Friday, November 12, 2010

Community Calling!

I’ve been thinking about friendship (again!) and wondering why I feel lonely and out of sync. I am a people person with a lot of friends. Lately, however, I feel more in tune with my car, where I spend so much time shuttling people around, than I do with most people.

Add to that our Facebook culture, with in-your-face reminders that everyone else on the planet is going to a costume party, or a wine tasting, or taking Zumba together, and it’s enough to leave this gray-streaked girl feeling a little blue.

For New Year’s 2010, as in 11 months ago, I decided to be more purposeful in finding and maintaining community. I realized I was relying on my online community so much that I wasn’t putting much effort into other relationships.

As we approach the end of the year what’s the verdict on my New Year’s resolution?


My small group Bible study disbanded, which was painful and left a void. Eight years and two hours a week with women I loved, and then…. it was over.

My declaration that our family would reach out and entertain more hasn’t happened either. Sports and work responsibilities, exhaustion, trips out of town, and the siren song of the DVR meant that weekend after weekend went by and we didn’t initiate social events.

First of all, Tom and I had different ideas of whom to invite. The question of whom we wanted to get to know better took on too great a significance and started to feel like PRESSURE.

We talked about whether our kids liked their kids. Whether their kids liked our kids. Whether our house was too small for a larger group. Whether we’d be leaving anyone out, which is my greatest fear. In the end, it all just seemed so exhausting and it was easier to say, “Let’s just forget it and watch Burn Notice.”

Lather, rinse, repeat.

I’ve written before about how when the kids were babies, what could have been a lonely time for me was actually rich with friendship and personal growth. There were many opportunities to bond with other women through play-dates and moms’ groups and just sitting around breastfeeding. Having babies and toddlers was TOUGH, so we relied on each other for support.

Now, a lot of those moms have moved out of my immediate vicinity. Schools and sports teams have created mini communities which take time and attention. Women have gone back to work. Couples are splitting up. People are busy. My friendship style has become more "drive-by" than deep.

Forming relationships means moving beyond chance encounters, but for me, going that extra step rarely happens.

I've had better luck keeping in touch with some high school and college friends, and I believe that's because there is usually an instigator who makes things happen (you know who you are Lisa G. and E.G.)

But in day-to-day friendships, I'm kind of suck-ish. I know I need to become an instigator rather than wait for someone else to do it.

It's just that there seems to be a finite number of people you can be in close relationship with, and I’ve realized if I’m not even putting in the time with my husband, my sister and my brother, I’m probably not going to be able to do it very well with friends, either.

So I’m wondering, how do YOU build community when you know and truly like a lot of people, but you feel overwhelmed with the concept of reaching out and making it happen?

How do you make sure the people you do spend time with are the people you want to spend time with?

What works for you?


Lynn from For Love or Funny said...

Anna, I think this will resonate with lots of people. I find that it's too easy for me to say "my house isn't good enough" and I always fail to invite people over. What does work for us is that we love to go to our kids' sporting events. That tends to be our connection with fellow parents nowadays. Also, we like to invite friends over to play cards. All you need is a card deck and popcorn and you're ready to have fun with fellow grown ups while the kids play.

Ellen aka Ellie said...

Sometimes your posts leave me wanting to write a post length comment in response.

For so long, I was so focused on being a mom (single, but I hate to wave that flag), a student, a teacher, working two jobs, going to school, going to school more, that I didn't have a social life.

I really, really valued being alone. Let's face it, I'm "locked" in a room all day with 20+ people, I get tired of people. (In the best possible way.)

Things calmed down, I found God (he was right here), got involved in church, decided to look for a husband (finally I was ready to be married), and (long story short) found one. He moved here from out of state, and since he knew no one, I started having parties.

We don't worry who to invite, we allow people to decide if they want to come. And now, for the first time in my life, I'm getting invited to things. I'm 50. It took a while, but that community is finally building even if it's in separate from each other communities.

As for Bible studies, I had a small group, then another, and now am attempting to start a new one after being away for about a year. God's definitely sending me a "wait" message.

This may be good. Our finances are tight, I work all day and tutor four nights a week. Would I have time for that community too? One day I hope so.

My husband always says, "The power to invite is the power to include." Maybe that's the best answer to your question.

Things calmed down,

Anna Whiston-Donaldson said...

Oh my gosh, I love that, Ellie! "The power to invite is the power to include." Going up on my fridge today!

Celia Houck said...

Oh man, I feel the same way you do! ... and I am in my mid 20's!! I find it so hard to take that extra step in my friendships. I'm hoping that one day I will want to, or will learn to... thanks for posting! :)

Christy said...

I'm in the same boat you used to be in, so I feel extremely fortunate that I have found a great group of close girlfriends with whom I'm raising my children. Just yesterday I was in a living room, nursing Cal, watching Fi play and there were about 10 other kids and moms in the room - though I only know two of them, it was still awesome. And tonight I'm going out to dinner with my three best friends here. Mom friends, I mean. I have tried, and tried to get us out to dinner for A YEAR and it is finally happeneing tonight. We've been playing together since Fi was an infant!

Anyway, I feel for you, I really, really do. I would suggest reaching back out to the bible study folks - maybe one or more would want to get together if not weekly, then monthly? And just bite the bullet regarding having friends over for dinner - make yourself do it maybe four times a year - each season! We do it often, and even though it's a lot of work, it's so worth it. I either cook ahead of time or lots of times we get take out or pizza.

Sometime in February Jill P is coming to town; let's plan a reunion dinner with her, Kate and us. I'll drive down for the weekend and dump my kids with my parents! In the meantime, I really hope you reach out and invite some folks over for some holiday cheer! I'm sure it will be worth the effort and hopefully make you feel better. And that saying your friend posted is AWESOME!!!

Nichole@40daysof said...

I have a lot of the same problems you sighted. We keep intending to have people over, but then my husband is tired and the DVR is full and well you know what happens next - nothing. I am a champion procrastinator!

Thanks for articulating this problem so well. You are not alone!

I love Ellen's comment. It makes so much sense.

A couple of things we do:
1. I'm in charge (by default) of a couples group that has about 14 couples right now. We meet once a month (school year only) at someone's house to socialize and eat and discuss either an article we have all read beforehand or hear a speaker. We all happen to be of the same faith, but go to different churches. Many times the articles have to do with religion, but there's quite a bit of pop culture, too.

2. We play poker once a month with a group of people that we met through my husband's work. They don't all work there because the group has evolved over the years and people have brought in their friends, etc... It's fun and I'm going tonight!

BUT - all of these groups were functioning without us, we were just invited in. As far as us really doing planning and socializing of our own - not so much. Can't wait to read all of the responses you get.

Ashley Antkowiak said...

I know that I personally have felt a longing for these connections especially recently.

Having just moved back home to Maryland after living in Idaho since we were married, my husband and I are both having a difficult time finding our niche as a young married couple in a community predominantly populated with our parents and their friends, other authority figures we grew up under.

I'm praying God is able to give me the ability and desire to be the one who reaches out and creates community here. I'll include your desire for community in my prayers.

Earl Grey - a little blog full of big inspiration.

Anna Whiston-Donaldson said...

Thank you, Ashley! I definitely want the desire and gumption to do something about this. I hope you and your husband are able to find/create community in your new/old area.

I think back over the past 10 years or so and I did a lot of entertaining and bringing people together. It seemed like there was always a mom's night out or family party brewing. I guess I've been wondering what has changed. Is it me? Is it this stage of life!?

Raine and Sage said...

I love this post. You have inspired me to really pull my finger out for 2011. Being a tired Mum (I'm not an island I know) is a constant excuse to not be bothered. When I am I'm always so happy. Doesn't take a rocket scientist to work out I need to make more effort. You hit the nail on the head EXACTLY in that I need to nurture my real life community. Always so easy to pop on the lap top. Don't have to do my hair, make food or clean the house especially. I should though. More often. xx

Brenda Susan said...

Totally can relate on this predicament my blog-friend! That whole conversation that ends with, "well, lets just stay home & watch Burn Notice" is very familiar.

For us the issue is that Hubs is anti-social. Would be very happy to just see me everyday and no one else. Yikes, I must see more people and find ways to get out even without him and not make him feel bad about it!

Our answer has been an ultra intentional group effort of 3 other couples and us. we are all very busy but do our best to get together once a month and often have lunch together on Sundays.

Our group has even had a CALENDAR NIGHT where we put dates down for the next several months!

It is not 100% effective but it helps. Intentionality is the key.

K A B L O O E Y said...

Oh, boy. I hear this one and I'm definitely guilty of not following up on community-building because I'm pretty fine with my own company and am not so happy in "social" situations unless I really like and feel comfortable around everyone. BUT the end result is that my daughter (who is the only child in the house) isn't very comfortable mixing it up with other kids. This is proving to be the lightbulb for me -- I have to keep providing social opportunities so my daughter will learn to be more at ease among other children. (With adults, she's more than comfy.) However, as for how to make this happen in my life apart from Moochie, well, that's a work in (very slow) progress.

Ellen aka Ellie said...

I hate that I made a typo, but it was lunch time and I was in a rush. I often sit in my room alone, even though my best friends eat in the lounge.

What does that say about me!

My husband, Brad, is touched that you like his "saying." He reminds me of it a lot...

TwoWishes Tara said...

I know it's not the same thing, but online community is still a form of community. I'm still in that phase of attempting to socialize around a baby, particularly when my existing friends in the area don't have kids, and I'm fairly sure I would NOT have survived without my after-baby's-in-bed doses of online friendship.

And on that front, look how many people already took time to write thoughtful responses to your post. Never doubt that your online community is out (t)here and going strong!

Gretchen said...

Well, if you find the answer, serve it up sister. Because I think so many of us are searchign and haven't found it yet.

The only thing that I can contribute is this: I used to want parties, but then the preparations stressed me out and I'd get all frantic, which would just piss my husband off and he'd say, "I didn't want these people here in the first place!!!" So I had to vow a long time ago to just do all the prep work with a smile and suck it up. As long as I acted like scrubbing every inch of my house and sanitizing every surface was the BEST! FUN! EVER! then my husband was on board.

Heidi said...

Everyone here has such good advice!

I get that - to be in the company of friends and feel alone. And all the time spent in the car! I am starting to get that, too.

I have some fantastic friends, but I always felt like something was missing in me. This comment could be epic in length...the journey, the what is wrong with me of it all..I'll try to keep it shortish.

When I joined this writing group I'm a part of now, that something missing got filled a little. Each of us in the group is so completely different, but it satisfies something in me that I didn't even know I needed. I guess I don't really have advice (clearly), but my hope is that you find people you click with and enjoy...that as you get out there and invite people in you'll get to know others and they you. I think we all want to be known.

I can't find my blog said...

I have so many thoughts on this. I was EXACTLY where you are a few years ago. (Not that my local social life is anywhere neat perfect, mind you, but I know what you mean.)

Anyway, I would suggest inviting a couple and their kids over one day after soccer. Totally impromptu. That means that you can say, "oops, didn't have time to clean the house but let's throw some burgers on, have a glass of wine, and chat. Can you bring cookies for dessert?" That's how we ended up with our circle of friends here.

Like Nike says: Just do it. The less time you give yourself to think about it the easier it is, then once you do it, it gets easier still.

Kate Coveny Hood said...

Here is my advice: spend more time with me! Seriously - why don't we see more of each other. I can bring the twins over to harass your dog one day next week... Just let me know.

dearheart said...

This is a great post, Anna. I've been scanning the comments too, trying to find some solutions to what sometimes feels like perpetual loneliness.

Ultimately, I think we just have to put ourselves out there, like you and many of your commenters have noted. Didn't Woody Allen say that 80% of success is showing up?

I am still in the toddler/preschool stage. I have a good group of women that I spend a lot of time with (but not as much family time). I think there are three things happening here 1) I really needed more people in my life at this stage and I tried harder to find these folks than at other times in my life 2) there are some serious born organized/schedulers in the group and 3) I have more time because I don't have to tend to my kids' extracurricular activities yet.

We have a weekly wine night. Perhaps you could set up a weekly wine or tea night. Also, annual/semi annual weekend girls' trips seem to work like a unity candle for keeping things burning. (:

All right, I'll stop blabbing.

Marinka said...

I can relate to this. I feel like my closest friends live far away from me and my closest friends in NYC I never get to see. Because we are all so busy.

I think you and Tom need to alternate about who does the inviting. And even if the guests aren't the perfect "want to get to know you better" candidate, what's the harm? You get a great post about it, so we win!

EatPlayLove said...

I've had these feelings and I've had to silence people on FB b/c I felt like their goal was to be "I'm doing this with out YOU". Seriously that is just awful. Then I got to thinking are they the people I really want in my life, if that's what their intentions are.

Sometimes I like to just do a quick meet up with friends that I feel like I haven't seen or miss. Maybe just an invite for a cup of tea or even meet out after school drop off. Grab a half hour here and there takes the pressure off and feeds that connection you are longing for.

I think we're all expecting a follow up post!

the Hawks said...

Great question. I have two struggles. First, I have a friend who competes with me in our friendships. Its driving me nuts, and I can't "keep up" because my life just doesn't allow it. I have to constantly remind myself that in the end, our friends would rather have my genuine friendship than anything false or forced. The second struggle--I really enjoy having people over, even more than going to other's homes. I love small dinner parties, inviting friends over for drinks, playing a few games. but sometimes I forget to just hang out without those things.

I'm excited to see how it goes for you! I appreciate how honest you are in your blog, and I wish I could do the same on mine. You're lovely and insightful!

Diane at Perfectly Imperfect Life said...

I was just thinking about this issue the other day. I have always been terrible about keeping in touch with my friends and family. Part of it is just because I amcontent hanging out at my house watching Castle - we don't do Burn Notice :-) - but I know that my life is richer when I spend time with friends.

I've been trying to identify goals to improve my social life. Now that my kids are in school and I have two whole days a week with no work and no kids (I work part-time), you'd think getting together with friends for coffee or something would be the easiest thing in the world. But everytime I think about it, I just wanna stay home! I'm finally alone! I don't want to spend that time with someone else.

Not sure how to solve that issue yet.

Deidra said...

Love this post. Love the comments!

I just had lunch with a friend I haven't seen in one year! One year! And we live less than five miles from each other. I've found I really have to make an effort, now that my kids have grown up. I don't have the natural connections of all of their events to keep me in the loop with other adults in town. You'd think that having more free time would make it easier, but I still need to put forth the effort because it's easier for everyone to just sit at home and watch "Burn Notice," isn't it? I know it is for me.

Laura Marchant said...

I am not sure. Kids have changed everything for me because for a long time I was the only one with kids. It's hard. Now all those friends are starting to have babies and I am almost 5 years into this and my youngest is almost 3.

Cat@BudgetBlonde said...

Great post and great comments so far... I have felt everything you've said so far too...minus the kiddos since I don't have any. :) My thing is that we have people over and then I act like a crazy person and ANALYZE everything I've said, have to replay the whole evening to my husband, ask if that's what they meant - did they like the food, did they compliment this or that just to be nice. It's an odd thing being an introvert/extrovert - Having the ability to be polite and talk to anyone is good, but it's always a challenge to trust people and go deeper, etc. hence the introverted part. I'm working on the same thing sista! Appreciate your honesty.

the mama bird diaries said...

I don't have the answers but this is a very insightful and honest post that will definitely strike a chord with many people.

Amy said...

Burn Notice is a hit, it appears... I have 3 grown daughters a sister and a mom. Once I feel that I've lived up to my social obligations to them, I'm exhausted of people. It's hard to pursue deeper friendships and I find that I settle for occasional telephone conversations as friendships.

Preparations also get me agitated, because I want everything so nice... and my husband is apparently two-timing me with Texan Mama, so while we now have the space to entertain, we're reluctant to do so.... cuz it's just Sooooo much fun! LOL

I'm rekindling an old friendship from high school - but it's hard to have those close relationships at this age - we have schedules and families and apparently everyone has a full DVR, just like me.

I hate to say it... but maybe we need to get rid of our DVRs! GASP! Michael & Fiona would miss me, I'm sure.. and Gibbs, and Hotchner, and Sheldon... no, I could never give up Sheldon Cooper, so Thursday is a stay at home night.

staci said...

Wow I saw this and immediately related. I'm 38 and never thought I would be without those very close intentional relationships, at this time I am, other than my kids and my husband. I partly hold our quick answer and immediate communication culture for part of the problem. If you chose not to be a part of FB or twitter or text then I think you feel excluded.

Really I think people make themselves seem much bussier and more invlolved with others through social media than they truly are. In turn that makes other feel left out and not as involved as they want to be.

Anyway the truth is that nothing good will come without an honest purpose and without being absolutely intentional. I'm trying to be on here less and make intentional moments with my friends and family but I still feel sometimes like I'm all by myself.