Part of a series of ten segments, checking the progress of my 2017 New Year Resolutions.
The last of my 2017 resolutions begs for a back story, and one that I may get to over time, because it runs as long, as wide, and as deep as the Mississippi. And no, the story I’m telling here is not that story. There’s a lot to today’s story but it is not the whole story.
To start with yet another confession, I’ve been excruciatingly lonely for the last 16 years. I have no idea if this fact surfaces as an underlying current in my Facebook posts or not. I can’t care about that anymore. Time to just spill the truth.
16 years happens to coincide with the year my husband and I met, married, and moved away from Pittsburgh, a city where I met the most wonderful group of people, a large group of friends I had made by choice and whose interests mirrored my own. They came from all sorts of different backgrounds which thrilled me to no end, and many of them had moved to Pittsburgh from elsewhere same as me…but we all fell in love with its charms. I had come into my own during those young, single adult years in the city of three rivers, and never felt as much at home, in every sense of the word, as I did there.
As newlyweds, we left the Burgh to start a new adventure: my husband’s new job in Omaha and my own business which I could operate from anywhere. We planned to return, and I always assumed we would, to those friends and that rich, multi-faceted life. It never happened.
Now being married is wonderful and along with it came my precious family and a whole new dimension to my life that I cherish greatly. So every time I talk about my aching loneliness, it sounds like a criticism of my husband, marriage, and kids, and that’s not the case at all. It’s just that a HUGE number of things about my life changed simultaneously when we left Pittsburgh, and it was undeniably life-altering how unsettling it all proved to be.
But my husband? He’s been a rock in my life, and stood by my side no matter what. I’m not going to cheapen our marriage by talking about it and defending it on a blog. I don’t need to and he knows how much I love and value him. Plus he knows what’s in my heart and prompting me to write this. I’ve discussed every single bit of this with him over this year and over these many years.
I just miss having girlfriends, a squad. And for that matter, I miss having guy friends. I had a lot of both at one time, and I treasured the sense of belonging, perspective, and pure fun those friendships gave me. Moving away loosens those bonds pretty significantly. Getting married loosens them some more. Doing both, you damn near destroy what friendships you had. I don’t even have someone who is “my person” in Grey’s Anatomy parlance.
I can’t tell you how many new years’ days in a row I have cried in my husband’s arms, reflecting on the year passed and the year ahead, about my loneliness. I swore this was the year I’d do something different about it. I swore I would really stick my neck out there and socialize. It’s so incredibly hard, discouraging, and downright intimidating, for a couple of reasons.
- It feels like every last minute of my day is caught up in laundry, making doctor appointments and other plans, helping with homework (ok, truth be told, that’s eased up a bit and my husband does most of it), chauffeuring for soccer or dance (and oh, let’s throw writing into the mix now!) and while I may get offers to social outings, I often need to shortchange the time I spend out or I’m just too tired to even go. However, it’s gotten better. When the kids were really young, it was far easier on everyone for all of us to stay home. Now that I can leave the house to run some errands and the oldest can watch the younger two, it’s amazing! I tell people I am emerging from an early childhood-raising coma. They understand what I’m saying…
- My energy levels are plummeting. Call it diet and lifestyle, call it age, call it making a living, call it overwork/over-scheduling…I don’t know what to call it but it is really difficult for me to summon the energy to socialize, relax, and do nothing because even if I’m physically doing nothing, mentally, I’m thinking about #1. I’m thinking about #1 because there is no backup. It’s me and my husband and that’s pretty much it. No extended family I can call upon for 100+ miles. Nobody to rely upon. No babysitters we can hire every single night of the week because that just feels wrong and I won’t throw money out the window like that or outsource raising our kids to a teenager. It’s just us, always. Nobody else. To rely on someone else, we’d have to know them well enough (which requires socialization) and trust them, not abuse the help (which is so easy to do), and be in a position to reciprocate. So we don’t have a backup. I can’t mentally handle the math of “who can I call on this time?” and everything else I juggle in #1.
- I’m a cross between an introvert and an ambivert. When I’m overwhelmed with #1 and #2, I’m definitely introverted…small talk (the weather, “how are you” exchanges) drains me. I’d rather talk about something unusual, funny, or substantive, however you just don’t make acquaintances and turn them quickly into friendships over a deep conversation. Now there are days when I can easily be the center of attention and “hold court” telling stories and yukking it up with those around me. I have a spunky, zany side, and I will bust a gut laughing every chance I can get…it doesn’t get to come out to play too often anymore. There’s just a heavy, wet blanket on that side of my personality most of the time. So crazy enough, there are people who are convinced I’m an extrovert and astonished to hear otherwise. They don’t see the downtime I need. Then there are others who only know me as an introvert and have zero interest getting to know me better because they think I’m boring, quiet, uptight, and maybe even aloof. It’s extremely hard to break out of that kind of first impression, but that’s what a lot of people see. Sometimes I just wish I could be a normal person but most of these days, I just use my energy to stay upright.
- It feels like I’ve spent the last 15 years introducing myself to people. No matter that I spent the 15 years before that doing the very same thing, going off to college and working as a consultant and it didn’t drain me. Now it does. And the amount of life change I’ve had in the last 15 years was enormous: I’ve moved three times to two different states, had four jobs, and birthed three kids. I know a huge number of people superficially. It’s exhausting to introverts like me. And I scare people away, over and over again with my intensity, my constant striving to grow and be better than I was yesterday, so I don’t really try to get to know people any deeper. Besides, many of the people I know in this town have been here a long time and have their long-term friends…they aren’t really looking to make new ones.
- Everyone told me that it would get much better: I’d make friends with the parents of my children’s friends once my kids started school. Yes and no. I’m a working mom with no time for school volunteering or the PTO so that avenue was kinda cut off. I mean, if you’re finding it difficult to read through your child’s papers every evening, do math facts and reading, then sign and return what is supposed to go back the next day, you don’t really have the bandwidth for volunteering and the PTO too. You just don’t. Which means, I don’t have the inside scoop on the teachers, administration, or other moms, so I didn’t have anything to contribute to the conversations anyway. I couldn’t even reciprocate on the play dates that other moms were able to do. During pickup and drop off they were always able to stay and chat for 10-20 minutes but I felt I always needed to go go go….run home for another load of laundry or to go get someone else from their activity, etc.
- And let me share this: some of the early moms I met were 10+ years younger than me with bodies and energy levels to boot. I’d see them wear tight mini-dresses and four inch heels to go clubbing once every week or two. Clubbing? Not that I was asked to go, but I hadn’t been clubbing in well over 10 years. Drinking all night? See #2 above. I can’t function properly as it is; I don’t want to revisit what a hangover would feel like under these circumstances. I just cannot do it. Besides, I just come across like a prude because I know I can’t drink like that. I love wine but two glasses tops, and Mama Louie’s gotta call it a night. And then there was the lovely family we met somewhat early on where the one parent became a felon, I believe. And I’m a working professional who adheres to a code of ethics… so…..it just makes it a bit awkward because you can’t just come out and say, “um…we understand you were arrested for theft, and well….we just….can’t be friends. We wish you well, we really do, but no. For our own peace of mind, and my professional reputation, we can’t invite that kind of drama into our lives, thank you very much.” So yeah, socializing in my town became this increasingly impossible, insurmountable obstacle. I can’t tell you how many nights I just slumped in a puddle and cried because I just didn’t have a wellspring of strength to draw from, to overcome the intense loneliness I felt. How do you crawl out of that hole? One freaking day at a time, and I’m still crawling. And Facebook was a lifeline when I had no other.
- I had all three of my kids pretty late in life, and was bracing myself for the day we sent the youngest to kindergarten. I was waiting, just waiting, for the perky fellow kindergartener mom I could have given birth to. Thank God my youngest loves me, loves me, loves me, and doesn’t blink an eye at how much older I am than the other moms. And THANK GOD, these moms are mostly only 10-15 years younger than me, not 20, and they’re pretty awesome. Nevertheless, it’s really hard being the oldest one in the room at all times. Especially when I never used to be the oldest one. Honestly I was always the youngest one, so I truly don’t even know how to relate to everyone. I feel like the odd man out every where I go, in everything I say and do. It just pulls the introverted covers tighter over my whole being.
- For 10 of the 12 years we’ve lived in our town, I was convinced we would move back to Pittsburgh at any moment. Why make friends when the moment you move away you’ll never hear from them again? Been there, done that…don’t need to do it again. I had always been one of people who cherished friendships for life, and it crushes me when it isn’t reciprocated, especially if the friendship had been pretty strong at one time. But there came to a point, 10 years after moving into our house, when I had to give my family some sense of stability, and commit to staying put: agreeing I would permanently abandon a move back to Pittsburgh. My long-held dream was gone. I can’t just dangle that out there and disrupt my family’s sense of home and need to feel rooted themselves. So tell me, how do you make friends when your opening line is, “I’ve lived here for 10 years and I don’t know who I’d call at 3 am if I needed to. Other than our sitter, I don’t know whose ‘local contact’ name to put on the emergency papers at school.” I don’t who is close enough friends to call “family”. Because the truth is, I need friends to be my family because I just don’t have that here, and my sisters are over a hundred miles away and consumed with obligations toward their own children. My parents have been gone for 30 and 20 years respectively as are all of my aunts and uncles. My mother in law lives 2000 miles away and rarely visits. I need that “village”, but I am so afraid to ask for it, or open up and receive it. I’m so afraid to be rejected. I’m so afraid the people we’ll end up knowing are people we don’t want to know: addicts, liars, snobs, bigots…. Oy…. Believe me, we’ve encountered some characters over the years. I am not going to deliberately bring those kind of people into the orbit of our family. I’d rather be alone, so I am, but I worry about the impact it has on our immediate family. The five of us spend a significant amount of time alone. Now don’t get me wrong, we have tons of acquaintances and dare I say it – friends – who are absolutely lovely, but I can’t and won’t demand the intimacy of deep friendship with them. It comes over time….over a long time…and it must be mutual. I’ve danced that tango and I’ve stepped on toes. I’ve been dipped and dropped. So no, I no longer know how to broker those kinds of friendships…not when a husband and kids need to jive with the relationship too. I just don’t. I know I can’t force it. Suffice it to say, it’s incredibly hard to make new close friends at this point in my life. I wish I hadn’t moved away. I really wish I hadn’t. And frankly, I ought to just shut up about that because that’s old news. Really old news.
So…….I had a new year’s resolution to socialize more. Was I successful? Eh…
I deliberately connected with more acquaintances in the neighborhood and such on Facebook. Believe it or not, that’s a struggle for me to do. Since I can’t get out much, so I thought maybe I’d get to know people and vice versa online. It has worked in some cases. In others, people didn’t accept my friend request. I know not to take that too personally. For example, I don’t have 1000 “friends”. I have a few hundred…and that’s a lot for me. There are people from high school I refuse to connect with because my family is sacred, and my thoughts are deep and personal, I don’t just share them with anyone. [Ignore for a moment that I now have a blog that’s open for anyone to read. This is different, uncharted territory….]
One of my high school friends, Barb, reached out and wanted a girls’ weekend with me this year. I hadn’t seen her in 30 years but it was touching to be asked, and wonderful to plan it and go. It was balm for the soul to talk to someone who knew me back then, where I didn’t have to hold back on anything I said or try so incredibly hard to be likable. To Barb, I want to say: thank you from the bottom of my heart. You thought our weekend was healing for you. Little did you know what you did for me. And as icing on the cake, our weekend away allowed me to have breakfast with my childhood friend Stephanie, who I don’t get to see often. You have no idea how huge these gifts are to someone like me, because I know that I’m not everyone’s cup of tea.
Another friend also named Barb reached out to me out of the blue this year. She and I had both moved away from Pittsburgh and lost touch. I chalked it up to one of the many friendships that just died due to distance. She has no idea how heartwarming it was to be remembered and for her to resurrect the friendship. She said she missed me. She has no idea how much I have missed her over these many years…she was so much fun to hang out with. I am so grateful for the gift of hearing from her, even if it turns out to be just that one time.
Another friend Vonda made a point to come visit this year with her husband and daughter. We sat and talked and talked. Sitting so much couldn’t have been that much fun for these incredibly active people but again: this was a friendship that I deeply cherished and had all but lost as we both moved from Pittsburgh and our lives took wildly different turns but turns toward motherhood nevertheless. She will never know what a positive influence she has been on my life, and how much I admire her drive, intelligence, humor, beauty, style, and initiative. She is a force for so much good.
I had the good fortune to travel to Arizona for work, and shortly before the trip, another dear friend from the past serendipitously reconnected with me. Madison happens to live in Scottsdale, and we got to see each other. We met up, hung by the pool, had dinner together another evening, and dear God, we picked up like we last saw one another yesterday, not 15 years later. I felt normal again, totally myself. She herself had been going through so much in her own life but she has no idea how comforting it was to snap me back into my old self, telling stories and jokes like I used to do, and feeling like I was on par, like an equal.
I had a couple of other weekend visits, one with two long-term Pittsburgh friends Stephanie and Angela (a few true friends who have stayed in an orbit of friendship no matter what time or distance passes between us), and two I met since I returned to Ohio, Carol and Kristin. These were so healing for me…and yet the people involved have no idea.
We hosted a single picnic and a brunch, which isn’t much but it’s more than we’ve done before. Baby steps… And I’m trying hard to be fully present when I’m around other people, and to engage in small talk just to make a connection of any kind. I try to accept invitations out but if you see my struggle, you’ll know why.
Is there more I could do? Sure….there are a couple of people where we swore we’d go out for a glass of wine or coffee this year…and we never did. I have hope that one day I’ll have a squad where I laugh like crazy, talk deep, and feel like I fit in. It would include guy friends like I once had, and absolutely no one would feel weirded out by it because the guy friends would become good friends of my husband too.
So there you have it: #10 socialize more. It’s gotten a little bit better. And here, maybe you thought I wanted to hit up a few more happy hours this year. Baby steps, and more to come in the new year.