Tag Archives: loneliness

Quality Time Vs. Play Dates

6 Aug

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Certain times in our lives are more flush with close connection. For me, elementary school, high school, and college were such periods. No one carried the adult responsibilities we do today, which made friendships easy to cultivate and maintain. Everyone was in close proximity, which made things convenient, particularly when living on the university campus. There was always someone around to share a meal with or to chat with. And it didn’t matter what time of day.

I also recall wonderful summers with my grandparents that were rich in social interaction. There was a slow lazy rhythm to the August days. My grandfather would go to work while my grandmother and I ran errands, baked cookies, and tended to all things domestic. Then when my grandfather came home, we’d eat dinner together. Afterward, we’d go for a walk or work in the garden. Sometimes we watched a show on television. Other times we read books together.

In my twenties, when living in Manhattan, my friends and I would take the city by storm. We spent hours verbalizing our dreams over glasses of wine and walks in Central part. Even in my thirties, I still had some single friends with whom I pondered the meaning of life while sharing meals and life together. Although my friends’ marriages altered the dynamics of our relationships, there were still incredibly meaningful moments spent together. When my friend’s son was an infant we’d take him in the stroller for long walks, cherishing him and each other. We lived in the same neighborhood so it was easy to get together on a regular basis.

But then there are the seasons where no one has time to do anything. When both parents are working and kids are hyper-scheduled, and no one’s children attend schools anywhere near their homes, which results in hours of chauffeuring time. That sentence is a mouthful for a reason. It’s exhausting and exhaustion doesn’t lend itself to intimacy.

But human beings need depth intimacy. Whether falling in love or maintaining friendships, relationships need time to grow. Without that time, there are gaps in connection.

Of course when people pair up and find a significant other, most of the relationship investment gets funneled into that union. But as a friend of mine said to me the other day, (and she happens to be married), “It’s unhealthy to make your spouse your only go to for companionship. It’s way too much of a burden on one person and it makes for a stale marriage. We need to feed our friendships too.”

Modern life doesn’t accommodate well for depth relationships. With everyone’s busy schedules, we pencil in “play dates.” These might consist of a coffee, a dinner, or if we can spare a few precious hours, maybe a movie. In an age when people rarely even talk on the phone anymore, play dates are welcome. But I miss the wonder of unstructured, spontaneous time when it was easy to cross the street and hang out with someone.

The more we indulge in a frenzy of hyper-scheduled activities, the more difficult it becomes to nurture quality time. Even people living under the same roof are not necessarily bonding well. We can’t stand to sit still for longer than a few minutes before looking away and grabbing our Smart phones.

The only way off the merry ground is to step off it, but that doesn’t necessarily solve the problem, if everyone else is still on the ride. Loneliness settles in and we wonder if anyone else is feeling it too.

Years ago I worked in an outpatient program that served the high functioning, elderly population. Not many of our clients had a history of mental illness. However, many met criteria for situational depression and anxiety brought on by the death of a spouse or retirement or illness. People were lonely and little to do during the day. They came to our program in the morning, attended a psycho-education lecture, ate lunch and then attended two process groups. Within a few weeks most folks were thriving again thanks to the friendships created and a renewed sense of meaning.

I’m a fan of play dates. In fact, I have two today. But I’m even more a fan of quality time that emerges when there is no plan, no rush, and no strain. When intimacy just happens like the sun rising and setting each day.

Loneliness NOS

13 Apr

There is a diagnosis yet to be added to the DSM V. It’s Loneliness NOS or Loneliness Not Otherwise Specified. There is no pharmaceutical cure for it, yet if not treated, it can destroy the well being of us all.

The illness is hitting the culture epidemically: children, teens, adults, and seniors; singles and couples. At its worse it can drive someone to take his life publicly in the US Capitol building. At least that way someone will notice another’s despair, right there on national television. In fact, noticing and showing compassion to someone in extreme psychological pain is often the panacea to despair. An act of love can resuscitate the human spirit, bringing someone back from the brink of death but for the man who died over the weekend, he missed the opportunity for support.

This epidemic hits many of us. If it takes a village, where the hell is the village?

We are far from Eden. We can be sitting next to someone watching the game while he or she texts nonstop to someone else instead of sharing it with us. Somehow our presence isn’t enough. Communication methods have intensified and yet a sense of isolation and alienation have too. Unless entwined with a lover or a pet, the sense of intimacy may end as soon as we log off from the on-line community.

Even sex habits have changed. Like in the brilliant film “Her”, it is now common to have sex over the phone or on screen. But this is certainly no substitute for the real thing – skin upon skin, sweat upon sweat. At its best, sex can be the most profoundly intimate experience of our lives. Yet we can use sex in various forms to escape, only to find ourselves even more lonely afterwards.

But is any of this really all that new? Are we more lonely than we were before?

Loneliness is the burden of humanity whether in ancient or modern times. What then does it take for connection?

Union comes with effort, luck, and vulnerability. It comes with surrendering our expectations of being fed and when we are more open to giving than receiving. It comes when we are selfless and expect nothing in return. It comes when we cry but look towards someone else who is crying and perhaps hurting even more than us. We find it in those brief moments when we are seen and witnessed. When someone lovingly holds us while we sob. When we feel the sun or wind on our face. When a group of worshippers feel the Spirt or devoted rock fans feel deep pleasure at a concert. It is a wave taking you, propelling you forward, and it’s fingers flying across a key board. It is a kitten’s purr and a child’s smile. It is an elderly person relieved to have you hold his or her hand. It is putting one’s head on the earth or holding onto the trunk of a tree while saying, “I’m here. Take me.” It is saying, “I’m sorry. I screwed it up.” It is saying, “We are all one.”

It is the perception of separation that is so painful.

In reality, we are all one.

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Landings…

17 Nov

Landing in San Diego is like nowhere else. The plane flies so close to the skyscrapers if you could roll down the windows of the plane, you could touch them. Then as the aircraft aims towards the landing strip, ships appear on the harbor like little toy boats.

Yet despite the beauty, my heart felt heavy. I had already wearied of arriving home trip after trip with no one to greet me. I’d get my bag from the revolving belt at baggage claim and then head towards the taxi stand. Although only a ten-minute ride home, the trip would fatigue me as the cab driver griped about how little taxi drivers make and how hard it is to make a living in San Diego. Exhausted, I’d nod my head hoping to communicate empathy and compassion but this would only encourage the driver more in his litany of protests. By the time I arrived home, I’d feel like I’d given a therapy session, yet I was the one giving the 25% tip.

And then there’d be the homecoming with my little men. My heart would always grip in fear worried they would be sad and depressed because of my absence. Indeed, sometimes they would look at me dazed and uncertain, as if they didn’t understand why their mom was showing up when they’d resigned themselves to my being gone. Each would give a forlorn meow as they came up to me extending their paws in a handshake. Rumi would inevitably rub up against my suitcase and smell my carry on bag while Hafiz would trot straight to the kitchen and demand a can of food. I’d stand in the kitchen watching him as he gobbled his food concerned that he wasn’t getting enough when I was away. While he was purring and grunting simultaneously, I’d immediately clean the cat box and sweep up some of the stray gravel and cat hair. Then I’d try to put mail and domestic concerns aside and plop on the bed so the little men could come snuggle me. Tentative at first, they’d each jump on the bed and promptly sit on top of me. They never punished me. Instead, they’d cling to me. Like the apostles thinking Jesus to be dead and buried, they seemed shocked by my re-emergence and had to see if my body was real. I wasn’t an apparition. I was incarnate. Their mother returned to them. Only now, they were dead and buried. And they weren’t coming back. There was no resurrection.

They’d always been there. When I peed. When I took a bath. When I walked into the kitchen. Someone had always followed me. When I sat down in a chair, someone had always jumped in my lap.

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