In honor of Valentine's Day, I have some loosely collected thoughts on loneliness.
The summer that I turned eight my family moved from Fort Worth to Houston. The first semester at my new elementary school is one of the first times I remember experiencing anxiety. I was going to go to school where I didn't know anyone and I wanted to fit in more than anything. I don't remember a lot from that time but I remember that it didn't go well.
In school that year we kept a notebook in which we wrote short entries on different prompts. I recently reviewed that notebook and on one day when given the prompt, "If you could be anyone, who would you be and why?" I wrote, "I would be anyone besides me because I hate my life." One of the few memories I do have of elementary school came a few grades later. Many of the students in class were starting to use AOL Instant Messenger to communicate outside of school. I saw this as an opportunity to build those friendships with my classmates I so desperately wanted and made an account. I don't remember any of my AIM conversations but I do remember one day another student telling our class that I had been "really weird" and that I had cussed him out on AIM. I was embarrassed and frustrated that AOL, instead of just sending us those CDs in the mail, now was actively thwarting my attempts at a social life.
I don't want to discredit the friends that I did make in elementary school (and beyond). One in particular remained a close friend throughout high school and, more than he probably knows, was a source of a lot of help for me in some of my darker times. But after my family moved, a shift started in the way that I perceived friendships. I felt more and more like an outsider, not just in school but every time I met someone new. I remember in elementary school we had these boxes where the teacher would return assignments and one day I found an invitation to the birthday party of a girl in the class in mine. I asked her if she had given it to me by mistake because, in my mind, it made more sense that she had accidentally put it in my box than that she had invited everyone in the class. (I actually vaguely remember my mom making me ask her if she had meant to invite me but that may or may not have happened.)
That sense of otherness still defines how I approach relationships. In high school when I had a larger number of friends I often felt paranoid that they didn't actually like me. Before FOMO entered society's vernacular, my greatest anxiety was that my friends were doing things without me. In the group that I thought should be my closest peers I felt that I was a part-time friend. For the most part I turned inward. I played more video games, I read more comic books, and I spent more time on the Internet. These things became part of my identity, taking the place of strong friendships.
In a way, my experiences with AIM were a precursor to my experiences with Facebook. When I joined Facebook in high school I remember thinking that it would help me become closer to the friends I already had. If anything I think Facebook has become a license to be more distant.
The friendships I kept from high school to college maintained that sense of being a second string friend for the only team I was playing on. As far as meeting new people, I didn't have much luck there either. I got to know the people in my major but I never really connected with any of them, especially not to the point where we would do things together outside of class. My closest new friends came through Humor U but even joining that club was not without its sense of otherness. Some of the people in that club became the most important people in the world to me but I would only occasionally spend time with them outside of club meetings and shows.
Maybe I'm expecting too much. I think, in my mind, what I'm looking for in a friend is a level of time and emotional commitment that might be unreasonable to expect out of a person. It doesn't help that I have these weird interests and passions that I view as almost fundamental to my identity. Other people have preexisting lives, friends, families, and interests outside of their interactions with me. Is the reason I'm lonely because I care about Spider-Man, Pokémon, and Orphan Black more than I care about other people? Do I have to give up part of who I am to make the deep, interpersonal connections I want in life?
I don't know. But I do know that, in the immortal words of Rob Thomas, "I don't want to be lonely no more."