Our elder shares his thoughts with a reflective letter writer in quarantine.
I am in quarantine all by myself. I came to work in another city and because of the quarantine situation I stayed put. As a result a lot of emotions are arising within me. At times I feel lonely because I am alone. Other times I feel content and think this is a good time to do some personal work on myself and grow in solitude. I realize I don’t have very close friends. I have friends where we talk once in a while, they comment on my social media but I find that is not very deep. I think it is hard these days to find good deep friendships. Most people are concerned about social media. Anyway, when I move back after this to my college town I don’t feel I have very close friends there either. I have friends and people I know and can spend time with but again I don’t feel super close with them. So ultimately my question is, do we experience life alone? Like when we go through a tough time we can have others around us but essentially we are still going through that experience alone. My second question is how do I build deeper and closer friendships? Also, people talk about having a personal relationship with yourself. What does that mean? Thanks a lot!
Mr. Bill replies
Thanks for writing to us and posing these rather existential questions, ones that will take a little time to break down and provide responses. These are just my thoughts. In the final analysis, everyone really has to answer a couple of your questions for themselves. As you ask others these questions, you may find that everyone will have different responses and answers. This time, you wrote to us and here are mine.
First, I agree with your implied conclusion that social media has taken a toll on establishing and maintaining contact with others. It is difficult to experience the same closeness and connection via social media as one might with in-person contact.
Next, you ask if when we go through tough times, even with friends around us, do we go through them alone. There are two directions here. One relates a personal tough time, like a breakup or loss of something or someone special. The other is for overall and universal tough times. Like the current pandemic.
For me regarding the personal tough times, I think the answer is yes. Having good friends, close friends, who can support us and be around can be important. However, in the final analysis, we have to experience and work through personal tough times on our own, in our hearts and head.
For more universal tough times, no, we are not alone. We are all in them together and can help, support, and rally around each other to get through those tough times as one. It takes discipline and cooperation and some give-and-take, but we are not alone and can achieve what we need to, together.
You talk about friendship, and that’s an interesting topic with several implications. Here are a couple of those:
Are you an introvert or an extrovert? And on the continuum, with those two at extreme ends, to what degree are you? Where do you fall on the continuum? Do you prefer to stay at home and are content with being on your own? Or are you looking for and needing contact with others, going to parties and social activities? And to what degree of each? Is there a balance?
As there is a continuum for introvert/extrovert, there is one for how close friendships can be. Some people are friendly and are acquaintances; other people are ones you confide in some of the time and they you; and then there are those who are your best friends. A best friend is one that you trust with your hopes and dreams and concerns, and they you. You support each other, you have commonalities if only in experiences, and as you each take risks with the other, and find those risks valued and accepted, the bond grows closer and the friendship becomes more significant and close.
How to build meaningful friendships? It’s incremental. It takes some commonalities to bring people together. From there, you may be attracted more to some than others, and they you. As you spend time together, talk with each other, you start to build a bond and friendship. Little steps come next, small risks. You take risks by sharing your thinking or your fears. How the other person reacts either justifies taking that risk or not.
That’s how I believe close friendships are built. We all have friends and acquaintances; some are closer than others and some are longer lasting. However, we are lucky if we have one best friend. It may be someone you know now, or it may be someone you meet later.
For me, my best friend is my wife, and I didn’t meet her until I was in my 30s. I have another good/best friend and he is someone I met and have stayed in contact with since college.
One of your other questions relating to friendships is what it means to have a personal relationship with yourself. My answer, again, is to know yourself, like yourself, and focus on your strengths. Try to improve anything you might find that are limitations and do not be tied to a negative, critical self-image.
So, are we ultimately alone? Certainly we are physically. Our bodies are singular and while we couple with others, we ultimately come back to being alone. Our hearts and minds? Not necessarily. Think of a healthy family, and the care and nurturing that is given to babies and children. Certainly, those young people don’t feel alone and, most likely, neither do the parents.
As adults, we make connections with others. Sometimes they are close and we don’t feel quite as alone sometimes when they are with us. And for those who have strong religious beliefs, they don’t believe they are ever alone. They know and believe that something bigger and more powerful is always with them.
So, there are a few of my thoughts. I hope that it contributes to your journey, knowing that the only person who can answer the questions for you is you. Posing these questions is an important start. Use these resources to help expand and deepen our own, personal thinking and journey.
Letter #: 457819