I’m reading some self-improvement books—mostly for a project I’m working on but also for myself—and the information is solid, except for one thing: every one of those books talks about finding happiness, lowering anxiety, or learning to trust your intuition in the context of being around other people on a consistent basis. What if you aren’t around other people at all?
This is actually a big problem for me right now and has been for the last few years. Normal people have coworkers they see daily and local family members or friends they spend time with. They often have a significant other to talk with most days or maybe a church they drop in to once or twice a week. I somehow painted myself into a corner.
I don’t know how friendships happen for normal people, but the pattern I’ve seen play out in my own life hasn’t kept pace with my needs. When I moved to Michigan, I lost contact with most of my Illinois friends. I stayed in touch with my closest friends, but by necessity those relationships changed due to the long distance. I made new friends through work and through a group at a local college campus. Then when I moved to a new city, the same sort of culling took place.
In the new city, I made friends with coworkers at the jobs I worked. When I moved on from each job, I kept in touch with one or two people but grew apart from the others. See the pattern? Enter a new social circle, make friends, change circles, keep just a few ties that understandably diminish due to necessary separation.
Here’s where my reliance on the pattern broke down. I took a job working remotely, which meant I didn’t have face-to-face contact with my coworkers. A year later, the only human I was interacting with in person on a consistent basis was my wife. Under the best circumstances that’s a precarious position to be in, and that little bit of solid footing gave way when we divorced. There was nobody left.
My only strength in handling this aloneness is also a weakness that works against me as I try to remedy the situation. I’m perfectly comfortable spending an enormous amount of time by myself. This trait has saved my sanity countless times, but it works against me by fostering a complacency toward seeking out new friendships. I feel fine by myself most of the time, so I don’t make great, often uncomfortable, efforts to meet new people. (I tend to be shy.) Making new friends, friends who’ll be a source of comfort and strength, is a steady process that takes time. Being comfortable by myself means I don’t take the necessary early steps to meet new people and to be awkward around them while we get to the deeper levels of friendship. Since I don’t invest my time there, I have no one nearby when I really need someone to lean on.
My online friends are great. You all have been a tremendous source of encouragement when I’ve needed it, and the smiles and laughs we share truly warm my heart. I can’t hug you, though, or ask that you hold my hand when I’m feeling scared. Glowing text on a screen disappears as soon as I look away.
I know the next steps to take, generally. I need to meet more local people and make an effort to get to know better those who resonate with me. I have to be willing to talk to strangers, which scares me, and be awkward in front of people I want to like me, which is one of the hardest things I can imagine right now.
Wish me luck.