I mean that salutation literally. You, dear readers, are the only friends I have and that concerns me.
Let me start the story in the beginning. Like most folks my age, I grew up playing outside with the neighborhood kids. Everyone within a block and within 2 years +/- my age were my friends. This continued thru my school years with only the range increasing to larger than a block and/or to being centered on specific places. I had school friends that I didn't see in the summer; Synagogue friends that I only saw on the weekend; Pool friends from the summer; etcetera.
ERSA Swim Team 1976
(J is on back row, 1st male from the left.)
I went to college 3 hours from home and didn't go home very often, so the process started over in College. Still it followed the same pattern, friends were in the same class(es), or lived close, or worked with me, or were friends of other friends.
The same pattern reestablished itself when I was married and in the Air Force. Because life was a little more temporary, i.e. we moved more often, there might not have been as many friends as I’d had at some times in my life, but I always had someone I could invite to a Surprise Birthday party for my wife, or a backyard barbecue or to watch the big game, or whatever event called for a gathering.
Time stands still for no man. I eventually ended up stationed in Oklahoma City and divorced from my first wife. I made friends with people in the unit and I frequented a Bar / Dance Club that featured Country Dance Lessons two nights a week. The lessons were taught by a Country Dance Club and they’d match up singles or get club members to fill-in. I met the club members and dated some of the single ladies I met thru the lessons until I met my current wife. We became active members of the Club and had backyard barbecues, bridal showers, weddings, and weekends away at dance competitions. All of those activities I’d already associated with being friends. I had lots of friends and our wedding ceremony featured a fairly even grouping of co-workers, family, and dance club friends.
Soon after the wedding we transferred to Ramstein Germany and the process started all over again. We didn't join any organizations, but we had neighbor friends and coworker friends. Everything seemed normal to me.
Then came the cascade of events that ended in my separating from the Air Force. Those details may be discussed later, but for this post I’ll just say it was a rough time in my life. I returned to the states to Florida because that was where my parents lived and I had a FL Driver’s License in my pocket. (Military members can pick and choose what state they like to call home. FL has no personal income tax, so it is very popular.)
The plan was to settle in Tampa and go back to school for my Master’s degree. I had 2 year’s rights to the commissary & medical care, so I had both a nearby base and a University to attend. The same pattern “how to make friends and influence people”* reasserted itself. We became friends with neighbors and coworkers and classmates. Still it was a bit strained. I was working 40 hours a week and attending classes for another 8? hours and had homework for another 8? hours. (? = Yes, I’m just guessing at this time.) That meant I didn't have as much time for friends and we couldn't always plan on every weekend being free.
* - Would that be a better post Title?
While we were in Tampa the Apartment management had us all move out while they renovated the buildings, we moved and neighbors moved elsewhere so we had less geographic friends. Then graduation split up the classmates and all of a sudden we had more time but less people to spend it with. Like my classmates, I was looking for a job elsewhere, so I didn't really worry about it. I’d assumed it was a temporary condition.
I got that job elsewhere and we moved to Maryland. We had more family in the area, so that was an improvement, but we knew we’d be moving into a house when we found one so we didn’t make any friends around the apartment. Also my coworkers were spread out over a much larger area. We generally all lived within a 20 mile circle centered on Work, but we covered that circle from 7 o’clock on the dial around to 3 or 4 o’clock. In some cases it could take 1.5 hour to drive from my home to a coworker’s. We did buy a house, my first (at 41 years old), and that only decreased the number of potential friends by spacing out the living areas compared to the compactness of an apartment complex.
So after 800 words, I get to the heart of the matter currently. I don’t have any friends that I can invite to a backyard barbecue or to watch the big game. I’m not involved in any organizations like the Elks, Moose, Rotary, etcetera. My wife’s health has deteriorated so we’re not going dancing. I don’t have the free time to leave the house to cultivate a friendship. I have a herd of cats to care for. I’m the only driver in the house, so I have to do all of the grocery shopping and other trips out of the house. I’m the cook and the maid. I’m not complaining. I said ‘til death do us part and I really mean it this time. I also said in sickness and in health. I will not leave the marriage this time. I take responsibility for that decision and I stand by it. If I left, Mrs. would have to live in an assisted living facility. She couldn't take care of herself.
So you, my friends, are the only friends I have. I only see little pictures of you on my tiny electronic screens. Are you real? I’ve met some of you in-person, face to face, so I know that some of you are real, but that accounts for less than 100 of you on Twitter. (I follow close to 2000. About 1200 follow me.) When it comes to FaceBook, the number I’ve met in person is higher because it includes friends from childhood, High School, College, and more distant family.
If we define a friend as someone that can feed your cats if a death in the family calls you out of town unexpectedly, or come to your rescue if your car runs out of gas, or bail you out if arrested, I’d be lucky if I had 5 people I could call on. (I know the last two are covered by roadside assistance & bail bondsmen, but the first is a real concern.)
I don’t like this situation, but I’m at a loss as to how to fix it. Is this normal in our society today? Are there millions out there just like me? Is this a stage in everyone's life or does it relate specifically to frequent moving and not setting roots? Is it right for me to join an organization that’ll take time away from managing my household? What about Mrs? Surely she feels lonely too. I’m the only person she sees most days. We do get out of the house for shopping together at least weekly. I’d probably go stir crazy if I was that limited. At least I get to interact with coworkers at the office.
This is the longest, the most personal, and the saddest post I've written. It should be in blood red; I've poured my life onto the page. Do you have any insight? Can you help me? Answer in Comments or via email to 7shore at gmail.