Making Friends

My husband’s current work schedule is such that I am alone on Friday evenings. I’ve been scheduling late client visits for my own work, or a massage or other self-care activity into those evenings, but this past week my appointment was cancelled at the last minute. I found myself, after shutting down work at 7 PM, in that odd state referred to as being at loose ends. Sort of wanting to get together with someone for conversation and perhaps a drink, sort of not wanting to be put to the effort of driving to town (twenty minutes). And I was made aware that I do not have much of a list of people to call to meet with at short notice. In the end I settled on the couch with a small drink and a good book and read the evening away. Enjoyable, relaxing – but not sociable.

Between chapters I guess I also thought about the nature of friendships, and socializing, and the fact that I’m one of those who has a few close friends (not necessarily close in proximity), and so many personally engaging work interactions that I usually want quiet and silence and solitude at the end of my work day/week. Spending long working hours helping people with their health needs seems to use up my quota of “people contact” tolerance, leaving little to devote to building friendships of the sort that can provide either planned or spontaneously arranged relaxation.

Or maybe it’s just my personal makeup?

Being an only child, raised by parents who preferred not to “be responsible for other people’s children” as my mother expressed it, and consequently not free to invite playmates to my home, I think I lost out on learning how to relate easily, happily, casually with others. I don’t “do” party chitchat, and never know the latest gossip.

It occurs to me that my strong preference for writing – as emails, letters or this blog – rather than talking on the phone comes from the same lack of learning to connect in that way as a young person. It must seem strange to those fully comfortable in the current “connected” environment, that I was in my early twenties before I lived in easy proximity to a telephone. There weren’t home phones in Saigon, and only very few in Paris where my father did have a phone in his study, but it was paid by and used only for his work.

To this day, I very rarely spend more than a few minutes on the phone in conversation. The exceptions are those special times when I talk with a dear friend who lives at some distance from me, Washington (the state, not D.C.), Minnesota, or Singapore for example. Our close personal connection is already established, I can “see” the person I’m speaking with, and am able to make myself ignore the discomfort of hanging onto a phone. (Don’t say to put the phone on speaker – my conversation is not for all to hear).

A preference for writing over talking should not be taken to mean I do not enjoy dialog. On the contrary, my close friends know that I take great delight in a lively discussion. One of my clients, an elderly gentleman living in a tiny hamlet in the rural “frontier” of New Mexico, saves up news tidbits from his TV watching, that he hopes will “get me going” on a social or political topic. He’s been known to be intentionally provoking, most often when he has also been shorted on good conversation. We agree more often than not, but both enjoy dissecting the broader implications of some current event. He is fighting cancer now – seemingly successfully – and during a recent celebration of a “cancer undetectable” medical report, he humbled me with his comment that he wasn’t ready yet to leave our debate dates.

One of the measures of self-acceptance is purported to be the ability to be comfortable with one’s one company.  Achieving that status does not, apparently, confer freedom from self-questioning, at least at the “I wonder what/why/if” level. I’ve not just spent time alone, but have traveled, eaten in restaurants, gone to night clubs, to the theater, and camping with only myself for company, enjoying all those activities as readily as I have savored them while sharing them with others. My evening with a glass and a book was no less satisfying than it would have been in the company of a friend. I do wonder what would have to change, for me to have a circle of people whom I could have called to share the evening with me?

I’m not one to say it’s too late to change – especially not with the huge alterations to my personal life that have occurred in the past few years. I do question, in the specific case of my social interaction patterns, whether I’m sufficiently motivated to change. I’ve tried, at times in the past, to participate more readily in casual social events and achieved some modest success, measured not just by people coming out at my invitation but by receiving invitations to join them on short notice for coffee, or lunch, or to go to a party. Those periods didn’t last, largely I must admit, because I don’t fundamentally enjoy what feels to me to be superficial chitchat. And yes, I am aware that my lack of enjoyment is recognized.

“You’re too intense (substitute intelligent, intimidating, independent) for most people” is the feedback I get.

With Popeye, “I yam what I yam”, and it’s okay.

Which doesn’t prevent me from wondering at times what it would be like to be someone different, at least in the area of socializing. Perhaps I’ll find that out in my next lifetime? Meanwhile, I have a good book to get back to reading, a stack piled on the shelf waiting for me when this one is done, and an amazingly compatible partner due home in just a few minutes.

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6 Responses to “Making Friends”

  1. Leslie Mason Says:

    I look forward to your writings, the contemplative sharing. Many blessings!

  2. Ronald Maltais Says:

    After reading this thoughtful essay I realize that I am confronted with many of the same issues and concerns regarding my limited opportunities for social interaction with others. My work is quite demanding, and as a teacher one feels the need for down time after intense days involving classes, meetings etc.

    On occasion I might call a friend (usually on a weekend) with the hope of a spontaneous dinner in town, but it seems that the stars must line up in perfect order for this to actually happen. I am delighted when it does, and I am able to enjoy ‘quality time” with a person such as the writer of this blog.

    My preference is to use a social engagement to share rather personal thoughts and concerns with a person I trust. The thought of
    larger gatherings on a more social level probably wouldn’t satisfy my quest for productive interactions. I’m sure I would also be considered to be too intense for certain individuals, but in the end one can only be one’s self. Funny how this writer quoted Popeye. I am glad to be old enough to remember such things.

    Ron

    • chelawriter Says:

      I hope you know that you are on the short list of those I might have called had I been ready for the drive to town. Your friendship is one of the special ones I cherish.

  3. Sharon Vander Meer Says:

    Your wit and wisdom set you apart, but your kindness and sweet nature make you approachable. I am delighted to call you my friend. Lovely post, and “I yam what I yam,” too. 🙂

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