I graduated from uni a couple of years ago and spent a long time desperately trying to forge a satisfying career in the big city, figure out how to be happy, navigate relationships etc. I spent a lot of time being incredibly unhappy about not having a good job, and thought I would never amount to anything.
I’m now thankfully very gainfully employed, I have pretty much the best job I could hope for, it’s fun, busy, creative, has a future, it’s totally awesome! I also have started a lovely relationship with a man who is my best friend and who I have been crushing on for years. My problem is that I have begun to feel very lonely — I know I should be grateful for everything I have, but I can’t help being unhappy. Starting a relationship with this man has kind of alienated my best female friend, I no longer have the social whirl of dating guys outside my friendship circle, my other good friends don’t live in the same city, and I am pretty socially anxious and find it hard to make new friends. Basically I’m spending quite a few evenings with a glass of wine and my laptop. I guess what I need is some literature that will be a friend to get me through this lonely period.
I was talking about this letter with a gentleman. His first comment was, “What’s wrong with the boyfriend?” I didn’t get what he meant, so he clarified. “Shouldn’t he be keeping her company? Isn’t that kind of his job?”
I was surprised. Did he think it was his job in relationships to keep his girlfriends from being lonely? He gave a firm yes. I told him that sounded horrible. Women get lonely sometimes. Particularly after a female friendship splinters. It’s not always male attention we need, and so if he’s feeling responsible for her state, and futilely trying to fix it, he’s going to start to feel awfully helpless, won’t he? It’s not the poor dear’s fault. It’s a different dynamic we need, a different instrument than he knows how to play.
Besides, it’s too much pressure for just one person. We’re tribal creatures, human beings. As much as every silly romantic comedy wants us to believe that it only takes one very special person to complete us, it takes a lot more than that.
Now, I think it’s smart of you to have figured out that you should not go to this man in your life with all your loneliness gathered up in your arms, only to drop it at his feet and demand, “Fix it.” Sometimes we do that, consciously or not, and it’s not good for anyone involved. In Mavis Gallant’s short story “Autumn Day,” collected in The Cost of Living, a young bride follows her soldier husband to Salzburg after the war, only to find herself terribly alone and unable to make friends. And as Cissy goes to her husband again and again for comfort the only thing he can think of to say is that things will be better when they move into the new place. “I don’t know where the notion came from,” she thinks, “but Walt truly believed, if I was silent, or pale, or forlorn, that an apartment would make everything right.”
“I thought it was up to Walt to take me around and introduce me to people,” she states plainly, but it’s not. He introduces her to the wives of his friends, women who are all wrong for Cissy. A friendship is intricate work, delicate work. Any old person your husband happens to know can’t be shoved into that position.
Gallant’s stories are full of lonely girls, girls playing at being women but still showing up with ponytails and laddered stockings. Girls forging off on their own, only to look around after a while and wonder where everyone went. Girls who will keep you very good company while you try to navigate a new social life, one that is down one woman and up one man. And as the girls try to make connections with others, fumbling through the process, maybe you’ll learn a little something from them about how to go about re-populating your tribe.