Today on the playground a little girl ran up to myself and another TA. “So-and-so and so-and-so won’t play with me!” she said. “I keep asking and asking and they keep saying no.” All we could do was validate her feelings and explain that sometimes other kids won’t want to play, and then you have to either find a different person who wants to play with you or play by yourself.
But it’s hard. Even as a grown-up. I’ve been busy with work since the semester started, and as a result, lonely. I realized this week that somehow I’m The Planner (TM) in most of my relationships, both now and historically. I’m the one who says, “Are you free this week?” or “What are you doing on Tuesday?” or “Would you like to go to this event on this day at this time?” Vague statements that “We should hang out,” aren’t tangible. I’m almost always the one battering out the details.
And it can be exhausting. Sometimes I don’t mind it. But make no mistake, a lot of emotional and social labor goes into being The Planner. And when I’m running low, sometimes I don’t have any to spare. So I don’t make plans. So I end up alone.
I’ve gotten more used to it over the years. There was a time I would – did – internalize it, thinking that there was something wrong with me. That I was annoying or unlikable. That I was defective somehow. Now, most days I like myself fine. I’ve gotten to enjoy my own company. I can entertain myself. I try not to take it personally.
But that doesn’t always make it less lonely. It’s hard feeling that nothing would happen and I would see no one if I wasn’t the driving force behind it. Sometimes I will and do give up. When and where and why and after how long I allow a connection to seep into nothingness through my neglect varies. And it’s always bittersweet. And it’s always after numerous failed attempts to connect on my part, and silence from the other.
I only have the bandwidth to maintain a few close relationships at a time, so I always feel the loss greatly. I never want to anticipate it, and it gets harder to know where to meet people as time goes on.
I’m not a part of the bar scene, and it’s hard to meet queer people as an adult outside of that or PRIDE events, which I have mixed feelings about. Festivals and conferences are ephemeral – it’s rare the connections last outside that space. Coworkers or other professionals are busy or trying to maintain the boundaries of a work-life balance. It’s hard going to poly events when you just want friends, and impossible to go to kink events when you aren’t in an emotional space to be around play. When your identity is in flux, it’s hard to still feel a part of communities based around those identities. Hard to know how or where or if you even fit at all.
So what’s a girl to do?
I feel like there’s so much pressure to produce some product to prove how important and valuable the arts are in education, when sometimes I feel like what I should be doing is just trying to answer the question of what you do when the people you want to play with on the playground don’t want to play with you.
But that’s a hard question without an easy answer. I’m almost thirty and I’m still figuring out one. I know the things that don’t work – pulling away and letting a friendship end, sucking it up and planning something anyway, passive-aggressively waiting to see how much time will go by before someone extends the olive branch to you, just getting used to being alone….
But as for an actual solution to the problem, or even a clear understanding of the problem? You got me. I couldn’t tell you if it is just life getting in the way, or mix-matched priorities, or a friendship case of “(s)he’s just not that into you.” Or something I haven’t considered. All I know is its a pattern, and at this point, I don’t know that I can expect it to change.
I read voraciously in childhood, though now I usually sate my need for storytelling through TV. No matter the medium, the best stories always have a core group of friends who are inseparable. I always wanted that. There have been a few moments in time when I thought maybe I had found it. When for a while, perhaps I did. But things change. They always change. Maybe they would have changed in the books, too, if they’d gone on. Maybe no one ever writes that part.
I think that’s part of what I liked about the theatre – the way the cast for every show coalesces, and the sense of intimacy forged by the trust and vulnerability acting requires. Speaking truths in front of a crowd is a kind of intimacy, but it can lead to always searching for the next show and the next, or the next open mic and the next. It was made to be ephemeral. And chasing ephemerality can be pretty lonely, too.
I wrote my Master’s thesis about the formation of utopian communities, so I know it’s a doomed enterprise from the start. But still we try. Or I do, anyway. What makes some connection last while others fade? Why are some communities more resilient than others? Why do some people find where they belong, while others spend their lives searching? Munoz said utopia is a queer impulse. What if part of the price for being queer is belonging nowhere and to no one? We can’t even agree as a culture who’s allowed to count as part of the community.
My closest and longest-lasting friendships have been with other outsiders. Sometimes I think I’m doomed to be a spinster or the witch who lives in the gingerbread house in the forest. And sometimes I think that wouldn’t be so bad. Sometimes I even look forward to a time when I’ve accepted it instead of wishing things were different. Perhaps the lesson of the witch is that the price a strong woman who doesn’t bend over backwards to make everyone happy pays is being alone.
This isn’t a pity party or a cry for help. I’m not calling anyone out. I’m just trying and failing to make sense of a thing that seems to follow me and I can never understand it. Maybe the reason I love Waiting for Godot or Hedwig and the Angry Inch so much is that they’re outsiders, too. They’re alone, too.
This week has me wondering if the reason I work so much is so that I will feel less lonely. If my life is full of things to do, then I can pretend that’s what’s standing between me and the connections I crave, instead of whatever is there that I can’t crack. The more space I open up in my life, the lonelier it can feel.
I don’t remember where I read it, but somewhere in my reading on trauma I came across a passage that said that one of the side-effects of trauma is that you can’t feel love from others. Intellectually, you might know it’s there, but you can’t seem to *feel* it. I identify with that. There are moments I can feel it, but a lot more when I don’t. Maybe it is me. Maybe I don’t know how to recognize or trust that other people care about me. Maybe I don’t know how to ask for love to be shown in a way that I could actually feel.
Right now I just wish I knew a way out of this ambivalence. Do I accept that I will be alone or do I keep trying to make connections? Are these things even mutually exclusive? I feel like a pendulum always going from one extreme to another, depending how starved for love and attention I feel. I want to belong somewhere. Maybe I never will. Maybe someday I will find an answer to this problem or make one.
Until then, all I can do is say that yes, it feels bad when no one wants to play with you. And that sometimes, you just have to learn to play by yourself.