Wednesday, August 1, 2012
Getting Out of the Well of Loneliness
Lately I have been thinking a lot about loneliness. I suppose because about a year ago I lost a few friends and clarity came into my life. I became more clear about who I wanted in my life, and who I didn't. I am 31 years old now and I am ready for mature friendships. No longer am I willing to accept immature friendships that do not meet my needs. I need friends who will be honest, genuine, authentic, real, loyal, committed, flexible, understanding, empathetic, compassionate, are open-minded, have good self-esteem, have good emotional boundaries, and have the ability to be fun, serious, and supportive when it is needed. These qualities are so important yet so rare at the same time, especially in one person. It makes it more challenging to find and make new connections.
In addition, I have noticed how hard it is to make friends now that I am no longer in school. It's as if everyone has already made all the friends they need, want, or desire and they have no more room in their life for anyone else. I crave friends because I am human but beyond that because I am an extrovert and strive on social connections. Sadly it seems incredibly hard to find the kind of friends I am looking for.
So lately I have spent a lot more time with my partner, her family, and my own family. I also have been trying to get back in touch with old friends and rekindle those friendships. But everyone seems busy. People tell me, "let's hang out," but actually getting together proves difficult.
There is evidence that social isolation is psychologically and physically stressing to the human being. As human beings we are social animals by design, so we need each other. Without each other we face alienation, separation, and stress. When I think about this I always think about the movie, Castaway with Tom Hanks.
Tom Hanks plays a FedEx worker who gets "castaway" to a deserted tropical island when a plane he is on crashes. He spends the next four years on the island, all alone. Not far into his stay he creates a faux friend, a soccer ball he names "Wilson" after the brand of the ball. He paints a face on the ball and often has conversations with it as if it is a real person. Of course the ball doesn't talk back, but it provides social comfort to the Tom Hanks character when he needs to feel like someone is listening. When he decides to try and escape from the island he ends up accidentally losing his friend, who drifts away in the ocean current. He tries to get him back but realizes it is useless, and he would die if he kept after him. He cries and screams in emotional pain of losing his one and only friend. This just shows the psychological and emotional bond that was created between him and the ball... even an imaginary friend became almost like his lifeline..and made him sane in an insane situation. This is a powerful example to me of our need for social companionship.
So since I lack a lot of friends right now, it has become even more important for me to spend time with my partner. I have always been the "clingy type." I am emotionally needy and like closeness by my nature. I have noticed that when I am left alone for more than five hours I tend to get really lonely and start to really miss social interaction of some kind. I also love affection and if I go without affection for too long I also notice the negative impact.
Sometimes my partner complains about my emotional neediness, but there isn't much I can do about it, this is just the way I am. My mother says since I was a young child I would follow her around the house asking for a hug. When I had more friends I think it helped fill my need. But now that I am down friends I want to spend even more time with her and if she goes out with her friends, I always ask that she limit the time to no more than five hours. I feel five hours is a decent amount of time but sometimes she complains that I am being her "mother" and being too "controlling."
I tell her that just like any relationship, we need to just compromise. I told her maybe she can spend less time with her friends more times a week, that way it is spread out. But she has a hard time getting out to see friends so when she does she wants to spend all day with them. It complicates things for me. I do give her space. When we're home together she is often playing computer games or reading. I have discovered I like my own space too.. to watch TV, go on the Internet, read, write, reflect, or think. I think accepting some degree of loneliness and embracing it for my own good, is something I have come to appreciate. But I also enjoy the company of others, particularly my partner.
The most enjoyable times we spend are going out to dinner and chatting together. But we can't afford to do that every night. We have to come up with more things we like to do together. This is challenging. We like different forms of entertainment and that is a barrier. She has been having some health issues lately too which keep her from wanting to be active. What does one do when the relationship they turn to for social connection, is the exact thing that stresses them out? This is sometimes true for both my partner and I at the same time.
I have no one to really talk to about things outside of my partner, besides, maybe a couple of friends on the Internet, a few older friends when we get together, and my mother. I try to have a three rule. When I'm upset or need to process something, I try to talk to three people to vent. It is SO helpful. But I don't always find three people when I need to.
I saw this article from the New York Times about people over thirty having a hard time making friends: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/07/15/fashion/the-challenge-of-making-friends-as-an-adult.html?pagewanted=all. The article's central thesis seems to be saying once you're over thirty you have a partner and children, and then your life is over. Haha... I mean you no longer have time for friends. Between your partner, your kids, and your job, your life is jam-packed. Well, I have a partner, a part time job, and no children, unless you count my four furry-children, the kitties. So I DO have free time..the issue is finding others with free time who want to spend it with me.
As time and experience has shown me, not everyone wants to be my friend. And not everyone would make a good friend for me. I am a very straight-forward person. I am very caring, but also I believe in honesty and insight, in order to help another's self growth. I want that in return too. I need confident people in my life who have good self-esteem and do not take things too personally. Otherwise, I run into people who take what I say and think I am insulting and domineering. Truth-telling sometimes brings discomfort, but it is still needed and very important. I don't intend to slap people in the face with truth, but sometimes the truth does sting no matter how much one tries to soften the blow. I have found our American culture tends to ingrain fakeness, superficiality, and niceness above all else. I think that's a major problem.
I was raised by my strong Italian mother and our culture is very tell-it-like-it-is, and loud and proud too! So I suppose super sensitive types wouldn't get along with me. That's another part of our American culture-- super sensitive people. Sadly, many suffer from a lack of self-esteem and if someone says something about them they automatically go into defense mechanism mode, instead of hearing out opinions of others without accepting the opinions as fact.
Mindfulness is sorely lacking in Western culture. Mindfulness is something I try to practice. It is challenging but it becomes easier the more one practices it. Mindfulness requires examining feelings and thoughts as an objective observer and being able to non-judgmentally access the best way to proceed, instead of jumping from feelings, thoughts, and then actions in rapid succession. Mindfulness can help us slow the process down and not allow feelings and thoughts to control us in a negative way with doubts and insecurities motivating us, evaluating our every move. Mindfulness gives us more freedom, openness, and brings more calmness and assurance. It let's us know that we are capable of solving our own problems and thus there is no need to panic or get too upset. Mindfulness allows me to set emotional boundaries and agree to disagree with someone without any hard feelings. Mindfulness is also good for gaining perspective, choosing a different way of looking at or reacting to a situation, detaching, in noticing everything around us and appreciating it, being purposeful, to ground one, to help one make better decisions, and to attune to the now and the present moment. It would be nice to find more folks who practice mindfulness too.
I've been told before that I am "more evolved" than most people. Although that is a nice compliment, I suppose, as it shows my hard work to become more self-aware and grow, it also says two things.
One thing it could say is that most people just aren't as capable as I am of reaching such a level of consciousness. My partner has reminded me many a time that she believes my standards and expectations of others are too high. I believe that people are just capable of a lot more than they often even believe they are capable of. It's part of my overall attitude and personality to believe in others and encourage and inspire them to reach for their fullest potential and to expect nothing less from themselves. Although I try to adjust my expectations to be a tad more realistic, I can't bring myself to stop believing in others. I just have to learn how to deal with my own disappointment when others don't live up to their own capabilities-- and detach as much as possible. I know it's up to them, and that I have no control over that, and they will also deal with the consequences of their own actions. I always try to remind myself that some people have to learn the hard way and also that some people have different values than I do. So I try to not be attached as much to outcomes, but it can be difficult if I am emotionally involved.
I really think that everyone has the potential to become as "evolved" as I am. I am not special... The only thing I can think is my personality and lack of trauma history helps me to have more of a sunny disposition. I understand that if someone starts off depressed it's harder for them to be positive. But even the most depressed person has a chance to recover. People just need the opportunity to learn and grow. I try to encourage that in others as I love to share knowledge and support people in their journey to more self awareness, better choices, and greater overall well being. I think everyone deserves that!
Furthermore, being "more evolved" than most people may mean less people who "get" me. That increases my feelings of loneliness.... both figuratively and literally, as I feel like less people can relate to me and I feel like I cannot find people to relate to. That feeling really sucks. However, I try to remind myself that it may be hard to find people I truly connect with but the effort to find them is worth it. Fostering those connections, feeding them, and putting in the work to help them grow is what makes a garden of connections bloom. I have 600 facebook friends but I am not sure how many real life friends I have. Maybe a handful, if that.
One of the friends I lost about a year ago was my "best" friend. This was someone I turned to for advice, as a sounding board, for support, for a good time, to give support to, to enjoy activities together, etc. Now I don't have someone who I feel that close to and could hang out and talk with weekly, besides my partner. It's been hard to cope with that. I have taken the opportunity to work more on myself and to also try to reconnect with people in my life.
I have grown closer to family, to my partner, and to a few friends. I feel like it's still a journey of putting myself out there and trying to forge the close connections I need in my life. Finding balance between work, home, family, and friends is my goal. Everyday I feel a little closer to accomplishing that goal. It is slow but progress is being made.
Furthermore, I take pride in learning how to embrace whatever challenges the universe throws my way. I find the more I resist the idea of being lonely, the more lonely I feel. Embracing loneliness has allowed me to create space to invite new prospects, activities, adventures, and people into my life. Instead of spending time with a friend, I might go out to dinner with my mother, or write a blog, for instance. This way it is not so much an absence or void of something but a direct intention of filling my life with abundance. I try to consciously bring in other ways of connecting with myself and others. And so far I feel I am on my way to creating the life I need, want, and desire.
In addition, we plan to move into a new and larger space, as we have outgrown our one bedroom apartment and it's time to move on. Within our search for a new home, we are going to ensure we can get a dog. I feel a dog will help me to feel less lonely and will help me feel companionship I crave. I am looking forward soon to having more quality folks in my life who meet my needs and whose needs I meet. And a little doggy to cuddle and care for. I can feel my well being increasing already. :)