Steve Wacksman for Reader's DigestA year after my husband and I moved to the New Jersey suburbs, where we’d planned to start a family, I realized that in order to be fulfilled, I needed one thing: a book club. It was odd to yearn for one. I’d never been in a book club, although I knew people who made remarks like “When I had a baby, my book club brought dinners for a month!” or “If it weren’t for book club, I’d murder my husband in his sleep.” I felt the yearning most when my as-yet-unmurdered husband, Thad, and I had dinner in a restaurant and saw couples our age laughing as the two of us ate our Loaded Nachos, alone. On the ride home, I’d announce, “I need a book club.”
“I know, Vicki,” Thad would reply, patting my thigh. “I know.”
What I was really saying, of course, was “I need friends.” But that phrase was too pathetic to utter, so I substituted “book club” as code.
Like, “I get by with a little help from my ‘book club.'” Like, “All you have to do is call, and I’ll be there, yeah, yeah, yeah. You’ve got a ‘book club.'”
I’d never been so friendless. Sure, I had college friends I texted almost every day; my oldest pals were ones I’d had since fifth grade. I’d met my besties at my first real jobs. But none of them lived near us. It seemed as if everyone in our town not only had grown up here but still hung out with the kids they’d shared a prom limo with. They didn’t need new friends. I felt as though we weren’t just back in high school—we were that exchange student from Finland whom people lent their biology notes to but didn’t remember to invite to a bonfire at the beach.
I tried joining activities to make friends. I became a yoga teacher. I had a baby. I took my husband and said baby to a Unitarian church. I told an acquaintance who had a book club how much I wanted to be in it. I told her again. I had another baby. And another. While I met nice people being Miss Join-a-Lot, nothing clicked in a “Let’s rent a shore house next summer” way.
So I got aggressive. I made cute invitations to a Halloween party at our home, and I walked along my street, leaving one at every house with a swing set or trampoline. Not only did almost everyone come, but we shared our numbers and e-mail addresses and vowed to do it again soon. I was 100 percent certain that Thad and I would be invited to a playdate/potluck/party within the month and be friendless no more. We waited and waited—for four years.
Thad and I tried to laugh. It took a few more lonely dinners out and zero book club invites for me to ask him, for real, “Is there something wrong with us?”
As it turned out, there wasn’t something wrong with us. There was something wrong with just about every person we knew like us—that is, an over-30 adult. Married or not. Kids or not. Suburbs or not. Everyone we talked to in our age bracket who wanted to “join a book club” couldn’t make it happen.
Not long ago, a friend—an old friend from grade school, to be clear—forwarded me an article about forming new relationships in your 30s and 40s. It was reassuring to read how a psychology professor found that “people tended to interact with fewer people as they moved toward midlife but that they grew closer to the friends they already had.” So that was why we couldn’t make friends.
“Do you really feel like you have time for new cast members?” asked Tricia (not her real name), the neighbor who broke our drought by inviting us to a party two years ago, at which my six-year-old threw up on her rug. “Kids, work, family, house, keeping up with friends from pre-kid life…I feel like any time I find should be for me, my husband, and the kids to reconnect.”
I couldn’t deny this made me hate Tricia a little, in the same way I hate people who have naturally curly hair or can play the piano by ear. But I also didn’t believe her. I’d so often tried to convince myself that I was too busy for a “book club” that I did more just so that it was true. When my girls hit school age, I joined the PTA, directed their talent shows, and started singing with the church choir. I tiled the kitchen backsplash. “I have no time for new friends,” I’d say to people in the alto section and at drop-off.
Then it would happen. I’d meet someone. We’d click. I’d start to believe she was a bona fide friend. And then I’d get a form from school or from the athletic association: the “In Case of Emergency” form. When I saw the sheet from the after-care program, I nearly cried. There were not one, not two, not three, but four lines on which we were to list people who could “act on behalf of parents.” All four needed to have local phone numbers, and all I had was the digits of three other second-grade moms.
It was the defining line of friendship: Whom could you ask, count on, trust, to take care of your kids in a crisis? I wouldn’t have hesitated to write down the numbers of my old friends. But they weren’t here.
“Thad, I need a book club.”
“I know, Vicki. I know.”
After 12 years, here’s how it finally went down: A mom whose son was in my middle daughter’s class posted on Facebook that she needed a book recommendation. I posted two. She posted that she’d read them. I thought, She should be my new friend. I did not post that.
Then she posted: “We should start a book club!” First, I wept quietly. Second, I called Thad. Third, I watched as other class moms posted that they wanted to join too.
I immediately created a page on Facebook; I even gave us a name: “Westmont’s Illustrious Novel Enthusiasts, a.k.a. W.I.N.E.” (Too soon?)
Five meetings later, I was still texting my college friends more than anyone in the club. But I had all the members’ numbers in my phone. Who knew where this could go? We fulfilled the conditions for BFFs—seeing each other often, living nearby.
It was a promising pool for recruiting four local emergency contacts. It was, pretty much, perfect. In fact, it was so perfect that I didn’t want to chance anything ruining it. And just like that, I’d become the very thing I’d spent years trying to infiltrate.
After Meeting Six, I posted on our secret Facebook page: “What would everyone say about capping the book club at the number we’re at?”