go any further, I have to say that they all have. Tru, Ed, Chris, the Gingers (yes, I know you have names and that you’re standing right there), Dee, Collin…we play games, drink, obsess over comics and movies and Star Trek, and just generally do everything I did with my friends back home. I have so much fun with them when Paul and I go to Shrewsbury. Chris T. and Fiona, Christine and Damien…great new friends.
But…Shrewsbury is an hour away. And everyone listed who is not in Shrewsbury has at least one kid; they’re all adorable, but kids are notorious for taking up a lot of time and energy. (And as much as I want to have one of my own, which would probably be a good way to make friends my own age, now is not the time just yet.)
So, if I already have a small, if not always available circle of friends here, why do I feel like something is missing?
Short answer: I guess I want some new friends of my own making.
And therein lies my current conundrum, because making friends in a small town nestled in the Welsh countryside isn’t as easy as going down to your local game store every Friday night. It requires some serious dedication. And it will inevitably involve hanging out with people who are not in your age range…and who haven’t been in your age range since you were born. That is okay. It sounds weird at first, I will grant you, but now that I’m not carded every time I want to buy a bottle of wine (and now that a Jem live-action movie is being made with actresses who weren’t born until Jem had been off the air for years), it’s kind of nice to be the youngest member of the book club or Zumba class.
Yes, I joined a book club and it, like the only Zumba class I can take, is entirely populated with women who are my mother’s age. They are all nice. They are all curious about my accent. But can I call any of those ladies my friends just yet? Maybe not. But the ones in my book club do share my distaste for Hemingway, while the Zumba ladies have seen me drenched in sweat, trying to count out British coins like a five year-old.
Those things, in my experience, can lead to friendship.
In the meantime, I’ll just keep joining any group that will have me, hoping to find my next new friend. Hopefully, Jared would approve.