I whine a lot, but I’m not going to whine and tell you I don’t have any friends. I do have friends. Unfortunately, none of the people I really think of as [close?] friends are close to me in actual 3D ‘meat-space.’
A grim fact I roll around in my mind far too often is that the last time I had a clearly-defined ‘friend group,’ that is, a group that could and did convene in 3-space and toward which I could gesture as if to say “these are my friends” was some time in 1981. Yep. Nigh unto 40 years ago.
And I did so gesture, and spoke so, too, when my parents visited me at college that year. The group had no basis in a particular discipline — we certainly weren’t all “theater people” … I’ll say that much — but somehow coalesced around a particular table in the main dining hall on campus. On weekends some of us would sit there from breakfast all the way through to lunch, drinking bad coffee and playing Risk.
I’d be lying if I claimed I am not feeling intense nostalgia and loss at this moment, and at whatever moment these memories surface. I seem to have finally (after two ill-advised bouts of graduate school) exited higher education in possession of no tools with which to make friends, once the convenience of a student union was removed. I don’t know where to go.
The reason I’m thinking about this now is that I have been repeatedly told, by mental health professionals among others, that I need to ‘find my people.’ I have spasmodically tried, but my efforts at finding them via defined things like organizations, clubs, etc. have been rather a disaster. I don’t seem to be able to join groups such as these without, eventually, becoming miserable and self-ejecting.
The conflict between my need for solitude and my need for connection is, to say the least, intense. I yearn for connection, conversation and interchange but I seem pathologically incapable of putting up with the attendant … well, human bullshit. I have to blame my childhood for a healthy portion of this ambivalence. I at some point between kindergarten (probably partly due to a serious illness that, according to one of my sisters nearly killed my younger brother and me) and 1st grade became a very nervous, sensitive child, and after I started to gain weight and fall under the ceaseless salvos of teasing by my peers, I … well, I think I emerged from all of that with a deep distrust of and even spasm-y hatred for my fellow humans. I’d seen what they were, or thought I had, and somehow my parents (and teachers) had failed to equip me for what I experienced & I lacked the friends who might have been able to buoy me through the worst of it.
See that kid? It’s me at ~3 years, happily holding the hand of a neighbor girl. I doubtless put too much weight on this image-as-symbol, but when I look at it I think “where did that kid go? In two years I’d be scared of everyone and everything.”
Because I read too much — I guess — and read into things too much (a different problem), I tend to see the Fall of Man in damned near everything. I don’t really mean that phrase in a strict Judaeo-Christian sense — but I suspect the Judaeo-Christian sense is really a metaphor for things we all go through. I not only see this “Fall” as what happened to me between that photograph and 1st grade, I see it as what happens to me between my first discovery of, say, a group or club that looks like it will be just the place for me to begin connecting again, and the it-would-seem-inevitable disappointment that results once I begin getting to know people — and, I have to add, this happens every time.
I don’t want to become so explicit about this as to name names, but the best example of this, for me, is an astronomy club to which I have belonged for nearly twenty years. The first time I traveled to the club’s meeting place, to take part in a telescope-making workshop, I seriously thought — I mean I actually had this thought flower between my ears as I drove home later that day — I had found [secular] heaven on earth: a group of us stood outside on a glorious New England fall day and ground glass mirror blanks on top of big oil drums, walking around and around the drums. Everything was green, blue and gold. Once I started getting to know people in the club, however, and especially once I’d joined, everything started to change, to fall, to collapse.
This has happened to me over and over (as, I guess, the Fall of Man does, in Judaeo-Christian ‘eternity’ — it’s weird how close I can make this parallel come). I’m lonely, but am I ever going to be lonely enough to really do anything about it?