Four and a half years ago I found myself on an island. But the worst kind of island. No sand. No palm trees. No ocean. It was that figurative island of moving to a new place where I didn’t know a single person or have any familiarity with the city. It was truly starting over in every single sense. Find a new home. Find a new doctor. Find a new grocery store. Where will my new favorite takeout restaurant be? Will the kids like their new school? I’m used to starting over and I’m no stranger to moving but this was the first time I felt true loneliness.
In every previous move there was at least someone I knew in the area or I was close enough to my hometown that I could drive up on weekends if I wanted. This time was also different because I’d be working from home. Though I’d made 3 different moves before, I had jobs in offices where I always made friends of my coworkers. My office mate this time was my dog. I was fortunate to be able to continue my job remotely as I moved to a new state, but I was now practically a hermit. With Amazon Prime and Instacart, I could go several days without ever leaving my house. For some people this sounds like a dream, but it wasn’t healthy for me.
I’m comfortable being alone, but lonely is a different beast. Being alone is enjoying whatever you want to watch on Netflix in peace without worrying if a viewing partner enjoys it too. Being alone is relaxing on the couch with a book and a glass of wine to decompress. Lonely aches. Lonely makes you feel inadequate. It’s soul crushing to live each day wishing you were somewhere else. You don’t open yourself up to happiness and neglect to appreciate the new experiences you could have. Sure, my husband and children meant the world to me, but having relationships with people that are strictly for support and enjoyment without the expectations that come with marriage and motherhood were more important than I had ever realized.
I felt lost, unhappy and disconnected. I knew I needed to pull myself out of this so I joined a lot of Facebook groups to fill the void of human interaction. I absolutely love Facebook groups. They are a great way to crowdsource information as well as discuss special interests, but something was still missing. Real Life. Nothing beats a real life person showing up at your house with a box of Twinkies because you’ve had a really bad day. It can’t compare to a friend asking you to meet her for a movie that you know your spouse would never be interested in. I learned in these groups that I was far from the only one who was lacking real life connections but struggled to make friends with other adults who seem to already have their friend groups set. In a world where communicating with strangers on the other side of the country is as easy as picking up a cell phone, there are so many lonely people.
I realized that the problem was not my new home. The problem was me. I decided that I was determined to find more for myself, and maybe being open about it would both help push me and help others who may be in the same situation. Although my local social life is not yet everything I want it to be, things are a lot better and I’m no longer spending every day heavily relating to Tom Hanks’ character in Cast Away, with my dog playing the role of Wilson. Over the next few weeks I will share a few stories of things I did to turn this part of my life around. I hope that at least one of these stories helps someone else to step out of their comfort zone an build the tribe they need to feel supported and happy.
UPDATE: I wrote this post from the viewpoint of someone moving to a different place and starting their social life over because that was the catalyst that brought me to these particular feelings. A reader reached out to me, mentioning that she has many of these same emotions although she has lived in the same area her whole life. Thank you, Reader. I have a tendency to think that if someone has grown up and remains in the same city, that they have built-in community inherited from their school years, family nearby, and shared experiences with others who also call their stomping grounds home. That may not be true. The waves that may have brought you to the same kind of island could be completely different and yet we are all sitting on the shore wishing we had someone to watch The Bachelor with. The common thread is that people find themselves longing for friendships because life changed in some way. It could be that we got lost in our responsibilities as we grew up, and our friendships have fizzled out. Maybe it’s because others have moved away. Perhaps someone started a family earlier than their friends and they feel out of the loop as everyone is off having fun while they are giving baths and dealing with bedtime. It’s possible that a group of friends simply grew apart as everyone’s lives evolved. Whatever you reason may be, I hope you take something from these stories to enrich your own life. -Rachel
Keep Reading for Part 2 – New Tribe: Power In Numbers