Random Thoughts from a Restless Mind

Dr. Darrell White's Personal Blog

Cape Cod

A Social Creature Contemplates Solitude

It’s quiet in here. Even the sound of the rain outside  does nothing but make it seem more… quiet.  Beth is away; the kids are all out. It’s just me, Thug the rabbit, and the dogs Haddie, Timmy, and Abbie. They don’t have much to say. I’m getting a peek at what it’s going to be like in a week or so when we become empty-nesters, a little preview of what at least some part of my life will be like. My wife Beth and I have done a good job of finding things to do both together and apart, and this afternoon is like a trailer for the part of the movie when we’re doing the apart thing.

I don’t much like the view.

It’s not that I don’t like being alone, and it’s not that I don’t enjoy my own company. I really do enjoy having the dogs around–heck, they almost never interrupt me when I’m talking. It’s more of a duration thing, the realization that there’s lots more of this to come. How, exactly, will I spend my time alone? I’ve been telling myself and anyone who would listen that this is when I will write. Ahem… about that. It’s five o’clock in the afternoon and since my crossfit workout at 11:30 I’ve managed to do nothing but goof around on the Internet, writing nothing but idiotic Facebook updates and nonsensical Twitter tweets.  Houston, we have a problem.

This is really rather ironic. When I was younger I was quite famous for the ability to completely “leave” a group by simply opening a book or magazine. It drove my brother crazy. Every Christmas my parents would give me a book, and my brother would offer the same protest each year: “why did you go and give him a book? Now I won’t see him for a least a day!” You’d think that anyone who had the ability to create solitude in a crowd would be quite comfortable when presented with the real thing.

That’s just it, though. The timing and duration of my bouts with solitude were all chosen by me and me alone. I could choose to tune out everything that was happening around me, and by the same token I could choose to re–engage at any time. It’s a bit like that Ron White joke about being arrested for being drunk in public. “I wasn’t drunk in public! I was drunk in a bar. I wasn’t in public until that guy over there threw me out of the bar and INTO public.” In the past the vast majority of my stints of solitude occurred when I was surrounded by people, and if not they were rather short engagements.

This is a bit of a problem, and I’m not trending terribly positive. Many of my people are leaving, have left, or have never actually been here. I’m right smack dab in the middle of the lifestage when men tend to slowly drift apart from their people and their lives as opposed to women who continue to successfully flex their friend-making muscles. They not only draw existing friends closer but  bring more friends into the fold. Now, I don’t think I’m really complaining,at least not yet, and I’m trying very hard not to sound too terribly whiny, but I’m a little stumped as to how exactly to approach this.

There are two strategies that seem to be the most logical ones to consider: get in touch with my inner “friend–finder”, re-–engaging existing friends while I explore all the different parts of my life looking for new friends, or get much more comfortable with solitude. The solitude option is probably okay to a point. I think my problem today is that I have been more or less left alone all day, and I’m looking at much the same thing all day tomorrow. From a tactical standpoint the total immersion technique is failing miserably. Perhaps taking a crossfit–like approach would be helpful, short intense periods of solitude which hopefully will build my tolerance to the occasional necessary longer experience, just like our intense shorter workouts translate to an adequate adaptation when longer tasks are presented. I’ll see if I can engage the other stakeholders in this part of the program.

The friendship angle is a little bit more alluring, honestly. I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about why it is that men seem to occupy ever smaller islands as they go through midlife, kind of an “out of body” observational exercise. There lots of studies about men and women and how they make friends and keep friends at different stages of their lives, but theory is not what I’m interested in right now. From what I’ve observed my problem appears to be one of energy and effort. In recent years when given the opportunity to leave the house or the office and either explore new friendships or expand existing ones, whether in the company of my wife or by myself, I almost always choose to just go home. Therein lies the problem. Home is where I am alone today, and home is where I am likely to be alone in the future. There’s nothing wrong with home, except when I’m alone.

Is it an aging thing, an inability to summon the energy required to get out? Could it be just simple laziness? Is it perhaps a fear thing, an odd type of “second childhood”  where all of the confidences and comforts of adult life are somehow washed away and the vulnerability and fear of adolescence arrives for encore? Frankly, I have no idea. Short of embarking on some epic adventure of self–examination I don’t see a whole lot of promise in the “second childhood” thingy. Nope, got to go with your strengths on this one, I think. I’ve never been afraid of hard work, and once upon a time in college I was actually accused of working TOO hard at being a good friend. Now, I’m not really sure if that’s possible, but if I was once upon a time accused of working too hard at making and keeping friends, surely I can work hard enough at that tactic to try to solve this particular problem. Heck, I built two successful medical practices by basically doing just that–going out and making friends. I think I can do this.

So I’ll check with the dogs (Thug is sound asleep and therefore unavailable) and see what they think. If history serves they are not likely to offer up too many objections. The thing about dogs is that deep down they really do love you more than they even love themselves; they really want you to be happy, and they’re hoping for nothing but the best on your behalf. I’m concerned about the law of unintended consequences, though, what’s going to happen in the house when I get going. I’m not really sure my dogs know exactly what it will mean for them if I adopt this strategy and these tactics since I’ll actually be out and about working this, working to avoid the solitude. I just won’t be home quite as much.

After all, as everyone knows, dogs are social creatures.

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