Help! I've got no friends!

I'd go to more social events, but my husband would miss me


Cary Tennis
July 26, 2010 3:01AM (UTC)

Dear Cary,

My husband and I are in our mid-50s, married 36 years. We were high school sweethearts who both dropped out of high school when we became pregnant and married young. We adore each other.

As soon as we could, we both obtained our GEDs. When our children were in school, we went to college together. We both now have professional careers we love, although to obtain employment, we had to leave our hometown 12 years ago and move two states away, to northeast Ohio. We brought our daughter with us as she was still a teenager, and our son moved here a few years ago.

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Our parents have since passed away. We do go home to visit his siblings from time to time, but I miss living there. I maintain contact with one friend there, but have lost touch with the others. My husband loves it here in our new state, more than I do.

My problem seems silly compared with those of some who write you, but put simply, I have no friends. People our age already have their friends set up and are not that welcoming. I would not know my neighbors if they bit me on the nose. Besides, they are all rather young — in the midst of their child-rearing years. That is behind us now.

I am not religious at all, but we tried several churches out — me to try to forge a social network, him because he does believe.

It did not work out for me because after services, invariably, there would be a social gathering in the fellowship hall. My husband never wanted to go. He did offer to go sit in the car while I went, but realistically, who can relax and enjoy themselves knowing that someone is sitting out in a car waiting for them? Not me.

The lack of outside friendship does not bother him at all. He has no friends aside from, well, me. And he is happy with that. He did not want to join the social part of the churches, such as the after-service fellowship or men's groups; he wanted just to go to services and leave.

When ladies from my job do ask if I'd like to stop out after work for coffee (we do not drink alcohol, and I would never go into a bar for any reason), I feel obligated to decline because I know he is home already waiting. The one or two times I have accepted, he pouted for days. He was genuinely hurt. Hurting him is like kicking a puppy. It just was not worth it.

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He often says that if he wanted to go out with other people, he would not have gotten married. He is not joking when he says that. I think he expects me to feel the same.

After we watched that Kevin Smith movie, "Clerks," I have always remembered one line from it. "I hate people but love gatherings. Isn't it ironic?"

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I often jokingly say that I am like that and that my husband loves people but hates gatherings.

When he does meet people, they just adore him. He is kind, humorous, intelligent, and has a natural ability to put people at ease. He's much better at socializing, finding common ground among strangers, than I am. So why does he avoid it like the plague?

I worry what will happen to him if I should pass away before him. All he will have is our two children, and that is an unfair burden to place on them. They have their own lives and friends apart from us, which is as it should be.

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Thank you for any advice and insight you can give.

Friendless in Ohio

Dear Friendless,

You and your husband are different.

You've melded your lives together with remarkable harmony. But still, you are different.

"I think he expects me to feel the same," you say. But you don't feel the same.

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You may have adjusted to him over the years to maintain harmony, but you are not the same as your husband.

It is right for you to satisfy your needs for friendship and community. You deserve these things.

By depriving yourself of these things, you have brought yourself to a sort of crisis point. Your old way of adjusting to maintain harmony has created an imbalance in which his needs are being met but yours are not. That's not a long-term solution. It will eventually lead to unhappiness. So you have to go out in the world and find some friends and bring them into the circle of marriage and family. In the course of doing that, you may make your husband a little uncomfortable. I suggest you and he talk about this in a frank and loving way.

My guess is that once he understands how important this is, he will be willing to put up with whatever you have to do. It may make him uncomfortable, but I doubt that he wants you to deprive yourself of happiness. He probably just doesn't know how to hide his discomfort. In fact, his discomfort when you break out of the habitual routines of marriage may be more powerful than he is willing to admit. It may stem from some unmet needs of his own, or deep-seated fears from childhood that have persisted into adulthood.

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It is not uncommon, in a long marriage, for the unaccustomed absence of the spouse to bring on sudden feelings of anxiety. Ideally, the partner who is feeling this anxiety will seek to find the sources of that anxiety in his own psyche. For there is no objective reason a husband should feel intense anxiety or sadness when his wife is away in the evening for a few hours. But it can raise fears of infidelity for some men; for others it brings back memories of childhood loneliness and absent parents. In response to such fears, men can start acting out, or turn to addictive habits. Later, they feel guilty — and blame their wives. So there's a whole cycle of maladjusted behavior that needs to be dealt with in a frank but loving way.

You have been extremely lucky so far in life. You are two basically compatible people who have made mature and caring adjustments to each other in order to make your marriage work. Now it's time to stretch the container just a little bit to accommodate one partner's need for outside friendship and community.

Piece of cake.

Lucky you.

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Cary Tennis

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