The loner with the bulging rolodex

My dear friend Pat writes, in response to my previous post (“The Loveliest Dream“):

I was rather surprised that you refer to yourself as a ‘loner’ and that you ‘refrain from connecting with others’. That’s NOT how I remember you from when I lived in Atlanta! You always had scads of friends and I practically had to make an appointment to see you.

I suppose life is all about perception. Yes, Pat, I tend to keep a busy schedule and most friends (not just you!) find that if they want to see me they’ll be lucky to get “something on the calendar three or four weeks from now.” That’s kind of how I live my life.

But I still think of myself as basically a very interpersonally awkward and anxious person, who’s rarely at ease in social situations (unless I’m with a small group of people all of whom I trust), and who continually has to force myself to go to parties, or teach classes, or call friends I haven’t seen in a long time. If people do not notice my anxiety, this speaks to how armored I am — I know how to keep it  under wraps. Truly, I do force myself to be socially engaged, since I fear loneliness almost as much as I crave solitude. I do love the many friends I’ve had over the years. But my comments speak both to how rare it is for me to maintain a friendship over the long haul, as well as how rare it is for me to truly disarm myself and vulnerably connect with people on a deeply intimate level.

For every friend like you, Pat, who has remained in my life over the years, there are dozens of casualties: friendships I have either allowed to die for lack of attention, or others that have gone up in spectacular flames as I have knowingly burned yet another bridge.

Pat, when you and I first met, think of the people I counted as good friends: Michael B., Wade S., Maureen W., Oskar A., among others. Today I have no idea how to get in touch with any of those people. Furthermore, I don’t have a single active friendship from my Sewanee years; and I am rapidly losing touch with most of my Pagan friends. Granted, I lose more friendships due to attrition than to active conflict (although I had a few stunning conflagrations among the Pagans when I announced I was becoming a Catholic), but the point remains: I lose friendships. I let them go. Why? Not because I’m misanthropic; au contraire, I love people. But simply because I’m a loner.

As for “refraining from connecting with others,” again I think this is a relative thing. Sure I connect with folks, lots of them. My bulging rolodex and typically-full appointment calendar testify to this. But do I connect in such a way that I cultivate a friendship that lasts for years and years? Historically, not much. Okay, so I’m trying to change this: I have two quite close friends currently with whom I’m trying to be very intentional about maintaining regular contact, and a number of other friends I want to keep at least in the “occasional contact” category. Trying to learn a few new tricks, I am. Meanwhile, though, when I think of some people I know and how effortlessly they seem to establish and maintain heartfelt, intimate relationships that last for years on end, I just become keenly aware of how impoverished my own skills as a friend seem to be in comparison. For all my friends reading this, I hasten to add: “It’s not you, it’s me!” I’m the common factor here.

I’m thankful how my loveliest dream (not to mention the treasure that is Cistercian spirituality) reminds me that there can be profound grace in the experience of introversion and solitude. It’s important for me to keep this in mind, otherwise that part of me that likes having lots of friends will continually berate that part of myself that deeply and profoundly prefers the limitless silence of being alone.

"That God's Love Might Live in Us" — A Few Lovely Words from Thomas Merton
A Prayer for the Morning
Social Media... and Silence
How to Keep a Holy Lent
  • phil foster

    What you experience as “armored” is probably not what others experience of you (not me), but, rather, your sense of armoring is your own painful attention to your perceived lack of social skills. I really identify with being a loner but loving people. I often tell folks that I have no social skills and “It’s me, not you.” There are, for me, lots of psychodynamic, dna and destiny factors which contribute to this view of myself. But “armored?” Not my experience of you (Rev. Dr. R. S, yes – but not you). My hunch is people experience you as warm and engaged (I do), not armored.

  • phil foster

    PS: I will not touch the psychodynamic implications of “…a buldging rolodex.”

  • Pat Morell

    Dear Carl, your postings are quite a revelation. You and I have more in common than I ever knew. While I meet people easily and don’t have a problem connecting at first, there is a point in most of my relationships beyond which people don’t go. By my choice. I wonder if the fact that I left Atlanta fairly early in our friendship has much to do with our being friends some 20 years later. The physical distance gives us emotional breathing space, which we both need. We contact each other only when we have something to talk about which is sometimes weeks or months apart. That’s OK for us, as it is also with Sally L. and me. Distance–whether physical or emotional–is a pattern with my relationships. Once a new friend starts getting “too close”–by calling me “too often”, wanting to see me “too much”–I start to back off.I want friendship only on my terms. This kills any chance for real intimacy. Intimacy eludes me. I’ve experienced it so infrequently I’m not sure I even know what it is. But I want to change. I want friendships that are close and intimate, though it scares the hell out of me. The only thing that scares me more is the thought of growing old alone.

  • judith collier

    There isn’t a thing wrong with enjoying your own company. I like myself most of the time and enjoy my interests. I do have a few good friends who put up with me and I them. Really lasting friendships require committment, consequently, I don’t want too many. I can make friends with the devil and so I don’t get worried if I’ll have any in the future. And by the way, Phil, you are so funny! And Pat, there are worse things than growing older alone. Example, I have to rush because I am expected in Indy tomorrow early to help my one daughter who had another baby(NO. 7, total from all the kids) and before I leave I have to make sure my husband and brother-in-law(both blind) are stocked up. I am a bit tired because of a rather serious disorder but, hey, I am the mother! My children are plotting what to do with us (chuckle) and we are only 65 and 66 and we never even ask them for help, God bless their little souls! Give me an apartment, some books, food, telephone and a computer and I could make myself happy.

  • judith collier

    OOPS! I forgot Health!