Prioritizing Genuine Connection Over Collecting “Friends”

I spent this past weekend volunteering at a Special Olympics paddle board competition. On the drive home, my husband and I were sharing memories of our year of volunteering. This led me to think about the connections I have made in this community and in general over the past twelve months.

I have always felt self-conscious about my ability to make friends. I felt nervous about this when I moved to a new state last year. To my surprise, I feel more connected to the people around me now than I have in a long time. 

Kristen Carolan with her special olympics paddle board teammates.

My definition of the word “friend” has shifted recently. If I used my old definition of the word, I would probably think that I’ve made very few friends in this new city that I call home. But how can that be when I feel such a strong connection to so many people?

Christopher is a great example of this. He is a Special Olympics athlete on my paddle board team that I felt really connected to this past week. He has a pretty unique way of communicating, and I’m embarrassed to admit that I was nervous to approach him and try to connect the first day we met. When I arrived at our first practice of the new season, he was sitting on a bench with his mom, slightly removed from the group. It wasn’t until we were getting on the water that I introduced myself to him. He said very little in response and so I decided to move on with the practice. After getting out on the water I decided to give it another go. Christopher was standing with another athlete that I knew well, and I saw my chance! They were talking about movies. I believe it was a Mary-Kate and Ashley movie to be exact. I worked my way into the conversation, and Christopher lit up when I mentioned my favorite movie, Tangled. I really enjoyed spending the rest of that practice paddling together!

So what’s the point?

A year ago I would not have understood the importance that connections like this one could have on me. By opening myself up to connecting with people besides other 23 year old girls, I have learned a lot about what it means to truly feel a sense of togetherness.

When I first moved to Miami, I met a Muslim woman in her 60s at work. She is a very sprightly woman whom I have had the pleasure of staying in touch with. I see her almost every week, and I always receive the best greeting. Our connection has had a really positive impact on the past year of my life. When I graduated grad school in the fall, I could feel that she was so happy for me. She has continued to stay up to date on my life; she was there rooting me on when I started my first real job this winter and then when I was married in the spring. Just last month, she became a grandma to her third grandchild. She has been so incredibly happy, and I love hearing her tell stories about the three small babies in her life. Had my goal been to add friends to my collection, I might have totally missed out on connecting with her. What a loss that would have been!

I find so much happiness in the small but genuine connections that I make daily, the older man with a pug who I ride the elevator with each morning, the woman I often run into at the gym, or the young mom who brings her child into my place of work. I am never in a rush for our interactions to end, and I look at each meeting as an opportunity for something truly magical and fulfilling to occur, even if it doesn’t mean we’ll be lifelong friends.

By letting go of my desire to collect as many friends as possible, I have connected with people of all ages and walks of life. I have stopped focusing on ways to grow my collection of friends, and instead I have let go and learned how to form deep connections with the people right in front of me. In the past, I worried about growing my collection of friends. I spent a lot of time and energy sending texts, making phone calls, and organizing meetups so that I felt I had “enough” friends. It might come as no surprise to you that these quick text conversations very rarely left me feeling a strong sense of connection. I would argue that the person on the other side felt the same way.

Kristen Carolan with her husband and friend at special olympics practice.

What a pleasure it is to be able to truly see others and to feel seen in return. That genuine connection is such an incredible gift that we all have the ability to give one another if we are able to slow down and listen.

With so much love, Kristen Mary Carolan

Kristen Carolan with her friend after winning a special olympics competition.

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. kathleen stanley

    I love this!!

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