I recall accumulating friends like people collect stamps. I held on to them like a rare vintage find, sorted them out into tidy lists with contact information and reached out every few months, spending a day with one, an evening over coffee with another, sending a letter to another, a phone call to another, each interaction selected to show appreciation and affirmation for the friend in question. At the height of this fixation I was sending out 200 Christmas cards every year. I remember one friend hearing this and making some very strong judgments, “Oh, those weren’t friendships, those were acquaintances…” That was cover for her own defensiveness, she had few friends. The reality all of those relationships were “friendships”, I invested heavily in these bonds and I have no regrets. I learned a lot from these friends and each one gave me something I carry with me still.
But there came a time when I did not want all of these friends. In time, and this was a gift from my wife, I came to see that I could enjoy my own company. I did not have to find many friends, in fact I really only needed my wife and daughter. I did grow weary of my friends, instead I grew into the kind of person who wanted to spend time alone, time with my wife and daughter, and I was fine with it. More, I was happy with it. I was happy with 200+ friends but I had not yet learned what it looked like, what it felt like, what I thought about, spending time alone.
I am an extrovert, always have been, always will be. I enjoy being in public and I enjoy interacting with many, many people. I learn so much from watching people and more importantly, being in relationship with people. But the life I have chosen for myself these days includes lots and lots of “being with” but no one person or persons in particular, apart from my wife and daughter. That shift occurred in 2002-2003, I was turning 40, experienced my first and only bout of depression, and I just found that going to the art gallery, going for long walks, going to a café, were experiences I enjoyed alone. I still wanted to be in community, with people, meeting a variety of people every day, but investing in friendships, relationships, that has largely vanished.
I feel my faith has played a large role in this transition. I have always spoken to God, especially when I walk. I actually speak out loud with God, it’s embarrassing when people walk by. But now that I intentionally seek out time on my own these conversations are more plentiful, more substantive, and more revelatory. I find myself, like today, getting away, being excited to be on my own with God and just begin the conversation.
Tonight my wife came down with a migraine, we had tickets to see Chaka Kahn at the Halifax Jazz Festival. I reached out to a few people, people who are not a lot of work to be with, but they were all busy (too little notice). But truth be told I was happy to go on my own. I stood by the front of the stage, saw all of the musicians perform, felt the beat of the music and could see all of the people around me grooving to tunes from the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s. I enjoyed myself thoroughly.
That would not have been something I would have done before I turned 40. Watching my wife and finding out I did not need to have a lot of friends to be happy was a profound learning experience. I do not regret those relationships, especially the time I invested in them. But I have no interest in doing that again. My time is now filled with work I love, my wife and daughter whom I love and various communities around me that bring out the best in me. And I have God to walk and talk to…