Sunday, March 6, 2011

Social Life State of the Union

The other day I was catching up with reading all my regular blogs and I came across a post from Zendette that I haven't been able to get out of my head, check it out here.  The article was a poignant account about how much her life has changed since she had kids.  She for instance talks about that she and her husband never knew any of their neighbors until she had kids and how much their social life has changed since becoming parents.  She lives in Israel, a country where you almost literally don't exist until you have kids.  Having lived in Israel myself for 5+ years the whole thing gave me a chuckle.  I commented, as I frequently do, saying that in the Netherlands the situation is vastly different.  Israel is an absolutely fantastic society to raise children in.  There is a freedom for children in Israel like none I have ever experienced anywhere else.  Why that is would make an interesting post but that is not what I want to talk about today.  This blog post has made me think a lot about friendships and socializing in the social media age (is it an age?) and of course the state of my own social life.

When I was younger, in my twenties and thirties, my social life was the center of my universe.  I have always had a wide group of friends in different circles and my life was always ruled by what was going on tonight. Like many other people my friends were like family to me and my life revolved around whatever party or happening was going on. I went out most nights of the week Of course being in my twenties, bars were often my destination but I also went out a lot to movies, restaurants, and as a season ticket holder of the symphony, public theater and Broadway series in Pittsburgh I had a rich cultural life as well.  In my twenties I was still in university so there were always things going on, so my social calendar was pretty full.

When I turned 30 I moved to Israel and started a new adventure in my life.  The immigrant experience can be difficult and lonely in a lot of things, having to navigate a new country, often a new language and having to try to find your way in a "system" which is unfamiliar can be extremely hard on one's psyche.  Even figuring out things like how to pay your electric bills, banking and the health care system can be challenging and frustrating and you often measure your immigrant life against your former life where because you were familiar with everything "at home" often made home seem so easy and being abroad so difficult.  Forming bonds with people going through the same experience can form bonds which are very strong.  I think it is in some way similar to the bond people serving together in the military must feel.  You are far away from everything and everyone familiar going through a shared experience.  In many ways that situation forms unbreakable bonds for those who go through it together and even after returning to your old life, and even if you never see each other again, the people you go through those life changing experiences with become part of your DNA in a way that cannot be duplicated in other situations.  I made some amazing friends during my time in Israel, people who touched my life and changed me in ways I could have never imagined.  I am forever grateful to those people (they know who they are).  With that adventure came a whole host of new friendships, some of the closest of my life and my social life in Israel was pretty full, although most of my friends were immigrants like me, so there was kind of a revolving door aspect to it as people were always deciding to go back home too.  After 3 or 4 years of this, I started to get dizzy on the merry-go-round.  It got so exhausting forming tight bonds with people and bringing them into your life, feeling so close and then so sad when they decided to go back home.  After a while for me it became exhausting to form close friendships and build my life in Israel around them, only knowing that in a year's time you have to start all over again.  After a few years of this I decided to stop it and scaled back forming close bonds with immigrants.  I had a few Israeli friends and they were always wonderful but these bonds were harder to form, sharing less in common.  After about 3 years in Israel I had a few close Israeli friends but I scaled back my socializing considerably preferring not to be on an endless cycle of meeting, bonding and losing people which was so prevalent in the English speaking community in Israel.  Therefore my life became a lot quieter, although to be honest I didn't mind.  I loved Tel Aviv, I had a great job and a few good friends.

Leo and I got married soon after I arrived in the Netherlands.  His friends and family were very kind to me but it was definitely harder to form attachments here.  The Dutch, as I have mentioned in other posts are a polite and kind people, but they hold you at arm's length and it is difficult (at least I found it difficult) to make friends. I think part of the issue was also that I had Leo, we were married and in love and trying to start a family, so I also didn't look that much for friendships and I was probably less willing to invest in those relationships since things were so wonderful for Leo and I.  Our life was perfect as it was. I found a job easily and I became pregnant about 8 months after we got married.  My pregnancy was difficult, I was in and out of the hospital for the first half and then Maya came along and I was your typical euphoric, sleep deprived and confused young mother.  My baby became my life and I traveled from milestone to milestone a flurry of over analysing how much she ate, slept, peed, pooped, is she hot? is she cold? is that a rash? we need diapers, OMG is she teething, should we call the doctor, etc., etc. and I am quite sure that I talked about those things openly with people as well -- talk about your turn off.  Then I moved into the world of trying to combine (nearly) full time work with motherhood.  Forming friendships was the last thing on my mind, I didn't have the time to invest in them.  For the first two years of Maya's life I was in a quest for nothing other than sleep.

I do think that life evolves in a natural cycle that when you are creating and raising your family and particularly when you are slightly older doing it, that you have less room in your life for friends and socializing.  And maybe even less desire too.  A decade ago the top of a weekend with no plans was a weekend I didn't look forward too and now almost the opposite is true.  I hate weekends where we are overscheduled (actually we hardly ever do that anymore) and weekends where from Friday night until Sunday night with nothing on the horizon are anticipated by me with unabashed joy.  There are times however, that I feel guilty about my love affair with solitude and feel like I should be making more of an effort to have a more active social life.  I see colleagues or friends who somehow effortlessly combine working, parenting, taking care of a house with full social lives.  I admire those women, and have the fleeting moment of envy once in a while but it really stops there.  I admire them the same way I admire athletes.  I respect what they do but wouldn't want to be them if my life depended on it.

How bad is it that Facebook is just my speed for socializing?  On it I am connected to most of my close friends and many others who I have re-connected with, like people from high school, childhood friends, college, former work friends, close and extended family members and even some people that I know by association.  I can be on it as much as I want, I have fascinating discussions, get information on a lot of things that I wouldn't find by myself and can connect with people who mean a lot to me?  Someone at work said to me that Facebook is only virtual socializing and cannot replace being in the same room with flesh and blood people.  I do agree it is not the same but it is the perfect compromise for me.  As a working mom trying to balance and have it all, I just don't have the time or the desire to invest in a social life, let's face it, the precious little time I get to myself, I'd rather be sleeping or watching tv reading.  With FB, I get some time with my friends, I find it easier to maintain the distance with my friends on Facebook since we can easily have interaction every day if we want to despite things like geography, time zones, etc.

Sometimes I think it would be better for Maya maybe if Leo and were a little more social.  I sometimes think of what we are teaching her by enjoying our solitude and preferring that over parties and social adventures, but for myself mostly not.  She already has social challenges and I sometimes wonder if we are somehow standing in the way of her development by preferring our quiet way of life over a busy social calendar.  On the other hand, I know plenty of insecure people that cannot face doing things on their own, being quiet with one's self and have to have 'ceaseless action' in order to feel fulfilled.  I have always been very grateful that I can enjoy myself without a crowd and maybe for Maya, who definitely does have issues with socializing, maybe for her it is important to learn that as well.

1 comment:

  1. I only just read this post. First, thanks for mentioning my blog. I'm glad it got you thinking because reading this post I see that you and I have such incredible similarities in our adult lives. My twenties were party time, my 30s were career development time. Now I'm doing some consulting, but mainly, parenting. My socializing is limited. Like you,I just don't have the energy to "do it all". I agree that Facebook is an outstanding option for staying connected with people we like in our hectic lives.