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You won’t call me but I’ll call you

Dear Jane,
Thanks for the invite to the potluck. The dinner will be a good night out for me. My social life in the last few years has been not so social. I also understand what you mean about being troubled about your social life–which is why you’re having a potluck in the first place. I’m a loner by nature but really enjoy the presence of people when I have it.

 When I was younger, way younger, I used to wonder why no one ever called to see what I was doing. How I wanted to be asked to a dance or out to the park. Extra-circular activities took me into the world of my peers, but only imperfectly. I had no talent for sports. Boy Scouts formed the bulk of my social existence. Only there, it seemed, the boys had to spend their time with me. They had no choice. If they wanted to be scouts, they had to put up with me. Outside of my own efforts at making contact with people through school or Boy Scouts, I pined away waiting for the phone to ring. I felt like I just didn’t have any friends. I used to think of my funeral and how few people, if any, would stand around my casket.

As I grew into young adulthood, the problem of friends and society only increased. When I was in high school, any social contact I had with others came out of my own efforts to find something, anything to do outside my house. I wasn’t good at it. I was shy and insecure. My attempts at making friends revealed me to be needy. I could well imagine sitting alone for the rest of my life, reading books under a lamp in a dark room. I went to dances and people were nice to me. I waited in the lunch room for people to sit with me. They rarely, if ever, did, and I was the one who had to initiate any kind of conversation I got into.
College was the same way. I had to hang around people. They didn’t hang around with me.
This situation created a couple of good things for me. I became good at starting conversations and sustaining them with strangers and people who would have rather been elsewhere. I learned to talk about any number of subjects, anything to sustain human contact. People thought of me as gregarious when, in fact, I was desperate.
I learned how to be a loner. When I was young, joining things was important, just being a part of something bigger than myself. My need for affirmation built a desire to belong. After I started drinking heavily, around the age of 15, this need abated and drinking alone served every social purpose I needed. Rejection didn’t sting. As a need, affirmation diminished. Soon, I was alone and that was fine. People and relationships got in the way of a good drunk. When I sat alone at home with enough alcohol to get me through the night, I was free of the scolding a drunk gets. No one told me I drank too much. I didn’t need to hear about how life passed me by. I could drink myself to sleep and that was good enough. I still wanted people to call, to ask me to join them for a night on the town. But it never happened, and after a while it didn’t matter.
After I sobered up, I found myself back needing, wanting a social life. But where do you start after having checked out for so long? My first social contacts came through AA–and I made lifelong friends, among whom are the closest to me. It took a while and some solid sobriety, but slowly it dawned on me that I was not the kind of person that people called for a good time. When I was out with people, I contributed to the good time, but I wasn’t ever on the top of anyone’s social list.
It had always been this way, I just didn’t know that when I was a kid and young adult. I interpreted the lack of society and a broad group of friends as a rejection. I never understood that I was not the person people called and that if I was to have a social life, I would have to pursue it myself.
Now, all this is not to say that I didn’t have friends. I have only ever had a few close friends. I didn’t win popularity contests and would never do so. After I understood that being social was a skill that I’d have to develop, I began to do just that. I asked people out to dinner. I asked people I wanted to know better out to coffee or lunch. Getting to know people personally grew out of a need to have society, only not that much. I quit trying to find the perfect woman and, at the same time, I stopped whoring around. (Though I have to say that sometimes I miss that.) I never realized when I was a kid and while I was drinking that I didn’t need a large body of friends. A small cadre of close friends and a larger contingent of acquaintances, some of them almost friends, served me well enough. I began to celebrate close friends. I continued to ask acquaintances out for lunch and coffee. In other words, I got to know people rather than just be around them.
I accepted long ago that big groups of popular people just didn’t consider me cool. That’s fine with me. Sometimes, I think, I’m just horribly uncool. I cut my own path, not as a symbol of independence or out of a need to achieve some Hollywood movie dream of the noble loner, but just because that’s what I do. I’m not a joiner. I like crowds but often for the sense of solitude they produce in me. In a crowd, I tend to have my own mind and am not above leaving when I want. When conversation turns some eyes glassy, I’ve learned to leave a conversation in the middle if it doesn’t satisfy me or when people have stopped listening. The person I’m talking to isn’t going to miss me. They never thought of me in the first place.
These days much of my social life revolves around AA meetings. I tend to have some of my social existence on a regular schedule. Zeke and I go out to lunch once a week. I see Bill once a month for a good discussion of books and academia. Brian helps me keep touch with my ironworker friends. I see Ken and Janet regularly. Gary and I sit down every couple of weeks for a good long conversation. My friends in Germany get calls on weekends. My uncles Charles and Philip show up on a regular basis. I write letters, E-mails, and send postcards. I have pretty regular-but-random visits with Cara and Eileen and Becky. I married my best friend. Anything I get outside of that is just gravy.
There are people I miss, of course, people who were once friends but grew apart from me, and I from them. Some very important and close friends have died. They are all irreplaceable. But these are the risks you take with friendship. No one thinks about the end of a relationship when they get into that relationship. The end of a relationship might as well be death. The hurt is great, so much sometimes that I think that it might have been better to have avoided friendship in the first place.
That, I think, will be the death of me. And I’m glad you invited me. I would have found a reason to get with you soon.
Yours,
Patrick

P.S. By the way, potluck is my favorite cuisine.

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