July 3, 1997
On Finding Friends
"Don't you want to play with the other little girls?" my grandmother asked me one summer, while the two of us sat on a park bench near a pack of screaming children.
I buried my head deeper into my book.
"Just go up and introduce yourself," she said. "Say, 'I'm Teresa, and I want to play.' Go on." I noticed her bubbe-esque warmth start to dissolve with her patience. "Say, 'I'm Teresa, and I want to play.'" Before my eyes, she began to squint and slowly morphed into Dirty Harry with orange lipstick. "Go ahead, Tessy. Make some friends."
I forced myself to approach the group and had a great time, as my grandmother looked on, my book resting in her lap. Where is Grandma now, when I need her? Having moved here just months ago, I have figured out where to buy a good peach, how to take Fountain instead of Santa Monica, where to find an entire meal for less than $2. I have no idea, however, how to make friends.
There are avenues for meeting mates; there are bars and clubs and personal ads. But for a single twentysomething to find friends in a new city, there is no pre-existing infrastructure. There are no roads or aqueducts, and everyone tells me that it just takes time.
I took my dad's advice: I joined a gym. While I was filling out the paper work, the blond amazonian gym-membership sales lady demanded that I give her the name of two friends in the area to call in case of an emergency. I racked my brain but could come up with nothing.
"You don't have a single friend?" she asked. "Not one?"
Well, at least I'll have a poignant anecdote about moving to Los Angeles if I'm ever on "Oprah." Until then, I'll just be left to die in a pool of my own sweat should I pass out on the Stairmaster.
And when you spend too much time alone, you start getting weird. Sometimes, I find myself eating dinner out of a pan lid. Why not? On the upside, I've had a lot of time to think about the importance of friends. Men are nice, but what's the point of having a date if you have no buddy with whom to hash out every detail?
Last year, I was dumped by an astrophysicist. I was so heartbroken, I couldn't stop listening to Beethoven and smoking cigarettes. I became a human vortex of need, a supernova of pathos. My friends were there to tell me that it was his loss; they bought me stuffed animals and bath beads, and convinced me to stop calling and begging him to take me back. They were there to gently pry the Beethoven CD from my hands and to tell me to stop feeling sorry for myself. I was in such a funk, I hardly noticed how fortunate I was. I had something I couldn't pack in a suitcase or stuff into a U-Haul, or even see.
Now, I know exactly why friendship is worth making an effort to have. But I get nervous. When I meet interesting women, I don't know what to say. I choke. It seems I will have no choice, once again, but to force myself into the circle and try my old standby: "I'm Teresa, and I want to play."
Teresa Strasser is a twentysomething contributing writer for The Jewish Journal.