Not Friend Shopping?

“I’m not friend shopping” is a phrase I hear from time to time, a bit of an ongoing punch line if you may! And until we set off I hadn’t really given it a lot of thought. To be fair, although I am shy, I actually love meeting new people, and I’ve always friend shopped. Many many people don’t though and I’ve discovered that Adelaideans in particular are very bad at it.

Never more has this phrase resonated with me than recently when I was sitting at a local café typing away at this very computer. I was researching Malaysia and Indonesia for our upcoming sailing leg and not really paying a lot of attention to the table next to me, until the lady sitting next to me leant over and said “Can I ask what you do for a living? You seem to be researching a lot of unusual sites”. Given how close the tables were next to each other it was not surprising that she had been easily able to see my computer screen.

We started to chat, she was a young (it’s all relative to your own age isn’t it?) – let’s say mid to late 30’s French Moroccan mother, having a coffee with her youngest child a very well behaved 2-year-old. Anyway, we started to chat about my life and also hers. Unlike so many people that I meet in Adelaide, she was actually as interested in my life as I was in hers. As massive travelers we both had unusual stories to tell. I was fascinated as to how she ended up in Adelaide, and she was intrigued about our nomadic floating life style.

I talked at length about the isolation of sailing, the difficulties with meeting friends, and the ongoing frustration I feel when I am visiting a local village and I REALLY want to sit and talk to a local about their life, education, family and beliefs BUT I can’t due to the language barrier. I can of course ask these sorts of questions of other sailors that we meet, and this is great! Our weird lifestyle choice means that the other sailors we meet have similar enquiring minds and it is the basis of some of the deepest friendships I’ve ever made. Yes, I mean you guys: Windward Passage, Aquilon 3 and Wandering Waterhorse.

But I digress, this lovely friendly lady (to my ongoing shame I forgot to ask her name), whom I spoke to for ages, spoke very openly about how hard it is to make friends in Adelaide. She has lived in quite a few large cities, London, Sydney and New York to name a few, and has found repeatedly that in these cities (with their transient international workforces) it is easy to make friends and form good bonds because EVERYONE is friend shopping – they have no choice. In Adelaide however, even though she has made acquaintances through mother’s groups and kindergarten moms, she says these relationships are superficial, based only around the occasional get together over coffee and almost never extends to dinner or social invitations.

She is continually amazed at how often these mid 30s woman talk about what school they went to, and how they are still friends with the same group of people that they have always been friends with. She (as a stay at home mom – for the present time anyway) is lonely and completely isolated. She’s highly educated with multiple Masters qualifications in architecture, design and marketing, and misses her working life – as I know many stay at home parents do. But most of all, she misses having a strong friendship base.

I love my loooong term Adelaide friends and are eternally grateful for their mammoth efforts to maintain our friendship and visit us in far flung (often going well outside their comfort zones) places. Other new friends that we have made in Adelaide (see I told you I am always friend shopping) tell a similar tale – they are both not from Adelaide, working in very high-profile well-paying positions and regularly tell us stories of exclusion based on what school they (didn’t) go to. Seriously Adelaideans – why is anyone over the age of 20 even remotely interested in what school you went to. Has nothing else happened in your life of note since high school? And yes, before you point it out, I DID NOT go to the “right” school, and have retained ZERO friends from that time.

As people we need to reach out more, forget that you aren’t friend shopping, talk more to the person sitting next to you, be open to new people and experiences. In a world dominated by social media I see more and more isolation and people suffering from depression. Why aren’t we all kinder, less socially judgmental, and more open to making new friends?

Go friend shopping – sure, you might meet a few duds, but you will also meet a few diamonds……

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