Sunday, January 07, 2018

Loneliness

My mind keeps circling around the topic of loneliness the last few days. Trying to figure out if that's the main thing that's wrong with my life. I know moving back to Ireland would not be the right decision for me for a multitude of reasons but have actually starting thinking about what it would be like. But although I would be closer to some of my best friends and to most of my family, I don't think it would fix everything else. Wherever you go, there you are.

One of my best friends flew over to Germany just after my birthday and we met up in Hamburg. The weather was atrocious but we had a lovely time. At one stage, we ended up having a conversation about friends and I realised I'd had this conversation with her before a couple of times because I've been trying to articulate something about friendship that was bothering me and that I couldn't quite get a handle on. Partly that came from making more of an effort, when I lived in Dusseldorf, to get out and socialise. To make friends. The thing is, however, I've never really been much of a one for what I'll call the pub life. Heading into your local, seeing who's there, always finding someone to chat to, etc. Dusseldorf was the first time I'd ever really had that and it was kind of nice. But I find it difficult to be friends on that more superficial level. Not that these people (or I) were any less sincere just because we didn't know each other well but just because that was the nature of the friendship. Little or no contact outside the pub so of course it's not the same as being friends with someone you met in school thirty years ago and have shared so much of your life with since.

People say that it's more difficult to make friends when you're older and there is a certain amount of truth in that. I think some of my oldest friends are people I probably wouldn't end up becoming good friends with if we met today. We're just really different people but because of decades of shared experiences and having gotten to know one another before we even knew what kind of people we were, it works. In one way making friends now that I'm older is easier, as I have learned how to swallow my shyness, most of the time, and strike up some kind of small talk if the occasion calls for it. But because I have mostly, during my life, had fewer but very close friendships, I seem to generally think that all friendships should be like that. So the more superficial kind of friendship is something I've really struggled with.

It's made even more difficult by the fact that it's not at all difficult with some people. Especially men, I have to say. I think perhaps it's because I will often follow the lead, no matter who I've met. So those who are very matter-of-fact about things, I can better react in the same way. There's no attempt to make things more than they are. While with others, it seems like if you get along well, they automatically assume you're going to be the best of friends forever. And that, I think, is something that I'm just less inclined to do these days. I'd rather just let things develop organically, or not. So much of what I've experienced just seems so forced. Perhaps I'm just very lucky to have so many really good friends and should have more sympathy for people who seem to feel a lack in that respect. Perhaps it's just the particular situation and people I met in Dusseldorf. But I have to admit that I felt more relief than anything that when I decided to move, I'd be leaving it all behind me. I didn't find it at all difficult and, to be honest, have missed very little of it.*

At any rate, while trying to articulate some of this yet again to my friend in Hamburg I was talkng about one particular woman. She is a lovely person and while we became quite good friends over the eight years I lived there, I've always sort of struggled with it, especially since having left. Even before I moved but after I'd left work, it had started to become a bit, well, onerous. Since we weren't seeing each other in work, it required more effort to meet up. I remember commenting to her once a while after we met about how funny ex-pat life is and how you end up spending time with people just because they're from the same country whereas at home, you'd never really end up spending time with the same people, because you're just so different/don't have anything in common. She got a bit offended at the implication that she and I didn't have anything in common, even though I had been speaking in generalities. Gaaaggh, I feel like I'm tying myself up in knots again to try and explain it. The same was happening in Hamburg until my friend quite bluntly said, "you mean you just don't want it [to be friends with her]". My immediate reaction was "no, no" but even with a couple of seconds I had to admit that she had absolutely hit the nail on the head. No matter how nice that woman is, I'm just really not that interetsed in being very close friends with her. For me, it was a friendship of time and place and it should now just fizzle out to an occasional meeting if we happen to be in each other's area but not be the big effort that I have felt obliged to make. So, I'm working on it and trying to figure out this astounding new idea that I don't have to be best of friends with everybody who's nice and that it's perfectly ok for me to be "superficial" with some people, even if they want more.

I had other things I wanted to braindump about loneliness but it seems like I needed to get all of that off my chest first. Loneliness is a funny thing and I'm not sure why I'm feeling it so acutely at the moment. Because I am close to my family, I do have lots of good friends, I even have a man to enjoy spending time with (although that's only a few times a year as we live in different countries, with phone calls in between, but it suits us and doesn't stop either or us from seeing other people as well; I'm so glad polyamory has become a bit more openly talked about in recent years, if I didn't even know it was a thing, I think I'd have tied myself up in knots about this otherwise) and I have hobbies which give me plenty of social contact, too. But when I was sitting in my armchair yesterday afternoon, almost physically aching with loneliness, none of them were who I needed. I scrolled through my phone contacts twice and just couldn't raise the enthusiasm to call anyone (although I did delete a few of those "pub friends" and that felt good). It's tempting to say that I just want a boyfriend/husband and that does play a big role. While I'm very happy with the relationship I do have, I would like to have someone around every day to share the little things with. Mind you, I don't think I could stand having housemates again, I do mean having someone around that I was in a relationship with. And the fact that I'm realistically never going to have children now plays a role as well. Even the fact that I could adopt if I really wanted a child but will probably never feel the joy of being pregnant and feeling a child growing inside me plays a role. But I sort of feel like all of that just doesn't quite get to the bottom of it either. So it's back to hoping that winter will pass soon and that that will make things feel better again for a while.

* "It" being the pub life and the circle of ex-pat friends related to that. On the other hand, I also became friends with a large circle of people from choir and I really miss that circle. A few became very good friends and we are still in touch and the others I see once or twice a year when I go back up to attend a concert and it's lovely. But the "pub" circle? Don't miss any of them at all and am even still relieved that I don't have to make the effort anymore.

2 comments:

Jennifer said...

Interesting. We are on completely different levels. I have a husband - a good one - that I share daily life with. I also have children, who check in, seem to love/like me. I don't have much and I am not close with them. I do not have any other close friends either. I have superficial friends - much like your bar friends that I have because a) our kids are the same age b) our husband's are friends or c)I know them through work. They all come with strings attached - they need something from me, or I need them.

I feel a loneliness from time to time as well. A deep girl friend that I can chat with, but I won't or can't put the time into it with my immediate family's needs.

Sometimes, I think it is because we have a need to fill at a particular moment that really is a well so deep it cannot be filled. Maybe it is where the spiritual aspect comes in - someone that knows you so intimately.

I know when I get that way, I make big plans to get out there more and really get into a group and do all sorts of things and even if I do actively pursue, nothing really comes of it - more superficial friends.

It was probably good you let go of the past relationships. It is something I need to do and Facebook does not help that!

melanie said...

Very well said even if you might feel like you had a hard time getting the words out. I remember feeling terribly lonely in my 20s and putting so much effort into friendships that didn't work very well. Now I have a husband and small children and my oldest asked me if I ever get lonely and I said no, never. But that is because they rarely leave me alone. ;) I think living in the same city as where I grew up makes a big difference too.