At most social gatherings, I live in fear of the sensitive. There are good reasons, precedents, for this. I once unknowingly insulted an entire room of people with an offhand comment regarding house cleaning. I've made light of matters heavy. Just with my tone of voice, I've accidentally brought my sweet, poetry-loving niece to tears--twice. My sister Jill jokingly calls me Aunt Bitch.
I wrote a whole chapter on getting along with other people because the whole social butterfly thing doesn't come naturally to me, and The Experts say that people with friends, both close and casual, are happier overall. I was haunted by the idea of "casual" friends. As I imagined them, in their Friday khakis and collarless shirts, this subgroup of people included the sensitive, and I spent long weeks trying to parse out this particular conundrum.
I didn't write about my handful of close friends in terms of experiments, although they certainly brings me happiness. Last Friday, my oldest friend Beth came down for a visit. We met in eighth grade when we both tried out for the school musical and were both rewarded with positions in the chorus. (I think the play was about peer pressure, or the dangers of drugs, or some other very important lesson imparted by musical-theatrically-inclined thirteen-year-olds.)
I wouldn't have predicted Beth would be the close friend I have twenty years later. Although we went to many concerts together (we once camped out for Cure tickets) and skipped school to visit museums in D.C., Beth was popular in high school, preoccupied with her boyfriend, a Homecoming princess. I was vaguely dorky, preoccupied with Getting the Hell Outta Dodge, princess of Tetris.
But we kept in touch through college and post-college. I don't know what makes a friendship stick. I like the adults that we've become. Beth is Brain, Child's staff artist (she does the cartoons, the debate art, and usually the Motherwit art), so we have kind of a work connection. But I feel like I could call after months of not talking and still be able to confide anything without worrying about the sensitivity issue. It's a rarer quality than you might think.
I know that Beth will always be late. She knows that I'll say things that can be taken in an unfortunate way. We're familiar with each other's flaws. But I knew she was a true friend one afternoon when Caleb was a toddler. It had already been a long day with the fussing and crankiness on both Caleb's part and mine. The dogs were nuts. Beth came over, and I made us cups of tea. We talked for a while, but I was just spent, tired, out of things to say. On the other hand, I didn't want to be alone, in charge of Tantrum Boy and the Nuts Mutts. We settled in the sunroom.
Beth stayed and watched two viewings of CinderElmo with us. That, people, is a friend. Particularly if you consider that Beth herself was with single with no kids at this time. Particularly if you're familiar with Elmo's voice and his Cheney-esque habit of referring to himself in the third person.
I don't know how you luck into this. I wrote a review once about the connection between mothers and included a self-help book called The Friendship Crisis. It's an interesting book. The main thing I got from it is that you have to put yourself out there in the stream of potential friends, no matter what level of sensitivity is your comfort zone. (I don't know how that sentence just devolved into a condom commercial.)
Also, book clubs seem like a good idea.