I read several simplicity blogs – they cross over with Quaker blogs, and environmental concern blogs, and anti-capitalist blogs, and other things of interest to me. And something they say from time to time is (paraphrased): “The best thing about simplicity is having time to spend with your family” or “having time to play with your children” or “having time to talk to your partner” or “having time for really deep conversations with friends”.
It sounds ideal, I think. Then I remember that no amount of throwing my stuff away (I don’t have that much anyway), or taking up home cooking or sewing, or cutting down my working hours, will give me any of those things. I have some family, but I already spend more time talking to them than most people my age; and they are two hundred miles away, so it’s almost always the telephone. I don’t, and can’t, have children, so the question of whether I want them is moot.
I haven’t got a partner – there are people I love, but they aren’t really able to be big parts of my life right now. I love Panda, but he loves his new girlfriend; he’ll see me sometimes, but the days are gone when I could pick up the phone and invite him over on a whim. I love Otter, but she’s in Vietnam (maybe Thailand by the time you read this). Even Facebook messages aren’t getting through any more.
I get on okay with my housemates, but understandably they – a couple – want to spend their free time with each other rather than with me. (I find it hardest that I never know whether they’ll be around to talk to, or shut away upstairs.) I have some friends of the kind with whom you can make plans a week or two ahead, but many of them are far away (for given values of far: Nottingham, Winchester, Sheffield, Otley, Liverpool, Cambridge, Canada), and the two or three who are local I don’t know well enough to be casual with, to say ‘are you free tonight?’ rather than ‘shall we make a plan for next week?’
There are a few people online most nights – but typing for ages isn’t good for my wrist, especially since I do that all day; and there is always the possibility of misinterpretation. I am not ready to deal with another friend thinking that I am leading him on and want a date.
I know I ought to make new friends. (And stop complaining, and suck it up and deal, and not be needy, and not have these messy wants like ‘companionship’ and ‘someone to talk to’.) It doesn’t help that most of my communities don’t really want me. Local political campaigners put leaflets through my door saying that people like me should be limited to a certain percentage of the housing. (They say ‘shared occupancy houses’, and mean ‘students’.) The community groups around sexuality don’t really want me – lesbians usually meet in nightclubs, for example, a perfect way to exclude the chronically ill.
I don’t build up strong enough ties in any of my religious communities to make friends. I am too irregular at Buddhists (I keep having to work over the lunchtime meditations, and can’t manage most evenings). The only Pagan group I now see regularly is the one I sort-of run, and I have to be careful there not to be too bossy, not to be seen to be trying to run it, while also not asking for too much of any of the other members – to be fair, we try and spread things evenly, but it’s difficult to get the right balance. I only know the names of about a third of the people at my Quaker Meeting, and the people who know me a little tend to make assumptions (“it’s so good to see young people involved in our community! it’s so great that you’re bringing all this energy!” There’s nothing like being thanked for your youth and energy to make you feel old and fatigued).
I can’t say this to anyone who knows me, obviously. If you say to a friend ‘I wish I had more friends’, they feel insulted, and begin to wonder what horrible thing about you they don’t yet know.
Sometimes I tell myself that I have to let go of this desire, that I will always be alone, and that I have to deal with that. Other times I tell myself that it is okay to want things, so long as you don’t impose that on other people. Either way hurts. Nothing actually gets me what I want, which is someone to talk to, to listen to, to care about, who doesn’t object to my ill health or my emotions or my life choices.