Do we know each other personally? Have we made mutual acquaintances? Do we have similar social circles? Anything?
If any of the first three apply, you may know or could guess that I am fairly gregarious. If we’re throwing things into the milieu, perhaps another fitting word lies in the realm of “capricious” or “flighty.” I’m not one to bog myself down in the hard work or tribulations of the middle of an adventure or task; I focus on beginnings and ends. My Myers-Briggs testing is outrageously foreseeable, and that accounts for any Barnum effects.
Aligning with your cognitions, you might think that a gregarious, flighty person would enjoy New York City. With so many things to occupy my time and fill my mind, the only feeling I should constantly ascribe to is overwhelmed. Yet every inquiry into my daily NYC disposition leads to the melancholy answer of “I’m not a fan.”
After completing my first year of graduate school, I really began to ponder this realization as the city bled out into the cooler parts of the world – summer respites – leaving those unable, those too disorganized, or those too poor amidst the insipid bones of the concrete jungle. Living among the new cast of characters, the modern-day epithet became me: no new friends.
I love people. Notwithstanding my father’s attempts to cultivate introspection within his daughter as means of exerting preemptive sagacity, I keenly develop my gregariousness. Communities lies everywhere, and I crave this involvement and belonging. When my life aligns with belonging, purpose reveals itself. I have made safe spaces for myself all over the world, yet this urban development zone lies in wait for excavation.
Rather than putting in work to find my anchors and bearings, I found myself heavily steeped in the demands of graduate study and the exhaustion – both mentally and financially – of spreading my life too thin across two NYC boroughs. However, this last semester’s final throes of work and exhaustion, at last, reveal their rewards: a higher degree, a worthy thesis, and deeper love for my studies aligning with my inherent self.
As my senses begin to heighten to the tastes of reward, a bitterness lingers. Refusing to acknowledge and accept cogitation, my mind beckons: “what else have you gained?” My mind calls for an answer, and, akin to jerk response, tears begin to fall. Somewhere along the timeline, I manufactured an inner void. After tallying a week’s activities and categorizing how I spend my time, I realize spending time with others has never occupied so little time in my life. Even my travels abroad amidst strangers felt more welcoming than engaging in NYC for a week, and I have less to show now than I did in my travels. I add the minutes of my life spent talking with other people; how dismal.
Focusing on the losses of life never made a woman wiser so I look toward a counterpoint. My responsibilities dictate more reading, more researching – savored demands. These responsibilities require stabilization through exercise and self-care. All take up quite a lot of time; I never have time for them all.
Although the amount of time dedicated to fostering relationships may still faulter toward the diminished, I find my connections to my friends of old, those friendships formed prior to leave for the big NYC, possess greater meaning. I say this as a person who, honestly admitting, felt that maybe, possibly, perhaps some those friendships would have been better left alone – timestamped and scrapbooked. Anachronistic and incongruous to the present day. How wrong I have been as these friendships sustain the metaphorical links that keep me tethered to the human landscape.
In a recent visit with my new primary care doctor, she asked some peculiar questions. (Sadly peculiar questions as I felt they should be asked every doctor’s visit.) My depression questionnaire/screening came up quite negative, prompting extra concern. After prompting the disclaimer (“Keep in mind, I’m a grad student.”) and still unsatisfied, my doctor asked about my support system. Once again drawing tallies and keeping scores, I had little to offer in terms of friends close-by, those who could physically appear at my door and check up on me. Commonly exercised, I provided the excuse of time; she provided the recommendation of therapy.
Correct in her judgements, my doctor’s recommendations would be bandages to the real problems plaguing my resolve. My solution requires time and effort, and immediately questions of worth besieged my thoughts.
Trying to make a friend is in NYC requires more understanding of what influences to avoid rather than what you think makes for a good friend. In a city that provides avenues into everything and anything, you may believe you’ve found a likable candidate… until they drag you out to a night of drinks at $15-20 a pop because it turns out that you’re the only person willing to be a sounding board. That’s not a friend; that’s you providing a service. Navigating this among other similar scenarios hones the skill but doubles the energy required, and graduate studies limit how much unhampered energy I offer. (For my fellow and for former graduate students: no, my university does not offer a compensatory environment that tries to persuade graduate students to balance work and play or the like. Aren’t we all surprised?)
The conundrum drives the wedge between my mental health and my academic achievements, and it pushes for deeper thought about the connections I have and the ones I have yet or may never form. This deeper thought I bottle up into the expression: my “human sense.” My lack of new connections makes me cherish the few made even more and hold the old ones even closer. While my accountability or dedicated time spent fostering existing relationships falls wayside, one thing remains certain: the genuine feelings of support and security from you, my friend, that I have for you, my friend, remain unfaltering.
The new, final year starts soon, and the impending, final deadlines mark a different time for me and my feelings. This is to say: amidst an emotionally turbulent time, I await the days of reunion and the longing to feel connected once again. But with this newly developed human sense, perhaps geography may be disregarded as mere nuisance while my love for all who ever cared in the slightest – friends, acquaintances, life – renews in these last days.
Thank you for your thoughts.
Thank you for your willingness to share.
Thank you. For never giving up on me.