Love Letters 💌 to the feeling of belonging 🏔 — finding + creating my chosen family, communities, and tribe.
“I view you as my close friend,” my roommate confided in me in my college dorm room, a smile spread across her face as she leaned in towards me to emphasize her sincerity.
I blinked, confused.
While I deeply appreciated our friendship, her feelings towards me was not mutual. After all, she didn’t know anything about me, so how could it be that she could feel close to me?
And that sharp juxtaposition of her trust versus my lack of faith painfully reminded me of how alone I was in this world.
No one could ever understand me, I had resigned to my loneliness. I believed that it was easier to accept that I would live forever disconnected than to run the risk of attempting to explain who I really was only to be rejected and misunderstood. So my strategy for conversation was focusing on asking questions, listening deeply, and doing everything possible to avoid having to talk about myself.
I unknowingly built one-sided relationships where all my friends felt like they could tell me all their secrets while I didn’t have anyone I could confide in.
I had built walls so high around my heart that I was sure that there was no hope of escape.
Immediately upon graduating college, my closest friends had chosen to move out of town for their jobs. Some went to New York, others to San Francisco, and some stayed in Texas but relocated to Austin.
“Are you nervous about making friends as an adult?” I asked all of them, clearly anxious to find some solidarity from my friends.
“Nope!” They all answered, and I was again keenly aware of how alone I was.
For me, I was specifically interested in seeking friendships outside of my work place. Separation of my work and social life was important because I didn’t want conversations from the office to bleed into my free time.
Despite my social anxiety, I knew I had to make an effort if I wanted to find friends. So I searched for meetups online and deliberately showed up to events alone (yes, it was terrifying).
It was during this era that I stumbled across Ladies Wine and Design. A new chapter had just opened in our city, and since I didn’t work in the creative industry, I was craving to surround myself with more artistic types. What I sincerely appreciated about the structure of the group was that each monthly event was deliberately designed to be intimate. With only 10 RSVPs available per event, the no-show rate was near minimum as there was an essence of exclusivity to the group.
When the girls at this design meetup group suggested to go climb together two weeks ago, I didn’t think they’d actually organize and make it happen. I have a deep fear of heights which was now doubling the uneasiness I felt in social gatherings.
Fortunately, I’ve always had an even deeper curiosity of overcoming my fears.
I entered the climbing gym, wiping the sweat that was now accumulating on the palms of my hands. I hadn’t really expected this, given that the first two times I attended events with this particular group I hadn’t felt any special connection to anyone. So when I showed up at the climbing gym that night and heard one of the girls call out my name “XinYi! Over here!” from the back corner of the atrium…
I felt a warmth embrace me so gently and fiercely,
I felt like I was returning home.
“So I must confess, I was actually really jealous of you when we were in middle school,” I turned to my friend to look at her as she was driving.
We were best friends in 8th and 9th grade and practically inseparable. But despite spending countless hours together sharing artsy hobbies, doing homework, etc., there were simply things that 13-year-old me would have never dared to share with her because I was simply too scared that I’d lose my best friend if she discovered who I actually was (teen-drama, I know).
When I changed high schools in 11th grade, we naturally drifted apart thus ending our friendship…
or so I thought.
Thanks to her efforts in reaching out to reconnect the summer after college (something I was adamantly avoiding for the fear that we had changed so much over the years that we wouldn’t be able to understand each other any more), our first reunion in a hometown cafe ended up being a multi-hour chat swapping stories of the years we missed in each other’s lives. This one conversation sparked a roadtrip together to Houston, Texas where we spent a few days visiting her university, a crazy collaboration to create a frame-by-frame hand-drawn animation, a week of roadtripping to New Mexico, and, much later, a trip to France together.
“Yeah, you were just so freaking cool, pretty, intelligent, and literally everyone wanted to be your friend. I distinctly remember 2 instances of people trying to steal you away from me and openly challenging me to become your friend,” I rolled my eyes at the memory.
“Are you kidding? I was always jealous of you. Whenever you were missing from the lunch table, people would ask where you were. And you were always so studious, I became wayyy more serious about studying after we became friends. Like my mom was asking me for advice on how to make my little sister more motivated to study, and I told her she should make a friend who is very academically focused like you,” she replied, eyes still on the road.
“No way…I can’t believe after all these years…. I never knew. I thought that you were literally perfect,” I looked to her, feeling as if, for the first time in my life, I finally understood her.
“You should visit me once I move to Austin,” she continued. “You’ll always have a place to stay with me.”
And in that moment I knew — we were no longer friends,
we were sisters.
I confess that I’m not the best in large groups of friends. In fact, if there were three in a group (me included), I normally considered that a “crowd” and would always end up somehow third-wheeling. The majority of my friendships were always one-on-one, and that’s how I enjoyed spending my quality time.
That being said, I had one burning desire that eclipsed my anxiety of socializing in groups… my desire to acquire free clothes.
The rules were simple:
- find clothes you wanted to donate and bring them
- see if there was anything you wanted to take off someone else’s hands
- donate everything left over
I started this clothes swap idea shortly after graduating from college because the world was catching onto the minimalism trend. I had read Marie Kondo’s “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up,” and I wanted to put it into practice. But while I was trying to un-do my years of thrifting (AKA. student-budget friendly retail therapy), I thought it would be a great opportunity to dig through the pieces of clothes that my friends may want to get rid of and reclaim them as my own.
What I loved about the activity was that the focus wasn’t about socializing, the point was to donate and collect new treasures for your closet. This made the event feel way more approachable, especially for inviting friends who identified more on the introvert spectrum.
“I remember you from last time,” my friend grinned, waving to my other friend as we gathered around the table where we piled our unwanted clothes to be swapped. It was only the second time my friends had seen each other but it was clear that they had established a bond of some sort simply from the ability to mutually recognize and identify each other.
“And these are some super soft yoga leggings that just don’t fit me right,” she hoisted the forest green workout pants into the air to present them to the group.
“Oh, do you do yoga?” someone piped up from the circle.
“Yeah, but usually at home with a YouTube video,” the presenter laughed. “I’d love to try a studio though. Do you have any recommendations?”
“Yes, there’s one I go to right by house. We should to together sometime!!”
Then came the invitations for group dinner dates,
weekend morning hikes,
and so much more…
Is it really that simple to create a community? Gather all the people you love in a setting where they aren’t pressured to become friends but are given the opportunity to do so if they see fit?
Maybe it is. After all, it is our human nature to want to connect.
Maybe making friends as an adult is hard because we believe it is.
So what would happen if we believed it was actually easy?