The New Girl
When I moved from Nashville to the rural Midwest, even though I was returning to a place that was once home many years ago, it felt a little like walking into a fog. Everyone already knows everyone else. I’m one of the few new people around, so it’s easy for others to remember me. But I face a sea of new faces, names, connections, and stories. Even those faces I knew as a child have changed, and the memory I had of them at 12 years old isn’t exactly fresh. The shops aren’t the same, the roads are a logical sequence of numbers and letters (but I do better with street names), people talk about things I’ve never heard of, and no one knows about all the friends I have in the other place.
One of the most challenging things for me in these last 21 months of marriage and relocation has been making those connections – remembering the person I’ve just been introduced to when they walk away, learning who is related to who (very important around here), catching up on stories I know nothing about. It’s a terrible feeling when I run into someone whose face I know, engage in conversation, but find my mind totally blank when it comes to their name, circumstances, or even where I know them from. It seems rude to tell them I can’t place them and ask for a hint. Instead, I often nod and smile and move on as quickly as I can. It seems the people I actually know are the ones who are often so kind and helpful, taking a moment to remind me of their name and how we know one another.
Another challenge for me has been when someone I’m getting to know talks about the other people in their life. Brother, sister, friend, child… I’m doing really well to know their name, face, occupation, and spouse’s name, but I do not remember the names of most of the other people in their life. So when they off-offhandedly refer to “Susan” I politely listen for a while, straining to find something that will help me make the connection. But when that connection isn’t made, I will actually stop them and say, “Please remind me who Susan is?”
These frustrations make it hard because I have a wonderful group of friends in Nashville (see photo above) with whom I’ve made all the connections. When Shannan mentions Michael she doesn’t have to tell me anything else to identify him. When Pamela mentions Sally, I can picture Sally and her enormous dog. When Penny tells me about The Jerk, there’s no need for explanation. It makes me homesick sometimes, the knowledge that I need to start all over again. Where I could once walk into a room of hundreds and immediately be greeted by those who know me well, I now see faces I want to know but can’t quite place.
Walking into a new place where many people already know one another is intimidating. I’ve joined a local mom’s group and went to a few meetings last year. People were kind, but I didn’t make any connections outside of the group. I signed up to join summer play dates but wasn’t contacted about any. So when it started back up this fall it was hard for me to go. The idea of walking in there, trying to get to know someone new, trying to make friends, made me exhausted. But I’d already paid my membership fee in the Spring, so I forced myself to go. Thank God for the sweet woman who saw me coming and walked right up to find out how my summer went. Within a few minutes of talking to her, I was relaxed and ready to take on a table full of new faces. And after the meeting, I pulled together all my courage and looked those ladies up on Facebook, sending them all friend requests. Whew! I think I used up my stash of courage for at least a week doing all that.
Being the new girl is hard, even for someone who appears out-going and confident. The truth is, I’m shy when in a group of people who all know one another. It’s hard for me to branch out, work the room, and try to catch up on the conversations happening around me. I can only imagine how hard it must be for those who aren’t out-going.
I’ve been “the new girl” many times, and this location has been similar to all the ones before. Not counting moves for college (where everyone is basically new), I’ve been the new girl at least eight times in my life. It seems like it might get easier each time, but I’ve found it to be more difficult. It seems my capacity to reach out shrinks with each move, causing me to embrace the part of me that’s shy and introverted and only pull out the extroverted, out-going side on occasion. I see the beauty in the tight-knit communities of those who’ve lived and worked side by side for most of their lives. I understand the risk it takes to invite someone new into your well-functioning, comfortable group of friends. I don’t find fault with those who have closely guarded friendships and seek to preserve their peace and identity as a member of an inner-ring of companionship.
I’d just like to encourage all my readers – no matter where you live – to look around you as you plan your next shopping trip, play date, or bonfire. Are there people in your church, parenting group, or extended family that are new? Why not invite them to join your group of friends? It’ll be a little more work for you to help that person find their place, but you might just make a friend for life. If it doesn’t work out, you don’t have to invite that person again. But maybe, just maybe, you’ll find that the new person brings life and joy and dimension into your group that wasn’t possible otherwise.
And the King will answer and say to them, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.’
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