Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Wine drunk women and loneliness in middle age..........

I attended a beautiful wedding recently. It was a perfect evening and the festivities were winding down. The bride and groom were getting ready to make their exit when a woman I have met just once came over and sat down next to me.

"Hi! I'm J. I just thought I'd come over here and introduce myself and let you know that I'm the bitch who took your place in book club!"

As introductions go, this was one of the strangest I've ever encountered. I had met this women once before the wedding at a paint night event for the bride. I hadn't even spoken to her, really, beyond the name-only introductions.

For context, the book club this woman was referring to consisted of a small group of six ladies meeting for a book club started by my hairdresser which included my friend, the mother of the bride, her daughter, the bride, a former co-worker friend of mine, and a couple of ladies I only knew by name, J included.

I had not been invited to join this book club, although I had heard about it several years ago, been asked if I was interested, and expressed my interest to join. That invite never came and I barely gave it another thought. And then I found out my close friend was invited in one of those weird "one person knows another person and another person knows a crossover person who knows both people" ways. Although I would surely have been interested in joining - and, by my own account, would have been a hilarious addition to the "club" (haha), I was not invited and I really didn't give it much thought.

I joined another book club for a while. It fizzled out, as those things do. And my life went on.

So, there I was, enjoying a perfectly beautiful wedding, when this woman made this proclamation that knocked me askew.

"Oh?" I responded, giggling nervously, because I was not at all sure where this conversation was going.

She went on to tell me that three years previous, she had met my hairdresser who had asked her to join this book club. For reasons unknown, the club was limited to six women, and while I had apparently been in the running as a member, I was shunned in favor of J. Or at least this is what J told me.

She then went on to say that although she should feel bad for "taking my spot" she really didn't, because, by her account, she "needed it more than me" (her words). She went on to say this four or five more times - how I was "lucky" because I already knew a lot of the members but she had moved to town three years ago, friendless, and how would she have met anyone otherwise? She said it was the greatest group of women she'd been acquainted with, and how she really valued their time together that included girls' weekends.

I listened quietly, and assured her how happy I was for her that she'd made good friends (because the ladies in the book club are really amazing women). I thought the conversation would end there, but she continued to emphasize how she "needed" their friendship more and so she was not really sorry for "taking my place".

At a point in the conversation, my husband, who I had turned my back on to speak to this woman, could sense the conversation with this wine-drunk woman was dragging on, so he retrieved three bottles of "send off" bubbles and offered us each a bottle, indicating it was time to move on to saying goodbye to the couple. Still, she prattled on.

I finally stood up to make my way to the "send-off" line and lost her in the crowd somewhere. We blew the bubbles, said goodbye and I hustled my family to the car for the long ride home, spent from hearing how much I didn't "need" friends.

I didn't speak of the conversation at first, and my husband later told me he wasn't able to hear any of what she was saying to me, only that he noticed I was a captive audience, however unwilling a participant. When we returned home, we were exhausted and went to bed.

The following morning, I relayed the whole story to my husband. Normally, he is not all that interested in girlish gossip, but after I finished he said, "What was the point of that conversation except to make you feel bad?"

And he had a point. The conversation DID make me feel bad, but not because she "took my spot" in the book club. It made me feel awful because she assumed, without knowing one thing about me, that I didn't need friends as much as she did. And I had to wonder why she thought that. Why she assumed I had so many friends that she could feel justified in taking mine.

Because it's not true.

I realize no one "owns" their friends - friends are to be shared. Certainly many people have varied and unconnected friend groups from different walks of life. But what J didn't know is that I was right smack in the middle of an emotional crisis about exactly that - friends!

At 50, I find myself less connected with multiple groups of other parents raising kids who become our friends. I've had dance mom friends, sports mom friends, school mom friends, neighborhood mom friends. Friendships that have come and gone, changed and morphed over the years. I've had friends I've seen every day and friends I see rarely but still feel very connected to.

As my kids have grown, and I no longer have those groups, my friends have changed. My work doesn't lend itself to making friends easily - as a substitute teacher, I am not part of a staff that regularly work together. Certainly I am friendly with a great many teachers and staff at the schools where I work, but that friendship stays within the walls of the school.

My social connections outside of work are very few. I've settled into a work/home mode that has me spending much of my free time with just my husband or my husband and grown kids. I suppose that's natural - we're all growing up together and as our families branch out and connect in other places, our friendships and lifestyle changes.

My husband is most definitely my best friend, and, lucky for me, he's pretty fun to be with. We have grand adventures and small moments and I know he is there for me at all times. That friend you can call at 4 a.m. no matter what? I don't have that, but I can always wake my husband up.

I've never really gone on a girls' weekend. I spent one night in a hotel with three friends once when my kids were much younger. The hotel was in the next town, 15 minutes away, and while it was lots of fun, it wasn't a long weekend of girl time and making memories. I know people who do girls' weekends regularly. That just isn't my history. And while it sounds like fun, it also sounds like sharing a hotel room with someone other than my own family and, frankly, I like to keep my snoring to myself and sleep in peace. My introverted side says I'm perfectly ok with not straying far from my safe nest at home unless I have a close family member by my side. My lonelier side says I wish I had friends who wanted to spend a weekend with me.

I have one friend who absolutely wins the gold medal in keeping a tiny group of us connected. By tiny I mean three. What started as a very large group of moms and babies who met weekly for playdates has dwindled down to three 50-something woman with grown children who still meet up fairly regularly for coffee. That coffee date regularly lasts four hours and we are never surprised by how fast the time flies when we are together. This friend is amazing at remembering, every few weeks, to text us with a reminder that it's been a while and could we meet for coffee or dinner and drinks soon? And we do. And it's like no time has passed at all. Thank goodness for that friend.

But a certain level of loneliness has crept into my life and I'm finding myself caught in a conundrum of making peace with it and just loving my home life (I do!) and wanting to keep making friends and connections. Is it ever too late to make lifelong friends?

Recently, someone posted on a Facebook community page about how hard it is to make friends. Hundreds of people from all walks of life and all ages responded in kind - it IS so hard to make friends. Many said people are generally friendly but don't seem to want to make deeper connections. In this introverted world, that is not completely surprising. We work hard, have busy lives, and our free time is precious (and far too limited). It's no wonder that we just want to flop on the couch when we get home, take off the bra and do nothing. Going out requires effort. Showing up requires work.

But we also long to be connected - I remember days of having a playgroup, Bunco group, and a book club all while juggling after-school lessons, homework, attending whatever the latest "party" was (baskets, stamps, scrapbooking) and the general chaos of raising kids. It's no wonder those social obligations started to feel like work. I've often joked that I just want to start "club" - no book, game, multi-level marketing ploy or other factor to make it feel like an obligation. Just "club" - where everyone is welcome, you bring food and drink, and you just eat, talk and connect until you're tired and go home. Why do we need structure to form friendships?

So, while I'd like to pass off my conversation with J as just a wine-drunk woman making small talk, I can't stop thinking about why a woman would want to tell another woman something for the sole purpose of making her feel awful. It just doesn't compute.

We are all worthy of friendship. What I've learned is that sometimes you have to look in other places. As your life changes and grows, so do your personal connections. Sometimes you find a great friendship in the least expected place. Sometimes you will go through a very lonely, isolating time. Sometimes you have to start over.

But at the very least, I've always made it my goal to be inclusive and to give people a chance. Sure, I'm not going to like everyone and I'm absolutely certain many people will not like me. But I often get comments from social media about how much "fun" my life is and how awesome my family is. And it IS awesome. But it is lonely, far too often. I thank God every day that I have my amazing kids and sweet husband to keep me going because some days it's hard. I used to have a tribe and now I have a very small group of friends whom I see far too infrequently. I've always valued quality over quantity - growing up attending a new school each year really teaches you the value of that! So, for those few, I am grateful.

But I know I'm not alone. I know there are so many, like me, who feel unconnected or unsteady in their connections. If that's you, reach out. I can always use new friends. And I hate for anyone to feel left out. If you see my online presence and think "Hey, she looks like a fun person to hang out with!" just message me and say that! I know how isolating it can be at this stage of life. And I would never want to assume you have enough friends to sustain you. You never know what someone is going through.

Finally, if you are wine-drunk at a wedding, you might want to stop talking. You will never know the consequences of your words. You probably won't even remember them. But someone will. And they'll write a blog about it. Be nice.