A few weeks ago, I went to a pilates class at a studio by my place. It is small and cramped and over two floors. The first floor is the stair landing, a place to put your shoes, the welcome area, two small bathrooms and a hall leading to the main room where the pilates happens. The second floor is just the second studio, a small bathroom and a storage wall to get your balls and mats from. I often found myself in the hallway, waiting for a bathroom to open up so I could change and fill my water bottle in the sink. The hallway was usually filled with women, all already in their workout clothes, all already carrying filled water bottles or drinking from the communal water jug and small metal cups provided.
I often felt out of place and like I couldn’t relate to any of the women waiting there even though they all looked like me, talked like me (although maybe quieter), and were all roughly within my age range. They all had jobs like mine from what I could tell from eavesdropping on their conversations. Some of them seemed new like me but most of them talked to each other like they had known each other since before they started pilates classes. It was intimidating and something I wasn’t prepared for in my adulthood. Making friends at workout classes has never been my goal but I’m open to it and would never turn someone away. Some of my most cherished moments at that studio come from when someone I don’t know speaks to me out of the blue or hands me their mat cleaning fluid before using it on their own mat first.
My most cherished moment, though, happened when I was feeling alone again. I had been there before and had either shown up so close to the class start time that all I had to do was take my coat off and rush in with the other stragglers or chilled in the hallway just nodding along to what other people were saying in their private conversations for five minutes. But this night after work, I found myself there with 20 minutes before the class doors even opened. After having wasted some time in the bathroom putting dry shampoo in my hair and changing, I realized I’d have to go outside for the remaining 15 minutes before the last class let out. I left the bathroom and immediately felt discomfort. Too many conversations were happening around me at once and I could see myself in none of them. The people weren’t excluding me, just continuing on their existing conversations with people they knew and liked and had some similar connections with. They looked happy and excited and I kept looking around like I was scared to be there. At the pilates studio. Where I had been before.
In my head, my most uncomfortable and complaining voice rang out: I need a friend. I need a friend. I need one friend? I need a friend. And like this sad, anxious voice had conjured her out of thin air, an old colleague turned the corner from the shoe landing. She’s tall and pretty and super smart and was already wearing her workout clothes. She has naturally blonde hair and is soft spoken and sweet. We never worked closely together at that job but she always laughed at my jokes and encouraged my learning. I could tell that the people who worked in her department loved her and that she was a great boss. She went out of her way to include everyone in conversations over lunch and was always a great listener. She has the best listening face where she holds eye contact and then looks away like she’s thinking hard about all the smart stuff you could be saying. She was the best. And she was there.
My face got big and open when I saw her. She looked at me the same way. The immediate relief I felt was like the relief of finding a friend in a dark club after what feels like hours of searching. I didn’t know I could summon a friend out of nowhere like that. I thought that I wouldn’t abuse this skill again, even though I’ve tried once or twice in similarly awkward situations. These times did not work at all but I think I may have needed her at pilates the most. We chatted like the rest of the girls there, just two friends catching up at our workout class. She grabbed a mat for me and set hers up next to mine. I was so excited to be near her again that I kept looking at her throughout the instructions. She was a friend and she was right there.