This is a question I got recently, via text, from someone who is more than an acquaintance but less than what could be termed a friend. A person who, even before Covid, was a person I saw casually here and there but neither one of us would ever seek out getting together outside of when we ran across each other. Always enjoyed spending time with them and had some great conversations. One of the many people that I know, casually, that I do look forward to running into but that’s about it as far as our relationship with each other goes. To be honest, that describes pretty much almost every person that is in my life – with the exception of a small handful of people. The reality is that I am no one’s “person”. Almost everyone that I know has a significant other; whether it be a partner or a very close friend who is their person. Pretty much everyone that I know has a full and expansive life of people in their circle who make up their life on a day to day basis. They have people who are “their person”.
To use an analogy: Think of a table setting… People are their own main plate – they often have different things on their main plate; a significant other, kids, etc and usually there are also side plates, maybe more than one, which are important to them to have there and which they really want there. Then there are the others in their setting. The salad forks and dessert spoons and extra knives that are there but they hardly notice them, except from time to time. I am that weird little dessert spoon in the place settings. Not an integral part of a person’s dining (life) experience but still there, and sometimes brought into the experience, but not really needed or noticed if it’s not there. I run pretty much solo, and have for many years (with the exception of a few years when I had a partner, but that ended a couple of years ago). Just the way it is. Sometimes I wish I was on someone’s main plate, or even a side plate, but I’m just not and that’s the way it is.
Before Covid, that realization would sneak up on me emotionally from time to time but I had a fairly active social life and was able to enjoy enough of those casual people encounters here and there that I didn’t feel too alone. I still had funks where I would have something that I wanted to share with another person and the reality that I really had no one to call or talk to about said thing would hit me and I would feel lonely, but I could shrug it off. Because the next week I would be out at something and be around people I knew and I could socialize a bit (as much as my introverted self wanted to) and that would temper the aloneness for a while.
With Covid, the social isolation of living alone and not having anyone who is my person has really gotten to me. Not having anyone at the end of the day to ask how my day was or for me to ask them how their day was, is lonely. Not having someone next to me on the couch to remark about the show or movie feels lonely sometimes. Add in the random times that something funny comes across my life or a neat tidbit I learn that I realize I have no one to spontaneously text it to and I am in a deep pit of feeling incredibly isolated and alone. The sense of being alone is vast in those moments. I have the odd person who reaches out every now and then and this latest text has spurned a whole anxiety ridden day of – how do I answer that question of “How are you doing?”.
I should probably answer with a sociable and acceptable “fine” or even “doing okay” and then have a few texts back and forth of polite and friendly exchange where I am careful to not let on that I am so very not fine and really doing no where near any semblance of okay (which is the truth) and then end with the usual wrap up where we each say we can’t wait to see each other again sometime when Covid is over and life and gatherings are back to normal, etc, etc. I still have a very deeply ingrained sense of being wary of being open about how I am that has been an issue for me for years but was reinforced by a past relationship where it was made clear that I am too much and too heavy to deal with and just overall hard to be with due to my struggles with being okay and my life stressors and how they affect me. And really (my brain tells me)…when someone does reach out all of a sudden, the last thing they want is to have to deal with me being anything other than light and fluffy and okay. A casual friend didn’t sign up for an honest answer. That’s what my brain says.
So I sit here and wonder… should I be honest and answer that I’m not really doing too great? Do I explain that it is a struggle to get out of bed every day? That the basics of feeding and caring for myself are overwhelming in my current state of depression and anxiety and that isolation is a weight that feels like it’s crushing me each day. Do I tell this person that I am fighting to remain functional when I do venture out – putting on a mask of ‘fine’ that I have crafted perfectly -and then return home only to sit on my couch and not move as I cry and wonder how I can wake up the next day to do it all again? is it fair to that casual person (or even a friend when I do make contact) for me to dump “me” on them? Is it fair to myself to lie and say “fine” and then deal with the massive drop afterwards that comes when I feel even more isolated because that interaction just reinforces that I have no one to open up to?
No, I decide. It’s not fair to anyone else. I am a lot. I am, probably, too much and too heavy to deal with. My problems aren’t theirs and it’s not right for me to share what is going on with me when all they are doing is touching base to say hi. What are they going to do with that information anyways? Other than feeling uncomfortable that what should have been a simple quick “hey” with a cheerful text conversation of pleasantries has now become way more than they bargained for. So I’ll stick with “fine” for the most part and enjoy the fleeting moments of connection. My brain tells me…it’s better than being open and risking pushing someone away with the too muchness that is my life.