On iffy judgment and unlikely friendships

On terrible timing and unlikely friendships

On terrible timing and unlikely friendships

This week I’m hitting up Story Chicago with an old college friend. We graduated over a decade ago, but we still keep in touch. Even our kids are friends.

We didn’t hit it off when we first met. She was loud, and said whatever popped into her head. I was quiet, and kept my mouth shut. It wasn’t an obvious match.

My first impressions were wrong, because here we are, ten years later. (Now I love her extroverted energy, and that she says what’s on her mind.)

That experience wasn’t the exception to the rule: I’d like to be a great judge of character from the get go, but experience has proved that I’m just not.

My husband and I didn’t connect when we first met back in high school. Far from it.

My best friends from freshman year were genuinely surprised when the cute boys we liked to hang out with in August–the ones we thought were so cool–got boring, fast. By October, our favorite guy friends–the friendships that lasted–were the ones we’d written off as dorky back at orientation. (Maybe we loved them because we were pretty dorky, too.)

(In my defense, I bonded almost instantly with my freshman year girlfriends: they had the right mix of sweet and snark, calm and crazy, and to seal the deal, were Anne of Green Gables fans. Sometimes I can spot my people.)  

I’ve grown up a lot since then, but I’m still pretty terrible at predicting whether or not a new acquaintance will blossom into a friendship.

Sometimes I’ll meet a genuine kindred spirit. But sometimes I’ll meet someone new and think we have nothing in common … only to see that relationship blossom into a fast friendship down the road. She may not be like me, but in friendship, that can be a very good thing. Sometimes, it’s exactly what I need.

Think about your closest friends: did you know you would hit it off from the start? Are you good at predicting which new acquaintances will blossom into friendships?

For more on adult friendships–and how making friends over 30 is both easier and harder than I expected–try this post and its comments: Friends of a Certain Age.

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  1. Tim says:

    Anne, I stink at predicting who I’ll end up sticking to and developing a friendship with. I have no clue how these things develop, but I’m glad for the friendships I have. I think you read about this friendship, but I thought I’d link it just in case because a lot of people who don’t know me well probably would have said there’s no way I’d be in a friendship like this one.


  2. Gina says:

    My BFF who I love to bits, I thought of as too cool to be my friend when we first met. I really liked her from the start but I thought she wasn’t keen, so I thought she didn’t like me. Actually she was shy with me because I am the loud one who says whatever pops into my head and I know I can be overwhelming. I do try to calm it down. Now we tell each other everything and our kids are pretend cousins and I would not be without her.
    I have made some terrible judgements and now I don’t decided until I know someone well if they are going to be a friend or an acquaintance. Cos I have absolutely no clue what makes the connection in a friendship but I don’t want to miss one because I decided too soon.
    My DH is the opposite of every chap I ever dated and he is wonderful. I like dorky geeks too!

  3. My best friend and I have laughed a lot over the years about our first impressions. We had a mutual friend that we both loved but the first time we actually met (freshman year of high school) she came in late to English class from volleyball practice and I thought she was just a girl jock. She thought I was stuck up (I had good posture and introversion against me there and it was a common misconception). But a few days later she said something about how our English teachers Lady of the Lake poster reminded her of Anne of Green Gables and my ears perked up. We had the most fun in that English class that year and have been close friends ever since. Weddings, babies, and an annual Anne Day (in which we watch both “Anne of Green Gables” and the Sequel but not the Continuing Story because it is rubbish), mini vacations with our husbands… we are in this friendship for life. 15 years later I’m so glad first impressions were not lasting impressions.

    But I had a huge crush on my husband from the first time I met him. I couldn’t help it. He has gorgeous eyes and he is just the right mixture of masculine and shy.

  4. Anna says:

    I’m generally a good judge of people and potential friendships, but sometimes I am surprised. Sometimes the people you don’t have as much in common with on the surface will turn out to have a deeper connection with you.

  5. Your college story completely mirrors mine. I completely misjudged two of my closest college girlfriends. And I can count on at least one hand the number of dear friends I currently have that I initially thought I’d never click with.
    I should probably know by now that if I’m initially put off by someone’s personality, we’ll likely end up close friends! It’s an interesting mix of humbling and a fun surprise :).

  6. Milica says:

    I am also awful at judging character. I did not take an immediate liking to my BFF. I thought she was one of those snobby Stepford-wife types -I was so very wrong! As for my husband-he asked me out daily for a week and I did not want to go out with him- everything about him was “not my type” – so i kept saying no. I finally gave in and told him I’d go out with him, but only for lunch, not dinner. I was hoping he would leave me alone after that. We got married 19 days later. (9.5yrs and 3 kids later, he is still my real BFF!)

      • Milica says:

        Ok, You asked for it! I’ve never written this out before so forgive me! It’s a bit long for such a short period of time!
        A lot of what made it work was the week that led up to the 19 day courtship, so I’ll start there_
        I was working at a local mall as the Customer Service Supervisor. It was the craziest part of the holiday season, December 22 actually, and the mall was PACKED!!! There were probably 6 of us working frantically behind a small desk area. We were all running at top speed – especially wrapping gifts. (At that late date no one wants to do there own gift wrap.) That morning I was taking gift wrap orders, one after another, As I took yet another order, I noticed that the man’s hand was heavily bandaged. “What happened to your hand?” I asked (I was chatty like that with strangers at work) “I was shot. Normally I’d wrap my own gifts, but I just can’t.” I kept on writing up his ticket and running his credit card. “Shot! Where were you that you managed to get yourself shot?!” I babbled. He paused for a moment, “Umm, Afghanistan?” He said, almost like a question. I snapped my head up and probably turned 3 shades of red as I realized that I had been so busy and absorbed in work/holiday/myself that I hadn’t registered the tan, fit physique, gaunt face, and buzz cut hair as “military”. (In my defense – he was not in uniform!). I felt awful! I babbled and apology, told him we were grateful for his service (or something like that) and gave him his ticket to return for his gifts later. I was mortified that I had just charged this injured war hero to wrap his gifts!!!! He walked away and I headed back to the gift wrap station myself to ensure that even though we were crunched for time, his gifts would look perfect. I told my coworkers what had happened. When he finally returned a couple of hours later, he had another gift for us to wrap. I offered to wrap it for free – in honor of his sacrifice and all – but he refused and refused to let me refund his prior charges either. I expedited his wrapping to get him on his way, thanked him again and wished him a Happy Holiday. I figured that was that.
        The next morning he returned to the desk as we were opening with mochas from Starbucks for everyone at the desk. He talked to us for a few minutes until the desk started to get busy. My coworkers nicknamed him “Soldier Boy”. The day after that he brought a HUGE box of chocolates (you know, the boxes packed with all the good stuff) from a local gourmet chocolate shop to the desk. We chatted a bit, but just for a minute or two. And we all thanked him. He was the new favorite customer of the desk staff.
        “He likes you” insisted my best work friend. “No he doesn’t.” I protested (and really believed it) “Well, you better be nice to him because we could get used to this.” insisted another friend as she consulted the guide to select her chocolate. They started referring to him as MY “Soldier Boy”. I was completely embarrassed. I was sure if he was interested in anyone, it certainly wasn’t me! There were a number of cute girls who worked at the desk. Besides, I was not ready to date again and he was in the MILITARY! I had actually broken up with a guy once, in part, because he was going into the military and I just couldn’t picture myself as a “military wife”. When he came back that afternoon, Dec 24th, we were beyond swamped. He made his way to the front of my line and when he arrived I asked what he had for us to wrap today. This time he was armed with sodas for everyone at the desk. “Nothing, but I was wondering if you would go out with me?” I was fresh out of a 5 year relationship and I was NOT ready to move on yet. I don’t remember exactly what I said, but it was along the lines of “Thank you, but I can’t”. The next day was Christmas and as I celebrated with my family I found myself thoughts drifting to the soldier.
        The next morning, bright and early, there he was, once again, with Starbucks White Chocolate Mochas for everyone. He asked me out again and I said no. He asked for my number and I said no. My friends were mortified. They were 100% Team Soldier Boy. Even people in the office – My boss included – had heard about him and were teasing me. They fought for him every hour of the day. Whittling down my defenses.
        The next day he returned again and asked me to dinner. I paused. By now I figured the only way to to put an end to the barrage was to accept. I sighed. “No, not dinner, but you can take me to lunch.” (I thought this was less date-like) We agreed on a time for the next day and I gave him my phone number.
        The next day he arrived at the mall for our lunch date.(It seemed safe and not overly date-ish to have lunch there, although I was off that day.) He asked about my job, my family, all the usual getting-to-know-you questions. He wasn’t phased when I told him I was a divorced single mom with two girls. He wheedled much more personal information out of me than I would normally reveal. I was incredibly comfortable with this virtual stranger. I asked him about his family,about the military, what happened and how he ended up home for the holidays. He told me about his job, where he was stationed,and a brief story of the incident that landed him there and how he was home on R&R but how he had to return to Walter Reed Medical Center soon to resume physical therapy. We talked for almost 3 hours. We had to end it because he was scheduled to meet his dad and some family friends for a hockey game and given his short time at home, couldn’t back out. I found we seemed to be surprisingly compatible. Most importantly – our basic values aligned perfectly. We laughed a lot. He got my dark sense of humor. Against my better judgement I was warming up to this soldier. At the end of the date he asked me out for New Year’s Eve. I had to decline, because I had my daughters for New Years that year. He walked me to my car stopping at his own on the way to retrieve a rose he had brought for me. I actually kissed him goodbye. (It was a world-stopping kiss – I think for both of us) He called me during the hockey game several times just to chat for a minute and asked if I wanted to go to a park the next day. I said sure and we met at a park near his sister’s house and continued our getting-to-know-you chat. It was somewhat warm, but still December. We cuddled up on a bench and continued to talk. There were not many people at the park that day, but as we sat snuggled together talking an elderly couple walked by. The husband stopped when they were in front of us. “You two remind me of us 50 years ago!. Yep, we’ve been married over 50 years and we are still going strong. You two will get there, I can tell these things.” He told us they had raised their family in the neighborhood and took a walk in the park every day. They were incredibly sweet. We looked at each other and smiled and thanked the man. As he and his wife headed on their way, we marveled together about it maybe being a sign, then laughed.
        We continued to talk on the phone every day, but our schedules were such that we only fit in one more real date – this time a nice dinner – before he had to return to Walter Reed, soon to rejoin his unit in Afghanistan. The day he was leaving he came to the desk where I was working. By now he was a familiar figure and everyone knew him from his frequent visits – often still armed with treats for my coworkers for helping to convince me to go out with him in the first place. He had a package with him that he gave to me. I unwrapped the package and opened the jewelry box inside. In it was a gold necklace with an open heart charm. “Can I put it on you?” He asked and I said “sure”. So he took it out and unclasped the chain and put it around my neck while facing me. As he refastened the chain, he said, “I’m giving you a piece of my heart and I just want you to know I will be coming back for it.” That is probably the moment he got me. I started to tear up. I walked him to his car. As we said our goodbyes I said, ” I really think I am falling for you.” and he replied. “I already have.” and kissed me goodbye. We talked pretty much every day after that. On January 9th we found out he was going to redeploy in two weeks. I was worried and heartbroken because our long conversations were going to have to become infrequent brief calls and letters and packages he would only be able to send and receive sporadically. Could our fledgling relationship survive that? Besides, the last time he was there he was shot! A few days later he called and said “My Commander said I can have a pass to come home and get married… if you will marry me.” I was shocked. I had not expected that at all. We talked about it back and forth as I gauged his intent (I love you, I want to take care of you, I feel like we are meant to be together) and seriousness (completely dead serious). I honestly don’t know what possessed me. Common Sense would say “NO” and my brain was saying “No! That is nuts, you barely know this man!” but apparently it is my heart, and not my brain that controls my mouth and I said “yes! Let’s do it! But we can’t tell anyone yet, let’s do a real wedding when you get back.” He arrived home on Thursday.January 15. He had researched everything. We could get an expedited marriage license because of his deployment status. He brought me to an amazing restaurant that night and made people cry and applaud with his heartfelt proposal carried out with help from the staff who were also watching. The ring was exactly what I would have chosen. It looked just like my mother’s, classic,three perfect round cut diamonds, which for me, since childhood, was the epitome of an engagement ring (though he had never seen my mother’s ring). Friday we went to the courthouse to get the marriage license. We found out that there were no judges available until Monday to perform the wedding, and because he had to leave on Monday morning very early, that wouldn’t work, so they gave us a list of ministers to call who might be able to help. We called a few and settled on one we liked who could marry us the next morning. The next day I met up with my fiance and my BFF (the one I thought was a snobby Stepford wife originally), she was the only other person who knew about our plan, and headed to the minister’s house where his wife served as our second witness and we were married in a sweet and simple ceremony in their living room. Then we went out to breakfast to celebrate.

        • Milica says:

          oh and as for my list that he didn’t fit – among others – He was blonde (I had hardly ever – if ever- dated a blonde), he was younger than me (just a little, but still younger), he was not established in his career (he had joined the military shortly before 9-11 because he was burnt out at his job and wanted the GI Bill and the experience), he was not all that financially stable (he was a poor enlisted soldier!), He was not artistic or sensitive, He didn’t really like to read (always had been a deal breaker for me)

          • Great story! So here’s the thing I really want to know: has the former deal-breaker, that he didn’t like to read, ended up being a sore spot? (I realize that’s personal and understand if you don’t want to answer.) I guess I ask because you often hear people say that many of the things they found endearing in their pre-marriage spouse turned out to be irritants in the years after marriage until the marriage had grown enough to get past those things. In my case, that wasn’t true. It was the few things that irritated me before we married that irritated me even more afterward. After 28 years, we’re (mostly) past that time of letting things like that bother us — mostly. 🙂

        • Oh, wow! Milica, thank you SO much for taking the time tell your story – with all the details! This is an amazing story and such a wonderful “middle” with three children and still BFFs. I can only imagine what wonderful things God will bring in the years to come.

          • Milica says:

            Lori, surprisingly, the not reading thing really hasn’t been an issue at all! I find I’m happy as long as I can read and have someone to talk about/ compare/recommend books with. I do that with my sisters and friends. I think my idea at that time was that in order to be really intelligent you had to be a reader. My husband, though, is very intelligent. He just really can’t sit down and read a book when he could be DOING something. Nothing on my list really proved to be that important. There are some things ( he says “where’s it at?”) that irritate me to no end. (“Where is it!” No AT, the at is unnecessary!Gah! ) Hadmwe dated longer i’m not sure if we would have ended up married. We would have thought about it too much. The key was our basic core values matched. I think we’ve approached our marriage the same way many arranged marriages work- we are committed to remaining married, we share values, we are always getting to know each other, we are good to each other, we laugh a lot, we are each other’s best friend and confidant, and we let the little things go.

  7. My judgment is usually off at first. But because my husband is better at it and he often reminds me to take a step back, I am getting better at giving people a chance. Upon meeting him however I thought he was an obnoxious jerk. Good thing we got stuck at a table together, it forced me to really see him.

    And I will brag about one great judgment call, but I think it was totally a God thing. Six years ago after a recent move and some years of loneliness we went to another new church in our effort to find a church home. We walked into the nursery my now BFF and I looked at one another, said hi and we both now say that is within 2 minutes that we knew. We just knew, that this was “the” friend we had been waiting for.

  8. Laura says:

    I really enjoyed this post and your post Friends of a Certain Age. I’m not 30 yet, but I’m trying to make new mom friends in a new city and it’s a big challenge for an introvert like me. My husband is already close buddies with the guys he works with at his new job, and I have been feeling a little down on myself for not making friends quickly like him. Your posts helped remind me that he has a lot more chances to speak with his work colleagues through the day and build rapport- I am lucky if I see the same mom friend once a week! Of course my friendships will take longer to grow.

  9. Magdalen says:

    When it comes to my very best friends, I have mostly recognized pretty where we’ve been headed, but all my other friends I’ve had really varying first impressions. Some I clicked with immediately, some took some getting to know, and I’ll often think I’m on track to being friends with someone when in fact we aren’t clicking at all.
    It’s, especially with dorm life, when everyone comes from different backgrounds (rather than where I was before in the homeschool community), to see who I click with. Some of it’s pretty obvious, but there’s a good many unlikely friendships as well.

  10. Sarah Ronk says:

    I have a pretty good eye for if a person will be a friend… I think. I just don’t always know how deep our friendship will go. And I actually feel like making friends in my late 20s and early 30s has been waaay easier than when I was younger. But through and through I do know I can only maintain a handful of friends at any point in my life.

  11. Jessica says:

    Isn’t the story about how people become friends fun. I have decal best friends that I just KNEW would be my best jfriends shortly after meeting them. One of those girls admitted that she thought I was the stuck up proper one who wouldn’t unwind. I just was But I knew we’d mesh we’ll. isn’t that funny.

  12. Ana says:

    I love your posts about friendship…as a fellow Anne Shirley/Blythe fan, I imagine we share the same idealistic views on female friendships. I make the WORST snap judgements upon meeting someone. I am shy and quiet and louder, more confident women often intimidate me. But over time, they often end up being my favorite people. I’ve had friends tell me they first thought of me as “stuck up” or “rude” because I’m so quiet/shy that I don’t say much and I’m often stuck in my head so that I don’t notice people walking by and say hello. I did like my husband when I first met him, though I liked him in a friendly way and not a romantic way initially (he claims that he knew I was “the one” from the get-go…I’m skeptical).

  13. Cara Hicks says:

    Enjoyed this post and many others-glad that I spider-webbed on to your site. I was just about to write about an unlikely friendship, when I saw this post. While I’ve always had a ton of acquaintances (I never meet a stranger), I struggled with maintaining real, quality relationships. I have recently jumped off of the career ladder & my contact with my work & community network of friends lessened leaving me wondering if I needed to start mom-dating; however, while blogging through some of my journey, I have connected with a few ladies who I didn’t imagine I would have much in common with, but they have been such a blessing. I have really come to appreciate authenticity above similarity. The ability to connect and celebrate differences is refreshing compared to some friendships I once had that felt more like a constant competition.

    Also, marriage has taught me how to be a better friend. Choosing to love someone every day despite their flaws is a challenge, but doing it every day makes it easier to be a love a friend even when they disappoint.

  14. Lesley says:

    Like you and Jenn, I misjudged two of my closest college friends, and my husband! But since college I’ve gotten pretty good and knowing who I’ll grow close to. I think some of that comes from the fact that my circle of friendships is now fairly wide and diverse. Once I have one good conversation with another person I can usually tell if the friendship will go somewhere. Can’t wait to hear about Story!

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