My best girlfriends and I employ a very tacky tradition when we travel: In every place we visit, we buy matching sweatshirts with that city’s name on it.
Good People of Style, I do not mean trendy sweatshirts that look cute over leggings or paired with skinny jeans. We hunt for the ugliest, most ill-fitting, obnoxious sweatshirts we can find.
We prefer to buy them in a gas station or from a sketchy street vendor. They must absolutely scream “tourists.” We like to get them three sizes too big since they will shrink in half upon washing like $5.99 sweatshirts do. Although not required, it delights us if either the font or the entire thing is somewhere between loud and fluorescent. We will not purchase if there is not one for each of us, for they must be matching or what is even the point of traveling?
Then, and this part is crucial, we wear them while still in that city.
We do this un-ironically and with no shame. The rule is: We shall not explain ourselves. No side wink to our waiter. No “we’re just being silly” comments to our guide. No explanation of our matching XXL coral sweatshirts that say “I ?? SF” while at dinner in the Bay Area. We stand by our fashion choices with great dignity.
The sweatshirts are forever. I don’t know why I even have to explain this. They are a package deal with this sisterhood forged through a thousand fires, a million conversations, and a billion shared laughs.
I credit my girlfriends for the deep sense of belonging that has sustained me through an unexpected public life. Although hyperbole is my medium, with absolutely no exaggeration, I cannot imagine my life without them. I have no vision for it; no imaginable existence.
A connected life drunk with rich relationships is central to my soul theology. If all I was left holding were relationships with my family and closest community, if that is all that remained, I would still consider myself the luckiest girl on earth. My life derives its greatest meaning, its power and energy, from the people I love who love me too.
It is good and important work to live a connected life. If this is the area you concentrate your energy, it is time well spent. But what if you’re hungry for connection — and your sweatshirt-wearing crew?
Here are some potential places to look for it: your actual neighborhood, your kids’ school, your workplace, church, the gym, book clubs, meet-up groups in your city (this is a real thing), activist groups, running clubs (omg, the only reason I know this is my friend Trina), support groups, any special-interest space (knitting, writing groups, cooking clubs, dog lovers), Bible study, playgroups, Bunco, professional networks, volunteer orgs.
To those of you in lucky possession of rich relationships and to those in dire need of them, please, I beg you, look around. People are so lonely, and they are everywhere. We have great power over the disconnection that plagues our culture. Our cities are full of new moms, just-moved-here folks, immigrants, new neighbors, people peeking their heads into church, relocated young adults apart from their families, refugees, college kids, new hires. They are also full of people who’ve lived there for a decade and still crave more connection.
- Throw open your home.
- Invite a new friend to coffee, to playgroup, to book club, to dinner.
- Plan a neighborhood block party.
- Reach out to the immigrant and refugee community in your city (these mamas are so lonely and starving for friends).
- Widen your circle.
- Organize a Girls’ Night Out.
- Send a quick text.
We are the antidote to so much isolation. Developing eyes to see loneliness and hands to reach out is one of our greatest gifts to the world.
I believe God uses us to meet the most common, primal need shared in every community on earth: belonging. It is more powerful than 10,000 other best practices.
Creating safe spaces for others to be seen and loved and known and celebrated is the height of goodness and the solution to so much sadness.
Don’t cover up your loneliness with busyness or success or feigned indifference. Don’t keep this need buried. Pull this one straight into the light, take a deep breath, and suggest to two or three friends that you buy matching obnoxious sweatshirts. If they bite, those weirdos are yours.