I raise my arm, unfurl my fingers halfway. I’m about to wave, and then I stop.
It’s a little red car, just like hers, but it’s not my friend Sarah driving by. She moved to Tennessee this summer, but I still see her everywhere.
It feels a little bit like grief, this loss – like when you spot your loved one across the pyramid of Golden Delicious in the grocery store or dashing out of the post office as you pull into the parking lot. You realize, in a split second, that it’s not her, of course it can’t be her. But your heart hoped anyway, before your head slammed the door shut.
Sarah was my closest friend here in Nebraska. We both moved here the same month and for the same reason. My husband and her husband at the time were new professors at the local liberal arts college. We both had tiny infants. Neither of us knew another soul in this strange land of big sky, hot wind and sparse trees.
Who knew one person could make all the difference.
The hard truth is, I’m lonely these days.
“I have no friends!” I lamented to Brad last weekend. It’s not true, of course. I do have friends. Brad pointed this out; he named them for me one-by-one. And yet, I still feel it, this deep loneliness, an emptiness in the bottom of my gut.
I must be doing something wrong, I reason. I must be doing something wrong to feel this way, to feel so lonely even as I tick off the names of my friends on two hands.
Part of it is my job, of course. I write at home, Josie curled at my feet, snoring, tail tucked under her hind legs. Outside my window the wind whips the river birch leaves into a maelstrom on the back patio. After I drop Rowan off at school, I go all day without speaking to another human being, until school pick-up later that afternoon. Writing is, by necessity, a lonely job.
I also think this particular season of life has something to do with the loneliness, too. Our boys are older now — ten and fourteen — and busier than ever. One activity swirls into the next and the next and the next. Who has time for deep and meaningful conversations on a regular basis when there’s soccer practice and viola lessons and dentist appointments and parent-teacher conferences and how did their pants become high-waters all of a sudden and how can we possibly need dog food again already?
My friendships don’t unfurl over coffee or Cabernet anymore. They are squeezed into a frenzied Voxer, a text message dashed off during a red light, a distracted chat with one eye on the soccer field.
“It’s just where we are right now,” my sister offers. I’m on the phone with her as I walk the dog. On the other end of the line, she’s helping her young son get ready for bed. She feels it, too, this loneliness, this yawning void, this yearning for deeper connection. But she’s more optimistic than I am. “It’ll get better; look at mom and dad. They have plenty of time for meaningful relationships now.”
True. But I’m 45. Seventy feels like a long time to wait.
This is one of the many, many qualities I appreciated (still appreciate – she lives far away, but we are still friends!) about Sarah. She made the time. Real time, in spite of the Charybdis that surely threatened to pull her under, too. Coffee and scones at Meadowlark on a Saturday morning; black bean soup and a hunk of crusty bread at Panera on a Wednesday night; sweating glasses of iced tea in wicker rocking chairs on the front porch, the cicadas sawing the dusk.
Let’s get together this week or next, she’d text. Do you have time for coffee? What day is good for you?
Real, sustaining, gratifying friendships don’t just happen, it seems. They take effort, intention.
And that intention, I’m beginning to realize, starts with me.
Sarah taught me that, and she modeled it well.
I always relied on Sarah to make the first move. Left to my own devices, I’d be in my pajamas by 6 p.m., reading glasses perched on the bridge of my nose. Sarah knew that; she gently pulled me out of my routine and out of my shell. She extended the invitation; I said yes.
I think perhaps it’s time for me to slip on the shoes Sarah wore for so long, to extend the invitation to deeper friendship with intention. For some crazy reason this feels a little bit ridiculously hard, but I’m realizing, now more than ever, that it’s worth the effort. I know what to say, because Sarah has already given me the words:
Let’s get together this week or next. What day is good for you?
So tell me…how do you stay connected in meaningful ways with your friends? What do you do to stave off loneliness?