My family made four cross-country moves before I turned 18. I don’t remember the move from California to Michigan because I was just a toddler. The move from Michigan to Illinois was a mixture of excitement for something new and sadness because I quickly missed my friends of eight years. The next two moves, when I was 11 and 16, turned my already naturally introverted personality into that of a human frightened of meeting new people and who reveled in close friendships with a select few.
When I got married, I was convinced that I was done with moving. When my husband and I finally settled into our home in Indianapolis, I felt like we were in our “forever” place. We might eventually need a new house, but we would live in the city until at least retirement. I would never have to go through the painfully awkward experience of moving to a new city again.
We celebrated my 30th birthday with our closest friends and our newborn daughter. The next day, my loving husband, who knew the emotional scars that remained from moves during my adolescence, informed me that his boss wanted him to transfer to a new city, two hours away.
I spent the next year trying to mentally prepare myself for the painful task of picking up and starting over.
A year later, we packed up our belongings and moved away from one of my sisters, friends that were like family, a church community that I loved, work colleagues who made my job easy, and a place where I felt I belonged. As soon as we moved, I dove into working on our foreclosure house purchase and grad school classes to distract myself from the fact that I wasn’t where I wanted to be. I wasn’t very fun company, and I’m thankful that my husband actually stuck around to see me come out of the deep loneliness that settled in.
I reached one of my lowest points shortly after our move, while I was trying to find the bank that was “hiding” in plain sight on a main road just a half-mile from our house. I eventually found it after calling my husband and explaining my frustrations though angry tears. I don’t know what exactly was the final straw, but something snapped then and I sat in my car at the ATM, my husband on the other end of the phone, my toddler daughter in the backseat, and screamed the Cadillac of profanities.
I am not proud of that moment of human weakness.
As an introvert, I treasure rare moments alone, the times when I am allowed to just take a step back from everyone and everything and be with my own thoughts, interruption-free. I know that some people do not understand the difference between happily being alone and being lonely, but over the years I have learned that they are two entirely different states of being. Alone time refreshes me; loneliness slowly destroys me from the inside out.
Of course, my introverted tendencies don’t always help me cure my loneliness. In my adult life, my husband and I have moved five times, four of them fairly significant distances. Three of those four significant instances, I moved into situations where I already knew people and had some kind of initial connection in my work and church life. Those connections helped to build our community, no matter how small. In the move from Indianapolis, that was not the case. I got along great with my grad school classmates and fellow TAs, but I wasn’t hanging out with them outside of our small basement office. My family tried multiple churches over the course of two years before we finally settled into a church we liked. But we still failed to make connections like the ones we had when we lived in Indianapolis. When our son was born a year after we moved, I missed the community I had when our daughter was born two years earlier. I longed for a playdate that included babies sleeping on the floor, while friends and I talked about the joys and struggles of motherhood.
My four moves growing up taught me that friendships after moving can remain, as long as one is willing to work on it. But in order to emotionally survive a change in location, I needed to build new communities. While Facebook and text messages help me stay connected to geographically distant friends, they are no replacement for Steak ‘n Shake nights with my girlfriends and dinners with laughter, good food, and a glass or two of wine.
As a culture, we are getting really good at being connected, but we are miserable at connecting. We need to be better at noticing loneliness and connecting to those who just need someone to notice them and listen to what they have to say—it’s a difficult task to open our social circle to someone new, but it can make a critical difference. For example, when we first moved to Texas, our family spent six weeks living in our 30-foot travel trailer while we waited for our house purchase to go through. A college acquaintance invited us over for dinner to get us out of the camper. That single invite led to Easter dinners, impromptu BBQ nights, and a Thanksgiving camping trip. It was the beginning of genuine friendship.
We are social creatures. Some of us need bigger communities than others, but we all need our own “tribe.” I love social media because it keeps me connected to friends and family across the globe. But on a bad day, sometimes I just need someone to say yes to a couple hours hanging out at Starbucks while I nurse a Java Chip Frappuccino.
And maybe now that I am finally rebuilding my own tribe, I can occasionally step out of my introverted self to help someone else find theirs.
This post reflects the views and experiences of the author, and is intended to start a conversation. Please share your thoughts in the comments below!
Or, if you’d like to hear some overall thoughts on loneliness from Christians at THRED, you can find those over here.