Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Getting to the Real

Being forthright with my emotions has never been one of my strong points. I suffer quietly, and I rejoice privately. It feels strange to do otherwise.

These habits make it very hard for me to ever feel comfortable around people, though. "Good behavior" Rachel doesn't ruffle any feathers, doesn't rock the boat, and essentially tries to be invisible most of the time. Unfortunately, I'm pretty good at being invisible.

Most of you, even my most dedicated of followers (add Reese's PB Cups to your Rachel Shrine to be moved higher on the list), will probably agree that you just don't know me very well. You may know facts about me: how many kids are in my family, where I grew up, what I studied in school, etc. Knowing about someone and knowing someone are very different feats. If you really know someone, it means you can fairly accurately predict how they'll react in a given situation. You say things like, "I think you'd like this movie," or "I saw this and thought you might like it." Andy and I have reached levels near telepathy in this regard. I have a really hard time with anyone else (which is why I suck at gift-giving--sorry).

Moving to a new place filled with new people means that I've built all kinds of impenetrable walls around myself. Social constructs are in my favor here: it takes a really long time to get past the pleasantries of chitchat that social norms require. Most of the people I know these days are through church, and because I don't go to the billions of activities that are held each week, my interaction with these individuals is limited to a few minutes a week at most. You can't move past "My week was fine," in that amount of time.

When we first came here, we had an onslaught of invitations. Every week, it seemed, we were off to a dinner appointment or a dessert, or more than one in a day. Social butterflies! I think we counted 30 or more people that we spent time with in the first month. We got a little further in our interactions, moving to, "What got you interested in that?," but that's it. There's only so far you can get in 2 hours.

Then it was our turn to invite back. We've been here now just about four months, and we have had ONE couple over for dinner. I have lots of excuses: our apartment is too small, we don't have anywhere to sit (just one uncomfortable couch and a chair whose seat is not attached to its frame), we don't have air-conditioning (that one worked better in the summer), we don't have a table, there's nothing to do, it's too cluttered, we're not child-proof . . .

Admittedly, most of these excuses have to do with my own personal pride. I'm very grateful for our apartment, especially now that it's getting colder, but it doesn't feel like a permanent home to me. We moved to Pittsburgh with nothing more than we could cram into our Camry or mail to ourselves, and since then, have acquired very little else--after all, with uncertain employment in a new place, living off our savings, spending rent and grocery money on furniture doesn't seem all that prudent. So, instead of a dresser, I have a suitcase. Instead of a table, we have two Rubbermaid bins stacked and covered with a bedsheet. Even our pencil cups are created from cardboard boxes. Improvisation: it makes us look like such a charity case.

I feel a twinge of jealousy each time I enter someone's home, with their family portraits hung on the wall, and am invited to sit on a chair. They turn off their TV, they apologize for the house being such a wreck (self-consciously picking up the two toys that are on the ground), they light their scented candles, adjust the centerpiece on the coffee table, and sink into their big, cozy sofa. My mind flashes back to our apartment: bare, unfurnished, and mismatched. This is, to me, a reflection on how everyone has it together but me.

So, I continue to keep my walls in good repair, fifty feet thick and one mile high.

Too bad for me that keeping others out of my bubble also means that I'm all alone in there . . .


  1. I feel you. I've been hermiting (yes, I coined it as a verb) a ton, too. Most of the single people we started doing things with have mostly moved away already or have had kids and are now it their own world. I would totally invite you over if we lived close to you!

  2. It's always nice to see people say the things I have been thinking.

    I still want to get together with you guys for some food and fall-centered fun!


  3. We've been in Kerrville over a year, and I still feel isolated and alone. And you know how outgoing I am! You can only be who you are, Rachel. The best advice my mom ever gave me was this: "Bloom where you're planted." If you're a rose, you can't be a tulip. Love you bunches.

  4. We made a dining room table out of our stereo box covered with a piece of fabric. We used it for the longest time. Don't worry. Furniture will come.

    As for those invitations you need to return: bake some cupcakes, invite all those folks you owe over at the same time, and play them some cello music. No one will care if you have furniture or not.

  5. Oh Rachel. It sounds like a bit of a hard time. I'm so sorry! It's a lonely time of life in many ways, but it's temporary. Oh, so temporary. You just do the best you can, that's all anybody expects of you. Stay close to your sweetie, and you'll look back on this as a very special time. I'd give you PB cups if I lived closer to you!! {HUG}

  6. Wow. I identify with this post so much--especially the idea of having friends who know about me, but don't know me. Did I ever tell you about Gatsby syndrome? I made this disease up, but I have it. It's where you throw parties and invite lots of people, but you don't like to be in the party--you like to witness the party, avoid the conversations, even not attend. I'm much better at being social now though--Sam forces me out of my shell; he's too friendly with everyone.

    But moving to a new place is so, so hard. I really struggled in the past year to make friends and find people who could identify with me or understand my interests (including music), but over time I've become closer with the people I didn't think I'd ever click with. And after being here for a year, I feel more and more at home and feel hardly any longing anymore to return to where we were before. Friendships take a long time to grow, but I think they're worth the investment--especially when it's all you can do.

    I'm so glad though, like you, to have a husband who is my best friend and who understands me. That is the best, isn't it?