Several of my most recent posts have been about friendships. I feel very blessed to have some amazing friendships (including you, my blog friends), and some possibilities for new and interesting ones. I could give you a bunch of clichés about how friends add richness to your life, blah, blah, blah, but I’ll spare you the agony of all of that. You can stop at any Hallmark store and read them for yourself. (I’m not very good at writing sappy sentimental stuff like that, which is why I’ve never written for Hallmark. Or Blue Mountain Arts. Or Chicken Soup for the Soul.)
In this time of friendship abundance, however, I’ve been thinking back to a time when I felt like I was in a friendship desert. I was lonely – like I’d forgotten how to make new friends and was all alone in a barren, friendless desert. Oh, I still had the support of my family, and could still muster up a decent conversation with a friendly acquaintance, but I didn’t have the time, the energy, the opportunity, or even the confidence to make new and lasting friendships.
Have you ever been in that kind of desert? I suspect it’s more common than we might admit. I think there are probably lots of lonely people out there who pass through our lives looking like they’re content and connected with lots of supportive people, but who go home alone and maybe even cry themselves to sleep now and then. (In fact, a friend told me about a radio report she’d heard once that said that 50% of people surveyed said they didn’t have a close friend to confide in. Wow. That’s sad.)
The time in my life when I felt the most lonely was shortly after our second child was born. It happened for a number of reasons. We’d had 2 babies in quick succession, and besides a six month maternity leave for each of them, I continued to work full time. I was completely exhausted and overwhelmed. Many of the friends I’d had before had either moved away or drifted away because they were still childless and therefore living in a different world. I didn’t have many opportunities to bond with other moms because I was either working or trying to muster enough energy to love and care for my kids. Marcel and I were working different hours (to reduce the amount of time our children were in childcare) so I spent most evenings alone with 2 small and fully dependent children. We were going to a church that was essentially just a place to show up on Sunday mornings and didn’t offer us any real community. We’d moved into a new “neighbourhood” (and I use the term very loosely) which consisted of a short street jammed between 2 major thoroughfares, and there were no other young families on our short street (we’ve since moved). Plus I’d become a manager at work, and when you’re in management it’s tougher to make lasting friendships because people don’t feel comfortable getting too close to you. It didn’t help matters much that most of my fellow managers were men who were nice enough but were a fair bit older than me and didn’t have a whole lot in common with me.
So there you have it, a heap of reasons to be lonely. And I was wallowing in it. I remember nights I’d cry myself to sleep after the children were finally sleeping. I remember fighting tears at the playground when other mothers were there hanging out together and I was alone. I remember feeling always on the edge of the conversations in the lunch room because I was management and therefore had to be held at arms’ length. I remember the nights I could go out (when Marcel was home and able to watch the kids) but I couldn’t think of anyone to go out with. I remember wondering if I’d lost all capacity for making friendships – if perhaps motherhood had sapped that out of me and I would have to get used to this new lonely reality. I remember meeting interesting people and dreaming of building a relationship with them, but knowing I didn’t have the time or the energy to start anything.
I’m getting a lump in my throat as I type this. It makes me wish I could reach back into the past and comfort the woman I was then. I wish I could offer her some hope that it does and will get better. I wish I could send her the “ghost of Christmas future” to conjure up an image of what’s ahead and let her know that she’ll get through and she didn’t really lose the capacity for friendship. I wish blogs had been invented back then so that I could at least direct her to a virtual community where she’d get some validation and support.
Sometimes I see new mothers (or I stumble across their blogs), who look like they’re going through the same desert I did. One memory is particularly burned into my memory. When I was in the hospital six years ago, my friend and I saw a young woman leaving the hospital with her brand new baby, and she had no family or friends who’d come to the hospital to take her home. She climbed into a cab with the baby (and very little else – no one had brought her any baby gifts at the hospital), looking like a scared rabbit, completely overwhelmed with her new life and no-one there to support her. I can still get choked up when I conjure up that memory. I wonder whatever became of her.
Now that I’m at a more comfortable, relaxed period in my life, with kids who demand less of my energy, a job that I enjoy and that doesn’t overwhelm me, lots of friends and family who support me, I feel like I should start to reach out a little more to those overwhelmed mothers (or other lonely people) who don’t have any real friendships. I’m not sure what that looks like, since I still don’t have a lot of time on my hands, but I think I need to figure it out. Perhaps a mother-mentoring thing might be a good start. I remember asking a more mature mother (when I was a new mom) if she would consider mentoring me a little and at least offering me helpful advice/support when I felt lost and alone. She looked at me like I was nuts and said “by that you’re suggesting that I’ve actually figured this motherhood thing out along the way.” Now that I’ve been a mom for 10 years, I completely get what she was saying (‘cause I still don’t think I know what I’m doing), but at the same time I hate to watch people floundering alone like I was doing.
This is not a post to say I’ve reached any grand conclusions about how I can “give back” – I’m just thinking out loud. I do believe that in our consumer-driven, every-man/woman-for-him/herself culture, we often forget the value of support and friendship and therefore there are way too many lonely people among us. I also believe that we have a duty/calling to make a difference.
If you have any insight about how a person can contribute to changing this for at least one or two people, or if you have your own stories of loneliness, leave me a comment. Maybe we can start a conversation on the topic. Because as much as we often feel like we have to hide how lonely we are for fear of revealing some sign of weakness on our part, sometimes the best way to begin to get past it is to admit it and reach out.