I fear a lonely future in the U.S.

After years abroad, how will I make friends back in the States?

By Cary Tennis
Published July 6, 2011 12:01AM (EDT)

Dear Cary,

I am mind-numbingly, heart-blisteringly lonely.

I followed a lifelong dream and moved to Asia; for over a decade I've been here with my two children. I make friends with other expats, who cycle through on two- to four-year contracts, and I keep some when they move away. I have deep friendships with men who are my age but only date or marry hot young Asian girls and am very close to the wives whose husbands have been transferred here. I have had maybe six first dates but none in the last four years. We've lived a privileged life on a tiny income. My Stateside friends think I am awesome and courageous and doing what they could never do. But the tiny pebbles of aggravation and stress that come from overseas life have finally overfilled my vase. Part of being a single mom and part of living overseas is that people always tell me how they couldn't do what I've done; I just feel like I've lived though what life has offered me and never had a tremendous amount of choice. Since you often deal with addictions -- I don't drink. As in nothing, ever, never. I don't smoke. I don't use drugs, beyond an antihistamine to help me survive the pollution of my city.

Now the first child is off to college. My second child will start high school this year. The ex is living "island life" somewhere, no longer paying support. Expat life seems to have cycles, and the cycle has become one of younger and younger people arriving, and established long-termers leaving. I am making a huge choice, pretty much without any safety net. I have decided to move back to the States so my daughter can have a "normal" American high school experience, to search for a dating life I've never known, and to try to build friendships that can last.

Here's the question I would like for you to answer, while you will perhaps delve into other things I have said or implied or left unsaid: I need advice on where to find friends and how to make them. I can go to church and work (when I find a job) and PTA and ballgames and knock on my new neighbors' doors. My fear is the same as everyone's -- how will I find acceptance? Will women who are 42 like me already have full lives? Will my career choices be honored? How will I break into existing groups? Who will I be? How will I learn a culture I'm supposed to know but don't?

OK, Cary -- don't tell me that I know what to do. Take me beyond what I've projected you'd say, please.

Unhappy Single Mom in Asia

Dear Unhappy Single Mom in Asia,

Here is what happens when I think about the future. I am in a waiting room. The Big Doctor comes out shaking his head.

"It looks like you're going to die," he says.

"When?" I ask.

"Who knows?" he says. "Maybe 20 years, 30 years, 40 years. Maybe tomorrow."

"Tomorrow?" I say.

"There's no telling," the Big Doctor says. "But what you've got is fatal."

"What's it called, Doc? This fatal thing I have?"

"Life," he says. "It's called life."

"I didn't realize it was that serious," I say.

"Oh, it's serious," he says. "It's as serious as it gets. I suggest you make yourself comfortable and find things to occupy your mind while you wait."

Gee. All you asked is how to cure your loneliness and how to make new friends. And I start in with this? Well, you are thinking of the future. When I think of the future, I go right to the death part. Maybe that's just me. But it reminds me to stop thinking about the future.

You have asked me for concrete suggestions. I think that if you have been an expatriate for 10 years and you have made a great number of new friends and you have some concrete plans for how to meet new friends, then that is not your problem. Your problem is that you are anxious and fearful.

So the main thing is for you to get back into your body.

Take stock of where you are right now. What do you have at hand? What do you see? What do you hear? Where are you? How do your toes feel? Wiggle your toes. Stretch your feet out. Raise and lower your shoulders. Imagine all over the world people raising and lowering their shoulders as they read this. Look at your hands. Remember these hands? They've been with you all your life. Notice your breathing.

I am talking to you. I am just talking to you like a regular person.

You say, "I am mind-numbingly, heart-blisteringly lonely."

Loneliness can mean a lot of things. Talking to somebody can alleviate loneliness.

But that's not exactly what you mean. You are concerned about being lonely in the future. So there we are again, in the future.

To control the future, we need magic. Lots of us would like to have magic. Magic would be great. But the sooner we just admit that a lot of stuff we want would require magical powers, the sooner we can set about trying to make ourselves as comfortable as possible for the time being.

Here I am again, reminding you that we're all going to die!

Well, seriously, literally, the future does not yet exist. What exists is you thinking about things. The way you think about things is making you unhappy. The way to deal with this is to get in the sauna. Change what the brain is doing.

The brain is doing things you don't want it to do. It is producing fright scenarios. It is producing the sensation of fear. You want your brain to produce the sensation of hope and happiness. How can you get it to do that? One big way is biochemical. You can change the biochemical processes going on through exercise, diet and activities that stop the brain from doing what it is doing that is so annoying.

Sometimes the brain acts like a bratty child. It does everything to annoy you. You have to find something to keep it focused so you can go about enjoying your short time here on this planet. I urge you to do this as soon as possible.

When you're lonely, just hang out with people. Things will work out if you just do that.

There are many things you are going to have to do, but you can't do them right now. Right now it's just you and me talking. There are many things out in the world that you could think about and worry about, but they are not in the room with you right now. Right now, you are fine. You may not know it, but you are.

Citizens of the Dream

What? You want more advice?


Cary Tennis

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