The older I get the more I’m able to understand society and humanity better, though I have no training or education in sociology or psychology. Life is a great teacher if you pay attention to it.
I know that, generally speaking, people are who they are, from infancy onward. I’ve seen it firsthand through myself and now with my daughter. Some of the struggles and issues I had as a child are still with me in my mid-30s. I often wonder if when put on this earth, we are each given an overarching issue that defines our growth in life. I wonder if mine is social isolation and/or otherness.
As a child, I always felt apart from my peers. I have never once in my life felt as though I belonged to any group or social circle. It hasn’t been for lack of trying, and it’s not as though I’m a hermit that doesn’t work or never talks to people. In fact, if you asked people who met me as an acquaintance, they would probably describe me as friendly and sociable. But being friendly is only indicative of how we treat a person in the moment – it has no bearing on long-term social relationships or bonding.
I always had at least a couple of good friends as a child, but it was always incredibly rare for me to bond very much with anyone. I yearned for it actually, but it seemed so elusive for me. Instead of trying to cling to people, I backed off, believing it would make things worse if I seemed needy. By the time I graduated high school, I had one good friend and had never had a boyfriend. I had learned to keep something of a distance between myself and others, for fear of being abandoned, hurt, or tossed aside.
The fact that I grew up and found a great partner in my husband is very surprising to me. As a teenager I was afraid I’d never develop a romantic bond. I think two things in particular are the reasons why I have a great relationship. The first is that as I got older I did grow more confident in talking to others and asserting myself and my needs/wants. Secondly, my husband and I are similar souls and can relate to each other on many levels. I have more in common with him than anyone I’ve ever met. Believe me, I feel very lucky and am grateful for our relationship every day.
But a good marriage is not a substitute for strong social connections and platonic relationships. Although I am in my mid-30s, I have not had the easiest path to forming relationships with co-workers or other parents. Case in point: I was married in my last two years of college and didn’t socialize on campus, which was also an hour from my home. Upon graduation, I worked adjunct at a small college and did not have an office, so after classes, I generally left campus. I stopped teaching to work at my current job, where there are only two other employees, both of which are 20+ years older than me. I have had only one child who switched schools last year, and I have never been able to form a connection with other moms. It’s been tough! And what I have to show for my adult years is the dissolution of friendships from high school and college, while not forming any new friendships due to not really having any interaction with co-workers.
It’s lonely. There are plenty of times I wish I could grab a coffee one Saturday with a like-minded female. I live in a small rural community and sadly, there aren’t a lot of social opportunities. I think things would be easier when I someday work for a different company (who knows exactly when that will be, though) or if I moved to the city. For now, I often feel isolated.
Ironically, I am quite the introvert. I don’t mind being alone, and am rarely bored when I’m alone at work or home. However, I do long for platonic companionship now and then. After being friendless for years, it does take a toll. All-in-all I’m a happy, friendly woman who likes meeting new people, but the connections never seem to happen for me. And if a connection could potentially happen, I’m so gun-shy that I’m afraid to take a leap and ask someone to “be my friend” – I guess this is the equivalent of being too shy to ask a guy on a date. I think I’m more shy about being around women than I would be around men if I were single. How odd!
If you are dealing with feeling socially isolated for similar reasons, or maybe because you’re a stay-at-home mom, or because you’re shy, or because a good friend and you recently parted ways, I understand wholeheartedly. I think someday I will make a few nice connections, but in the meantime, I do feel the sting of a life with no truly close friends.