I am a 30-year-old woman, married, with a 3-year-old child. When I became pregnant, I was a waitress living in New York, unmarried and unsure of what my future would hold, but happy and with a robust social life. When I decided to have the child, my boyfriend at the time (now my husband) and I moved in order to be closer to both of our families. I have a large, complicated family, which encompasses many remarriages and resulting offspring, but my mother has always been the center of my family life. I am the oldest of her many children.
Very soon after we moved away from New York to a much smaller community far away from any of my friends, my mother moved away from us, taking my siblings with her. She moved for professional reasons. No one could blame her. I found myself in a town where I knew no one, with a newborn baby. My husband works in a profession where he must work nights. I was alone almost every night.
For many reasons, financial, emotional and otherwise, I made a huge push to establish a career for myself. Eventually we moved to another major metropolitan area because of a job opportunity for me. The field I work in is fairly specialized, and there are really only a few jobs that would fit me in the country. I am lucky to have the job I have, and professionally I am very happy. But my loneliness has not been cured. My husband has totally different hours than I do -- he works nights and I work days -- as well as different days off. I spend most nights alone at home with my child, and weekends as well. I feel like a single mother.
The problem seems to be that I cannot for the life of me relate to other mothers, or even other married couples. The thing that single folks complain about -- that when their friends get married they have their bodies snatched by domestic bores who can't talk about anything but their kids and their landscaping -- rings completely true to me. The people I have met who are still single have social lives that center around bars and going out. Of course I could get a baby sitter every now and then, but it goes beyond logistics. Because I am married with a child, people seem to assume that I am not friend material. For the first time in my very social life, I feel rejected by people I might want to be friends with. They just don't seem interested.
I recently made a friend at work -- a single mother with a child the same age as mine, but she is now moving away. I don't know what to do. I am desperately lonely. I just want some friends who want to come sit around and eat food and drink wine and be relaxed and not uptight I have always been a bit of a rebel, and in the past it was easy to find others who related to that, but there seem to be no women like that in this new, "grown-up" phase of my life. I have wonderful friends and a wonderful family, but they are all so far away. I feel myself daily becoming more resentful of my husband because he is never home, but it's not his fault. I knew going into the marriage that his profession would require this of him.
I feel as though a life is not complete without good friends, and I feel myself sinking deeper into depression the longer I go it alone. I also think forcing friendships is not an option -- I've tried it and it feels fake and empty. It would be almost financially impossible for us to move back to New York, where all my good friends are. Moving anywhere would probably mean giving up my career, the one confidence-booster I have in my life. I am a smart, funny, fun, quirky girl with no one to talk to. Do I just need to find a way to love being a total loner?
Dear Lonely Mama,
You do not need to find a way to love being a total loner. Instead, you need to take concrete steps to get your mother, your friends and your family back in your life. You need to revive and maintain your loving, sustaining network. You need to be with these people.
There are larger issues involved, but first, let us be specific and practical:
Can you travel with the 3-year-old? If so, book a plane trip to visit your mother. You need to be with your mother. If you cannot travel with the 3-year-old, locate some childcare. Then book a plane trip to visit your mother.
After you have booked the plane trip to visit your mother, call the one friend you have made locally at work and make a date to have her over for dinner. Spend as much time with her as you can before she leaves. Make plans to visit her, or for her to visit you, after she leaves.
Call your siblings. Invite them to come stay with you. Implore them. Insist. Tell them you are desperate. Tell them they must come and stay with you or you will lose your mind. Set dates. Make plane reservations for them if you must.
Then locate the phone numbers of your three closest friends in New York and call them, but do not tell them you are desperate. Your friends are not genetically programmed to respond to your desperation and need. Good and loyal as they may be, they are only human; they require you to be amusing. Do not call them at work when they will be rushed. Call them at home in the evening during the week, at a time when you can assume that they have eaten and had some wine. Talk for a long time until it is late at night and you are both tired and you have said nice things about people you love and mean things about people you dislike. Make concrete plans to get together before you hang up. After you hang up, make travel arrangements.
Now, about what happened to you: I do not know all the implications. But you moved to be near your mother and then your mother moved away. You excused your mother on the surface but underneath it must have hurt. You moved there to be with her and then she left. Holy shit! It must have thrown you. And then you had the kid, which is major and huge, and for whom no doubt you wished very much for more concrete support and encouragement of the motherly kind, and of the husbandly kind, and then perhaps feeling unmoored, unsupported and insecure you then threw yourself into making a career for yourself. Like a survival thing. Like you've got to take care of yourself because obviously people are not taking care of you.
We are so cosmopolitan. We think, Oh, we may miss this or that, but we don't mourn it because we have airplanes and phones. If you had to take a wagon west there would be weeping. Imagine if you took a wagon all the way to California to have your child close to your mother and then your mother took up and left on business.
The cure for our lonely, rootless cosmopolitanism is, in a sense, even more rootless cosmopolitanism: more phones and airplanes.
I'm guessing this big career of yours is making you some bucks. So spend a lot on air travel. Be with these people who matter to you.
Here is a phrase I made up when I was thinking about my friends and my kitchen: Psychological ergonomics.You want your friends close at hand, like the dishes are close to the dishwasher. New York has great psychological ergonomics. Beware of living where there is no subway!
You came to where your mother was and she left. Yes, there were reasons. We are so quick to see the reasons, aren't we? We are very grown-up. But in relation to our parents we are children, and the child doesn't care about the reasons. The child wants to be with her mother. What a great burden to be the child who understands and forgives!
Your mother up and left, and you soldiered on.
Less soldiering, more mothering, I say.
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