Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Friendships and Loss

I'm struggling mightily with an issue that has been bothering me for a while.  I was never one who had a lot of friends.  I'm a bit of a loner, and being an introvert doesn't help.  I'm a believer in "quality" over "quantity," anyway, and the close friends that I have are highly valued, true quality friends.  But I allowed many of these friends to exit my life because I didn't do the necessary maintenance required to keep those friendships from drying up, and I'm looking around and realizing that I really don't have any very close friends anymore.  What I'm talking about are the male friendships one develops as a kid and either keeps throughout one's life, or picks up and develops through the different phases of life.

"Tim" and "Martin" were my best friends when I was a kid.  Tim lived five houses down from mine, and we bonded when I was about 5 or 6.  Unfortunately, he moved away by the time we reached the age of ten, and looking for a new buddy, Martin and I became close.  Martin lived down the street, just around the block, and we were inseparable until high school, getting together almost daily to do things and hang out.  We had other guys in our circle of friends, but he and I were the ring leaders, and there was mutual respect and admiration.  Things changed in high school.  He struggled academically, so we never had the same classes, and the only times we even got together were at lunch and in the band, then again after school.  I guess, as we grew apart, we didn't have as much influence on each other as we would have liked, since he became a bit of a "bad boy," and I was squeaky clean.  Once we started driving, and he got that beautiful '66 Mustang, he was burning up the back roads around our community.  I shared his love of muscle cars, but I was never going to be able to compete with him, and since his parents were very strict and didn't allow him to let anyone ride in his car with him, we didn't get together much.  He ended up in a rough crowd, and one night, after a party during our Junior year, he had too much to drink and he flipped his beloved car.  While we remained friends, we were never as close again.

We lived far enough away from our church that none of the kids in my church's youth group went to my school, so while I developed some very close friendships in the youth group, particularly the twins, "Joe" and "Jon," they were in one circle and my friendships at school were in a different circle, and they didn't cross over.  I developed several close friendships during this time of my high school career, with "James," "Kris," and "Tom."  We had many of the same classes, and Kris and I were in the jazz band together.  The four of us got together a lot, and the friendships carried over into adulthood.  Jon, from church, was also a good friend, but there was still the separation between my church friends and my school friends.  Kris's brother, "David," also became a good friend during this time of my life, especially after Kris got married.  Kris, James, David, and I did a lot together, and we were a pretty close bunch.  I was a groomsman at both Kris and David's weddings, and David was the Best Man at my wedding.  But it was shortly after Teresa and I were married that I had a falling out with David that, to this day, I take full responsibility for causing.  I was too shortsighted to realize that I needed to have close male friends in my life.  While Kris kind of drifted away with his wife, and they started a family, and James disappeared completely, it was David who longed to continue our friendship as it was, despite the fact he was married so much sooner than I was.  I decided that it was more important to make my wife the only friendship that really mattered, and David disappeared from my life.

Teresa and I made many new friends, mostly through our church, and they were our "couple" friends, the husbands and wives that we spent our social time with.  While these husbands did become fairly good friends, they were born out of the common association we had as married couples, though no less important.  But I had allowed my "pre-marriage" friends all disappear from my life.  Interestingly, Teresa did not.  She still got together with her friends from college, all of whom were not married.

After Teresa died, I watched all of these "couple" friends disappear from my life.  I had read many books on grief that said this would happen.  I didn't believe it, but within about a year after she died, they were gone.  Teresa and I had started attending a new church, Grace Community, less than a year before, and we were not yet plugged in enough to know very many people, so I didn't have anyone there that I would call a friend.  I was really all alone.  But back into my life popped Kris and David, and even Tom and James were back.  The five of us began to get together every couple of months.  It wasn't the same as it had been when we were younger, as we were all older with kids and new and busy lives and careers, but we made the effort to get together when we could.  It was good for me.  But I still didn't allow them fully back in.  I had been burned, I guess, and didn't trust that they would remain in my life.  I should have trusted God.  He brought these guys back into my life when I needed them the most, and I wasn't making the effort to allow them to come back all the way in.

I tried to get involved in some of the ministries at my church, but that was a real struggle.  I am such an introvert, and my self-confidence is really low, so I had myself convinced that no one would want me as a friend.  I tried out the drama ministry, something I enjoyed being a part of when Teresa and I led the drama ministry at our old church, but Grace's drama ministry completely died several years ago.  I thought I might have found my niche by doing a few dramatic readings during the worship services, and through that I developed a little bit of a friendship with the worship and music director, but after his untimely death last year, I lost that connection, as well.  I even tried to get involved in the Men's ministry at the church, but my responsibilities as a single parent make that too difficult to maintain any kind of regular attendance, and I've had trouble connecting with a small group due to my introvertedness.  I've struggled so much with depression, and while I can freely share this here, I can't seem to trust anyone there enough to share this with them (though I know several guys do read this blog, and so this may be news to them; I hope I haven't disappointed you guys).  I realize that friendships evolve organically, so I don't want to try to force anything, but I also know I'm not trying very hard.  That might be mental illness talking, but I feel too guilty to reach out and ask for help.  When I have, it has scared people away, and when someone does try to jump in to my life to help me, I don't let them in.  I don't want them to know how much I'm struggling.

I want so much more for my daughter, too.  I had really hoped that maybe one of the "older" girls from the church camp might become more involved in her life, as a sort of "big sister," something she really needs.  A good Christian role model in her life would be an answered prayer.  My sister, who has her own struggles, has recently tried to be a "buddy" for her, but since she is her aunt, and there is a huge generation gap between them, it just doesn't work.  And, unfortunately, as much as I hate to say it, she isn't the type of role model I want for Melody.  Melody has been spending less and less play time with the neighborhood kids.  I don't know what that's about, and though I've tried to broach the topic with her, she just doesn't talk about it.  Melody is developing very fast into a young teen, and that is creating an interesting dynamic for the two of us, not all of it good.  But if she had someone closer to her age, someone who she liked and trusted, maybe she would share a bit more with them.

So where does that leave me?  Where should I be looking for friends?  Work?  No, I'm in a management position that just isn't conducive to close friendships.  Even my peers are so competitive and career oriented, that I just don't feel comfortable pursuing friendships in that environment.  Family?  My father has become my best friend, really, and that at least gives my a confidant, but it's hard to share everything with him.  He's a giver and a fixer and an enabler, and he wants to help me with everything, while I feel too guilty burdening him with all that I'm dealing with.  My brother and I aren't close enough, as much as I wish that were otherwise.  Old friends?  Tom and I are probably the closest of the bunch, mostly due to the losses we've experienced that have created a common bond.  But Tom is struggling with his faith.  I want so much to help him, but the physical distance is a problem (we're more than an hour apart), and I'm hardly in the right state of mind to help anyone.  Church?  That really is the answer, and I believe, as my daughter, Melody, enters into middle school next year, and the youth group, I may find myself with a new niche as a youth counselor, something I did for more than a decade following high school.  I still need those male friendships in my life, however, and I know that's going to require me getting my act together.  It is something I will continue to pray about.  It really is that important.  The Men's ministry motto is, "We're better together," and that's so true.  God wants us to lean on each other, especially when we're struggling.  I need to learn how to trust again, too, and allow these guys into my life.  That's my weakness, and it doesn't need to be that way.

Forgive me tonight for this "stream of consciousness" blog post.  It is weighing on me, and it's something I needed to get out, for therapeutic reasons.  As I've mentioned before, writing is therapy for me, and this blog is the ultimate "Dear Diary."  Pray for me.

Have a wonderful evening, everyone!

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