Motherhood Isn’t Helping Me Make Friends

Photo-Illustration: The Cut

My husband and I moved to California seven years ago. We drove cross-country, rented an apartment in San Francisco before buying a house in Oakland, had two girls, got a puppy, and had a miscarriage at 13 weeks. Between that and, oh, a global pandemic, my fantasy of cultivating new close friendships has been lost in the shuffle.

Since moving out west, and even more so after becoming a mom, I have dreamed of finding the West Coast version of Beth, my best friend of 22 years who lives in Boston. She is the first person I call when I doubt myself, isn’t afraid of a physical challenge, and dances to “All I Want for Christmas Is You” no matter the time of year or place.

I met Beth on our first day at a small liberal-arts college in Maine. Her brown hair was pulled back into a ponytail. She wore a T-shirt with homemade cut-off sleeves and immediately shared that her top was on sale at T.J.Maxx. I’m not sure exactly why, but it was “friendship at first sight.”

Lucky for me, she lived in the dorm room next to mine, and we lived together every year after. We both majored in Spanish, took dance-party breaks when studying for finals, and went on long runs, even in the snow. We talked about everything and anything that was happening in our lives. I confided in her about my paranoia about embarrassing (often drunken) behavior, the pressure from my parents to achieve, and any other thought that came to mind.

After college, we went our separate ways, but the dynamic of our friendship never changed. She quickly ended up in Boston, and I moved around but was usually on the East Coast — just a short flight away. But moving across the country has meant that I have less access to her. Being in different time zones and an over-five-hour flight away, on top of work and kids, now has meant becoming a mom without being able to rely on her to make me laugh at myself or share any gory detail about labor judgment free when I needed it.

Trying to find West Coast Beth may seem strange, as I meet other moms all the time — at preschool drop-offs, parks, coffee shops, ballet classes, soccer practices, playgrounds, back-to-school nights, playdates, and birthday parties. But I don’t know them, and they don’t know me.

When I meet a mom for the first time, and even the second and third, the conversation revolves around our kids. Teachers, COVID, or adjustment to a new classroom are some of the topics that repeatedly come up in conversations like a revolving door of repetition with no exit. If the conversation leaves these parent subjects, it tends to jump to other safe topics like what we’re doing for the holidays, what we do for a living, or where we’re from.

With West Coast Beth, our hangouts wouldn’t be limited to the two-hour duration of a toddler playdate, our conversation not limited to the logistics of planning a birthday party or potty training. (Real-Life Beth can switch from topics like a traumatic labor to the latest episode of Insecure seamlessly.) When my 5-year-old, Fianna, cries at kindergarten drop-off or my 2-year-old, Lughnasa, regresses and pees on the carpet or when no editor responds to my emails, West Coast Beth would ask me how I’m doing and not just how the kids are.

I knew that a new friendship couldn’t instantly feel like a friend I’ve known for years, but since Beth was the model friend I wanted, I (unsuccessfully) searched for her anyway. I tried a mom-friend-making app. The messages I received on the app mostly consisted of “Nice to meet you!,” “Where did you move from?,” and “Our babies were born months apart!” — similar openers to the drop-off and park chats except they’re online.

“I feel like a bad mom,” “My boobs disappeared after breastfeeding,” or “I’m going to explode if I don’t get five minutes to myself” would be nice to hear. I don’t want only sad news, but an actually accurate reflection of life would be a welcome change.

As a mom, there are few moments in my life that are unscheduled or mine, leaving me craving conversation about the challenges I’m facing.

Twelve years ago, my mom flew out for my law-school graduation and told me that she had ALS, a neurological disease with no cure. “I will never make it to your wedding, and I will never meet your kids,” she said shortly after sharing the news. Both of her predictions came true.

When I shared my mom’s diagnosis with Beth for the first time, she said, “I don’t know what to say,” and we sat in silence. Then she listened.

I moved back into my parents’ house and helped my dad care for my mom until we watched her die the following summer. Not long after, my dad was diagnosed with cancer. The chemotherapy helped initially, but when the cancer returned less than two years later, he died on a humid D.C. summer morning — on my mother’s birthday.

After my parents died, I grew accustomed to anxiety, worrying about every possibility and not sleeping unless I passed out from exhaustion or took a sleeping pill. I canceled plans, and I hated meeting new people. The years that followed were a crash course in grief that I never signed up for. I went from being someone who spent numerous hours a day talking on the phone to someone who instantly hit “decline” when anyone called. I went from being someone who relished in planning elaborate birthday parties and wore sequined tops to someone who wanted to hibernate in the hopes that my grief might pass.

Fianna was born less than three summers after my father died. We moved to Oakland months before her birth, and I worked as an attorney at a large tech company until her due date. I tried to explore the Bay Area, make new friends, be a good partner to my husband, and heal after years as a caretaker. On top of it all, my pregnancy was accompanied by a feeling of emptiness knowing my parents would never meet her or be there for me as a new mom. With all of that, finding West Coast Beth felt like a pipe dream.

I wanted to share all of that with a new mom friend who would understand breastfeeding at 2 a.m., smelling like baby vomit all day, what “lightning crotch” is, and listen when my grief resurfaced. But as other moms shared stories of their mom flying in for their pregnancy or when their dad met their baby for the first time, I didn’t believe another mom could understand my experience or that I had the time to explain.

This feeling was exacerbated when my parents’ deaths came up in conversation, usually after someone asked where my parents live or what I’m doing for the holidays. More often than not, a potential new mom friend changed the subject, averted eye contact, or offered more wine. It was like I was contagious and they believed that by talking to me about my parents’ deaths, they could somehow catch it and one of their loved ones would die, too. And almost always, the person never mentioned my parents again.

Every time this happened, it made opening up again harder.

Then life started to change — slowly but still — and so did my grief. Both girls (usually) sleep through the night, I’m no longer breastfeeding, and my eldest daughter started kindergarten. I’ve tried to replace the comments I used to tell myself, like You grieve too much and You’re too emotional, with You’re doing your best and It’s okay to feel sad. I’ve rekindled my love for random dance parties and neon nail polish, I pick up my phone when someone calls, and I accept new invitations when it feels right.

I ended up meeting only one woman from the friendship app — happy hour at a bar on a Tuesday evening. When I changed out of my too-tight purple skinny jeans to wide-leg pants before I left, I realized how nervous I was. But it turned out I didn’t need to be.

The conversation switched from her mother-in-law to giving birth in a global pandemic to my parents’ deaths effortlessly. At the end of the night, she walked me to my car and we hugged good-bye. Even though we didn’t hang out again, it was the adult conversation and break from the dinner-and-bath routine of two little kids that I needed.

I deleted the app but have since mom-dated more. Averil, who recently moved to San Francisco and whom I met because our partners are cousins, recently invited me to go wedding-dress shopping. We talked about struggles with friends, grabbed a drink, and I reluctantly got in my Uber when the evening ended. Some Saturday mornings, I run with Rani, whose son played soccer with my daughter. Her experience growing up Sikh, mine as a caretaker, childbirth, microdosing, and awkward parent interactions are some of the topics we’ve covered so far.

“A lot of things have to align to become best friends,” Beth recently said to me over the phone as we discussed finding friendship in motherhood. “It’s rare to have that instant feeling that you want to spend a ton of time with someone.”

Making new friends as an adult is hard — and even harder as a parent when you have one or more small people taking up the minimal free time you have. But it’s more necessary, too. I can’t imagine grief without Real-Life Beth, or I still fantasize about what those early days of new parenthood would’ve been like with a bestie close by.

“I sometimes feel like, in motherhood, we’re forced to settle in many parts of our lives,” Beth added. As we spoke, she was buying herself skin cream to balance how much time she’d recently spent at home braless with a stained T-shirt and her almost 1-year-old. “But friendship is self-care.” I laughed, imagining the familiar scene while relishing the brilliance of her advice.

In motherhood, we give so much of ourselves to our children that it can require self-care to survive, whether that is buying skin cream, searching for an empty bathroom with a lock, or finding the time to make a new friend.

West Coast Beth remains a fantasy, but the real connection that friendship offers — and the opportunity to be seen in your darkest moments — is enough to push me to keep looking.

Motherhood Isn’t Helping Me Make Friends