My situation is unusual. I have lived in this small farming community for 9 years and have yet to make a true close friend. I try not to write about it because, really, who wants to read about something so depressing as loneliness? Moreover, who wants to admit to being the one person that others seem to shun rather than seek out? If I were a desperately shy, introvert, it might be understandable going almost a decade without establishing a friendship base. But, I'm not a shy introvert. If anything, I love to be with people and love to talk.
I can analyze it and see some of the reasons for the paucity of friendship material. For one, I do not work. I have no access to workplace camaraderie. Besides, we do not have a solid church home. I attend The Salvation Army on a sporadic basis, but even if I went there every Sunday, there are really few women there who fit a potential friend profile (similar age, similar mothering situation, similar interests, similar beliefs, etc.). The one woman who best fits that potential friend profile is an officer and is, therefore, simply too busy to pursue a deeper friendship than the cursory Sunday greeting.
We attended another church for a solid four or five month period, but no friendships developed there either. I inquired about information on their preschool program, enrolled my children, attempted to strike up conversations with other mothers ... all to no avail. Eventually, we shifted into sporadic attendance and then stopped attending that church altogether. So the two most common places to strike up friendships, work and church, are ineffectual for me.
Often, the problem in attempting to make friends with the mothers of my children stems either from an age difference or differences in parenting philosophies. Sometimes, it even comes down to bad timing and unfortunate circumstances. Friendships with the mothers of my oldest, who might be closer in age to me, since I had him at the reasonable age of 30, have always fizzled into nothingness. It isn't like I fail to make an effort. I invited one (who, while ten years younger than me, had children with the same age span) to attend the theater with me. Unfortunate events (drug use) led to the demise of that potential friendship. Another mother of my eldest son failed to pick my son and her son up when they were in a bad part of Indianapolis late at night with car trouble (we were out of town) because she was in a fight with her son. Somehow that makes friendly feelings dissolve. I have yet to establish a friendship with one of the parents of my oldest son.
Often the mothers of my younger two are simply distant in age (since I had them at 39 and 41). But sometimes, they have failed for unknown reasons. My middle son enjoyed a brief friendship with a delightful young boy. I really liked the boy's mother. She worked in the education field (my background) and was outgoing and friendly. Then, my son attended a sleepover at their house and their friendship dwindled into nothing. I peppered my son with questions: did you break something? did you bother the parents by staying up too late? - all possible scenarios. Needless to say, with their friendship gone, I have not had any further contact with the mother.
Lately, I am grieving the friendship scenario for my youngest. He was desperate to invite over one of his favorite friends at school, so I called to make the invitation and heard nothing back for days. I called to repeat the request and when I did so, I made a fatal error. I was new to my phone and didn't realize that clicking off at the base button only popped the call into a separate window without shutting down the call. Therefore, when Sean yelled from the other room his dissatisfaction with not knowing the results, I replied "We can't make them call us back, Sean." A few seconds later, I realized that those words went into the message I had just left with the mother because the call was still going. Great! They did get together, but - not surprising - haven't had any further contact. And Sean really likes this boy.
So, we recently accepted the invitation from another of Sean's friends, whose mother is a spunky, friendly woman. He had a wonderful time at their house and we wished to reciprocate. The mother expressed concern that I not allow the boys to play any violent video games. I assured her that we would stick with rated E games on the X-box 360, even though my sons are allowed to play some games with more mature ratings. I swear, without hovering, I kept a close eye on them. But, when the mother arrived to pick up her son, he exclaimed that he had killed people off with diarrhea and insanity (they had played a virus-spread game on the I-pad - no violent shooting, but still ... it did come out as "killing" and I saw a flash of concern cross her face). Now, I am worried that we have, once again burned our bridges (what's more, Sean feels like it was his fault because he introduced the game thinking it was okay).
I am sad for my sons, who lose out on the benefits of close friendships, but I am equally sad for the loss of potential friendship for myself. My husband says that I over-analyze these things (and I probably do - I spent several hours reviewing everything I had said to the mother and critiqued every area that could have raised eyebrows or alerted the inevitable shun-factor). While he, too, feels the pain of my lack of friends, he tends to take a laid-back approach (the boys can still be friends at school even if they don't get together in the off-hours). I feel everything more acutely.
I don't know what the answer is. Perhaps we should be making a more concerted effort to find a church home. I do want my boys to be in a solid youth group when they reach those troublesome years of adolescence. Perhaps I should seek out even a part-time job. I don't want to abandon my writing goals by seeking full-time work just to provide an environment where friendship can grow more naturally. I suppose I can only keep reaching out and praying for some alignment in the heavens to bring along a person I can relate to and comfortably converse with.
In the meantime, I cling to the words of Paula Rinehart in her book, Better Than My Dreams:
"There is a quiet release in my spirit ... when I realize that often, my dreams really are not God's dreams. What does not happen was not meant to take place. My failure - or someone else's failure - didn't catch God by surprise, like it slipped under the wire when he wasn't looking."
The might-have-beens could rob me of my peace and joy. I must fight against that. I must surrender again, believing that if God intends a friendship to grow, He will provide it and nurture it and yield whatever He wishes from it. For now, my isolation and loneliness, must be within His plan. I will scoop up the dust and give it back to Him. He has a purpose. My goal is to yield to that purpose and use the pain to fuel a deeper empathy for those who struggle with loneliness.