Here’s a vulnerable admission to start your day:
When I am overly-tired, overly-extended and also (god-forbid) overly-hormonal, my go-to insecurity and pet-sadness tends toward feeling like I don’t have friends. While I know this is entirely ridiculous, it can feel really real.
How, with so many people in my everyday life, can I sometimes feel alone? How can I count so many people “friends” while still wondering occasionally if I have any friends?
As is usually the case, nature and nurture have contributed in equal parts. Some of my friend angst is by virtue of personality. I was born with the delightful propensity to overthink everything. Sometimes it serves me well, and often, not so much. As for nurture, I’ve pondered whether my early years may have contributed to feelings of disconnection more than I realized.
We moved around a lot my whole entire life. By the time I was twenty-five years old, I’d called approximately sixteen addresses home. That’s three countries, three provinces, three elementary schools, one junior high, two high schools. I can’t draw a consistent line of people who have been in my life from early on. It’s more of a dotted line, made from multiple line segments. I have a wide swath of friends in individual servings and small pockets that span decades of my life and geographical locations.
I learned to be friendly and resilient, but I also question whether these gypsy beginnings may have adversely affected my sense of rootedness and connection. Or, maybe moving has nothing to do with it; it’s simply a human feeling.
I’ve more accurately renamed this feeling in recent years; that it’s not so much a case of friendless, but of feeling disconnected. And though it doesn’t change the fact that I go ages without seeing friends, the semantic shift helps my heart.
There have been phases of life when I felt connected—like living in community while working with a missions organization (YWAM Holmsted Manor). Like university, when I spent long hours with other students in my cohort. But this is not one of those naturally connected phases. It takes much more intentionality.
In this age of easy access to real-time posts and images, it can seem like everyone else is getting together all the time, going on trips together, meeting for coffee. Maybe we feel left out of events or friendships that we perceive to be thriving. But maybe the disconnection is not as a result of feeling left out because we weren’t invited—it’s a case of not being able to get there! Because we’re home with sick babies. Because of work. Because of anxiety. Because we can’t find a sitter. Because of illness. Because of crappy weather. Because of the excessive driving that accompanies having tweens and teens.
When you throw in a little parenting, a full-time job, responsibilities and obligations, house work, that annoying human need to sleep and eat…voila! Zero time remaining.
If I don’t tend to my thoughts, this current phase of life can leave me feeling very disconnected. I’m around people all the time, but the quick, superficial conversations don’t fill the need for deep friendship; the desire to know and be known.
One of my goals this year was to work through an older book called “The Artist’s Way” by Julia Cameron about unblocking creativity and becoming the creatives we were meant to be. A particular quote about creativity actually convicted me on the level of friendship; specifically on the “I have no friends” lie.
I hope Ms. Cameron won’t mind, but I’ve swapped out the ‘creative’ bits with friendship words.
Indulging ourselves in a frantic fantasy of what our life would look like if we [had friends], we fail to see the many changes that we could make at this very moment. This kind of look-at-the-big-picture thinking ignores the fact that a [friend-rich life] is grounded on many, many small steps and very, very few large leaps…[friendship] requires activity and this is not good news to most of us. It makes us responsible, and we tend to hate that. You mean I have to DO something in order to [have friends]?”
And there it is. A plan of action. I can either sit in my house (or van) feeling alone and left out, or I can be intentional and take small steps to make new friends and to foster existing friendships.
Rather than large leaps, here are a few small ideas that have helped me arrest that friendless, isolated feeling.
My husband and I decided to break the insular, alone cycle by inviting people into our home for a meal once a month. It doesn’t sound like much, but it’s so much better than NEVER (which can easily happen when you’re not scheduling it on purpose). The result is that we’ve met many great people and have actually become closer friends with some of them. It doesn’t have to be fancy! If you don’t enjoy cooking, buy a roast chicken and a salad from the grocery store. Get a bottle of wine. While delicious food is certainly among my favourites, it’s not about the food. It’s about sitting at a table together and creating space for connection.
Another step that is built into my schedule is an accountability group. It’s not an open group, which sounds terribly exclusive, but the intention is not to exclude. The reality is, in order to create safety, sometimes we have to walk closely with just a couple of people. These women and I have committed to walking together in honesty so that we grow spiritually and emotionally.
Because of the busyness of life, we meet bi-weekly, come rain or shine, hell or high water (or husbands who forget that it’s our night). Sometimes it’s fairly superficial and fun with snacks and story-telling (which is super important for connection). Sometimes we share things we’ve not shared with other humans and cry our eyes out. Sometimes we pray for one another, sometimes we don’t. Sometimes we leave feeling uplifted and gloriously supported and sometimes we leave feeling agitated and riled up because a nerve has been touched and we know it’s something we’ll have to look at. This accountability group fills a need for deep connection.
Texting and social media save my life! It’s no replacement for shared space and face-to-face conversation, but when that isn’t an option, texting with friends helps me to remember I have friends. My baby group is a key example (if you don’t know who I’m talking about, read this). We used to meet at least once a week, but now, thanks to those very babies that brought us together, it’s more like every 6-8 weeks. So, in the interim, we have an almost daily group chat that ranges in topics from what to do with spiraIized veggies to whether bologna is a valid meal option to parenting issues to hilarious memes. It’s not a substitute for real-time, but it helps.
I’ve also determined to get back on track with hosting simple soirées and brunches. It’s something I’ve always enjoyed, but once again, when we’re not doing it on purpose, suddenly two years go by…and those friendless feelings come knocking. Brunch is not about the crepes with whipped cream and strawberry compote. It’s not about the hot coffee. It’s not about the cinnamon bread or the fresh berries. (Yes, I love food). These things are exquisite and take the brunch experience right over the top, but the real reason brunch matters is people. People matter and brunch carves out space for people. Brunch creates space for connection.
Create a Facebook event. Make it a potluck so it’s not all on your shoulders. Simply open your very normal home (that probably has dog-hair tumbleweeds blowing around and several loads of laundry on some surface waiting to be folded…just like mine does) and create a space for people to connect.
Join a small group at your church. Show up at a Mother-Baby event. Call someone to meet you for coffee while you’re waiting out your kid’s hockey practice.
Instead of waiting to be invited, invite! Make the first move.
My hunch is that many of us experience the disconnected feeling, at least occasionally. To counter the friendless lie, we need to stop running from it. Turn around and face it. (Read this for more thoughts on avoidance.) Because if we wait until we have time to pursue friendship or until our house is perfect or until someone extends an invitation to us…we may very well find ourselves disconnected and lonely.
To foster a friend-rich life, decide on one small step and do it. And then, do it again. And again.
Much love to all of you, my friends.
Ellen Pusch says
And I love you!! xoxo
This resonates deeply with me. While we haven’t moved quite as often as you did as a child, it’s been 6 different geographical places in 22 years. It’s hard to grow deep roots when you know the next transplant is coming. And as an introvert, making that effort can seem so overwhelming. It’s so much easier to “turtle”- pull my head into my shell and create my own little world in there. But then come the days when the phone not ever ringing drives me to tears. And I forget that I have lots of friends- they’re simply scattered across the country. Long story short, I agree with you wholeheartedly, about everything, and am trying to get better about taking the initiative. Thanks for your writing. It’s nice to remember that so many of our experiences are not unique, but are deeply human.
Ellen Pusch says
Thank you so much for your response, Cindy! Being vulnerable and having others respond “me, too” is such an antidote to isolation. I love what you wrote: “It’s nice to remember that so many of our experiences are not unique but are deeply human.” That is it exactly.
Love this! Love hospitality andd connecting! Thank you for your honesty and vulnerability! Busyness robs us all …let’s have coffee soon!!!