Thursday, May 20, 2010

Life unfolds

These pictures

have nothing, whatsoever,

to do with this post.

So I finally ran into Vivienne, my new "French friend," at African dance class, and, well, it was a bit anticlimactic.

She apparently isn’t aware that she is meant to be my best friend here in France. (Funny how it went to potential conversation partner to potential friend so fast in my mind.) So I guess we will have to let this fantasy friendship, if there is one in there, unfold naturally. Imagine that.

I'll admit, I've been a bit haunted about something one of my readers, capela, over at Momformation, said about my ill-timed shyness upon first meeting Vivienne possibly being perceived as rejection. She offered her number, I didn't take it. I didn't take it in that misguided, mercenary, "Oh-you- are- too -kind- I'm -not- worthy sort of way."

This is what capela said:
"Hi betsy, this might help shift your perspective… Accepting gifts is a form of generosity…. So by not accepting this woman’s phone number, you were in essence refusing a gift, refusing her…. It is much easier to enter a culture if you accept people reaching out to you, whatever shape it takes, allow them to touch you….. It’s a primitive need and pleasure, which, from her perspective, she couldn’t possibly have understood your rejection…. Better luck next time, hey."

As depressing as this view was, I couldn't help but be a bit spooked by the insightful truth in it.

But there is hope.

We have had some brief chats at class, but there has been no mention of our original conversation about us getting together to speak French. Perhaps she's waiting for me to make the first move? Why wouldn't she?

Who knew making friends as a grownup could be so difficult. When you are a kid, you just smile at someone who is roughly the same size as you, and next thing you know you are holding hands, laughing, and running across the playground together.

So why can't we do that as adults? When do these rigid boundaries get drawn into life's map?

At class tonight, I tapped into my inner bold person, and sat down next to her on the floor mats. When she finally looked my way, I mustered up my courage, and my muddled French verb conjugation skills, and asked her about her son, I assumed that's who he was, who I saw with her at class the other day.

She said she had two children. I think they are both boys. She also said they were five and nine.

"I have two daughters. Four and eight," I said.

"Nearly the same ages," she said.

"Oui, c'est vrai," I said. Something in common.

Then we talked a bit about school; she knows Isla’s teacher. Then I started to tell her about Isla's complaints about staying at school for lunch. She started to ask me another question, I didn't understand, but then the teacher said class was starting.

"Do you work?" she asked, slipping in one last question as the music started. "I'm a writer,"I shouted. "I write."

Then the teacher did something new. She instructed us to partner up. One of us, the receiver, was to lie face down on the mat, and the other, the giver, was to kneel down next to the mat and follow the teachers instructions as she guided them through a warm-up massage. Since Vivienne understood what was going on before I did, I became the receiver.

I've always hated these kind of teacher-initiated pairings. But how thankful I was to be paired up with someone I at least knew the name of.

Despite the initial awkwardness, it was really nice to, as capela put it, let go and "allow someone to touch me." I felt the boundaries fade ever so slightly.


Brooke G. said...

It is hard as adults to friend others. I have plenty of friends but few that I feel really close with. I attribute it to having a twin sister.... we have always been so close - it is sorta hard to compete with that bond.

Good luck with your new "friend" ... sounds like the beginning of something great.

PS - that picture of Ester in the feild fricking ROCKS!!!!! I am in awe :D

Karin (an alien parisienne) said...

French girlfriends are notoriously difficult to make. Every expat book I have read about France refers to this, and to how it really just does not happen very easily.

(This was a funny story about making friends in France, too:

As far as the whole thing about rejecting the phone number, my take on things like that is that if the friendship was *really* meant to be, then it would survive even an incident such as the rejected phone number one, you know? I think it was just something that maybe was not meant to be, at least not right away. Maybe. I guess time will tell. I am so glad, though, that you had the success of chatting in class and then working together as partners. That is really cool. :) I hope that someone will come along to help make things a little more fun and interesting, and give you opportunities to practice speaking, also.

I, too, wish it were not as hard to make friends as grown ups than it was as children. But I also know that the friends I have made as a grown up are ones that often have a lot of depth and meaning to them because they are more carefully-won. It's trading quantity for quality, usually, but I am okay with that.

Emerald said...

I had a hard time making friends as a kid. As an adult... well thank goodness my husband thinks that married couples should be best friends(I don't agree)otherwise it would be awfully lonely.

I don't know why being brave and doing something for ourselves is so much harder than being brave and doing something for our kids but you inspired me to reach out of my comfort zone. :)

Betsy said...

Thanks for stopping in, Emerald. I'm glad to hear I've inspired you somehow. If I think about it, this little stint has required me to push beyond my comfort zone again and again, just merely for survival. I never really thought about it like that before, but I've always been prone to taking the easy route, when it comes to interacting with people: e-mail rather than phone call, etc. Not anymore. :)

Sara said...

I hear you! I'm an American living in America, and it's *still* hard. I was jealous of two little boys a few weeks ago. I was chaperoning the kindergarten field trip and two little boys ran up to me. One said, 'Hey, we're friends.' Then he turned to the other little boy and asked, 'So what's your name?' And there it was--a friendship. sigh

Betsy said...

Sara: That is too funny. And exactly what I am talking about. The swiftness with which children accept each other......give each other a chance, embrace each other. I don't necessarily expect or want adults to be like this, but sometimes I think there might be a happier medium.

Jenny said...

I love Sara's story too! Hey, we're friends, wait, what's your name? I love that. And I have to say, I am inspired now too. After living in Utah for almost ten years, I never let myself settle in, I held myself aloft as a temporary resident. Now it looks like I am here for another 2 to 5, so I guess it is time to make some friends who are not mothers of myson's friends.

Kathleen Trail said...

It's a wonder we don't get carpal tunnel from twisting the ponytails in place or picking up stray socks. I think my favorite part of this post just may be Isla's ear-stabilization technique (which my 3-year-old employs while riding on her dad's shoulders!)

I can't believe I'm just discovering this blog since I've followed your Baby Center blog religiously for years – not to sound too stalker-y, but I love, love, love having another entr矇e into your daily life and access to more of your words!

Betsy said...

Thanks for stopping in, Kathleen. I think you may have been trying to comment on this post:
Yes, Isla will hold onto anything within reach to keep herself from falling down, my hair, my nose, and, yes, my ears.
Drop in again.

Rachel said...

I remember when my oldest was 3 and I was in desperate need of female friendships. We lived in a neighborhood that isolated me and I found myself having awkwardly long conversations with the grocery store clerk. So I decided (in a moment of strength) to join my local MOMS Club. I was so nervous on the day of my first meeting, but I remember so clearly that my son was so excited, confident and sure of himself. I drew strength from him and took a deep breath as I walked into a room full of strangers. Of course, it was fine! I just needed help to get over that hump and my small child who is not afraid of any situation gave me that help. One year later,I ended up being president of the group, so I guess you could say that I gained some confidence from being in the club! Our kids can be OUR teachers sometimes!!!

Marathon Mommy said...

It is funny isn't it? We fret over our children making friends and fitting in and yet as adults we struggle over those very things...

A few days ago I went to my son's "Field Day" at school and noticed how all of the mom's knew each other. Being a working Mom who rarely gets the opportunity to go to my son's school I felt woefully out of place and alone. I noticed another mom who was all dressed up looking equally left out. We struck up a conversation and we had a moment where we each realized we were talking to our mirror opposite. She was an exhausted, flustered (saddened), working mom of two boys exactly the same ages as mine. We both work for workaholic men who resent people leaving at the audacious hour of 5:00. We both hate being away and feel trapped in our jobs. We lamented on feelings of inadequacy, insecurity, and feeling like we are barely holding it together most days. We shared all of this in the span of five minutes but I left the school feeling like I had found my "Mom Soulmate." I felt very less alone.

I hope you can find a Mom Soulmate somewhere in France Betsy. :-)

CEgirl said...

here's a European, although not a French, but a Central European girl (mum of 2 kids). :)
The way you formulate your isolation, Betsy is very plastic, I can feel it in my stomach. Fortunately I've never been in a situation like this, but I have some other experiences. In a situation like this I would take a deep-deep breath and I would suggest to organize a playdate for the kids, at our place or at a playground, or I would try to find something we can DO together with a potential French friend - not only the dancing. Like maybe she likes biking or rollerskating. Or you can cook together for the kids, or making cookies together for them. That kind of thing would help to get to know each other in a more let's say natural way, with rather easy, everyday situations, where the communication gap is always narrowed by the activity itself, doing together something always can smooth the communication.
Once I was cooking together for some 20 people with a French woman, she hardly spoke English, I practically don't speak French, I only understand a couple of things, but peeling the potatoes together opened up the conversation :) and later she was interested in the way I cooked the food, she shared me some information on how she cooks normally, etc.
(That's why I found it very obvious that you had the chance to find a potential friend during the dance class, it has the same logic, but it is a lot more difficult to make the initial step forward, I know, but worth a try, I think.)

Andrea Frazer - Pass the Zoloft said...

Betsy - Do me a favor and email me when you can. I want to pick your brain about blogging - not BC stuff!

Betsy said...

I'm loving all the friendship advice. But I feel the need to clarify that I do indeed have several excellent, supportive, fun, English speaking friends here in France. This whole pursuit of a French friend is motivated purely by self-promotion. I want to learn French faster and need a speaking partner. I just can't help fantasizing about getting both a friend and a conversation partner all in one.

Andrea Frazer - Pass the Zoloft said...

Finally commenting in this post to say that you will, for sure, meet someone. I have faith in you.

Meowmie said...

Glad you met up with Vivienne again. Your dance class sounds interesting. I've never tried African dance. (Though you should see me doing Kuchipudi Indian classical dance! What a funny round little thing I am!)

Meowmie said...

Oh, I must tell you that Esther's delightful thank you letter arrived. I have been delinquent in telling you - all the blah stuff that has happened to my family in the past month.

DD is most impressed with Esther's drawing. "How did she draw that lady? Is that lady a fairy? Does Esther draw pictures of her sister?" are just a few of DD's questions. The letter is up on my fridge door now to satisfy DD. ;-)