Los Angeles is a hard place to build community—that network of actual friends and people you can count on. Ask anyone. I’ll bet you an over-priced latte (with a side of kale) that people can go on for days about how hard it is to build community, to find “authentic” people. (“Authentic” is used here to mean “real people who don’t just want to know you if you can connect them to someone “important”.) The number of “important-type” people I know is kinda low, so inauthentic people drop any potential friendship with me preeety quickly. Which is good. And also draining and lonely. Which is bad.
But there are a few hangers-on. People who make eye-contact after a brief conversation about how WE ARE NOT FROM HERE EITHER and a twinkle of hope like, could you possibly be a friend?
And it’s not just LA. Every geography has it’s own special look and feel that can make it hard to find the real people.
Even though we lived in LA off-and-on for seven years prior to our move, it took a few years to start to feel settled, like we could call LA home. Some of the trouble with the community-building process is LA’s fault. If it’s not the geographical distance between you and a potential friend (most people have a 5-10 mile relationship circle (I AM NOT MAKING THIS UP—TRAFFIC IS A REAL THING), there is the frenetic energy here that ratchets up the pace of life to peg it permanently at ‘VERY BUSY’. Because everyone here is pursuing their dream.
That is the energy that makes the pace of life, well, a lot overwhelming. It creates a sense that one must always be in motion to be on the path to success. If you stop to, say, hang out with a friend, it means you aren’t busy pursuing your dream AND ARE YOU SERIOUS ABOUT IT OR NOT? The only acceptable reason to NOT be doing this is when you are working your survival job—that flexible, low-paying job that barely pays the rent but keeps you available to work those (probably non-paying) gigs that will get you one step closer to your dream. (You hope.)
So, it’s not entirely my fault that I missed what was actually happening in my community building experience until we were getting ready to move away from LA for half a year. That’s when I realized we had done the near impossible—we had built (a tiny bit of) community in LA. I didn’t realize it until we had people who insisted they see us before we left town. People who rearranged their schedule. Texted us repeatedly until we could find a date that worked to grab lunch and say goodbye.
We had done the near impossible and I had somehow missed it.
Rewind to the year before when we had only been living in LA for about a year. I was having breakfast with my sister (well, I was mostly sobbing, but it was at a place that served breakfast) and cried VERY LOUDLY about how our family hadn’t been able to build much community in LA. That it was hard to have people over for dinner and arrange playdates. That people didn’t invite us to join them to do things, etc.
(Note: I just want you to know that our dance card was full of lovely social things with friends when we DIDN’T LIVE IN LA, just so you don’t think we’re socially odd or something.) I sobbed for quite some time about this. The wait staff just kept carefully refilling our coffee as I used napkin after napkin to wipe the tears. (Other Note: Yes, I realize public sobbing is a bit off-putting socially.)
Here’s the truth about community-building
Then my wise sister said, ‘Maybe community will just look different here.’
And there it was.
Maybe community will just look different here.
Yeah, it’s possible that community will look different here in a huge, urban environment than it did in the quiet suburbs of Colorado. Of course it’s different–life is different here.
Why didn’t I see that?
Community is about having people who care about you, who are willing to invest their time, energy and resources into being in your life in some way. It may not look like playdates and barbeques. But it will look like people who make a point to be involved in your life. It will look like Chick-Fil-A lunch delivered to your house by friends the day before you move to China because they want to be sure to see you. It will look like people who let you borrow all their duffle bags for 6 months. Or friends who carve out time to go to Disneyland with you one last time before you leave town. Or ask what you will miss the most about ‘home’ and then make those bbq-cheeseburgers for dinner at your daughter’s request. (Dinner at a friend’s house AND a playdate! With a pool. Because this is LA.)
Community looks a lot like that. And I hope I can be flexible with my expectations and sensitive to the people offering me community in our new location. I don’t want to miss out on the community a place has to offer because I thought it would be dressed differently when it shows up.
This was originally written in November 2015, just before we moved to Shanghai, China. We moved back to LA in June 2016 and dove into what our lives actually looked like here, not holding Los Angeles accountable to what life back in Denver OR China looked like. See? We can be taught! :)