Making friends and loneliness

In my last post I made a reference to my loneliness. Because of my recent dramatic move across the country, I think that my reference to loneliness conjured up images of me sitting alone and dejected day after day, night after night, but that is far from the truth. I actually have a fairly busy social calendar.

Just a couple of months ago, a friend emailed me and asked me “What are you doing to “find friends?” I wrote her a very long response and am copying it here. In my original email, I referenced a friend who I had helped move from Chicago to the South Bay Area a few years ago, and I also named my employer. Here I’ve disguised those names, but it is otherwise word for word the same.

“How does one find friends?” Well, working solo that becomes more challenging.

When my friend R moved to Santa Clara a few years ago to take a new job, the culture of the organization emphasized going to the office every day, so she did make some friends at work. I tried the “going to the office” route for just over a month and found that I was actually being encouraged by my boss and colleagues to just telecommute, so that approach wasn’t going to work for me. (Besides, the working model at my employer is different, and I wasn’t meeting many people in the office that were local to me or with whom I had many other interests.)
I tend to think of myself as being fairly introverted, but I do want to have friends in the area and I know I need to develop a local social and support network. As an independent woman, I’ve been saving for my old age, but social capital is just as important as monetary capital, and I have to build that social capital from scratch here.
I’m in a small town (population is under 80k here) which sort of works in my favor. One thing I did was make opportunities to meet my neighbors. I walked the dog twice a day and would smile and greet people whenever I could. I’d tell them I was new and ask them questions like “Is this typical weather?” or “What are you doing?” That last one was asked of a young woman I saw standing on a truck using an umbrella handle to pull down fruit from a tree. I learned about a new fruit, got a taste, and learned how to say it in Spanish (misperos) so I could look it up when I got home.
I dropped off jars of homemade sour cherry jam with my closest neighbors and chatted with them. I received a couple of dinner invitations that way and made sure I brought some good stuff to share with the meal. A woman around the corner from me is apparently the neighborhood fixture who keeps an eye on everything and “loves to feed,” as her adult daughter once told me. I’ve swapped more of my preserves and homegrown garlic (one of my last “crops” from my old Chicago garden) with her for Meyer lemons from her tree (which I used to make marmalade for future gifts!) and goodwill gifts she leaves me like her homemade pesto and frittata. She also now has a key to the house “just in case.”
Shortly after arriving I looked up the local knitting group on Ravelry, and I go to knit night almost every week. I joined Meetup.com (very big in this area) and joined a few groups devoted to hiking and/or social pursuits in my local area. I went to the local Unitarian Universalist church for services (UUs are open to every type of faith, and atheists/humanists, too, so they’re usually pretty cool), and met some nice people that way.
I talk to everybody: the postal workers, the grocery clerks, the people walking dogs past my house.
The way I think of it, I can get as much alone time as I want/need since I live alone and work remotely, but face time with people is much harder for me, so I make the extra effort. I now have swapped mobile numbers with a few of the neighbors and some of the people I hike with so we can reach out to each other outside of Meetup times.
Since I wrote that email, I’ve also added volunteering with a local animal rescue charity to my list of social activities. My weekly schedule is now pretty packed, and I find myself being more selective about my time commitments.
My schedule this week is a great example of how much social time I get:
  • Sunday — went to the beach with a new friend for a picnic and some walking and wading in the cool waters
  • Tuesday — knit night at a big public market
  • Wednesday — dinner with the neighbor
  • Thursday — hiking with a local Meetup group; dinner out after the hike
  • Saturday or Sunday — on one of these days I’ll be going kayaking with a friend, but haven’t confirmed which one yet

Last Saturday morning I volunteered with the animal rescue charity at the local farmers market, and I’ve committed to doing a volunteer activity with them once or twice a month on Saturdays.

So, my loneliness isn’t about missing social time with other people. My loneliness is felt because of this desire I have for a partner in my life and my sadness around having to end relationships with people that I thought would be that long term partner. Lately I’ve been thinking that I really didn’t get to the “feeling sad” part of the grief process around the end of my marriage. I think that’s where all this sadness comes from sometimes, and so maybe it is a good sign that I’m nearing the end of processing through most of that experience.

There’s no doubt that while I am building friendships, I do lack very close friends here. I’m regularly in touch with my closest friend back in the Chicago area, and my closest local friend (R, who I helped moved to Santa Clara) has been someone I regularly connect with, too. R will be moving up to Oregon, though, so I won’t be able to see her as often. Perhaps that’s another reason I’ve been feeling sad and teary at times.

It’s perhaps becoming more clear that I really am not yet completely in touch with what is going through my head a lot of the time. Maybe that’s not simply my experience, though. Maybe it’s fairly common for it to take months or years for the penny to drop and realization to dawn.

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7 thoughts on “Making friends and loneliness

  1. I think you’re doing everything really well. I don’t know that I would have thought to do some of the stuff you have been doing 🙂

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  2. I missed the last post but since we’re connected on Twitter, it truly looks like you’re quite social or at least quite proactive at being social as you like. It makes me feel confident that your efforts to build social capital will bear fruit as you find the right people to develop closer relationships with in all the groups that you’re meeting.

    So, belatedly, I understand your loneliness to be one where you’re missing the other kinds of relationships, the closer deeper friendships and partnerships. And as you say, reflecting back to the sadness you didn’t feel when your marriage ended has to be echoing back now, to some degree. I do wish we were closer distance-wise, it’d be fun to meet up now and again.

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    • I know it takes time to build close relationships. If you ever do think of an opportunity to meet up, I’d love to do so. Taking a long drive every once in a while is fine with me. 🙂

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  3. That’s definitely quite a schedule. I get needing to mourn past relationships, friend or otherwise. I e lost touch with a lot of people. Heck, my closest friend hasn’t lived in the same state as me for years. And we sometimes go a couple of months without talking.

    And yeah, however busy the schedule it’s pretty easy to feel the desire for a partner.

    I hope you find a close friend or two out there. Or a romance. Or both.

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