Nights out with my oldest friends have become insanely boring, should I ditch them?
I have two kids, aged four and two and have had a pretty tough couple of years, though no more difficult than any other parents of small children – no sleep, one virus after the next, a general feeling of losing my mind and identity etc.
I went back to work about eight months after both kids because I had to financially. Although it was very difficult at the time and it felt wrong not to be with my babies, in the end I was grateful to be back in adult company. I love the team I work with and although we work hard there is always something to laugh about. I also have the best work wife who makes the most stressful days bearable.
Now that I’m getting semi-decent sleep again, I’m starting to look after myself, go running, have an interest in how I look. In a way, I’m reclaiming my life and feel like I’m really starting to live again, not just crawl through the weeks. The issue I’m having is with some of my oldest friends.
We all had babies in and around the same time and most of this particular group didn’t go back to work. Nights out over the last few years have been insanely boring. The chat either centres around the kids – even though I tried to ban baby-talk – or gossip about other mums/ women, or they’re practically conked at the table by 10 pm. I’ve gone each time in full glam, expecting a hectic catch up and a big night out and ended up coming home bored and angry, wondering what the hell we have in common anymore.
Now, I feel like I need a new core group of friends but know that makes me sound really fickle. Time is just too precious and nights out so rare that when they miraculously happen, they need to be bloody worth it. I’m so disappointed in them, especially when I see other friends lol’ing the night away with their old mates. We go back a long way and have so much history together but am I wrong to think that we’ve run our course now?
Ready to Walk Away, Dublin.
Is it bad that I laughed when I read your mail? It wasn’t so much the dilemma – which merits a thoughtful and constructive response – but the thought of the explosive social clash in action.
Here’s you, in full Beyoncé 2011 mode – Who run the world? Girls! – and there’s your oldest friends, a low-key, thoroughly knackered Christian folk collective hosting their AGM. That jam is never going to work.
There’s nothing like becoming a parent to test a friendship and often it’s your friends who don’t have children who suffer the most. The Saturday afternoons you spent together cradling cocktails, sharing notions and finishing each other’s sentences, are gone.
For the friend who doesn’t have kids, the new order is bleak. They might try to endure the first couple of years of distracted conversation, 18 barely addressed topics on the go; maybe they meditate through the vacant stares, wailing baby and chaotic interruptions; try to shout over the shunt motor of the breast pump and ignore the fact that they haven’t been asked a single question about their own life since little Mia landed. Only the strongest bonds survive. What’s missing in that picture, however, is the massive effort it’s taken the new mum to show up late (often in her own house), have nothing interesting to say, not cry and have to leave early.
Sleep deprivation is responsible for some of the world’s most tragic disasters – the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear plant blast and NASA’s space shuttle Challenger explosion are just two – as well as contributing to a rake of mental health concerns. So, if a new Mum can manage to keep a baby alive and herself standing on just two hours kip a night, she’s playing a blinder. Everything beyond that is a bonus, and that includes interaction with other adult humans. Which is why in those early days, parents cling to each other like post-apocalyptic life rafts. They create safe spaces to swap survival tips and inspect each other’s seeping nipples.
According to a 2010 study by thebabywebsite.com, each new mother makes an average of eleven new friends via antenatal classes and other baby groups. However, once they’ve learned the ropes and start edging back to civilization, six out of ten mothers claim that they actually have nothing in common with most of their new Mom squad. Four out of ten said they wouldn’t even consider spending time with their new crew if they hadn’t had children. The hope here is that, once they’re through the worst of it and the new family dynamic has stabilised – at four, five, six, seven members – they will eventually migrate back to their homies, keeping all but their realest and truest new mates.
What’s interesting in your case is that you’re also a relatively new Mum yet find the level of chat and total lack of buzz amongst your friends mind-numbing. This is likely down to conflicting expectations and the fact that you are in Epic Rebirth Mode. Despite coming away from several meet-ups disillusioned and frustrated, you’re still gearing up for the promise of that wild gal throw-down, every time. Your friends seem content with a chilled evening exchanging war stories and adding to their Parenting SOS info bank, which would imply that they are still in the trenches, overwhelmed by their day-to-day reality. You, meanwhile, are flying.
You’re obviously lucky enough to have a good support network around you, children who are happy and the space (and sleep) to thrive. I totally agree that precious evenings, so complex for all to lock down, should not be spent in a state of passive-aggressive rigour. And that’s just you. But rather than dumping your oldest and dearest, how about switching up your plans. Although a day-time hook-up is even more complicated to organise, suggesting an activity you can do together – a still-life drawing workshop, spa day or Irish Film Institute talk (pending your interests) – will take the pressure off trying to generate interesting conversation for them, and mean all bets are off on a big night out.
If you still feel underwhelmed and disconnected in their company, maybe it is time to pull back a little. You don’t need to make any grand overtures or officially divorce your childhood but you could be less available for future meet-ups. Try to keep in touch with your closest friend in the group via unannounced drop-ins or calling (not texting) for a chat every now and then to properly connect. This is a moment in time, when you are all hovering at different points of the transformative arc (I made that up but it loosely relates to an emotional evolution barometer)! You don’t know what life’s going to throw at you and when you might feel more vulnerable. You and your friends may go through different experiences – from marriage breakups and losing a parent to suffering with mental health issues – and slamming tequilas in a go-go bar will be low on your ‘she’s a good friend because…’ list. Though maybe never that low. The good news is, while some of your friends might be overly focused on the nest now, they will undoubtedly rebound when cherubic Jack and Emily hit their teens and leave them for dust. That’s only ten years away, right?
Meanwhile, YES, you do need new friends. Maybe I should have led with that to be clear? While Pitch ‘n Putt with your original besties will keep the lines of communication open, finding people who challenge and stretch you, who make you laugh and switch you on, is imperative. Infiltrating a long-established tribe is next to impossible so think small for starters. Build on your most fulfilling friendships – what about the work wife? – and round-up your new gang that way. Who run the world? Rhona McAuliffe might not be a trained therapist but she does have very big ears, quite a long nose and a gaping heart. If you have a problem that won’t just go away, she’d love to hear it. Write to Rhona at [email protected]