Dear Auntie Seraphic,
I finished my doctorate at a rather young age and jumped immediately into a full-time professorship that pays very well. I have students who (usually) like coming to school, and every day I make decisions that really matter to the school. I also lead several church groups in which people are very active, kind, and faithful, and where I am making a real difference in their lives.
The problem is that the job is in a locale where I know absolutely no one and that is a desert for one searching for Catholic comaraderie. There are several obstacles to my meeting new people and making friends, even among the parishes where I'm active. Either people are too busy to make time to spend with a new acquaintance (my invitations for coffee and the like are frequently turned down because the invitee is "too busy"), or they live a lifestyle that is so antithetical to my own that I don't have any hope for real friendship with these people.
I've hosted a number of large-ish get-togethers that have been fun, but the relationships are still growing and aren't yet ripe enough to share struggles that really matter to me. Also, the frequency with which I can do this sort of thing is limited both by my time constraints, as well as the type of personality for whom one major social event is sufficient for a month.
Having also moved to a brand new place, I rely on my circle of friends from other places I've lived to get me through the days when I've tried (unsuccessfully) inviting people living in the same town as me to some sort of social event. The problem with friends who don't live near you, though, is that you don't have the opportunity to make living memories with them by physically being there. I thank God for my phone, but phone calls only go so far.
All this boils down to the fact that...it's very hard to be chipper when you're a very social extrovert and your only real friends and family are 1000+ miles away. I know that it is sometimes hard for my friends at a distance to listen to me when I tell them of problems that I'm having -- most have never moved more than 100 miles from home, and most are not in academia. They don't understand what I'm going through, and I'm sure they tire of my problems (though I do talk about other things with them, especially what is going on in their lives.) Not to mention the fact that I sometimes wonders if it's not just a problem with me that makes having friends difficult.
How can I be more joyful and self-confident when I feel like I have no one (besides the One whom I meet in frequent prayer and sacraments) who really understands and sympathizes? I really don't want to be bitter, but the temptation grows stronger every day. I want to be the kind of person that goes out of her way to be hospitable and make conversation and help people enjoy themselves and be happy. I also want to be a source of support during trials for those whom I know. But it is very hard to do these things when one feels so isolated.
The desire to connect at a deep level with others often makes me into the person who gives away too much time and energy and information better kept private to those who are not really yet a "bosom buddy." Even more than that, I want to be the type of woman who can bring all these virtues to a strong marriage if I meet Mr. Right.
Successful But Lonely
Dear Successful But Lonely,
First, stop being so hard on yourself. You sound like you are ALREADY the kind of person who goes out of her way to be hospitable and a source of support. So never mind that. To heck with that. What you really want are people to be hospitable and a source of support to YOU, and why not? You deserve it. Let's work on you not becoming bitter because I think it's that--not you becoming a social Scrooge--that is the danger.
Second, what jumps out at me from your letter is that you have been doing all the work. YOU are the prof, and YOU make the decisions, and YOU offer the invitations, and YOU are the hostess, and YOU are a leader at church. This does not surprise me, since you have landed such a great job. You probably worked your butt off for it, but--guess what? The tactics that make us so successful at school and at work do not always win us friends, to say nothing of Mr. Right. For friends and suitors, you have to stop working. You have to start relaxing. And you have to stop LEADING all the darn time. Leading is great for school, work and ministry, but not for making friends.
All of a sudden, I am reminded of Aragorn son of Arathorn and how he and Boromir son of Denethor, the only other Man in the Fellowship of the Ring, weren't friends--probably because both Aragorn and Boromir wanted to be the leader. Hmm...
Anyway, my idea is to get you away from the university, from the students, from the decisions and from the parishes. (Parishes? How much work are you doing?) My idea is to get you into a place where you are completely equal to everyone around you, and where no-one will call you "Professor." Somewhere where you can't lead because, if there is a leader, it's somebody else.
I'm thinking "Meet Up." I'm thinking Improv.
Last night I went to a "Meet Up" for people interested in learning how to do Improv (improvised sketch comedy), of all things, and I had been invited to it by a local blog reader, who teaches it.
The co-ordinator and your fellow reader cleared away all the chairs and tables of a coffee shop and gave us name tags to write made-up names on.
"You can be anyone you want to be," said my reader, so I was Bee.
Various things struck me as Bee.
The first one that the introductory improv games loosened everyone one up and made us able to interact with complete strangers in amusing, extroverted ways.
The second was that because I was in no way in charge, I could just relax, and be, and see what was going on.
The third was that most people there were in their 20s-30s. There were some older guys (50s), and two or three older women (40s & 50s), but the majority were young and even attractive. There were some very attractive men. And I was not seeing any wedding rings, which makes complete sense because married people do not go by themselves to Meet Ups like Improv, if they go to Meet Ups at all!
The fourth was that having a "new identity" made it completely un-Singles Night-like. I might have been the only one there who thought seriously about everyone's marital status. People were there just to have innocent fun.
So, SBL, I am thinking about the Meet Up phenomenon and wondering if there are Meet Ups in your town. And even if there are no Meet Up groups, per se, I am wondering if there are evening Improv classes at your university or in the town. As an extrovert, you might not be as intimidated by the very thought as many would be.
I cannot guarantee that you will meet fellow Catholics at such things although--no word of a lie--at the Improv Meet Up group tonight, one man and I recognized each other from my former parish. I gave a lecture years ago to his RCIA class. But what you will do is meet other people, and in a position of equality, too, since you won't be leading or teaching.
I do hope this is helpful. I know it is awful not to have close Catholic friends nearby. But one of the things about being a minister to all Catholics is that it can be difficult to make Catholic friends. Try a not-Catholic-specific, not Singles-specific social/hobby activity and see what happens.
Stop do-ing so much, and start be-ing. And let people be, too. See them first of all as interesting fellow creatures, and let the friendship chips fall where they may.
Finally, I strongly recommend finding a spiritual director. As you are leading church groups, you really should have a spiritual director of your own. Ask the priests at the parishes you know for recommendations. As you have a good salary, you could certainly pay a professional lay pastoral counsellor. She or he could help you come to terms with your feelings of isolation and sometimes excessive longing for intimacy. As we learned in "Intro to Ministry," such feelings and longings can cause even lay ministers serious problems.
Grace and peace,
P.S. For what it's worth, there are only three women in Scotland I regularly have coffee with, only one of them is Catholic, and she is leaving in June.
P.S. 2 There's a really great book on Singles and spirituality by Susan Muto called Celebrating the Single Life. It warns that Singles are in danger of two extremes: doing too much for others and getting isolated. I've read it, and with a few reservations, I recommend it.