Let’s start with what I am not. I am not:
- A community organizer
- A “power networker”
- A party planner
- A social butterfly
- That active on LinkedIn...
- A writer
- A resident of a sprawling suburb
- An 8-to-7 weekday worker
- A 9-5 sleeper
This means that I am also:
- Spending most of my hours at work
- Spending the rest of my hours with my own thoughts
I spend an inordinate amount of time trying not to think about what I would do if I choked on a piece of popcorn at home. I probably wouldn’t be found for a week, my plant would die, the garbage would stink to high holy hell and … okay, brain, that’s enough of that.
That's the dark side of living alone though -- you think about things like that. There’s plenty of bright side to living alone too. Clothes-optional dance parties for one are awesome, and the music you end up listening to isn’t decided by committee. Getting the entire bowl of popcorn to yourself isn’t bad either (sorry, Tim). Oh, but that kernel though…
The combination of wanting to live alone, but fearing solitary death by popcorn kernel, creates a particular challenge: making connections with people that go deeper than “Hey, hi, hello!” at the supermarket.
My routine, which largely consists of me stewing in my own thoughts like a holiday ham in its own juices, wouldn’t be so bad if rumination did for the brain what it does for cows. It doesn’t. Regurgitating your thoughts into your brain for it to chew on endlessly is actually not great for the brain. Yet, when left alone for hours on end, this is what my brain does -- and so many other brains too.
Generally, we're not doing so hot when it comes to mental health in America. “One in five American adults are taking a drug for a psychiatric problem, including almost a quarter of middle-age women
.” This is no joke.
In my case, the rumination stops when I am in the company of other people, which is why making connections is so important. My brain resists seizing on opportunities to make those connections though, because it doesn’t want to let go of the time and space to masticate on partially digested thought cud. Let's transition metaphors: It’s like a kid with a bag of candy. The kid can’t imagine something they love so much is making them sick. The idea of having someone else to focus on is like snatching the candy and telling the brain to eat a bowl of spinach.
So, I decided to look into how to make connections. It’s not easy, because step one is basically all of the steps:
- Get yourself out there.
Oh, gawwwwd whyyyyyy!? That was my brain. It really doesn’t like getting out there. It much prefers staying indoors alone looking inward. It feels so accomplished thinking about the same thing over and over and over again and getting the same results. Waaaaaiiiiit a minute…
In all seriousness, while I appreciate the value of enjoying my own company, one of the biggest challenges for me (and probably for a lot of people who live alone and spend a lot of time working), is making connections outside of work. It’s hard to see through the logistics to get from work to a social engagement, especially without a car in California. There’s figuring out how early you can leave work and how early you need to leave the engagement relative to when you get there. Then you realize you’ll need to leave soon after you arrive in order to get home early enough to start the next day reasonably sane.
The long and the short of it is this: a social life is difficult when you work long hours in a sprawling suburban landscape. Now, I’d be the first to argue that I should cut down my hours to take care of myself and connect with others. I would, if the time getting from point A to point B in Silicon Valley wasn’t absurd between the hours of 4pm and 8 pm. If you think I'm kidding about social connection being tough in Silicon Valley, consider that, in the land of high-end tech, young people are giving up on dating apps
. "Women here say they feel outnumbered, overworked and underwhelmed by the tech industry’s egos and eccentricities: A koan of the local dating scene: 'The odds are good, but the goods are odd.'"
(My inner Wellesley Woman laughed aloud upon reading this.)
I'm not dating, but I do feel the downward pressures of work hours and geography. Nevertheless, I need to connect with folks. So, I’m going to try a couple of other things.
First, I’m writing “thank you” notes and letters. That’s right, I am going old school. A number of very nice friends — who now have very nice families (*gulp*) — sent me lovely holiday cards and postcards. So, I sent each of them a card back. I always feared starting the holiday card “routine” of sending empty notes for the sake of sending notes. But sending thank you’s for being thought of during the holidays struck me as much more meaningful.
Second, I am going to start a Slack group for subscribers of this newsletter. If you reply to this message and ask me to join, I’ll invite you in. Slack is not encrypted, so if that makes you queasy, I understand. I’ll set the channel up a week from now to give folks a chance to respond and gauge interest. I’ll also try to share articles there during the week so you can get a sneak peek at what I’m reading and discuss.
That’s all I have for now. I also recognize that neither of these are in-person solutions. 'Still working on that.
I’ve always been rubbish at making friends out on my own. But loneliness is a very real epidemic. So, I need to make connections like I need to eat my veggies, exercise and get plenty of sleep. We’re not meant to live without meaningful connections, and they feel amazing once they are made. We are meant to see one another, be with one another and enjoy this world together. Nothing great like that will ever come easy.