Nov 26, 2009

Measuring Friends

On bad days I count friends. On really bad days I compare and covet.

On a bad night like last night I lay awake and wonder why no-one invites me over. I mentally flip back through the last 6 months of the dayplanner and can find just one single invitation - for a river walk. Family dinner invitations: zero. Let's grab a quick coffee after school drop off: nada. Let's go for a beer, exercise, camping, yoga, movie, reno project, dance class, birthday celebration... not a one.

Then I really rub it in by comparing - a lifelong ego-crushing bad habit. After morning drop-off in the school parking lot I see other parents going off together to the coffee shop or for a power walk. I hear of other families involved in monthly gatherings and circles and traditions and annual camping trips, or even just a simple Friday night dinner. I watch my wife go out on intimate dates and fun gatherings with her girlfriends. The more beautiful the connection I witness, the louder I hear my phone not ringing, and the more alone and unwanted I feel .

It isn't for lack of trying. It's not a case of never reaching out then wondering why no-one reaches toward me. I do regularly invite friends out, set up group hikes, host dinner parties, arrange playdates. These initiatives are well-received and result in lovely, meaningful social interactions; they just aren't reciprocated.

On the worst days I look for the fault in myself that drives people away. Am I just too loud and overbearing? Do my public ponderings and strivings set up a holier-than-thou syndrome - either a misperception that I think I'm on higher ground than others, or a truly out-of-whack misperception that I actually am? Does my general merriment and confidence make me look overpopular and unavailable - the classic case of a beautiful woman who never gets asked out on a date? Do I try too hard and drive people away - the other classic case of a boy so eager for a girlfriend that he comes across as desperate and therefore unattractive. Does my living outside the norms make me a great freak show rather than an interesting friend? Am I friendly with so many people that no-one takes it personally? Am I so happy and loud and exuberant that no-one could trust me to be quiet and sensitive and soul-connected?

After this spiral of negative theories my left brain tries to come to the rescue, generating excuses and rationalizations. People are genuinely busy. Friendship networks existed years before we arrived. The gender barrier is real and impersonal. Guys don't reach out to other guys. And the biggest one - it's dangerously easy to overestimate the number of friends and social engagements that other people have.

My left brain does believe each and every one of these concepts. And most of me doesn't really believe the personal-fault theories. But beliefs don't always help feelings.

I could make this easier to read by ending with all the good connections I feel, the web of love that envelops me. Sarah will read this then somewhat berate me for dwelling on the negative when there are so many positives to hold onto. That positivity is real, and what I genuinely live in almost all the time. I'll write about that another day, probably soon.

But that's not what I want to share today. Today's writing is about last night's darkness. It's about a real shadow that most people may not guess is inside. It's sharing a base sadness and emptiness I feel on the bad nights when I count and compare.


  1. We all have bad days Rick. Being new to the neighborhood is hard. Hard to form those connections with people who have already been connected for years. It takes time ... but while we're taking the time it is dark and gloomy and lonely. Just keep on moving forward and don't dwell. Find those bright moments and live in them. Those connections will come (sometimes we don't even see them forming until they're already there).

    PS I told you I read your blog.

  2. Herein lies the challenge of the stay-at-home parent. We don't have the professional friendships so it can get quiet here at home. I like quiet, so it works for me, but you clearly are very extroverted. All God's blessings to you, Sarah, and those wonderful boys!

    -Susie Z

  3. -popular myth says it takes 15 years in BC to get truly "settled in" (BC being notorious for keeping outsiders out) - be patient with yourself -

  4. Dear Rick
    South Africa has two big cities: Cape Town and Johannesburg. Cape Town is beautiful, and it's easy to make new friends in Johannesburg where I live. Friends who moved to Cape Town reported an experience similar to yours, for years. Do people who live in beautiful places have less need for social contact and making new friends? Anyway, keep at it, you know that anything you nurture keeps on growing.

    Also, gender's a part of it, sorry but it would have been easier if you had a bosom...

    And finally, the best way I know to make friends is to listen to people. By the way, we love 'listening' to you.

  5. we are born alone and we die alone. does that sound dismal? well it is NOT, it is the perfect and beautiful truth. all of those friendships, gatherings, and connections are you ricky. we are reflections of each other and if you are feeling lonely, it is because others do too. when you shine, others shine too. everything you need is what you have... know that, without exception, it is perfect as it is, even the darkness which i am so grateful that you shared.

  6. We'd like to invite you, with or without the fam, for dinner/ tea/ walk/ chat/ whatever next time you're in Vancouver. When are you in Vancouver next?

    I find myself experiencing a similar situation on a regular basis. We can talk about it when we see you :)

  7. If I'm honest, I'll admit that often I don't ask because I'm wary of rejection. In fact a whole lotta women I know feel the same way (when we're being honest, of course!)

    If I were in that beautiful Valley you live in I would surely invite you for a walk while drinking tea.

  8. we would love to see more of you Rick, but had the feeling that you were totally preoccupied with your new life here. I dont think it takes years to be at home here, It did not for me, but sometimes it is hard to see the forest for the trees. Perhaps Dave and i are too old or at too different a stage of life than you are to be the kinds of friends that you want... Perhaps we are all often misunderstanding each other, walking around feeling that people dont want to connect with us, when actually most of us want to reach out to each other! :) We are delighted to have you and your family join our little Quaker worship group and would very much like to have the opportunity to know you better. So what day works next week for a cup of tea? blessings....
    p.s. i feel sad that you have not answered my email. :)

  9. wow that was a deep one. Can you make to Tsawwassen for coffee between 9 and 3? Too much to say in an email. Shell

  10. Oh Ricky! You are so sweet! I can so totally relate...there have been times in my life that I have felt that way...futility around what community means and my expectations around it .....Here's an invite for you! Come to Edmonton!!!We have lots of room for the whole family!!! I know the male thing is big....Kaj often talks about how hard it is to find friends as a man and that he longs for more seems that he gets friends by default....the husbands of wife know what I less beautiful friendships, but they take time. Hope that you are having a good day today and we love you all the way from the prairies!!!

    Love Sherry

  11. p.s. you are my total hero for having the guts to share your deepest feelings

  12. So it's obvious Rick. Two things happened around the same time as people dropped off your play date calendar -

    1) your hair started growing long - people are just afraid of your coolness! Kind of like the smoke hole crowd in high school - nobody asked those folks to go on beach walks. Cut your hair and maybe even add some geeky glasses and your dance card will be full....guaranteed!

    2) You stopped playing hockey. Not just any hockey, but darkside hockey captain chaos style. So I have to say it, but your old friends have a harder time connecting to you as a result. As interesting as natural mulches are for really getting grand routabaga (sp?) are, it doesn't hold a candle to superficial meaningless hockey talk about some near wins or comparing notes on luongo's latest hairstyle. Speak in hockey metaphors about the last game and your feet will be sorer than plucking cow pies all night long!

    I love yah man and look fwd to the new (er old) you next time you come around these parts.

  13. Thought this was interesting.

  14. Darn, Morgaine beat me to the invite... well, I guess you can come over twice then.